Out walking earlier, I passed a privet hedge.
I have almost purposely ignored them for many years now, but, as a child, privet hedges were one of my favourite things. I used to carefully pick their leaves, removing any accidentally plucked stem, then stack them up neatly between my fingers before purposefully ripping that stack into pieces, and releasing those pieces as confetti into the wind.
There were many privet hedges lining the streets of Shields back then. I never seemed short of a privet to trail my fingers through. Which is lucky, because trying my privet ritual on any other shrub led only to disappointment and rue. Only privet would do.
They were comforting and inspiring and reliable. And their leaves were the most perfect leaves: the perfect shape, the perfect texture, the perfect colour, the perfect thickness, the perfect level of sheen.
As I got older, two things marred my allegiance to privet plucking: firstly, I found out privet was poisonous to horses, so we could no longer be friends, and, secondly, I began to feel ashamed of my enjoyment of destruction. Feasibly, those two developments could have effectively cancelled each other out, with such acts becoming both my controlled outlet and quiet revenge against a plant that threatened my dearest love. But it didn’t go that way.
At first, the longing was strong, and my ritual became a guilty pleasure I would permit myself to indulge in rarely, and certainly only when alone. But over time, I found it easier to restrain. And eventually I started ignoring the privets. No longer even trailing my fingers over those perfect leaves. It was as if they had lost their perfect sheen.
Today, primed to think about childhood by the audiobook I was listening to, I noticed the privet as I walked by. I stopped and acknowledged it. And I started to think about what the plant had meant to me. How strange it is for a privet to have played such a large role in my childhood. How strange it is to realise that I’ve been actively restraining from engaging with privet all this time. How strange it is to see I’ve been depriving myself of a bizarre but bonafide source of comfort and joy and inspiration, because of an equally bizarre sense of should, or rather, should not.
How very strange.
Then I plucked off a few leaves, stacked them, tore them, and let them go.