First Brush of Autumn
September! Oh hurrah September is here! I no longer have to pretend that I'm fine swishing along in summer clothes and pinchy sandals, or that I'm not sweating through my very scalp, or that no really, I'm fine here in the scorching heat and not at all worrying about my pale northern skin.
I'm such an autumn lover that the minute September 1st hit, out came the thick black tights, the off-key librarian wardrobe and the proper duvet, the one that's so heavy I feel like I'm being held in a cuddle all night long. It. Is. Bliss.
Mornings, as I pelt along the pavements to my morning swim, there is a slight chill to the air, the brush of a lower temperature that prompts me to look out my jumpers. The skies are dark by 8.30, cobwebs are dew-bedecked like diamante necklaces and there is the faintest whiff of mist and earthy goodness in the air.
Bonfires are still banned where we live, especially on the allotments, so there's no hint of that lovely smoke you get from one but the hedgerow along the canal towpath smells of leaves gently decaying. There's already a thin crisp layer under some trees that I kick my way through, and the conkers have started to burst open.
Last night I went damson picking with a couple of friends of mine. These gloriously purple-blue coloured (it's a colour I'd quite like to wear!) fruits have been dangling, unnoticed, from branches for a few weeks now. After an hour we had a crateful, as well as stained purple fingers. Our sleeves and necklines were wet from the dripping trees and the occasional badly fumbled branch that would slip through fingers and fling itself skywards, showering us with cold water.
Would you believe this is the first time I've ever eaten a damson raw? For the last 44 years of my life, I thought they had to be eaten cooked. Well they don't: these were so ripe and ready to eat, they were little flavour bombs in our mouths, sweet and like a concentrated plum. I arrived back at home with my own bagful, a tiny jar of last year's damson jelly (good with cold meats, like cranberry sauce, as well as on toast) and muddy shoes.
Did you know that damsons were deliberately planted in hedgerows and wild spaces for housewives to pick, and they were referred to as "rent money" because they gave these women a chance to contribute some much needed money to the family income? I love finding out little nuggets of normal (i.e. not landed gentry or royalty) working history and my friend is a great source of them.
What is it about picking fruit that makes me feel like a child again? It's probably because we did it every summer when I was growing up as it was, then, the cheapest way to buy fruit. Strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries and blackberries by the boxful, mouths (because we ate almsot as much as we picked) and fingers stained. Knees marked by the straw beds we've been kneeling on, and arms scratched by brambles.
Now when I do it, I'm 9 again, a quiet child but not yet riddled with the crippling adolescent embarrasment and fear of looking weird that came later. As the Boyfriend picks leaves out of my hair, I no longer care if I look weird. I'm just picturing the weekend ahead: damson jelly, cakes and gin. The house will smell of sugar and fruit. And all will feel fine with the world.
I may even go so far as to try to make damson wine: "good damson wine is, perhaps, the nearest approach to good port that we have in England. No currant wine can equal it."