M asha is too young to be a babooshka and too sensible to refuse free organic fruits, unlike so many of us; the word organic would not really have any meaning for her, being from a time and place and where there was no alternative to what we call organic or certainly no discussion about it - hunger makes for short discussions of such things.
It is not a popular thought, at least in chubby Western Europe, but how many people alive today are so as a result of pesticides, rather than being dead? Ask those from the lands of less laden larders.
A small lady, Masha, lived in London, having lived in Moscow before that, now the second richest city in the world; where the long, low clouds descend as one each October, and rise, with the returning rooks, in March; the time when "icycles" (usually alcoholics frozen in winter), are found, in the melting snows.
Later, though, the A40 near Wormwood Scrubs was better known to her; although the wormwood plant that gave us the name vermouth is a rare sight there; a sophisticated drink, linked, as drink often is, to prison.
Perhaps more vermouth is poured one night in modern, sophisticated Moscow than ever grew here.
The houses around this area have been destroyed, for development, a building oxymoron, but the fruit trees in their gardens not so - they may fall victim later to the emerging cultural dislike of old, which comes, in part, from wanting to distance your mind from any memory the previous. Including nature, which must be another oxymoron, since we are part of that. Unless we are distancing ourselves from ourselves of course.
Not so Masha, who, walking through this derelict bountiful land with her dog, gathered the apples, the plums, the damsons and the sunshine from these orchards, taking them home with the same logic and sense as a supermarket visitor pushes their trolley to the car.
It is simply good food - for free.
She makes "charlotka" - flour, sugar, eggs, sliced apples - "charlotka" from the house-less gardens of another time.
Herbs, too - cures and flavours, perhaps even a little wormwood.
A bountiful, free harvest.
Her only thought was - and is - why was she the only person in a city of many millions doing it?
Traditionally Russians, I have learnt, are well versed in gathering food.
I have always been impressed that a French pharmacist can identify any fungi as part of their service.
In Russia or here, even now, if you were to be seen walking around in a forest with a book of how to identify mushrooms, I am told it would cause huge laughter and disbelief from any Russian onlooker.
Our wonderful and numerous schemes, such as the Transition Towns of which Tunbridge Wells is one, will hopefully help these ideas to re-emerge into the everyday, but not as they once were, in some feudal chain of command, or under the Enclosure Acts.
But then again, one cannot judge outside an age - doffing your cap was also a "thanks" for protection which the feudal system made possible, so I must eat my words and Natalia's, (not Mahsa's) charlotka.
And listen to more stories of summers in Russia- the huge forests, the weekend dachas widely used by many Russians opening their doors and minds in spring and closing them each October; their nonchalance of the reliance and strength of families, the ignored outsiders, the hospitality, as wide as the steppe the homemade produce and song; summers far, far from the sea, together with the cherry orchards of Chekhov, and those by the Volga.
I, too, cannot understand why I never see anybody else harvesting for free. Reading your words, I think perhaps it is the eastern European in me that makes me sad watching fruits go to waste when the abundance exceeds even the requirements of the birds!
So I hope you will feel glad to hear that on Sunday I went out and picked a bucketload of cherry plums, from the local sheltered housing scheme – eyed with caution by the curtain twitching residents - and we are now making cherry plum wine! The surplus will make a very decent jam.
What I think is sad is that the locals think these fruits are not even edible, that they are purely ornamental and harmful to consume. I am frequently challenged about what/why I pick will fruit; many look at me suspiciously. My immediate neighbours are familiar with my habits, yet even they frequently warn me to take care in case I poison myself. But they think nothing of paying a fiver in Tesco's for a few cherries/apples/pears or plums! We picked kilos of fruit for free last summer in our local woods.
Their loss; but did our society get to this point? It always tastes better when it's free, too! Is it a rebellion against the need to do so during WW2?
Anyway, I am preaching to the converted. When shall we reschedule our 'gathering for gatherers'? I feel it is time to share and consume home-grown edibles... Our mangetout have been prolific, tomatoes, cucumbers and courgettes are on the way. I love summer.