A few minutes ago I formed an intense desire for some plums (which are the only fruit I actually enjoy eating, rather than taking medicinally to fend off scurvy). I assumed we wouldn’t have any, but when I wandered into the kitchen, there were , astonishingly, some perfect purple plums, looking as though they’d been picked for a Chinese Emperor. But then when I bit into one, I found that it had no discernible flavour at all – not the least hint of plum. No, that isn’t actually true. It tasted like cotton wool that had been burped into by someone who’d recently eaten a plum. This seemed to sum up so much of the author’s life. Desire born at the same moment as the knowledge of the impossibility of its attainment; then the false hope; and then the disappointing reality. And then you die. Or, perhaps, the hangover diminishes, and you finish the rest of the plums, and you think they weren’t so bad after all.
And all this made me wonder why it should be plums that I love and not kumquats or persimmons, or mangoes, and a moment’s reflection led me to the answer. I was largely brought up in a small town/big village called Sherburn-in-Elmet, outside Leeds. The place was famous from the middle ages for its plum trees. There were still a couple of orchards there, when I was a boy, but they were grubbed up and turned to a housing estate and a barren space for dog walkers and ‘joggers’, of which Sherburn has never boasted so much as one.
The very last plum tree in town leaned over the cricket field boundary at third man. I used to open the bowling, and would be posted down there in between my overs, and I’d pluck the plums and eat them, and then spit the stones into the air and volley them into the orchard.
So, yes, for me plums are the fruits of memory and nostalgia and decay. And jam.
(This is a view of the village church. The last orchard began just at the bottom of the photo.)