Friday, 20 May 2016

The murder of the tree.

There once was an unremarkable tree.

The unremarkable tree nestled between a small block of flats, a wall and a ginnel. It towered above the flats, it's canopy spreading wide and the tips of it's wooden fingers reaching for the windows and roof tiles, scratching at them whenever the westerly wind blew.

My house is a shit hole. Mismatched brickwork, a rotting gate and a yard filled with builder's detritus as a result of the stunted reparations to the crumbling residence taking place within our walls but it did have, until recently, a remarkably good view of the unremarkable tree.

I smoke a pipe and, most mornings and every evening, I'll spend half an hour or so tucked between the bins at the back gate taking shelter from the wind, rain and snow as best I can whilst enjoying a bowlful of Steeplechase, Avro or Kentucky Nougat. There is little of beauty to look at around my shit hole (ooh, matron!) so I tend to lose myself in my thoughts as I puff away.

Over time and without noticing, I became familiar with the unremarkable tree. It had a rhythm in it's wafting and the tree would entertain me as it tirelessly performed a swirling, whirling jig. In the evening bats would join the ballet and perform complex acrobatics in the air around and through it's branches, occasionally buzzing me as I puffed away. In the morning, a crow would land on the very highest branch and caw his appreciation of the brand new day.

The crow was, for a time, the only bird brave enough to alight on the tree. At some point in the past so long ago that it now seems it was always there, a plastic bag from a supermarket became entangled in the tree's spindly canopy and would flap in the blustery winds, sounding a little like a hundred wings taking to the air all at once. The noise had become part of the soundtrack to my pipe-times, eventually going mainly unnoticed by either the bird or me. Over recent weeks my friend the crow had been joined by his brethren. First, a second crow appeared, followed by a third until a whole flock would arrive each morning.

I'm given to flights of fancy, spending much of my time lost in bizarre imaginings, and I started to name the crows, even giving some of them back stories. They would sit in approximately the same place each time, spread throughout the branches in a pattern that resembled a living family tree.

There was Tarquin, the original crow who took the highest position. Big and good looking, the oiliest of his clan, Tarquin was my favourite. Finbar was a bit of a clown, Tinny Lynnette loved a drink and Dave the Beak was a ladies man.

The motley crew were made complete by the addition of the final three, Twitchy Pete, 'Arry the Bastard and Carl Sagar.

A couple of weeks ago a man with a chain-saw arrived. He spent some considerable time attached to the thicker branches by a loop of old rope as he removed the less thick branches higher up. I watched him, all the while hoping that each time he loosened the rope and began to descend that his job was complete and that what remained would remain. But he didn't.

Once he'd reduced the crow's roost to a stump, the man with the chainsaw used a vicious machine to transform the woody perennial's dismembered cadaver into wood chippings and departed. The following day, someone set fire to the stump and, like a man pissing into an open grave, threw a stained mattress and some bags of rubbish on top of it.

The bats will find another hunting ground while Tarquin et al will find another tree to colonise. The new mattress that necessitated the burning of the old mattress will become stained and flattened with time. The wood chips will be spread over flower beds or treated and used to cushion the fall of children falling from swings and slides and I'll will still smoke my pipe in my grotty back yard. Life goes on.

But the family tree's gone.

A week or so ago, my uncle Jack shuffled off this mortal coil. I'd not seen him in donkeys' year, not since we buried his mother, the inimitable Granny Annie. His departure has resulted in my elevation to oldest Spacey, a status my uncle's younger brother, the bloke I called Dad, never achieved. My mother's still around, but she wasn't born a Spacey.

Yes, I'm aware that I'm displaying terrible sexism in discounting her but, in my defence, that's only because I'm terribly sexist.

I discovered he'd died when someone left me a message, in the form of a comment on a blog post. The Twitter-age version of slipping a note under a door, it was quite the shocker. The comment further broke two other pieces of sad news to me, in a sort of rip-the-plaster-off-quickly fashion, and was signed with a couple of kisses.

To be fair, it's so long ago now that I can no longer remember the last time I spoke to any member of my family, so I suppose that even bothering to let me know was a kindness I couldn't have expected. Of course, given my state of familial estrangement, it would have been possible that I go to my grave without ever having heard the news, creating a sort of Schrodinger's Uncle and keeping his jolly face and dry wit alive within me, but that wasn't the case.

I cried. Alone. The dogs were with me, staring at me and wondering if I had any food (Mercenary bastards, dogs are) but no one else who'd known him now knows me.

A family tree, gone.

What happens when Tarquin finally mistimes his escape whilst feasting on the remains of a cat on a dual carraigeway? Without the family tree he'll not be missed. Even if one of the other crows witnesses his cold, flat corpse how will they let the others know?

It'll probably be through an online comment section, but only because crows can't tweet.