A generation ago, Jill wheeled her stroller across the uneven surface towards the garden centre.
Her toddler son giggled with joy at the jostling ride. Cheaper than a dodgem car ride, but just as fun.
The garden centre contained a vast soaring greenhouse than ran the full length of a city block.
One end of the greenhouse been converted into a warm, bright, spacious and relaxed café. No two pieces of furniture matched. Opportunistically rescued from charity shops and rubbish skips.
The walls decorated with an eclectic assortment of framed paintings, photos, posters that the owners had collected over the years from flea markets and overseas holidays.
Potted plants scattered throughout, added a riot of vibrant colours while absorbing sound from the otherwise echoing space.
A café run by gardeners. A greenhouse located in London, a city renowned for cold grey wet weather. Appearing to have been decorated by a budget-constrained blind person.
It shouldn’t have worked. But it did.
Today that same café would appear in design magazines and be sought out by Instagrammers. Laptop wielding hipsters and tourists seeking a genuinely “authentic” experience competing for tables to enjoy the unique ambience and good coffee.
Their very presence eroding what they sought. Crowding out the locals. Bringing a buzz to the once relaxed atmosphere.
The café was Jill’s favourite escape from the relentless grind of being a reluctant stay at home mother. She could enjoy a coffee and read her book, while her son devoured a cookie then explored amongst the maze-like array of trees and shrubs. The gardeners loved his enthusiasm and didn’t seem to mind the inevitable dirt and destruction that trailed in his wake.
Jill’s son appeared at her elbow sporting a huge grin on his dirt and chocolate covered face.
One hand clutched a handful of tags that he had randomly detached from plants throughout the garden centre. With the other, he dragged a pot containing a plant taller than he was.
“Mum! Mum! We have to get this tree. It’s the one from the story!”
She flicked through the tags he had thrust in her lap, searching for the one belonging to this plant.
Finding one that looked about right, she checked the projected growth dimensions. Jill didn’t mind the idea of some greenery in their postage-stamp-sized backyard, but was pretty sure the disagreeable neighbours would not appreciate a tree that grew so high it could touch the clouds.
Jill’s fears proved well founded.
Alas, the tag she had checked did not belong to the plant they brought home.
A generation later, Jill’s son was now a grown man with a family of his own.
The toddler-sized plant from long ago was now a towering tree that dominated the local landscape.
At first, providing welcome privacy to the back of Jill’s house.
Later casting a permanent shadow over numerous neighbouring backyards.
Shedding dusty pine needles and constantly leaking sticky sap over barbecues, decks, outdoor furniture and trampolines.
The neighbourhood didn’t agree on much. They were united in their loathing for Jill’s tree.
Jill didn’t care. She had long since moved away and rented the house out to tenants.
However, she did remember a neighbourhood of people who complained about noise. Blocked planning permission. Delighted in using lawnmowers or tuning engines at stupid o’clock on a weekend morning. Smoked beneath her son’s open bedroom window in the summertime.
Jill’s tree became her revenge.
Silent. Stubborn. Subtle.
A daily dose of karmic retribution to all those selfish people who had made raising children in the neighbourhood harder than it should have been.
Until this earlier this week.
The tree was dying. Likely poisoned.
Leaving it was becoming dangerous.
It needed to be removed.
I greeted a gang of young tree surgeons at the front door of Jill’s terrace house. One a high school drop out. The second, rebuilding his life after a custodial sentence. The third, an aspirational professional rugby player for whom the “professional” part required some supplemental income.
Entertaining fellows all. None would have been capable of completing the homework my elder son had been set.
They were going to have to carry the whole tree, one piece at a time, through the house and out to their industrial wood chipper on the street.
The day was cold and very windy. Rain was forecast for later that morning.
All things considered, I was feeling pretty good about my career choice.
No heavy lifting. Working outdoors in the rain. Up a tree. For not much more than minimum wage.
People surprise you
The morning disappeared into a cloud of sawdust. An endless procession through the house of men cheerfully hauling branches and logs. All serenaded by an orchestra of chainsaws and chippers.
They were quick.
Not a single branch fell into a neighbour’s yard.
At lunchtime, they downed tools and perched in the sunshine on my front step, eating packed lunches and drinking heavily caffeinated energy drinks.
Then an unexpected thing happened.
The tree loppers were mobbed by a steady procession of my neighbours.
Sections of beautiful yellow timber from the tree trunk.
Others opportunistically asked if they could have their own garden waste run through the chipper, or disposed of alongside Jill’s tree.
Some requested their own trees receive a quick shaping or prune while the loppers were nearby.
The young guys were polite and gracious. Far from being surprised, they seemed to expect the approaches. Their choice of lunch location was less casual than it had initially appeared.
Jill had paid for the tree surgeons to fell, remove, and dispose of her tree. She had paid for the required council permission, and the on-street parking restrictions needed for the truck and chipper.
Their boss had provided the tree-cutting equipment, the truck, and paid the young guys to perform the work.
The only thing they had to supply themselves was their climbing gear and their lunch.
Yet as I watched, those three underachievers magically transformed into gifted entrepreneurs.
They happily delivered load after load of the requested mulch and wood chips. Charging the local pensioners far less in cash than a landscaper or professional gardener would have demanded.
The parolee turned out to have been an apprentice furniture maker before some bad choices caught up with him. He animatedly discussed requirements with a guy from down the street, who has power tools echoing throughout the neighbourhood day in day out.
It was impressive how evenly and precisely they were able to cut the timber sections using just a chainsaw.
The neighbour made several trips with loaded handcart, happily paying a significant sum for the glowing yellow wood that displayed exquisitely patterned growth rings. It was destined to become a handcrafted custom dining table and chairs.
One lady even purchased bags of sawdust to line the floor of her chicken coup.
The guys spent the majority of their lunch hour selling off parts of Jill’s tree to those same neighbours who had loathed it for so long. In return, they pocketed far more than their boss was paying them for the day’s work.
I had looked down upon those young tree surgeons. Underachievers with no prospects performing heavy manual work in the rain.
I was mistaken.
They brought more smiles, and collectively earned far more money than I did over the course of the day.
Opportunities are ever present. They can be found anywhere.
Revealed only to those who are open to them.
Benefitting only those who are willing to act.
To take advantage when an opportunity presents itself.
Later that afternoon, the young guys finished removing the last of Jill’s tree and cleared up after themselves.
The rugby player canvassed the neighbourhood with flyers promoting the tree surgery business.
Meanwhile, his colleagues made additional pocket money fulfilling the earlier requests for pruning and shaping.
It was fascinating to watch how effectively the young guys were able to manage the competing demands on their time. They maximising their personal returns, without incurring the burden of operating a business or sourcing new clients.
Jill was happy. The removal of the tree would bring to an end a generation of complaints about sap, shade, and shedding pine needles. She had paid handsomely for the service, but felt it was money well spent.
The owner of the tree surgery was happy. A contented paying customer serviced. Advertising and word of mouth spread, likely to lead to further work in the neighbourhood.
The neighbours were happy. Their nemesis, the much-reviled tree, was gone. Many had also availed themselves of the sideline services offered by the young tree loppers.
Those enterprising tree surgeons were happy. In the interests of retaining reliable staff, their boss turned a blind eye to the sideline, providing that the main job was satisfactorily completed within the quoted timescales.
Anything they couldn’t sell on-site was returned to the depot, where the boss sold it on to professional landscaping firms. It was all gravy to him, his main source of profits were the tree surgery jobs.
My kids were happy. Their trampoline would no longer be regularly showered with sap, pine needles, and pigeon shit.
The only unhappy ones were the thousands of spiders who suddenly found themselves homeless.
It turns out the privacy previously provided by the tree had shielded us from sights that cannot be unseen. Our surprisingly flexible neighbours over the back fence need to invest in some curtains!
Maintaining a straight face was challenging when I bumped into them at the the garden centre café earlier today.
Fortunately I was able escape without seeming rude, as all the tables had been occupied by hipsters with laptops.
- Blyton, E. (1943), ‘The Magic Faraway Tree‘
- Merryman, D. (1734), ‘The Story of Jack Spriggins and the Enchanted Bean’, Round About Our Coal Fire, or Christmas Entertainments, 4th Edition