WHEN I was a child there was a picture of a bluebell wood on the bedroom wall at the foot of my bed – it was the last thing I saw before the light was turned off, and the first thing I saw when I woke in the morning.
There were no woods, bluebell or otherwise, in the London suburb where we lived but I thought that one day I would find a wood where bluebells grew.
Finding this wood – a sort of dream place of green trees and dusky bluebells – would lead to... I wasn’t quite sure what. Maybe something akin to the ‘happy ever after’ ending of children’s stories.
In the summer, we went to the seaside – more in the form of day trips to Brighton than actual holidays. Once we went to Bognor by railway and, out of the window, I caught a glimpse of a bluebell wood and wished we could get out at the next station and walk back and find it, but we ended up on the beach as usual.
Later, I worked in the city and my weekday world was bounded by office buildings, lifts, subways, escalators, underground trains – no woods on the horizon, least of all bluebell ones, though I was reminded of them each time I caught sight of my picture, still on my bedroom wall.
When I was promoted I bought a car and began to take trips out into the country, sometimes staying the night in a roadside inn.
Then – it was late spring or early summer – I decided to stay for a long weekend so that I could explore the countryside. An old nursery rhyme was repeating itself in my mind, something like:
‘In and out the dusky bluebells, in and out the dusky bluebells, in and out the dusky bluebells, I will be your master’
On impulse, I asked the receptionist if there were any woods nearby.
‘Yes,’ she said, ‘about half a mile down the road, turn left up the lane and you will eventually come to it. The bluebells should be coming out now.’
‘Right, I thought, ‘after breakfast that is what I will do. Leave the car, have a good walk and see if I can find the dusky bluebells.’
It was a lovely morning, a bit hazy but with the promise of a warm, sunny day. I enjoyed the walk but it was a lot further than I thought it would be.
The wood looked a little dark, not very inviting, but then I caught a glimpse of blue beneath the trees and in I went, moving entranced from one patch of bluebells to another until I was quite out of sight of the lane but not worrying at all – I would just go a bit further, have a rest, then get back in time for lunch.
I resisted the temptation to pick a bunch, but knelt down now and then to smell their fragrance. Soon I began to feel tired, the ground beneath my feet was uneven and when I saw a fallen tree I made my way towards it but, just my luck, I tripped over a half-hidden root and hurt my ankle.
Somehow I limped across to my improvised seat and sat there, feeling sorry for myself and my, I imagined, sprained ankle.
Not that I was really worried, this was a well-frequented part of the country, the inn was on a busy road, cars had passed me as I walked down the lane and, when I had rested, I could easily drag myself down there, it couldn’t be that far. Besides, I had my mobile phone.
Then I heard it, a distant rumble of thunder and then something else. A rustle of leaves, a low growl and the sudden appearance of a large black dog – my luck again, I thought, the threat of a storm and now, in all likelihood, an angry guard dog.
I sat very still, hoping it would go away and so it did, after another growl and an intimidating bark.
The rain didn’t come and I sat on, giving my ankle time to recover, I told myself, for the walk to the lane.
But the ominous change in the light and the continued sound of thunder spurred me to move on, regretting now that I hadn’t called out when the dog was close – it probably had an owner somewhere in the wood.
Too late now, I thought as I looked around for a lump of wood I could use as a walking stick.
Limping through the bluebells, having lost all desire to pick them, I remembered an old saying probably connected in some way with the dusky bluebells nursery rhyme: ‘Children who went to the woods to gather bluebells sometimes did not return.’
‘But I am not a child,’ I thought, ‘and I didn’t even pick the pesky bluebells.’
And it was then that the rains came. Flash of lightning, crash of thunder, torrential rain – a classic end to what should have been a beautiful morning in a bluebell wood.
I can remember puffing and panting, crying out in self-pity, cursing the trees, trampling on the flowers, slipping and sliding until I fell and, mercifully, knocked myself out.
When I came to in the ambulance I was soon well enough to argue with the paramedics who insisted I had to be checked out at the local hospital.
Apparently, it was the dog that had found me, and alerted its owner to my predicament. So all was well that ended well.
I have a photograph of the dog at the end of my bed nowadays, though I still have a sneaking affection for dusky bluebells, even though the picture of the bluebell wood has been relocated to the downstairs loo.