Kiss Me On The Mountain.

Down in the orchard the Himalayan Balsam is in full bloom. It grows beside the stream and inhabits the spot where the wild garlic grows in the spring. It’s tall and gregarious and shares the pond with Bullrushes and whizzy dragon flies. I always thought the common name for the Himalayan intruder was ‘Policeman’s Helmet’, cos it looks like the hard hat that ‘Dixon of Dock Green’ wore, but because it came from the Himalaya’s it has also earned another nickname of ‘Kiss-me-on-the-mountain.’
Now the orchard is quiet, the only sound is my heavy breathing and the buzzing bees who gather round the apples and pears hanging on heavy branches. So you can imagine my dismay when I learnt that this joyous plant from the mountains of India is in fact a vicious invader of land. Some colonial seed raker brought it back into good old Blighty around 1839 planted it in his garden and before you could say ‘Quatermass’, it had escaped and started seeding itself all over the place. This delicious pink plant is seen as a pest, it hurts my heart that a flower can be so unwelcome. Who was it that said a weed is just a flower in the wrong place? But ain’t it way for so many things these days.
So many of us are displaced flowers, so many of us in the wrong place at the wrong time but with no where to run. There are those that would say send the Himalayan Balsam back to where it came from, send it home. There are those who would root it out, destroy it completely, instead of managing the land in such a way that it can co-exist with wild dog roses and brambles, which by the way are so full of early, juicy blackberries that I have stained my mouth and white dungarees from gorging on them.
So here I am doing my 12,000 steps. New evidence suggests that 10,000 steps is ok but 12,000 steps is better. It’s better for longevity and well being. So ever one for innovation I strap on my wrist band that counts my foot fall and begin. If I do the orchard I walk down a dark lane, turn left towards the first kissing gate at the top of the hill and prepare myself. I open the metal door, close my eyes, slide myself to the other side of gate and with an intake of breath open my eyes to rows and rows of fruit trees. The earth is dry and the sun burns hot in that one moment surveying the scene is breathtaking. If I could I would run down the steep hill, but I’m an old fucker so I tip toe down through the dry grass slowly placing one foot in front of the other until I reach flat land. I walk through trees with little rosy red apples, and clusters of hard little pears, then through the second kissing gate. Timeless views, land that has been husbanded for centuries – in Hebrew husband means master, so effectively the land has been mastered by men with scythes and sickles who planted trees and hawthorn hedges whilst the women stayed at home kneading bread, making cheese sandwiches and knitting cod pieces. Past the holly trees and mole hills I walk alongside fields of teenage broad beans. By the time the wood pigeons have frightened off the deer I am in that sea of Policemen’s Helmets who, now that I know, feel less like sentinels and more like marauders.
Then it’s up a sharp incline, if I look at the ground I can convince myself that the ground is flat, although the gravitational pull of the slope means by the time I’ve reached the top of the hill I’m completely fucked.
Lockdown has affected all of us in different ways. The dawter’s written a book, the old git’s been hucking and klupping, fiddling and farting, and I’ve been self educating whilst self isolating. I came across Wim Hof, the Dutch man also known as the ice-man who breathes his way up and down snowy mountains and teaches people how to hold their breathe whilst encouraging them to take cold showers. So every morning I do three rounds of intense breathing, hold my breath for up to three minutes, then take a hot shower before turning the tap to freezing. I imagine I am standing under a water-fall in Bali. For two whole minutes the icy water reinvigorates.
That cold shower takes me back to being 16 and going on an International camp in Tring. I’d never been away from home, never had a holiday so it was a time of total freedom. I shared a big old canvas tent with other six-formers from around the world. We debated, ate together, exchanged addresses and tatty bits of jewellery, we were the arsy teenagers of the 60’s who thought we would change the world, and we took icy cold showers in the shower block.
When I’m standing under the freezing water I can still smell the old canvas of the tent, hear the rain as it drummed us to sleep. And I am transported back to being young with a whole life ahead of me. I can feel the yearning for that youthful place. Now I’m here, that whole life behind me, and I’m standing in the middle of a place of non action where only the optimistic can see the future I saw as a 16-year-old. In 1839 when some geezer dropped a seedling into the ground he couldn’t know that the Policemen in their Helmets would take over the land. We must be careful what we sew.