For a couple of months now Bindweed has been visible in the ditches round about, its white trumpet of petals glowing brightly in the dimming evenings. It is viewed as a troublesome and choking weed but I rather like it for the detachable quality of its flower. If you pinch the base of it, it easily comes free from the rest of the plant to float pleasingly, like a little white parachute, to the ground.
A friend of mine told me years ago that when he was little he knew it as Nanny Pops Out of the Cradle for that reason. What the Nanny was doing in the cradle I don’t know but the petals do look like a Victorians Nannys starched skirt. This in turn has put me in mind of a story I heard when I was little.
My parents left Ireland to look for work in the 50s so I was born in England. From the age of 2 until when I was 5 we lived in Bristol.
Bristol remains a beautiful place in my memory. We lived on Apple Crumble Road (or boring Upper Cranbrook Road as I found out years later) and we had a red telephone, a green back door and a big garden.
Sometimes we went to the Downs where I watched the blue shadows of Horse Chestnut trees flicker on the electric green grass while groups of ponies and riders ambled by.
Stretching from the Downs across the Avon Gorge was the dramatic 245 foot high Suspension Bridge.
Somebody, my Mother or one of my siblings, told me of how two young children had once fallen into the Gorge and that their Nanny had jumped after them. She survived, her wide skirt acting like a parachute.
My Mother at the time had a calf-length A-line skirt which was white with dark blue print flowers on it and it was this skirt that filled in my mind with life saving wind to gently deposit the nanny onto the muddy river bank below.
I imagine I was supposed to believe the children had perished but they never crossed my mind so taken was I by parachuting skirts which have stuck in my head to this day. Possibly not the best lesson for a child to learn.
I was reminded of the story when popping a Bindweed flower recently and curious to see if it were true I turned up the origins of the tale in not one but two episodes of people who survived the jump.
In 1885 Sarah Ann Henley leapt from the Bridge after a broken engagement and her skirts broke her fall and she survived to the grand old age of 85.
In 1896 two children, Ruby and Elsie Brown, were thrown from the Bridge during a night-time storm by their Father who was half mad with despair from bankruptcy. They both survived the fall, cushioned by gusts of wind and landing only feet from a pilot-boat.
So much for lucky escapes. They say over 1000 people have died by leaping off the Bridge. Bristol and the surrounding area has a suicide rate by jumping of 9.3% compared with 4.9% of all suicides in the rest of England and Wales.
I suppose It is the miracle of the human mind that while walking the grey roads on a dim misty evening with the Bindweed glowing in the ditches, it’s possible to take simple delight in popping a flower from its cradle and in the instant it takes to float to the ground be taken by thoughts of a sunny childhood, a dear friend, lucky escapes and all the sadness in the world.
Here is some more information on Sarah Anne, Ruby & Elsie and others.