Friday, 24 June 2011

Leave our lime trees alone, you bloody vandals!

At this time of year, we’d normally be looking out of our bedroom window down a narrow green avenue of lime trees in full leaf. This, of course, is an enormously warming and comforting sight: a riot of greenness in a  winding suburban street of orderly Edwardian terraced houses in England in late Spring.

Civilisation. Beauty. Tranquility. Bliss!

Only, every couple of years, the council sends round a gang of chainsaw-wielding thugs in hard-hats to pollard – or, in this case, massacre – these lovely trees. Yelling merrily to each other in strange, harsh accents they “hack and rack the growing green” as if nature and loveliness were enemies to be crushed.

A neighbour went out to speak to these licensed hooligans and asked them if they knew the names of the trees they were mutilating. Of course they didn’t. They probably don’t see many trees in the graffiti-strewn, concrete hell-holes they inhabit, and would probably rip them up for fun in any case.

Every time this happens, our council is inundated with complaints, and our local websites are full of the sound of people wailing, gnashing their teeth, and rending their garments. The complaints are mainly about the incompetence of the wrecking crews – who don’t seem to give a toss whether they’re doing long-term damage to the trees – and the appalling timing from the point of view of sensitive arboreal husbandry and pure aesthetics: we live in lovely roads, yet the people whom we pay vast sums of money to protect the quality of our lives seemingly can’t wait to degrade our delightful surroundings.

The council always responds, feebly, with the standard set of excuses for the brutal ham-fistedness of their assault on our environment – the tree-killers are all highly-trained experts, the timing’s a bit off because of all the weather we’ve been having, and it’s cheaper this way. These excuses boil down to: employing people who knew what they were doing would cost us real money, you can’t seriously expect us to respond to events in the real world, and we’re not going to sack any council employees just so you can have the services you pay for. (It’s currently a Labour council – as if you hadn’t guessed.

No doubt the council offices are festooned with posters and leaflets and directives advocating “Green” policies, banging on about how we’re all going to die because of climate change and the importance of recycling and suchlike nonsense. Of course, the great think about environmentalists is that they don’t much care for the visible environment. There was an item on the BBC yesterday about how extracting oil from shale would destroy large swathes of the British countryside – but eco-fascists don’t really care about that sort of thing, or they wouldn’t so gleefully have championed the erection of the vast, unsightly wind-farms which are currently, and increasingly, uglifying my beloved Cornwall.

To be fair to the council, one or two locals (almost invariably foreigners) regularly complain that these pesky lime trees drip sap all over their hideous, vulgar 4x4s - and who, in any case,  invariably park their penis extensions in our bit of road, where it’s mainly cherry blossom and ash. Well, if you don’t like it, move! The trees have been gladdening the hearts of generations of Chiswickites, and will be here long after you’ve buggered off to your next mercenary assignment.

As I gaze out at the sad, naked trunks of our glorious limes – which were asking for a bit of a trim, but got a full Patrick Stewart instead – I keep recalling that heart-rending Gerard Manley Hopkins poem, “Binsley Poplars”:

  My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,
  Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,
  All felled, felled, are all felled;
    Of a fresh and following folded rank
            Not spared, not one        
            That dandled a sandalled
        Shadow that swam or sank
On meadow and river and wind-wandering weed-winding bank.

  O if we but knew what we do
        When we delve or hew—        
    Hack and rack the growing green!
        Since country is so tender
    To touch, her being só slender,
    That, like this sleek and seeing ball
    But a prick will make no eye at all,
Where we, even where we mean
            To mend her we end her,
        When we hew or delve:
After-comers cannot guess the beauty been.
  Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve        
    Strokes of havoc únselve
        The sweet especial scene,
    Rural scene, a rural scene,
    Sweet especial rural scene.

I can’t pretend that our limes have been felled (one day, no doubt), or that we live on a “wind-wandering weed-winding bank” – but it would be nice if these turds could leave us alone to enjoy our “sweet especial suburban scene”.

“Oh if we but knew what we do”, indeed.


  1. Not that this will make you feel better about it but the same thing just happened down our way several miles from Chiswick…plane trees in the next street and a mixture of lime and plane in mine…all cut back to within an inch of their lives and leaving the streets looking sad and wounded. Conservative council so no political point to make. Cheap contractors involved I suspect but absolutely the fault of the council. Lovely poem.
    Tuesday, May 24, 2011 - 05:45 PM

  2. Gald you enjoyed the poem, Harumphrey. I'm a closet tree-hugger. About six years ago, we had to cut down a glorious Norway Maple in our back garden because it had simply grown too big for the space and was forcing up flagstones, fences (ours and a neighbour's) and a shed, all quite alarmingly. I don't want to sound too wet, but every time I go into the garden, or see someone hacking at a tree anywhere, I feel a genuine pang of guilt. Lovely tree, it was, but like many Norwegian things, just too damned big! If we eventually move to the country, I want to plant an orchard, so I can sleep with an untroubled conscience.
    Sunday, May 29, 2011 - 07:48 PM