The biggest, blackest, most succulent blackberries in the Jungle At The Bottom Of My Garden are, predictably, out of my reach. I have collected a bowl full of more accommodating berries but the sight of these superior
specimens is tantalising in the extreme.
I rummage about in the garage in search of an ancient wooden walking stick, which I eventually find in the company of three badminton racquets, several plastic horseshoes
which have escaped from a Throw The Horseshoe game, a rusty rake and the garden broom. Back out into the jungle I trek and I use the bent handle of the walking stick to pull the prickly branches, heavy with ripe berries, towards me.
Suddenly I am accosted by a sweet, blackberry-related memory from my childhood. I am out with my older brothers and younger sister. We are scouring the hedgerows along the lane for blackberries. Our Mum is going to make us a blackberry
pie - plus jam if we pick enough.
I am carrying a basket, berries for the gathering in. My fingers are stained purple from the berries I have picked already. I imagine my lips are also purple-coloured because whenever
I pick a squashy berry, I decide to eat it on the basis that only firm berries are good enough for my Mum's pies.
However much I stretch, I am too small to reach the highest branches - so my brother Tony takes
pity on me and hooks them skilfully with a wooden walking stick, drawing each branch right down to my height so that I can pick the berries and add them to our haul. I could always rely, I remember, on my Big Brother.
Pulling myself back from the past, I take my blackberry harvest in to show Mr B. He is excited, I can tell, at the mere thought of apple and blackberry pie. I am sure that is a glint in his eye, and not just the reflection of the TV screen on which
the Fifth Test Match against the Aussies is being played out. I don't have cooking apples so I have to trot down to the Strand Local where I buy three large Bramley apples for the princely sum of 78 pence. A bargain, I think to myself - until another memory
takes over and I remember the magnificent apple tree in the garden of our very first home as a married couple. Oh, the apples I harvested, the pies and crumbles I made! Stewed apples, stuffed apples, apple upside down cakes. You name it, I made it. It was
our staple diet for weeks on end.
Back home I am weighing out the flour, margarine and cooking fat for Mr B's pie when yet another memory flies into my head. I am in the kitchen with granddaughter Katie, then
aged six and a half. It is her first lesson in making pastry. There is a thin film of flour over the work surfaces and the kitchen floor, due to over-enthusiastic spooning of this major ingredient onto the scales. There is a floury smudge on Katie's nose and,
quite possibly, on mine too but obviously I can't see my own nose, long as it most assuredly is.
Katie says she must write out the recipe in case she forgets what to do. She labours over her work with pencil
and paper and I can't resist taking a crafty look over her shoulder. Beneath the listing of ingredients weighed and deposited in the mixing bowl, she has written, carefully: "Do fingertips." Oh, Mary Berry, put that in your next cook book, won't you? It makes
so much sense - at least to any pastry chef.
Why so many memories today? It's all down to the blackberries, transporting me back to my childhood. It must also, in part, be down to my Great Age.
It isn't enough, however, just to wallow in memories. After all, the past is also the present. I pick up the phone and ring my brother.
"I was thinking of you
this afternoon," I told him, "So I thought I'd just phone for a chat...."