30th May, 2010
Location: Churchill, Somerset – to be confirmed.
My sister phoned from Norway while up this tree about to interview Hugh Thomas. Reminds me of a story I read in a Norwegian paper about a bus conductor who was running in the forest. He leaped onto what he thought was a stone and it turned out to be an Elk, who chased him through the woods. He managed to scramble up a tree to safety where he called for help. While waiting there he got a call from a local asking for bus times. It was a small village and his mobile was listed.
So here’s the conversation with Hugh Thomas in the tree… the first of many conversations… in trees…
HD: Oh (ha, what? God? I don’t know Henrik, I think the trees are getting to you…) here we are up a tree, it’s Hugh Thomas, hello!
HT: I’m up a tree. Can you hear me?
HD: Speak again.
HT: Can you hear me?
HT: Yep that works
HT: Alright, well I’m up a tree…it’s quite a poplar, pastime.
HT: badum tish tish dong. Any questions?
HD: Err…well, what’s the first thing that comes to mind…about trees?
HT: Well, first thing that comes to mind is like, the last thing that come to mind innit? You’re just up a tree. The last thing you do is think. So you’re not really thinking about it, you’re just looking at it. You’re living with the tree, aren’t you? You’re not reeeally…conscious of that…first thing that comes to mind. You might be thinking, ‘Well, it’s a bit green! Slimy, a bit crusty.’ Or you might be thinking ‘God, it’s swaying around in this wind.’
HT: [laugh] Err, or you might be thinking ‘’Ow do I get down!’ All those things are first things that come to mind. You can’t remember which is the first one. (If) You’re asking for something a bit more profound about the tree it’s, that’s different…you know…you’re asking for something a bit more profound about the tree?
HD: Not necessarily
HT: [overlap] Right, just the first thing
HT: First thing is that…
HD: [overlap] Well when was the last time you climbed a tree?
HT: Mmmm! Good question! Probably last year…don’t think I’ve climbed one this year. I’m always messing about, so yeah, not a typical…non tree climber. Yeah…not…yeah, I wouldn’t say I went out and climbed trees, but…you end up climbing ‘em…
HD: You just end up climbing them?
HT: You do.
HD: You suddenly come t, come round and you’re up a tree
HT: Yep. Yeah. But they are er, splendid, aren’t they? No doubt about it. Come out the ground. Go into the sky.
HD: Have you ever planted a tree?
HT: Yeah many a tree.
HD: And have you seen them…seen the progress?
HT: Yeah? What from sapling?
HT: Yeah. My mother has a forest.
HD: Oh right, your mother has a forest?
HT: Well she did have. Planted it. Got it protected status, so that anybody who bought the house couldn’t…err…destroy it…
HT:…In theory, I’m sure that that, people get round that.
HD: She planted it?
HT: She planted it an’ m’dad planted it. I helped a bit.
HD: Wow. A whole forest?
HT: Yeah a little, little patch of woodland
HT: Wouldn’t say it was a forest
HT: It’s called a forest, but that’s to us.
HT: But then I call my allotment a farm.
HT: You’ve got to scale everything back a bit
HT: It’s about 2 acres, of forest. Oak.
HT: Oak an’…hazel and…beech…the idea was they’d coppice it and err, use it to err…heat the house.
HD: Oh ok
HT: But they didn’t reckon on getting old, an’ movin’
HD: Right so is it still…
HT: [overlap]…An Dad dying…
HD: [overlap] Is it still, it’s not in the family any more?
HT: No it’s sold. Sold the house, sold the er, land, sold the er, the whole…shebang, but, in theory the people who move in can’t destroy the trees
HD: [overlap] How do you get that status?
HT: Forestry Commission I think.
HD: But how do you, what’s the criteria?
HT: Err, you get it registered as a, patch of woodland, I suppose, so that it’s protected.
HD: Right. But who decides? I mean how, what’s decreed (? 3:38), you know
HT: Err, you’d have to ask my mother, err, wha, wha, what happened there…erm, they got a grant from the Forestry Commission to plant it, and I think that kind of protected it?
HT: [overlap] Basically, you know, some of the money for the trees was…somebody else’s money, which I think made it an official…project…
HT: [overlap] I’m not sure…
HD: So have you…uh, what kind of oak trees, how big are those trees now? Planted from sapling were they?
HT: Yeeah, whips, they’re called I think…
HD: So how big are those…
HT: [overlap]…Just one thing(?)…(4:16)
HD:…How big are those trees? Now?
HT: They’re climbable, yeah, erm…
HD: Where is it?
HT: Well she planted many a tree, even when I was a kid they were planting tree, when I was a tiny kid, they were planting trees…
HT: They were er, there was a tree like this, ’n it must be bigger than this now, cos it was like this when I left Yorkshire…
HT: Err…but they planted loads of tre, it was just an open field so all of the trees, in that thing are now, an’ some of them are as tall as this…not as, girth wise…
HT: Because they were kind of specimen trees? You know like they’d go up and they wouldn’t mutate like that one. They were sort of naturally…you know they’d, grown in a garden.
HT: Err apple trees, the garden’s full of apple trees there…
HD: Right. So could, could umm, could we conceivably go there? And climb a tree that you planted?
HT: Yep. That is possible.
HD: [overlap] You could, could you pick out, you know which trees you planted?
HT: Err, yeah within reason, there was a band of conifers as well that were planted. And that sort of marks things within the wood, it’s quite difficult. See the thing is somebody lives there now
HD: Yeah. Well we could, we could call them up ’n, ’n say that…your arty mate is doing a project ’n can we climb a tree…
HT: [overlap] climb a tree
HD:..that I planted
HT: Yeah we could try there, in theory…
HD: In theory…
HT: In theory. But there are other trees.
HD: How old are these trees? Now?
HD: The oldest ones?
HT: I reckoned they’d be…about…30 years old?
HT: Maybe the oldest, no 29, 28…years old, I would think? You’ll have to ask mother.
HD: Are you up, you up, are you into it?
HT: What have I got to say yes now and then it’s on bloody, recorded?
HD: [overlap] No, well, no. Are you in, are you into doing that?
HT: Yeah go on, yeah, let’s do it Henrik! Yeah! Yeah! High five arrrrrggggghhhh…
HT:…bumph. Bumph bumph bumph bumph. Thud. Yeah. Is that it?
HD: [laugh] That’s a good, it’s a pretty good start.
HT: Mmmm. But there’s trees in my garden I planted.
HT: That yellow leafed tree.
HD: [overlap] Could you plant, could you climb that?
HT: You could, climb it…it’s pretty, it’s a…
HD: A bit spindly.
HT: It’s a bit…spindly in places and also it’s a…acacia…tree I think, or something like that, and it’s got spikes on it lower down? It gets very spiky, it’s got like a big thorns
HT: Think giraffes eat them
HT: Giraffes eat them, one of the thorns, to stop other things going up there
HD: Right…[quietly] riiigh…
HT: But there higher up it’s got no spikes, cos they don’t need ’em higher up, so that…
HD: [overlap] Wha, what gave your mum the idea, or, your parents the idea to plant this…forest?
HT: They liked gardening.
HD: So it’s a gardening…
HT: [overlap] And the land down there was near, near the A22, and err…they wanted a… a woodland there, to deaden the noise of the traffic?
HD: [laugh] Right
HT: So there’s quite a lot of noise, an’ traffic. Err, it was also quite…difficult to landscape that land, you know, to…mow the lawns, or whatever, so plant the forest then, there’s nothing growing down below, really under a…canopy…
HT: You j, you just have grassy paths. And a, nice walk.
HT: So they could wander round their own garden. Didn’t quite pan out as they’d thought…
HD: Right. Did they plan, did they plant from seed at all? Or did they buy, like, little…
HT: We bought them from err a nursery, they come with err…you know, just in a big pile, ’n, we put a, plastic thing round ‘em?
HT: Stop the, bugs getting on them or something.
HT: Protects them. And then they grow out of that, to be like a little greenhouse for them? Sometimes they came with a little square thing on, made out of biodegradable…plastic…
HT:…Sort of kept them warm…Yeah and they had to water them, you know…
HD: Right, well it has got stuff, a lot of work…
HT: Yeah there was a lot of work in it, yeah
HD: How many trees? Roughly.
HD: We talking hundreds, of trees?
HT: Err would think so, yeah. Well…suppose, they put the…they were spaced every…sort of err…I think there were, there was a, a variety of them that were ones that you would be coppicing as you went. Soo err, I think they were spaced every 10 / 15 foot?
HT: [overlap] So you’ve got quite a large area. You could work it out. I reckon…maybe 100?
HT: Maybe 200? Yeah, I mean they just kept on buying ‘em.
HT: An’ you know, even trees that weren’t in the same, we were always planting these things.
HD: So…total change of subject…
HT: How do we get down?
HD: You’ve always got lots of…
HD:You’ve always got lots of things to say about a lot of things, so, come on, you must have another…
HT: Another thought while up a tree?
HD: [overlap] Or, or, ummm, or story, or, something about…
HT: Well I think a tree is a healing thing. That’s for sure. Your head feels cured. You know. People with hay fever should climb trees. And err, take it on man.
HT: That’ll do! I think err, people don’t get very close to the…there’s no reason for us to climb a tree, is there? I mean I climb my apple tree every year to pick the apples, but apart from that…there’s no…real…reason to climb it, but… it’s worth doing. I’d recommend it!
HT: Yeah, no…
HD: Healing things, when you say healing what do you mean? I mean, apart from, the obvious err environmental and err life sustaining benefits?
HT: Well I would presume the atmosphere inside this tree is different. (?) 10.41
HD: What just just, outside…
HT: That’s why we like the look of it. It’s kind of like a canopy of green. You know so, you’re rolling around in green aren’t you? So it, there must be something from that.
HT: That’s gotta be different this is where the oxygen’s coming out. You probably get high on the oxygen? But maybe it’s…something else?
HT: Err. I mean the other thing about a tree…is, like teaching kids to draw trees is hilarious?
HT: You know. Cos they can draw the tree as they know it, or they can draw the tree as they see it…and if they’re into it, they start to draw the space that, that, the tree fills? So it’s quite a dynamic thing to…sketch and draw…
HT: Paint. To paint it. And iif you just teach the kids the tricks of…making a tree…an’ they, an’ they like the look of it, that’s interesting. And that’s just…tricks, with the brush. You know, a tree looks like this…has this…configuration…
HT: Which…is probably very intuitive to anybody who looks at the world. Some kids, they haven’t seen that before? You know, that the branch gets thinner, and the…and the tributaries get more frequent as you go up and up.
HT: So there’s the whole…Fibonacci sequence of numbers that creates the tree. And if you look at any part of a tree that falls off, it contains that same…geometry.
HT: So. Like a…pinecone…So err, getting kids to wrap trees in…coloured ribbon an’ things like that, is hilarious…
HD: Have you done that?
HT: Done that. We’ve filled a tree…err we hung plastic ducks, yellow plastic drunks that we found. Somebody found them from a, river, err, duck race, and we hung them, in a tree…and took photos. Kids decided that what they, you know, they, all these resources in an art room, and they could play with the trees. Err…and then they took one duck and put it on the floor? That was a good photo. Yeah, so…
HD: Well, it seem like I’m gonna to have to get you up another tree, an’…do another interview…
HT: Oh yeah next week!
HT: Another broadcast!
HT: Henrik and Hugh! The two H’s go treeing!
HT: Right, we gettin’ down?
HD: [overlap] Cool, yeah.
HT: Right. Cheers that was great.
HT: That’s the best interview you’ll get.