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Spill Your Blood in a Time-Honored Hunt! Blackberrying
The fun and tears of Blackberrying
Blackberrying: “Give up your blood joyfully, the Prize is Worth It!!”
As we move through June and July, our regular walks through the country lanes are augmented by the sight of little, bumpy green berries appearing on the briars all along our way.
These of course are the young blackberries preparing to ripen slowly through the warm months in order for the blackberry to seed in the Autumn, known for no good reason I can determine, as the Fall amongst the cousins across the pond.
I expect they have blackberries, too, the plant is spread across the whole world and is a delight or a scourge, depending on who you are.
Nothing spreads like blackberry bushes: their long shoots grow like a plod’s baton during the riots (OK, you invent the analogies!),
The blackberry requires extreme vigilance by the professional or amateur gardener - especially the latter which the blackberry recognizes immediately: cat-like, greeting him on the stroll around his property with an affectionate thorn-laden tendril around a bare ankle, or even the neck if the blackberry is in a particularly foul mood.
“Ouch,” you cry, swiping at the frond and getting another line of blood-welling scratches along the back of your right hand.(you’re a lefty, bully for you).
Yes, the blackberry is a staunch opponent and bloody well- defended.
These tendrils it sends out all around your garden and anywhere else it lives, are the vanguard of new colonies of blackberry bushes. They easily creep across your garden, commons and woods. I mean, how did this plant become so widespread? It’s tendrils spanned oceans in the past, that’s how!
In fact, mankind would have employed cutting-edge technology and weapons - perhaps even “the” bomb - against the blackberry were it not for one thing. The plant, when in procreative mode, supplies the most delicious, sweet, tart and tasty berry on the surface of the planet, and the fruit that comes to mind when the word “Blackberry” is mentioned.
Once upon a time, every kid worth the name went black-berrying in the season (late July, August through mid October, depending on the weather - a factor no one relies on in Britain).
They would take the usual equipment for volume gathering - the berries played a large part in people’s diet before refined sugar poisons took over - this would include a basket to hold the prizes, a long stick with a crook at the end (when I went, there was a crook at both ends, but that’s another tale). Then there would be a stout smock and glovesof some kind to make it difficult for the blackberry’s thorns to inflict serious injury. Some tourniquets for when the garment failed, and to prevent the child bleeding to death before he could be rushed to emergency (mum with the Dettol and band-aids).
It was fun back then to accompany a group of adults and kids out blackberrying along one of our lilac-charged lanes.
Young Sammy would look innocently up at a red-faced father, unsuccessfully trying to remove a well-placed thorn from behind his ear. “What does ’fuckit’ mean, daddy?”
The language heard amongst a group of inexperienced blackberryers can have cows in nearby fields covering their ears!
The blackberry is no novice in these contests. She realizes her succulent offspring are in great demand by these noisy little pests who charge about, crushing her bushes, blowing foul smoke over her, and stealing her children.
So she has a few tricks up her sleeve. One is to place several of the most luscious and perfectly ripe berries just out of reach of even the longest sticks, right in the center of the clump.
Being human, these are the ones blackberry gatherers immediately desire beyond all reason.
They strain and stretch, ignoring the pain and copious blood-letting until they can just touch that king of all berries. Watching carefully, at just that moment, the blackberry releases its tiny stalk and it falls like a plum-bob right into the hidden recesses of the plant (You may hear a rabbity voice say, “Jee, tanks, doc!”)
Another ruse which has succeeded over time immemorial for the blackberry involves the use of some friends. On the one occasion that the hunter is successful and secures that prize berry he has fought so hard to get, he pops it in his mouth…”this one is mine,” he grins triumphantly at his baby sister who has her hand out for it.
“Waaaaaaaa, Erkkkkkkk, it’s got a maggot” he cries projectile vomiting over all the family. The blackberry rustles its leaves in satisfaction.
Today - in 2012 - most people buy their blackberries in the supermarket. These are the commercially grown variety: expensive, fat, glossy, uniform in size and shape, but not quite as tart and tasty as the wild variety.
So British blackberries grow ripe in peace and are eaten by birds who propagate the plant, or fall to the ground becoming part of the plant’s colonizing effort.
I often walk up our nearby Flitchway - once a train service, now a rather lovely lane - and steal a few blackberries to lighten the journey. I rarely get pricked by the blackberry…I sort of think the magnificent and tough brambles might miss the legions of youngsters who once came a’berrying every Fall; the same kids who are now lolling in front of the telly, or texting each other all day with I-pods glued to their ears. The blackberry will rip a kid to pieces trying to take its babies with a cell phone in one hand.
The cows, too, who wander over to the bushes when they are loaded with ripe fruit, may miss the good old days when red-faced and perspiring parents turned the air blue and had the bovines covering their ears.
You never know, in these hard economic times when Tesco and their ilk push draconian prices up daily, held in the philosophy of profit and greed, the kids might be impelled to return to the hedgerows and substitute the family diet with free, delicious and nutritious blackberries…
Shhhh! Don’t broadcast this fact, the blackberry will go back to rearming itself instead of concentrating on berry production…