My good neighbour acquired a leylandii tree when he bought the house. It was a small, unprepossessing bush at first. He was in two minds about it for a few years. It became a bird colony. It gave privacy to both of us. We quite liked it. However, in a few years the thing became bigger than both of us, as the saying goes. It cast his garden into perpetual gloom. The grass died. It banished us from our garden by half past three, in high summer. Neighbours further up the hill, lost their view of the sea. It laid its malign fingers on our apple tree and our two beloved cherry trees. The lawn turned to a mucky wasteland under its shadow. It had become a mal voisin (A BAD NEIGHBOUR) like the mediaeval siege tower of the same name.
It has been said that if you want to subvert society, cause domestic strife and civil broils, set brother against brother and neighbour against neighbour—plant leylandii everywhere and we will be at each other’s throats in no time. I have no such story. Our good neighbours came to us and discussed chopping the thing down. We agreed with alacrity. Our son, experienced in the business, undertook to do the job with a chainsaw. He disappeared up into the canopy. He was higher than the houses. He took a pruning saw and a bushman saw. A disembodied voice called instructions to those below. He humbled the enemy, laid it low and sliced and diced it into firewood. We counted the rings. The damn thing was only twenty four years old.
Suddenly there was light. Our gardens recovered but the fruit trees were a lost cause. Spectacular fungi clothed the apple tree. It had to go. The cherry trees lingered for a year but they were beyond retrieval. The blackbirds, the ‘little wobbers’ as my grand daughter used to call them, no longer came to steal–and discard–the unripe cherries. They never heard of deferred gratification. The number of ripe cherries we got from the two trees over twenty years, must have run into double figures. The immediate beneficiary was a clump of orange lillies. They became a jungle. Drastic action was called for.
“I say! I say! I say! My dustbin is absolutely full of lillies.”
Margaret and I cut the cherry trees down. A strong wife with a long rope is a great asset at such a time. The same chainsaw man diced them up. We now had a light-filled corner with nothing but lillies. It became a project. It required a lot of hard work, a lot of black sacks and a few dustbins. I whistled as I worked. Lonnie Donegan came to mind. My old man wasn’t a dustman, nor did he wear cor-blimey trousers etc.
“How do you know they’re lillies?”
In fact he was more than tolerant of our various ventures, probably knowing that we would grow out of whatever phase was in vogue at the time. I got a guitar the year Elvis burst upon the music scene. Sex, drugs and rock’n roll, were not the motivation in those days. I would have settled for the fanatical adulation of young women. I got a lot of requests, mainly from my siblings, such as “Stop that bloody noise!” I abandoned my musical ambitions. Whatever ever became of that other chap, Elvis?
My brother and his friends formed a skiffle group, or jug-band. They practised in our kitchen There was a kazoo, an instrument that replicates the sound of a hundred wasps trying to sing in harmony. It doesn’t work. There was a washboard–very hard to get nowadays. Automatic machines and modern detergents are so much easier on the hands and incidentally on the ears. Somebody played a jug! My brother provided the pulsating rhythms of the brush and tea-chest: dum dum dum dup dup dip dip dip dup dup dum dum dum dum. Somebody sang in the appropriate adenoidal tones for skiffle. ‘My Old man’s a dustman…He wears a dustman’s ‘at..’ Practice makes perfect. My Old Man never objected. He read his paper in the sitting room and smoked his cigarettes. He drank his coffee, Kenya Coarse-ground, from Bewleys. He never punched anyone ‘up the froat.’ Occasionally he raised a quizzical eyebrow at some extravagant piece of virtuosity. They never become perfect. They stopped practising. The brush returned to its more mundane function. Tea chest are unavailable nowadays, anyway.
All abstruse musings as we work in the sunshine. We are nearly there. We have a bright corner seat, where we can sit, drink coffee, talk and probably foment other plans. The original plan was just to sit and drink coffee. As to Lonnie’s question about identifying lillies—
“Lily’s wearin’ ’em!”