Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush

Mulberry vodka

Mulberry vodka

Why do we go round the mulberry bush? And why do we do it on a cold and frosty morning? These questions, and many more, came up for me as I started to think about writing this post about a batch of mulberry vodka I have made. More about the vodka shortly, but what about that perplexing nursery rhyme?

A quick but comprehensive survey of colleagues in the office (actual sample size = 2) showed that I was alone in thinking that the final line of each verse is, “on a cold and frosty morning” and not, “so early in the morning.” Further research (on the internet) seemed to favour the latter, along with regular mention of an (unconfirmed) theory that the rhyme originated in Wakefield Women’s Prison in the UK. Coincidentally, I have been vindicated in my memory of the line on Wakefield Council‘s own website, where the lyric is listed as “on a cold and frosty morning.” The subsequent verses of the nursery rhyme deal primarily with daily life and domestic chores.

Singing about going ’round and ’round a mulberry bush, for no obvious reason, is an eerily appropriate representation of the most problematic symptom of OCD that I must bear with – singing , circular motion, and lack of obvious purpose for both. I have snippets of songs, or sometimes parts of phrases, that, under influence of anxiety, cycle over and over in my head. Not when when I am concentrating in a focussed manner on a task, like when reading, writing, watching something, or in conversation, but at most other times.

There are two great burdens to bear with this affliction. The first is that it is has never been as easy to treat as  other, less intrusive OCD symptoms, and it therefore almost drives me crazy when at its worst, and the other is the preconceptions people hold about OCD. Treatment for OCD usually involves Exposure Response Prevention Therapy (ERP), during which a therapist helps you to defuse each behaviour, so to speak, by first determining the overarching anxiety associated with it. Therein lies my problem. In therapy I have never been able to get to the bottom of the anxiety that has triggered this repetition. Without this base understanding, it is an almost fruitless task trying to apply ERP to this particular behaviour.

The second problem, misconceptions about OCD, is exemplified by the following additional coincidence in this story. While searching for answers to the nursery rhyme question above, I came across an attempt at humour on which quips that this particular children’s song may be a “jaunty” list of symptoms for an OCD sufferer. I could let that go, except that the accompanying stock image of someone washing their hands is captioned “This is the way we wash our hands, until they bleed, until they bleed…”

Having lived next door to an elderly woman whose OCD and fear of germs kept her a virtual prisoner in her own apartment, and whose wealthy adult children had relinquished all responsibility for her welfare, I can say this: it is not a joke to scrub your arms and legs raw, as she did; to be paralysed with fear that anyone may enter your home against your will, bringing their contamination, as she was; to have health authorities bring a locksmith to allow the police and paramedics to enter your home and forcibly remove you to a hospital, as happened to her; or to have your apartment, damaged by your constant running of water, and infested with vermin and mildew, declared unfit for human habitation by authorities, as hers was.

Ultimately my point is this: leaving aside the fact that OCD is not a joking matter, it is a much more varied problem than just being afraid of germs, or lining up objects on a table. I do not have a germ phobia. I am not a neat freak. I am not beset by fears that I have not locked my front door. And because of this, the response I most commonly get from people hearing that I have OCD, is the following exclamation, heavily tinged with doubt: “Oh really?”. I don’t seem to fit their perception of an OCD sufferer, so I must not really have it.

Frustratingly, I have the same problem with ADHD. To most people who know me, I seem to be the calmest person on Earth, so how can I possibly have ADHD? Well, let me set the record straight right now.

  • Many compulsions in a sufferer of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder involve mental rituals, not overt behaviours.
  • Adult ADHD has two subtypes – Inattentive (ADHD-I) and Hyperactive/Impulsive (ADHD-H). Inattentive symptoms generally manifest cognitively, not behaviourally, and most adult sufferers develop coping or compensatory mechanisms to manage or hide them.

The lesson to be learned is that just because you can’t see it yourself, does not mean that it is not just as intrusive or destructive for the sufferer, or that it is not there at all. Even as I write this post, I am struggling to keep the mulberry bush song from waylaying my efforts.

Small mulberry tree

Bill Nicholls [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Enough of my rant, now for some vodka.

One of the great delights at my workplace (a university campus) is that a small-ish mulberry tree grows not 100m from the front entrance to our building. I am not certain, but I think it is of the species Morus Nigra, or Black English Mulberry, and it looks a lot like the one in the photo above, only slightly larger. We have just reached the end of its prolific fruiting season and I took full advantage of the opportunity throughout the season to enjoy these delectable fruits. Apart from eating them fresh off the tree, I made Mulberry Crumble Cakes, Mulberry Bakewell Tart, and the batch of Mulberry Vodka pictured at the top of this post.

This voluminous jar lurks at the back of a shelf in my pantry and every time I see it I dutifully turn it on its head, (or back the right way up, whichever is next), and it is due for the great taste test in three weeks time. Yes, folks, it’s going to be a VERY MERRY Christmas this year!


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