Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Exploring the World

We are lucky enough to live near the big cemetary on the Bowthorpe Road. I say "lucky" because we are near the old Victorian end, and at this time of year the trees are a glorious profusion of red, yellow and gold leaves, and the paths are carpetted in a thick layer of crunchy leaves. Walking alone through the cemetary is a profound experience, the silence broken only by the wind in the branches; the names and dates on the stones the only reminder of lives lived long ago. There is a faded and elegaic beauty to the landscape.

Walking with my two small children through the cemetary is an altogether different experience. We escape the pathways and go exploring through the tunnels of latticed branchwork, jump in piles of fallen leaves, and pick up sticks and pinecone treasure. For my part, I escape the pathways of responsible adulthood and go exploring the tunnels of childhood wonder. We pick those blackberries still accessible and purple our mouths and fingers with the juice. We then stop at at tree full of swollen dark fruits the size and shape of olives. "Can we eat one, daddy?" they ask. And I don't know how to answer.

They're not blackberries, not olives, obviously, but beyond that, I have no idea. They could be damsons; possibly, some kind of small plum. On the other hand, they could be something horribly poisonous - the kind of "poison berry" that parents spend ages warning their children against picking up and putting into small mouths. I confess my ignorance to the girls and we move on.

Later, I talked to Jane at the comms group meeting, who told me they might have been sloes. I've heard of sloe-gin, but would have no idea what else one could do with them. And if I fancied making some sloe gin, what would I do? How many would I need? Should I pick the big ones, the little ones? The hard ones? The soft? So many questions. In my in-laws' garden, there are two kinds of chestnut tree - a sweet chestnut and a traditional conker tree. Which is which? Again, no idea! But it's important if we're flying in blackberries, chestnuts, or even, perhaps, sloes from all corners of the globe.

This stuff is all here already, and it's free if we knew what to do with it. According to the Waste and Resources Action Programme, UK households throw away 18% of all the food it buys. Talking to Jane made me think more deeply about free food, about seasonal food, and about what we do with the food we buy. And by opening my eyes to the possibilities around us, it'll make our next "exploration" of the cemetary all the more exciting.


  1. I can't pass a decent blackberry hedge without stopping to taste a few (dozen) - the flavours vary depending on the soil and sunlight received. I was amazed when some children (who live within sight of the hedge that I was sampling) asked what I was doing. They were disgusted to learn that I was eating the things - 'you will die', I was assured.

    They were wrong.

  2. Jon, could you give more details about where to find the bush that might have been a sloe?

    Erik Buitenhuis.

  3. Hi Eric - difficult to be specific, but if you enter the cemetary from the Dereham Road entrance, follow the path to the right for about fifty metres and turn left. More or less! If I get chance, I'll take a photo at the weekend and post it!