That old blackberry magic

'While you are picking blackberries, you will find your fingers being stained red. With your own blood'
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The Independent Online

Have you been blackberry-picking yet? You should have been, because now is the season for the only great British hunting ritual left to us that Tony Blair has not threatened to ban.

Have you been blackberry-picking yet? You should have been, because now is the season for the only great British hunting ritual left to us that Tony Blair has not threatened to ban.

You don't know how to pick blackberries? Rubbish! Picking blackberries is the easiest thing in the world, as long as you know the 40 basic rules.

Oh, yes. Even blackberry-picking has its own basic rules. Would you like me to tell you what they are? Or would you rather that I turned my thoughts today to the fate of Mo Mowlam?

I thought so. Here are the 40 basic rules of blackberry-picking.

1. The blackberry is the fruit of the vicious bramble or briar, a plant so aggressive that it was given star billing in David Attenborough's series "Great Fighting Plants of the World".

2. The annual harvesting period starts on the day when you say: "I don't think they're ready yet," and ends on the day you say: "I think they've all gone over now." It lasts about three days.

3. The blackberry goes through various stages of ripeness, which can be distinguished by the colour.

4. Those colours are, in order, green, red, purple and mouldy purple.

5. Blackberries should not be picked when they are green or red (unripe) or mouldy purple (over-ripe).

6. Nor should they be picked when they are purple, if they do not come off the stem readily.

7. The normal method is to approach a cluster of purple blackberries, select the one that looks ripest and attempt to pull it off.

8. It will not come off.

9. It will resist all attempts to pullit off.

10. But it will impart a vibration to the other berries, which knocks off the ripe ones that you should have gone to first.

11. These ripe ones will fall down to the ground.

12. And disappear.

13. It's no use looking for them.

14. They have disappeared into the undergrowth or grass or hedgerow, where they will use their considerable cunning to stay hidden.

15. You won't find them.

16. Don't even bother trying.

17. All right, you may find one or two.

18. But while trying to pick them up, your fingers will mash them into a jelly.

19. So, don't even bother trying.

20. While picking blackberries, you will find your fingers being stained red.

21. With your own blood.

22. This is because (see 1) the blackberry has two fighting weapons that you cannot defeat.

23. The cruel thorn that gashes you.

24. And the tiny prickle that sticks in your finger and that you can feel but cannot see and that is agony.

25. The juiciest blackberries are the biggest purple ones.

26. That is why they attract so many wasps, flies etc, which tend to be already squatting on the blackberries you want, either sucking from them or apparently sticking their backside into them and doing something worse.

27. So what you do is go to another, unoccupied ripe blackberry, thinking to yourself: "This one has probably already been abused by an insect..."

28. But don't think about that.

29. You will be tempted to eat the better blackberries when you pick them, instead of putting them in the basket.

30. But you will resist.

31. Saying to yourself, "No, the more I take back home, the better pleased people will be!"

32. When you look in the basket to see how you are doing, you will be amazed how many you have got.

33. You will also spot one blackberry with a worm crawling out of it.

34. While attempting to remove it, you lose sight of it.

35. You will take back your basket of blackberries, conscious that there are lots of little things in there.

36. But you don't mention that to the person who is going to deal with them.

37. The person then takes the fruit and puts it in a pan with sugar and reduces it to a black, sludgy mess, not tasting a lot of anything.

38. At which point you wish you had eaten all those blackberries, instead of putting them dutifully in the basket.

39. Later on, you will find lots of unsuspected wounds all over your body, and inexplicable purple stains all over your clothes.

40. The blackberries have won again.

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