Sometimes, the most lovely things happen at the most unexpected times.
But it pays to recognise them.
When loveliness seems distant, it doesn’t do to be sniffy about it when it appears.
I woke yesterday with a shadow and no amount of medication could remedy it: a migraine was settling.
And the afternoon was to be hectic. Big Al’s family were coming over for a walk round the forest. Ordinarily a complete pleasure, it seemed there would be not even a second to slow, and switch off the lights, and lie down somewhere dark.
Phil was not coming. “But I want you to take a picture of something for me,” he said.
“I was walking round the ramparts of the fort this morning with Macaulay and I came upon these two beautiful flowers, right there at this time of year, in full bloom. Can you take your camera up and see if you could take a picture?”
I slung my camera bag over my shoulder; we wellied up, six of us, and headed out with a couple of dogs straining at the leash.
It soon became apparent that inspection of the rampart flowers was an impossibility. For Big Al takes one look at those steep ramparts and instantly feels he must investigate, On a walk not so long ago, everyone suddenly looked round for Al, to find he had followed Felix onto the lower tier, way down towards the forest floor and an unsettlingly long way from us.
So these days we travel up one of the main entrances and across the flat table top, which was once a thriving iron age settlement, but now stands open to the sky like something out of a Tolkien novel. The path traverses the centre of a tabletop shaped like an oak leaf, and ends with a gateway which takes Al away from those siren ramparts and into the forest proper.
There was no rain: it was clear, and even sunny. The puddles reflected the sky all the way along the path. Maddie and the eldest princess were deep in conference, and the second princess walked with us while Al gambolled about investigating, well, everything. His special thing today was how sticks and trees associated with puddles: he threw a few in, took a few out, and examined huge immoveable logs which had been hauled for whatever reason by whoever it may have been into forest puddles.
It was a lovely afternoon and we returned home happy, but without intelligence of those extraordinary flowers.
Today once again, the air was clear, and I tramped the forest. As dusk drew in, I took him onto the ramparts, towering high above the forest. Two deer thought seriously about avoiding me but could not quite muster the urgency. We stood and looked at each other for a while. I find them therapeutic.
And then I saw them. The flower. And I recognised them immediately.
They were cabbages. Ornamental cabbages, granted, but humble cabbages all the same, gazing with blousy purple-and-green coquettishness towards a dwindling December light.
Some bird must have dropped seeds the year before, there on the ramparts. And they grew to be perfect little Sybil Fawltys up there amongst the heather and gorse. All frills, little style, they spread colour which in the depths of our darkest days are little short of miraculous.
Sod taste: these are the right thing at the right time. You can keep your amaryllis and winter lilies: give me the humble cabbage. These two sat there, a happy accident, and I will wager they charm every passer-by.
“Those flowers, Phil?” I said to him when I let the dog back into the house. “They were cabbages!”
Cabbages they may be but to us, they would always be beautiful, exotic flowers.