I saw an advertisement for classes in willow craft. It is tempting to learn a craft that has served mankind for millennia. I could make baskets and chairs that might take root in the garden, in wet weather. The Dutch wove many of their most serviceable dams from willow. Their Old Masters drew with willow charcoal . Cricketers and oarsmen ply their trade with willow. The phrase that caught my eye was: ‘Learn to make a dream-catcher.’ I don’t know what a dream-catcher is, but I already have one. It has a clunky name–‘a Blog,’ derived however, from ‘Web Log.’ A web is a dream-catcher. A log is a journal of a voyage. Fanciful, no doubt. It was suggested to me, some time ago, that I should write a memoir. I demurred, on the grounds that I had nothing memorable to write about. I decided instead to begin a blog, gathering together memories of almost three quarters of a century. One hundred posts and one year later I have a crazy-paving memoir, possibly even a mosaic.
This is Hattons’ Wood, a long line of trees and undergrowth, with a right-angled bend to the left. I wanted to live in this wood, when I was a child. I wanted to dig a burrow under a great tree and live in comfort, like Ratty and Moley in Wind in the Willows. There would have been some practical difficulties. Planning permission would have been tricky. Planners have very little romance in their souls, if indeed they have souls, when it comes to underground dwellings in the woods. Damp-proofing and carbon monoxide poisoning would have presented problems. Owls and rustling in the undergrowth at night, would have frightened me to death. I stayed at home.
The master-plan was to sneak into The Cane Wood on Milverton estate, steal some bamboos for spears, fishing rods, bows and arrows and steal away again, over the stile into Hattons’ Wood and along the beaten track through the forest, until we came to the corner. We could emerge with our spoils at that point and saunter across the fields to the railway station and home in triumph. There was a slight hitch. We heard a shot. The landowner and some of his murderous lackeys were out to kill us. It was just after the war, when such things were of trivial importance. Boys in school said that he drove around in a jeep, shooting at all intruders. A jeep? What’s a jeep? The Yanks had them in the war. We ran. My short legs could not keep pace with my two older brothers. ‘Come on! Come on!’ We came to the corner of the wood. They lifted me down a vertiginously high stone wall. I remember the neatness and precision of the blocks close to my face. My brothers held me by both hands. We ran and we ran, through hedges, across streams and railway tracks, never stopping until we had gained the relative safety of our back garden. We hid in the shed, listening for the rattle of jeeps and and the barking of orders. It seems that they lost the trail. I still recall the terror and also the tenacity and courage of my brothers who dragged me to safety, when they also must have been afraid.
You can still tell Milverton land by the cut stone gate pillars and the stylish cut stone stiles. I went back in later years to marvel at the high wall that I had overcome. It was no more than three feet high. I went back yesterday morning to catch the sunrise over Skerries. The wood is impenetrable. The wall is obscured by thirty feet of briars and thorn bushes.The wall and the memory of our amazing escape from death, lie secure forever, behind behind that barrier. The two windmills were directly in line. A sailor told me that if you keep the two windmills in line, you will avoid the reef at the southern end of Saint Patrick’s Island. That’s good to know, even when standing in the middle of a stubble field, just enjoying the view.
A fox broke from the cover of the wood. He startled me. He ran across the lower end of the stubble field. He flowed, with the grace of a jaguar and vanished into a hedge far below me. There was no need for him to run. I would never have chased him with spears and arrows or hounded him from his home. In another life we might have been neighbours in Hattons’ Wood. We might have sat together on the hill and talked of old times and woven our dreams and hopes and watched the daily miracle of the sun rising over Skerries islands. Good luck to you, fox, on life’s journey and may you sleep safely, wherever you lay your head at night.