There is an old Hawthorn Tree out the back where the old allotments were. The council turned the plot of land into a nature reserve many moons ago and the potting sheds were dismantled and taken away. The place has since been left to grow wild. I once found a pile of mostly broken panes of glass lying under the earth where presumably a greenhouse once stood. I can’t really remember why I was out with a shovel but that was what I found. An eight foot wooden fence stands between my back garden and that Hawthorn Tree.
When we first moved in we saw that the original wooden back fence had fallen in during a storm and later my cat had gone missing, feared lost in the overgrowth. There was a family of foxes living somewhere within and we worried that he would be in danger so I prised a hole in the wooden planks that were nailed together to make up the barrier and finally he found his way through. Looking for him in the late evening with torch in hand I had met Mr Fox. Eyes shining with torch glare he stared at me and held his ground on the path.
The previous owner of our house had twisted rolls of barbed wire along the perimeter of the garden so it felt like a prison and we lopped this away and threw it into the metal recycling with the small old metal fence that had rusted and fallen to bits as an overgrown hedge on the wild side of the back fence had managed to slowly push it apart with each year’s growth.
I then went to work clearing the area around the tree. It had become strangled with the tangle of a decade of bramble ropes that had arced up through and over it. There were masses of elder trees too that had spread higgledy-piggeldy all over the place and there was a field of nettles so high they stung the skin of my arms. Sticky willies stuck to my clothes and my cat and local pigeons, fat with gorging on elderberries, left black birdshit all over our garden path.
I saw an old apple tree and chopped a path through the bramble thicket to where it stands and found some wee raspberry bushes on my way. The fruits are smaller than supermarket ones as they struggle among their hardier cousins but sweeter in the mind because they are wild and free. There is a small gooseberry bush under the apple tree that produces hardly any leaves or fruit and I cleared it some space. A forager, I plucked some apples from that tree and took a few decent apples off the ground and made my way home with a box of blackberries and made us a crumble. It was delicious.
After two days of toil among nettles, thorns and barbed wire, some gloves were ruined and skin rudely violated. Red berries and blood look black once it gets dark. Finally, the Hawthorn Tree was free and could breathe. All of the nettles were trampled away and you could walk around a bit. I snapped off the small dead twigs and branches to tidy her up and she became a solitary tree among the surrounding thicket. It could maybe find use as home to a treehouse one day when we have kids I thought.
Not long after, our next door neighbour was burgled and in the months that followed a few empty beer cans would appear tossed into the bramble bushes near our Tree out the back.
The nettles were soon up waist high again as they never really went away. The nettle plants had died but their seeds and roots were still already in the soil. There is a new fence but no barbed wire. Some elder trees have sprung up in random places where the birds have been and will soon have berries ready to feed them once again. A shop bought raspberry plant on our side of the fence has now spread to the other side in the new wilderness.
Those brambles have spread again and there are thick prickled stems that rise up, up and away ten foot into the air through the branches to dangle their black fruit out of reach. Over summer, bees and butterflies fed on the blossom and the air is alive with flying things. Sticky willies cover the trunk.
Once I saw a mouse climb a raggedy dead nettle stem and eat the bunch of seeds that were still dangling like a spent phallus near the tip. He must have been hungry as he ignored the four of us watching. The path to the apple tree is overgrown again and all of the apples will be left on the ground.
From When I Wake The Want Is was released recently. It’s Kathryn Joseph’s second or third album depending on how you count them* and the songs were mostly written during a breakup and these songs poured out like spells. And everything is in there. A tree tangled with thorns. Some sweetness, the hurt, a mouse waiting for winter, nakedness, love, a fox and a cat, a standoff, the passion, words spat out and whispered, broken fences and poetry, the fear, vulnerability, broken glass under the earth, the lust and the hatred. Scratched and stung foraging wild fruit. This is a raw and wild record; its beauty and honesty is refreshing like stolen apples and as Summer turns to Autumn and the plants die off you are reassured that the new shoots of Spring are only a few months away. It helps to know that Kathryn’s story had a happy ending too. I do believe that a poem is a naked person and this is a poetic and hypnotic masterpiece which deserves to sell a million copies by Christmas. You should have a listen.
In Manx folklore, the first blackberries of the season should not be eaten but instead should be left for the fairy folk. If you ignore this advice, any others you pick will be full of grubs…
Folklore also says that you should not pick blackberries after St Michaelmas Day, September 29. According to Christian mythology, that is supposed to be the anniversary of the date Lucifer was thrown out of heaven and he likes to mark the occasion by peeing over everyone’s blackberry bushes.
*Second album is the Out Lines project with James Graham of the Twilight Sad. It is a contender for the SAY Award this year. Marcus Mackay plays on and produces all three of her albums.
Since beginning this I am very happy to say Kathryn was number one on the Record Store Chart last week after the vinyl sold out. Bring on the repress. A million by Xmas…