While picking the last blackberries I remembered my adventures in the autumn/winter of 1979. I was so innocent, really. I had taken a sabbatical from university to work with free schools in London, to explore alternative ideas in education. I was 21 years old. Had I been the mother of the young woman I was then, I doubt I'd let her move to London just like that. But my parents were so distant, they probably never realised what I was doing. Not that I told them much.
Once in London plans changed all the time. I was dizzy with the city, meeting up with R and getting my head round this developing relationship.
Instead of teaching in White Lion Street Free School, I found myself one late rainy afternoon sitting in a Triumph Spitfire. The driver was Marc, one of the people R had picked up on his travels over recent months. Marc had impressed us with his Bank of Balochistan cheque book and tall stories of driving lorries with electric goods to Iran and coming back with rose petals, chocolates and raisins - we believed it all of course. In short: another London hippie of the times. Plus, he had somehow got hold of this snazzy car which was now carrying me down the M1 towards Gloucestershire. What started out as a smooth adventure soon went awry, when first the heater went, next the lights and before long we stood there at the hard shoulder of a rainy English motorway with the evening traffic rushing past us. Still joking and no clue as what to do next, a car slowed down beside us and an elderly driver got out. Marc did all the talking, dishing up a story about driving his friend's car, having forgotten to bring with him the car registration and regretfully also his licence and so on. The man soon agreed to bring us all the way to Stroud where we were to meet up with R who had hitchhiked ahead of us. It was a quiet journey after that, warm and cosy. The man went out of his way to drop us outside the exact place we wanted to go to. When we thanked him, he showed us his police ID and warned us to be more careful on the road in future.
We were late and R must have given up on us - he was nowhere to be found. It was dark and raining hard by now. I had no idea where I was and what to do next apart from following this Marc character around. We hitchiked for some distance and then walked up a windy path to a Jacobean mansion with lots of narrow steep windows and a black and white checkered marble floor in the vast and very messy entrance hall with rows and rows of shoes, dirty wellingtons, clogs, stray umbrellas, hats, scarves and at least one sleeping dog.
Voices could be heard from behind a door and we entered this big, warm kitchen straight out of Country Living, and there at a large table sat R, his face lit up when he saw me and the young woman who had stopped cleaning Brussel sprouts when the door opened laughed and said, aaah, you must be the one he hasn't stopped talking about since he came here.
This is how I arrived at Blackberry Hill.