A day of drizzle marked that glorious souvenir of Victorian Britain; the August Bank Holiday. Walking with my son before his return for the final year at university, in the late afternoon we noticed the ripening blackberries. The dark-spotted hedges were a reminder of our many previous walks in his childhood years, armed with ice cream tubs to gather those pungent berries, all holding the promise of sweet spicy crumbles and purple-stained dishes.
The heavenly scent of stewing wild berries always takes me back to a brief stay in a beautiful old house with an even more glorious garden; Rolvenden in August 1966. We had returned after two years in Malaysia, (still referred to as “Malaya” by most Britons in those days), so this intense memory is perhaps more acute due to its status as my first house and garden after a substantial stint living in the tropics. Our journey from Singapore was on the Italian cruise liner, the Achille Lauro; my army-wife mother and her five children in an airless, cramped cabin. I was child number four, my siblings ranged from age 10 down to my six-week old baby sister. Our father was returning on a flight and we were sailing due to mother’s previous ear operation; the risk of flying meant we could “enjoy” a cruise back to Southampton. I can still recall our growing excitement which would soon fall into the biggest hole of disappointment. The glossy brochure did not deliver the promised luxury; our ship was tossed across rough oceans, seasickness struck and the food on board was ghastly although I know I enjoyed the delicious breakfast rolls which must have been fresh-baked on board. Despite the 49 years I can still replay a series of memories in my head, my favourite probably the view towards the desert as the ship travelled up the Suez Canal. The gullie-gullie man climbed onboard and we were entertained by his traditional magic tricks; how those chicks appeared from behind the boy’s ears I simply could not work out!
Thus Rolvenden and our family country walks to gather blackberries is etched in my brain to be forever accessed and refreshed when sighting those hedgerow fruits. To me they signify the closing of summer; our sojourn in the Kentish countryside was so brief, our travels soon carried us away like the scent of stewing fruit disappearing through the open window. But the purple stain left its mark inside my head…blackberries belong there, in that old house with its view towards open fields and the ancient oast house standing alone.
I understand that the sense of scent is directly connected to the brain; if scientists could plug into my brain they would see those berries for themselves, and be able to taste the dish set before me whilst recording the staining of my lips.