And before you deliberately pick me up wrongly, let me hasten to tell you that we're talking strawberries. And not any old strawberries. These are special. They're fraises des bois, wild strawberries. And they're quite rare. So rare that in our Puritan-deferment-of-gratification natures we don't eat them, unless there's an enormous glut. We freeze them, and in the depths of winter J. puts them in the liquidizer and makes a delicious coulis, redolent of glowing summer suns and all the subtle, heady sun-drenched perfumes of midsummer.
We're especially lucky to have them within reach. Well, almost. Behind our house the hillside rises steeply. When I first knew this land a dozen years ago the owners were investing heavily in developing the virgin slopes, hiring diggers to sculpt out terraces in the bowl of the hillside, planting them with cherry, olive and apple trees, putting in expensive espaliering and layering frames.
Then three or four years later, just as this orchard and olive grove was beginning to mature, they lost interest. Nobody came to prune, nor to spray, nor even to harvest the cherries, which just blackened and shrivelled on the branches. The apple trees died. As the years passed, nature gradually took over and this land became a jungle. This reminded me of the story of the priest (not Dave, who is much too much of a gardener to entertain such a notion) who, passing one of his parishioners tending a neat and trim garden, remarked what wonderful things God could do with a garden. 'Ah, but you should have seen it when he had it to himself, vicar,' came the reply.
This jungle is now home to countless self-seeded firs from an adjoining plantation, false acacias, dense thickets of juvenile ash and brambles, stands of wild cherry, enormous heathers and junipers. All manner of crickets chirrup from dawn till dusk. You can smell the scent of badgers, acrid and musky, and follow the tracks of wild boar. Here and there desolate olive trees, scarcely bigger than when they were planted, struggle to survive.
We have wild strawberries on our land, fruiting modestly in odd corners, but this year they have been very disappointing. Yesterday our cat Tonip went missing, driven out of house and home by the vacuum cleaner indoors and the strimmer outside, and then chased by a dog. I went looking for him in the jungle, calling the while. No cat, but what did I find? Wild strawberries. Soft. Tender. Ripe. Yielding. Fruity. Dear reader, what would you have done?
Well, so did I. Here they are. This represents about an hour's worth of picking, so you see how we're reluctant to squander them.
And of course Tonip turned up to see what I was photographing.