In Billingshurst, the ancestral seat, visiting my octogenarian mother. It being a sunny morning on Saturday, I headed for the woods, with plastic bag, rubber gloves and kitchen scissors. The woods were carpeted with bluebells, not flowering yet, but rich green and not far off bursting into bloom. A few primroses and celandines were to be seen here and there though, showing them the way. The sun shone, there were blackbirds singing, and everywhere the cooing of fat grey wood-pigeons. Sometimes I forget how beautiful England can be.
I turned along a muddy path, an avenue of wild garlic; the very air smelt of it. That would do for a start, so carefully I eased up some of the slender etiolated tendrils from the dark earth, and slipped them into my bag. Soon there were stinging nettles. I admit to actually salivating at the delicious prospect. I undid my belt, passed it through the handles of the plastic bag, put on the tight rubber glove, and got down to picking. They were young and bright green, and low to the ground. I think it’s still a bit early for nettles, but better too young than the vile old seedy and fibrous things that come later on. In twenty minutes I had the bag stuffed with stinging nettles.
On the way back with my booty I stopped at a chemist. Possibly as a consequence of having been locked in a hermetically sealed aluminium tube for three hours, hemmed in by people hawking and coughing, and sniffling and sneezing, (Easyjet Málaga-Gatwick) I felt the first tight catch of a cold somewhere in the back of my nose. A massive dose of vitamin C is your only man in this predicament.
I found the pharmacist rather attractive, and she seemed well disposed to the idea of a chat. We talked of vitamin C for a bit, a subject about which I know nothing whatever.
‘Linus Pauling’, I told her, ‘would take 9,000Mg of vitamin C a day, and look what he did.’
‘What?’ she asked.
I wasn’t sure either what Linus Pauling had actually done, but I fudged the issue by showing her my bag of nettles. She seemed impressed. I decided to go a little farther:
‘I’ve picked them for my poor old mother; she hasn’t got anything to eat; also they’re good for her aging bones and her eyes, so I shall make a soup out of them. You should try it, nettle soup, it’s delicious.’
As I left the attractive pharmacist shook her head and wiped a tear from her eye.
And the soup was beyond description too, accompanied as it was by some perfect golden croûtons and just a swirl of Rumanian soured cream. It was a great dish for Mothers’ Day… cheap, too.