Plant a tree in ’73 they said. I think it was one of those government initiatives. They had built all those motorways and housing estates and multi story car parks and everything and people were getting worried that they were going to take all the trees and put them in a tree museum, and charge all the people one pound fifty to see ’em. Or something like that.
I think that they were also a bit worried because there had been an outbreak of Dutch Elm Disease, and as you know, that was no laughing matter. It was a bit like the 1970s equivalent of Mad Cow Disease or Bird Flu. And everyone was on tenterhooks every time the news came on, wondering whether the virus had managed to mutate into a form that could transfer to human beings.
Our Madge thought that she had succumbed to it one time. She had been out on a picnic with her Frank and she had told him that it was a Dutch Elm that they were sitting under, but he told her not to be so soft, it was an English one. He said that you could easily tell because the trunk wasn’t thick enough to carve a pair of clogs out of. She thought that all that meant was that it was probably a young Dutch Elm, but she didn’t say anything, because he used to get shirty if she contradicted what he had said.
Any road, the next morning when she woke up, she said her legs were throbbing, and she had a headache. She persuaded Frank to take her to casualty, and they took it serious. They ran tests on her. They drew blood from her calves and compared it with a sample of sap that they had got from the Forestry Commission. They made her pee into a funnel. They shone a little torch into her eyes and ears, and they made her stick her tongue out and say “ahh.” In the end it turned out that she just had varicose veins, so they just sent her home with some support tights. She wore them a few times before her Frank spilled ruddy copydex all over them whilst the balance of his mind was disturbed.
Still, varicose veins or no varicose veins, our Madge wasn’t going to go for any countryside picnics again. At least not until scientists had found the antidote to Dutch Elm Disease and either injected all the Dutch Elms with it, or had them all humanely destroyed. She did plant a little oak in her back garden though. She got it as a sapling from the garden centre. Frank dug a hole for it, and we all went round for a sherry one afternoon when she popped it in. It took quite well, but the people who bought her house after she died had it pulled up. It was interfering with the foundations and blocking all the natural light from getting to the kitchen window.
Auntie Doris’s Pop Topper of 1973: “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree” by Tony Orlando and Dawn. That yellow ribbon was the symbol that his girlfriend still wanted him back after he had been in prison. I wonder what he had been in for? It must have been something serious, they don’t lock people up for nothing. Although it can’t have been interfering with kiddies, because she ended up tying a hundred yellow ribbons round the ruddy tree.