Thursday, 21 October 2004

Careful with that axe, Eugene

A gang of crazy Italians has destroyed my hedge.

Woken by the sound of rhythmic thumping from a reverie over what to do with the stalled picture on the easel, I went outside to find three old men armed with a big axe and a pair of loppers cutting into the hedge.

Watching them wield the axe in a most un-Boy Scout-like manner (I had my Woodsman's Badge, so I know about these things) was really frightening. If the axe hadn't been quite so obviously sharp, I'd have feared for arms or legs ending up on my lawn. And arms and legs do make such a mess in the shredder.

Within an hour they'd hacked it down to fence height, luckily sparing the thick branch to which one end of my washing line is tied.

So why didn't I tell them to piss off and leave my hedge alone (apart from the presence of a glintingly sharp axe)? Well, because it's not really my hedge. It belongs to Lucy Smooth, whose husband used to keep it under control until he died.

It's not exactly hedge material. Not your privet or Leylandii. The gardens round here are regularly visited by the Tree Fairy who leaves little trees agrowing. Most people just pull them up, but years ago Lucy Smooth's husband thought it a good idea to let one grow and turn it into a hedge. Although it flowers, I've never seen it produce any kind of fruit, but I think it's some kind of Mountain Ash.

Training the trunk to grow horizontally, he allowed the branches to shoot away in a vertical direction, weaving some of them into a dense screen.

However, by the end of every year the branches are some fifteen to twenty feet high and have to be cut down or they'll turn into trunks. Since he died, I've done my best to deal with the monster. But as the tree-hedge is actually in the garden next door, I can't quite reach some of the branches and Lucy Smooth's son (who lives just over the road) is too indolent to lend a hand.

So it seems she's called in the local mafiosi to make the hedge an offer it couldn't refuse.

But I've been there. I know how the prune-craze can grip you when you set to with the secateurs, let alone a pair of loppers and an axe.

In a pruning frenzy, they gave the olive tree a flat-top. Then they parted the apple tree from its crown. By then everything in the garden was no taller than they were, so they retired indoors to shout at one another. It's the Italian way of having a conversation, compounded by aging hearing I imagine.

The wind sure as hell is whistling across the blasted heath and through the gap where the hedge and trees used to be. To make matters worse, on my way out today I noticed that a small blight on the hedge at the front (not mine either) has turned into some kind of arborial alopecia and there are huge areas of dead leaves and shrivelled berries.

I feel like my cocoon is under attack.

And the birds aren't gonna like it.

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