Thursday, 12 November 2009

Wildfowl Management - Not Golf Course Management: And Elephant Memories

I bumped into a tree - a tree with a split personality. It had a trunk that wasn’t its trunk (in the tree-trunk sense): it’s trunk doubled as a nose. The tree was both an Indian elephant and a Red Indian, depending on how you faced it.
The elephant face had an eye – I’d heard of Elephantiasis – swelling of the lower torso: thick legs and swollen scrotums; I’d seen Lynch’s “The Elephant Man” (1980) with John Hurt as the unfortunate John Merrick who spoke like a door sticking; and let’s not forget the beautiful Hannah Gordon (the wife of kindly surgeon Antony Hopkins); I’ve been in love with her since 1972 (“My Wife Next Door"; “Call My Bluff”).
The last time I clapped eyes on her she was as fragrant as ever, presenting the highly successful “Watercolour Challenge” on Channel 4. In the episode I was glued to a group of Sunday painters were trying to depict the archetypal English village churchyard at Crowhurst, East Sussex, in watercolour.  The place seemed to have a placid beauty – in fact the village of Crowhurst is just the sort of wisteria cottaged village I’d imagined Hannah Gordon had retired to (she’s 68). Perhaps she just popped out from under her thatch – found a window between the jam pachón and her pension collection (from the village post office) to present “The Watercolour Challenge”.
I felt a sudden itch - an itch that could only be scratched against Hannah Gordon’s thatch – or at least, on the very gravestones the star of “My Wife Next Door” had rubbed against as she’d faked praise on those Sunday painters.
My guidebook says: “Crowhurst, with its famous yew-tree, is within a quarter of an hour's railway journey from either Bexhill or Hastings”; so I set out from London and alighted at Crowhurst an hour or so later, with a photograph of Hannah Gordon – book-marking “The Crowhurst Yew” – her face flattened against a mustached Victorian, jammed in a crack in the tree: A typical autumn day – thin sun between heavy showers. I make my way towards the Church. Here’s the guidebook again: “On the south side of the Church stands the famous Yew Tree, said by some to be three thousand, and by others fourteen hundred years old. Its iron-bound trunk and propped-up branches betoken its age: and the visitor, as he gazes upon it, may reflect with tolerable certainty that it was flourishing here when the Norman defeated the Saxon close by, more than 800 years ago. The tree is now 50 feet in circumference at its base, and 38 feet in circumference 6 feet from the ground.” The guidebook I am using is a bit out of date: Ward Lock &Co’s Red Guide, 1907. Would the ‘famous yew’ be still standing? My heart, like my pace, quickened. As I entered the village, I thought: funny, if this yew tree is so famous why I don’t recall any of the watercolourists painting it, or Hannah Gordon hugging it – why shun it?
Look: the ancient yew’s still standing; it dwarfs the 15th Century Church. I fight my way beneath the limb-like lower branches and vertical supports in search of the crack that leads to its heart – if I couldn’t photograph myself beside my favorite aging actress I was going to photograph myself inside one of the oldest trees in the land.
But look at this: the yew’s been fenced off. But would I have entered the crack? The tree’s infected - riddled with kind of disease (can trees catch elephantiasis?)
I’m looking for a crack and I find a bottom: this overhanging, seeping, bulbous, buttock-like branch reminds me of the baboon, Bosse-de-Nage (literally, “bottom-face”) who’s glowing buffed backside guided Jarry’s Dr Faustroll, Pataphysician, through Paris (by night) in a bed-boat (see “Hanging Around Toilets”, 29/10/09). But it looked too much like a zoo, this yew.
In search of a pew, I made for the church: but I didn’t get further than the porch, where I came across these books for sale. I was half-hoping to find a novel, often encountered in charity shops: “A Crack In Forever” (a great name for a climb) but I was out of luck. I settled for “The Manual of Ornamental Wild Fowl Management” instead. Look: it shows you "how to hold young birds for sexing".
Equipped with this knowledge I dropped a few coppers in the honesty box and headed off into Battle.
On the train back to London I replayed the day – examined my photographs. Bored, I blew up the books – look at this:
Not only did I miss out on Woody Allen’s “Without Feathers” – the perfect bookshelf companion to “Wild Fowl Management”- I failed to notice a novel about a hairdryer. Me who can’t fall asleep by just reading in bed: me who can't sleep at night without a hairdryer blowing me on the pillow! Me who’d once tried to shoot a thrush with a hairdryer! 
But I can’t really be blamed for missing these books next door to one another, I’d visited some ‘sacred sights’: elephants; memories; Red Indians; ancient burial grounds; buttocks; cracks; baboons; noses; split yew trees; split-personality trees, and Hannah Gordon, my wife next door (but here, next to a tree).

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