Sunday 16 March 2008

Where the fall comes in the spring

14st 4lb; zero alcohol; 1,419; Lumbered.

I didn’t know him from Adam, but I really liked the style of Colin Anthony Graham, a retired insurance broker from Surrey whose unexpected death was recorded in the Daily Telegraph on Friday. Instead of the usual boiler-plate about “no flowers by request” or “please wear any colour except black” (a specification, incidentally, which guarantees that I will boycott your funeral), his grieving family wrote: “Donations may be needed by restaurateurs in mourning around London. ‘Born with the gift of laughter and [the] sense that the world was mad.’” My executors please note: your challenge is to do better than this. Or maybe I should just write the thing myself, and hope that the papers manage to reproduce it without any misprints.

My local walks over the last two days have brought home to me the fact that the campaign of tree destruction is going much further than the elimination of alleged Elfin Safety risks from the roadside. Yesterday I was sad to note the disappearance from beside a neighbouring farmhouse of a mature wood whose tall treetops were home to a large rookery. A number of the birds were flying around, cawing disconsolately. Today I discovered that a group of splendid beeches had also been felled, presumably because of their proximity to another house. They included a copper beech which I had always admired. Indeed, it has long been my favourite type of tree: the arboricultural equivalent of the Border terrier. I was particularly sad when I returned to my old college some years ago, and found that they had felt obliged to remove the gigantic copper beech which shaded the river by one of their bridges over the Cam. It was the scene of the single most embarrassing parental gaffe I have ever heard, when a mother announced to her son in a piercing cut glass voice, “Did I ever tell you that I lost my virginity under that tree?”

True, trees are a natural resource like any other, and one must expect them to be harvested. It is just unfortunate that more than a century of not-so-benign neglect (or, as the land agent memorably described it in a letter, “a previous long term policy of non-intervention”) means that there is so much catching up to do. If the promises of new planting are fulfilled, I am sure that the place will look absolutely splendid again in 50 or 100 years’ time, though this will be of little use to me. But then, frankly, how things will look in ten years’ time seems pretty irrelevant, too.

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