When Berries are Ripe

Tom garden


Who taught you how to know when berries are ripe? When the time for picking is best? When to wait and when to act?


Was it your mum, your dad, older brother, or grandmother perhaps? Are you still waiting to be taught? Do you even like berries? If you are an Aussie like me, you may never have picked a wild berry until exploring the decadent gardens of the UK, only ever paying stupid prices for punnets of berries from Coles before.


I’ve spent that past week on the Isle of Wight…a gorgeous sunny relaxed island on the southern tip of the UK, Britain’s very own holiday destination. Sharing the week with a dear friend and her 22 month old, in the same week in which my own grandmother has passed away, I have been struck with a string of memories and thoughts about family ties, heritage, learning, and how we absorb our past into our very skin.


My friend’s son spends much of his time with his grandmother, quintessentially in her allotment (a fab British tradition of community based gardening), watering the many fruits, vegetables, berries and flowers that his grandmother labours over. He knows the lay of the land, his “ga ga” (garden), grabbing the hose and watering his favourite apple tree with ease and joy. He enjoys the natural pleasures of strawberries, raspberries, blackcurrants, and even gooseberries! He is learning when to wait and when to harvest, discovering how life is sweet with changing seasons and sharing the joy of plucking fruit direct from shrub to mouth, often with purple finger tips.


Sharing this with his grandmother and mum, these are indestructible memories, they are the fibre of his growth, building the core of his understanding, creating shared experiences which will bounce back to his mind in snippets in the future. They will perhaps be memories he shares with future girlfriends as he tells his own life-story on first or second dates… “when I was little I lived on the Isle of Wight and loved my grandmother and her garden….”


He will always know when a berry is ripe, and know what to do with rhubarb. He is becoming beautifully British.


With my grandmother passing away this week, I am flooded with shared memories long forgotten… school holiday train tips to the city, eating so many cinnamon donuts, hours spent in her hot kitchen baking and slaving, Sundays in church “peace be with you and also with you”, mornings spent brushing our hair 100 times and applying eye make up in pale morning light. I recall breakfast tea and toast in bed that my grandfather would bring to us, my grandma asserting that my future husband should have such basic skills and chivalry as this.


She never taught me when berries were ripe for the picking, mainly how to choose and cook them!


As I cruise along on this English train today, drinking Pimms and lemonade from a can and knowing how that would upset my Grandma (Pimms should be drunk only from a glass you see), I run my hand over my un-brushed hair and feel a twinge of… shame is it… or perhaps just disconnection from my past.


This week I learnt from others how to know when berries are ripe. Tomorrow I will brush my hair 100 times, drink Pimms only from a glass, and accept only partners who will bring me tea and toast in bed.


So hold on to those shared memories, and create new ones as much as you can. They seep into our skin and our selves and do not disappear.

gma pic

Ecuador Is…




Ecuador is…

polite hellos

and warm goodbyes

mountain peaks

clouds damp upon my cheek.

It’s turning single lanes to four

your heart high up in your mouth

the skills of your driver evident

riding the clutch

amongst a billion beeps.


Ecuador is…

deep green folds in our mother earth

Pacha Mamma – pristine; clean.

It invites you inside

to wander all her fields

grants the sleep

much needed

finally blessed in peace.


Ecuador is…

that queasy sense of altitude

pressing tightly on your tummy

and loosely in your head.

It’s coca tea you take

to sooth your ills;

the toast, the bread,


soon enough

the pills.


Ecuador is…

small villages set amongst the hills

grey-haired men in bowler hats

braided women tending the palest of corn.

They walk out in front

of large fast trucks

‘caus this land is theirs

you see


Ecuador is…

newly paved roads

car loans and second homes;

it’s people climbing out of poverty

straight on into debt.

An economist president

bulging theories from U.S.

Ecuador is craving to be bigger

but be careful

there be no safety net.


Ecuador is…

half built homes

bessa block jigsaws


when the dollar ran out

people waiting: waiting:

how many cokes sold on buses

will it take?


Ecuador is beauty

and contradiction by its crime

it’s turning your head

expecting a gun

but instead

more often than not

finding bliss


Ecuador is…

sea lion pups as your new best mates

who twist and play every day

it’s looking around

before you walk:

iguana hazards galore


It’s allowing the Shaman

to rinse you of your witches

traversing long Amazonian rivers

It’s deep jungle sounds

in the pitch black of night

heard from false safety

of your mosquito net.


Ecuador is…

hammocks to relax

and retreat

If you find a few seconds

between the full action approach

then you can unwind the city

straight out of your bones


Ecuador is…

feeling lucky to have survived it:

seas lion bites and

disastrous kayak rides

upturned with

sharks underneath

abduction fears and

chaos all about.


Ecuador, you make a me sweat:

you have pulled me

this way


then that

I’ll take all my memories

with me



to be back.


You’re a wild and exotic space


so wild I need a rest now

your beauty so


I must


to take

a breath now


lady in markets