Robert Lloyd Praeger would have been in his alley, walking along our coastal path….except that he would not merely have walked along the path. He would have been down among the plants, categorising and classifying them, as he did all his life. I thought of him and his book, The Way That I Went, the other morning as I took a leisurely walk along by the sand dunes. I felt a bit guilty that I don’t know all the names or the significance of all that he described. There is no great point to my walking. I don’t set speed records or burn many calories. I just look around. I like the colours. I like the memories prompted by the familiar sights and sounds. Praeger noted the genus, the species, the distribution etc. for the benefit of those who came after him. I have a very poor memory for scientific, Latinate names. My mother, as a young girl, went to France, just after the First World War. She always had an enquiring mind, a gift that she retained into old age. She asked the grandfather in the house where she stayed: “What kind of bird is that?” He shrugged. The French are the world’s leading shruggists. “Je ne sais pas. You can’t eat it.” That’s a much simpler classification system, although there can be severe penalties if you get it wrong.
That might well be a blackbird, (turdus merula) characterised by a somewhat black plumage, or maybe it’s a trick of the light. They go well in a pie if you have four and twenty of them. When the pie is opened, as you know, the birds will begin to sing. It’s easier to leave them alone and let them sing in the early morning sunshine. Samuel Pepys, my mother told me, went shooting one day. He came home with a bag of rooks. (corvus frugilegus/food gathering corvid…oh, never mind.) He found that he was covered in lice. “Rooks,” he declared,”be the lousiest birds there be.” Probably make a lousy pie too. The dandelions, scourge of gardeners, light up like electric bulbs in the sunlight. They send their airborne troops out on every breeze to conquer new lands. As clocks they are not very accurate. You can eat them but the results may surprise you.
This is a veronica bush. In the black winter of 1947, all the veronica bushes along the coast were destroyed by frost, snow and biting winds. The old people said for years afterwards that the veronica was gone. It wasn’t and it isn’t. In summer it is covered with purple blossom and industrious bees. A veronica is also the basic manoeuvre of the matador when he drapes the bull’s head with his cape as Saint Veronica did for Christ on His way to Calvary. The bull has also been tortured and brought low. I don’t see many bulls or matadors along the coastal walk. Perhaps all the Skerries dogs have frightened them away. The veronica, to me, suggests a series of Russian dolls.
You can open the double leaf, seemingly to infinity and you will find a smaller version inside. As children we ate the smallest one at the centre, calling it bread and cheese. It tasted horrible. It probably contains deadly poisons but the taste recalls memories of idle summer days spent playing around the sand dunes and running in and out of the sea. I doubt if Praeger ever tasted one but the French grandfather probably had a recipe.
Buddleia, the national flower of China; very fond of old walls, as am I.
Cocks and hens; I don’t care about the botanical name. These can be used in the same way as conkers. There are enough here to stage the Olympic and World Championships and all the many elimination bouts, in this small corner of the dunes.
An old friend of mine, a formidable swimmer, was introduced to a lady at a dinner party. “But of course!” she exclaimed, “Mr. M….I didn’t recognise you with your clothes on.” That could be taken several ways. This old folly is one of my favourite landmarks on the walk. Now it is clothed in ivy and almost unrecognisable. Buddleia has gained a toe-hold as well. (Old Frankie Howard gag. As Roman soldier number four, he objected to being referred to as IV. “It’s driving me up the wall.” Oh, please yourselves.) Every tree in the country is clothed in ivy. Old castles wear it all the time. Some well-meaning people removed the ivy from Lingstown Castle in County Wexford. The height of folly. The castle fell down.
Thank you, Iris, messenger of the gods and goddess of the rainbow, for your cheerful colours. How did you get here?