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Monday, 3 September 2012

How the mouse empire has fallen...

Foraging opportunities are quite rare in a city (no, the bins outside Tesco don't count), so I like to take them when I can get them.

On Saturday, a sunny early autumn day, we had some time to kill before Dr. Who, and so armed with some empty tupperware tubs Josie, Lori, and I headed off to Pilrig Park to search for brambles.

For those of you of a non-British persuasion, these are brambles, also known as blackberries:

Delicious with apple, bubbling away under a crumble topping, or sieved for pips and turned into a bramble jelly.
I keep my eye out for bramble bushes on summer walks and take a mental note of where I've seen big clumps of them. All the better to return in the autumn to gather the glossy, black berries.

They ripen slowly over the course of month or so, therefore to gather enough of them for crumble, you really need a hedgerow or two to harvest.

To begin with, it didn't look very promising in the park. The brambles were peeking over an impassable wall, and I could barely reach a few ripe ones. However, I had spotted some bushes on one of the less popular park entrances a few months previously, so we headed round there and struck black, shiny gold: a brambly hedge.

Scout Josie found this one first. She also informed me about the nettles, and the spiky bits, and anything else that might possibly have caused an injury. Lori just looked at the brambles warily, and refused to come near them after Josie's tirade of danger.

There were hordes of berries, and although there were tracks around the bushes, none seemed to have been  picked. We made our way through nettles and grass, getting further and further round into a bit of land behind a small industrial estate, filling up the tub as we went. Then Josie spotted an open drop about 10 metres down, over an old wall and into another part of the light industrial buildings. Round the corner, and down in a hidden spot, I noticed some sleeping bags, plastic bags, and empty cans of lager. It looked like it had been used by a homeless person, although perhaps not for a while.

At that point, I started to feel a little bit less safe. No-one knew where we were, and very few people would ever walk past this bit of land. One of our tubs was full, so we headed back, checking in with Andrew on the phone to let him know where we were. It's a shame really, that I felt so unsafe a mere ten minutes from home, and perhaps I was overreacting (although a recent assault in the park would suggest not).

And from that horrible note, to more pleasant memories of childhood. I can't go collecting blackberries without thinking about Brambly Hedge.

This is exactly what my childhood was like in early autumn. Exactly. Right down to the little bonnet. 
They are an absolutely lovely set of books for early readers. The Winter Story is intrinsically linked with my own memories of deep snow falls in my toddler and primary school years. I spent a long time  peeking under every stump in a wood nearby to our family home just in case I should happen upon the mice of Brambly Hedge. They hark back to an idyllic time in British life, when mice lived in little hobbit houses in the hedges, and harnessed the water of the nearby river to turn their flour into delicious, if tiny, loaves of bread, and dressed like proper gentlemen and ladies of the country. How the mouse empire has fallen, and left Western civilisation all the poorer for it.

So, in memory of a special early autumn day spent foraging with the girls, and in memory of the watercolour art of the books I remember so fondly, I created this today, rendered in Games Workshop inks and acrylics:

My obsession with the Latin names for things is still very much in evidence.
We are planning a return trip in a week, but I think I'll take Andrew along this time. He can reach the really high ones that no-one else will get!

As for plans of what to do with the brambles, well, I'm going to try a much more homemade Christmas this year, so they might just be helping along some bramble-flavoured vodka for family and friend hampers. Far less complicated than jelly or pie!

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