A couple of weeks ago, the monstrous leylandii trees which towered over my family home for three decades were cut down by a tree surgeon hired by the local residents' committee. The endeavour left the back garden looking very baldy and grim, though I'm sure summer's growth will temper some of the severity. It also left one tree behind, a silver birch that had forced itself up among the leylandiis, becoming shaped by lack of light into extreme, spindling lankiness. Imagine a 40 foot twig. That is what this silver birch looked like.
The tree surgeon told my parents that there was some sort of clause in his contract preventing him from cutting any trees other than leylandiis and this is why the silver birch was pardoned.
My father couldn't bear the sight of the silver birch. He anthropomorphised it (like he anthropomorphises all things, animate and inanimate), and the first thing he told me when I visited last weekend was, "that's an awful sorry looking excuse for a tree. The other ones destroyed it. We'll have to put it out of its misery."
Not long later he was sitting in its crotch, twenty feet above the ground, ready to engage in some DIY tree surgery with my mother's least favourite item in the entire universe, a chainsaw that he impulse bought in Lidl last year (actually, the chainsaw might be her second least favourite thing. Her least favourite is the portrait of Michael Collins that my father keeps placing in innocuous places around the house in a game of cat and mouse that has been going on with her for years).
While my father sat perched in the tree with his chainsaw, and my mother (and all of our neighbours, I later found out) watched with dread from the kitchen window, I stood in the football pitch behind the garden, holding a rope tied to the piece of the tree he was to cut off. The idea was to pull the piece of tree free and into the football pitch so that it didn't damage the shed on its way down.
As ideas go, it turned out to be a pretty bad one.
When I pulled on the rope and the chainsawed piece of tree came away, I knew that things were going to go tits up, mostly because they started to happen in slow motion. I watched my father flail in slow motion, then topple sideways in slow motion, then fall fourteen feet onto the shed roof in slow motion. The next thing I remember is holding him in place on the shed roof as I screamed down the garden at my mother, who stood frozen and ghost pale in the window.
"Ambulance. Ambulance. Call a fucken ambulance."
I think that's the gist of what I shouted.
This is the actual tree - the red arrow shows the point from which he fell.
My father was bleeding from his nose and he looked at me with an intense, weirdly innocent gaze I never saw before - confusion, desperation and fear all mixed up together. His trousers were torn and one bare leg jutted up away from him at a bad angle. He made a low croaky whistling noise - air going back into winded lungs. Naturally, I thought he was dying. So did many of the neighbours.
It transpired that almost every neighbour with a line of sight on our garden must have watched my father's ill-judged battle against the birch, because, within moments of his falling, the garden filled with people. They all helped out in a cool, sensible manner, calming my mother's nerves and helping me put my father into the recovery position. In stark contrast to the neighbours were my parents' chickens, which streamed maniacally through the back door, into the house, squawking and shiteing as they went, confused by all the people in the garden.
By then, my father was sitting on a chair, joking that he had messed up his hair, and insisting "no, I'll not bleddy go to the hospital." He signed a report, filled out by the flummoxed paramedics, describing how he had been implored to go to the hospital four times, in front of witnesses, and had refused to go four times, meaning it was his own problem if he died during the night.
taken by trees
Later that night I woke up chewing the air, chattering curses to myself. The back garden had filled my dreams, rolling far into the weird, space-and-time-traversing geography of sleep. All night, I dreamt of people falling out of trees. At 4am, I went to check on my father. He snored away peacefully, as if nothing had happened at all.