RICHARD WILLIAMSON Nature Trails...Holly comes into the home at yuletide

We cling to our holly berries and mistletoe markets as if we were still in the Middle Ages and rubbing shoulders with green men and the fairies with names like Robin Goodfellow and Jack-by-the-hedge. And a good thing, too.

When I was 18 my mother sent me a sprig of holly in her food parcel to my RAF camp in the Syrian desert for Christmas. All the lads who hailed from Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and the East End wanted to touch the prickles and see the red berries so it was hung up on the mess door. Everyone glanced up as they passed to the engine sheds and parked Valettas and Vampire fighters.

Then on Christmas Day with the turkeys on their final mission, having spent an unusual month in the open-air cinema with us (the only enclosure safe from desert dogs and foxes) as we watched Brief Encounter, A Matter of Life and Death and The Bells of St Mary’s, the holly sprig from Blighty was carried atop a plum pudding of burning brandy and actually went up in a crackle and a puff of smoke and everyone cheered.

A mysterious lad from Wales who never smiled and had an affinity with the Herculese aero engines said with wide eyes ‘that was a sign, boy-o’, but we never knew of what. I guess his traditional needs, including the 12 days of Misrule when the annual moment of rebirth is finally sealed and the partying is over, were neatly exorcised in one. He was superstitious but that fear just made his work on the Bristol engines even more fastidious for they never stopped in the air.

The desire for green undying life of the holly leaf and the red of the life-giving blood of its berry was interesting to see in all these practical lads transplanted out of their safe little homes to foreign fields.

Having no claim to fame myself I was somewhat chuffed to have been seen as the Magi who had produced the symbol. Also glad to have a mother who had thought of it in the first place.

Holly will come into my home this Christmas because the genie in my genes says so. It has all been implanted millennia ago. I was so glad to see the mistletoe markets in Tenbury Wells with their lines of the magic plant laid out in neat parcels.

So glad to see the avenues of holly berries in this week’s walk which seemed to lead me down into a land of Middle Earth where the subconscious is given free reign and everything seems possible. Even peace on earth. Happy Christmas to you all.