My Friends The Trees.

April 23, 2014

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What is it about Me and Trees ?

While writing a recent article on why I love trees it brought to mind another tree incident from my youth that brought me into direct conflict with the local law enforcement agencies of the period.

As I recall what started off a silly childhood prank quickly escalated way beyond my control and I was in danger of becoming the reason why the entire population of the village below the age of ten was grounded.

However, allow me to set the scene. We are talking about a picturesque English village set high in the West Country hills circa mid 1950’s. The sort of tranquil chocolate box scenes everybody thinks of when they think of England.

The roads into the village were like an upside down Y with a large tree right in the centre of the downward prongs, making a central feature and focal point for the village. Most of the village cottages radiated from that centre point along the three routes.

Close to the tree was the village public house, even more of a central vocal point than the tree, if you catch my drift, but don’t forget the tree, it’s important and we will return to it shortly.

Our cottage overlooked the centre of the village, and the tree was between our cottage and the pub. To my left and directly opposite the pub was the house of my best school friend, and co conspirator on this occasion. For the purposes of clarity we shall call him Alan… (I was going to change his name to protect the innocent, but what the Hell! He was as guilty as I was, and besides, I owe him one)!

Now to the central character, in those halcyon days rural crime wasn’t considered terribly serious so we had to share a solitary police constable with four other villages. Let’s call him Police Constable (PC) Plod.

Plod was a typical English country bobby, Ex Army recently returned from the Wars, solid and dependable, friend to all and known by all and of course a very obvious target for my practical jokes.

To cover his vast patch PC Plod was supplied with the standard black ‘Sit Up and Beg,’ Ex Army surplus bi-cycle, complete with solid rod brakes, battery operated front and rear lights, you know the type that wouldn’t attract the attention of any German bombers passing overhead.

Again for this time period in British history public house opening hours were something of laughable confusion to most people so it is hardly surprising that in far out of the way places like our village these laws were… shall we say stretched a bit.

Now enforcing said British licensing laws was strictly part of PC Plods duties, and on rare occasions he was known to do just that. To that end you had to know both the working code and the official procedure, If Plod entered the premises through the front door wearing his hat, he was on duty and had to be taken seriously and addressed in the formal manner, IE not called Fred, as was more usual.

If on the other hand he entered the pub via the backdoor with his hat and bicycle clips off… he was off duty and therefore answered to the name of Fred and available to drink all the beer on offer.

As I said this was a fairly well understood procedure for all pub customers and community members above the legal drinking age, it was not however, known to lesser mortals like us kids.
Please remember this small fact, because when I ask you to be the jury later my entire defence may rest upon your understanding of these facts.

One or two other small tit-bits of information that I’d like entered into evidence, for the defence, is that PC Plod was friends with and on first name terms with my father, they drank together and played darts on the same team. Our cottage had a Grandstand view of the centre of the village as well as the comings and goings from the pub. So it was not unusual to find Plod sitting on our stairs mug of tea in hand as he surveyed his patch in the warm. Our front door opened towards the stairs so I was well inside the house, door banging behind me before I realised he was even there.

Now, to find a fully booted and suited officer of the law in your house at any time is alarming if you are ten years of age, doubly so if you are me.

The trick here is not to show panic while your mind races in twenty different directions at once
A) trying to remember all the things that could possibly bring him here in the first place.
While B) is attempting to come up with a string of reasonable excuses why he’d got the wrong guy, or that one small child couldn’t possibly have done all that, or a big kid did and then ran away.

I suppose it was the silence that brought my mind back to reality; for instance my full formal given name hadn’t as yet been shouted out as if I was deaf… which was normal for these occasions and the fact that my mother was quietly getting on with dinner preparations. So whatever had brought him to our house that day it wasn’t me !

In normal circumstances normal children would just breathe a hefty sigh of relief head for the kitchen and food. But for some strange reason this man’s presence, hiding as he was behind the front door during my arrival home from school had annoyed me. He had scared me out of at least two inches of normal growth, which I never got back by the way, so some form of revenge was clearly necessary.

Later the same day Plod was back in the village after his rounds, Alan spotted him a good two seconds before I did, well he was well on his way to the six foot three inches he would ultimately reach, while I remained much closer to the ground. Of course by this time I had told Alan all about my recent scare and we had been discussing what I/We should do about it.

We watched as Plod headed towards the pub, pushing his bi-cycle and as he lent it against the wall he took his helmet off and headed for the back entrance of the pub.

With a fair amount of giggling a dastardly plot was hatched.

As the gloom of evening took hold of the day we removed Plod’s bike and with a bit of rope and a lot of grunting we hoisted it up the tree in the centre of the village and went home. As I described earlier both Alan and I had a clear view of the centre of the village from our respective homes so I was still hanging out the bedroom window awaiting pub kicking out time of 10 :30.

The following day was another school day, so at what point I gave up my surveillance and went to bed is long since forgotten. Suffice it to say the following day I arose refreshed and disappeared to school without a backward glance.
The only thing out of the norm for the day was that ‘Hissing Sid,’ the headmaster, (He had badly fitting false teeth that made him hiss whenever there was an S in the word, plus it was also beneficial to be seated in at least the third or fourth row of the class, a position reserved for the stupid but saveable). That day Sid had been called out of class mid morning and when he came back he declared an extra assembly before everybody went home.

No undue cause for alarm, this had happened on other occasions and usually was a forewarning of an appearance by the ‘Nit Nurse’ or other such grown up devised activity to cause embarrassment to children.

It wasn’t till we were ready to go home all classes duly assembled that ‘Hissing Sid’ returned complete with PC Plod to announce the theft of the policeman’s bi-cycle, a very serious crime and anyone who had any information was to come forward immediately….

Yeah… Like that was going to Happen ?

Like two old pros Alan and I didn’t flinch or even look at one another and even joined in with the growing clamour of chat until Sid brought the meeting to order and we were all dismissed.

I high-tailed it home making sure not to raise any suspicion as I rode my bike casually under the tree and hardly daring to breathe while looking up to spot that the bike was still there. “See ,” I reasoned with myself nothing had been stolen it was still where we’d left it.

Of Course unbeknown to Alan and I was the fact that it was well past midnight before the pub actually emptied and the bike was discovered missing. A local farmer had volunteered to take Plod home and lend him another bi-cycle until his was found.

Unfortunately for all concerned this borrowed bi-cycle merely added to Plod’s misery and to the list of things he was going to do to the culprit when eventually apprehended. I never fully understood the problem but apparently it had something to do with a wobbly misshaped saddle and piles. Piles of what was never explained to us.

However the missing bi-cycle was far more serious than two ten year olds could comprehend.

For instance it was official Police property and our pal Plod had signed for it and was responsible for its safety and wellbeing.

If in fact it had indeed been stolen then he had lost his official mode of transport and would have to formally inform his superiors (IE the desk sergeant) in the nearby town where it would be logged in the counties monthly crime figures as an unsolved crime. This in turn would look bad on the Chief Constables annual report to the Home Office Department of the Government and in due course all hell would come down from on high upon any humble PC who would be so careless to allow his bi-cycle to be nicked in the first place. Or put another way, he was in deep Do Do’s and looking for someone to share it with.

Of course all the usual suspects had been rounded up for questioning, well Alan and me… but faced with the criminal charge of stealing…. We hadn’t stolen anything. Relocated perhaps but not stolen, so needless to say we denied all know knowledge and decreed a wall of silence was necessary.

Now whether by cleaver police deduction and detective work or by sheer process of elimination the attention of the investigation again turned back towards the kids of the village. There were veiled threats of mass groundings, an increased police presence and the compulsory inspection of all
bi-cycles for road worthiness but even this was to no avail. Neither Alan nor I cracked and because we hadn’t bragged about our supreme cleverness either there was nobody to squeal on us.

Although it had to be said that all the kids for miles around started to have their own suspicions and if they were to be found guilty by association and grounded them the true villains would be shown no mercy from any quarter. This was getting seriously out of hand.

When those tactics failed and the mystery of the disappearing bi-cycle entered the fourth day and the weekend approached an area wide Amnesty was called. No action whatsoever would be taken against any party for any information that led to the recovery of the missing property, IE one official policeman’s bi-cycle with a PC Plod sized saddle.

So I cracked and told my father everything, well almost everything, obviously I had no idea who did it of course, I’m dumb but not that dumb, but I knew where the missing bike was and took him and showed him the offending article still swinging quietly up the tree.

Needless to say the whole village knew about it long before Plod arrived to reclaim it but now there was the more serious issue of what to do about it so as to protect the guilty from prosecution and prevent the local Bobby from becoming the laughing stock of his fellow law enforcement officers.

Over another late night in the pub and consumption of a considerable quantity of beer the grownups concocted a cover up story. Obviously some drunken ‘ner do well ’ had purloined the constables bi-cycle to get himself home but being too drunk to ride it got fed up pushing it and tossed it into a ditch where it was duly found by the neighbourhood children.

So the villains became the heroes, so to speak, and I may well have got off completely unscathed if I’d kept my mouth firmly shut. But alas, full of heroic pride I had to ask if there was a police reward as a result of the recovery!

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4 Responses to “My Friends The Trees.”

  1. Raani York Says:

    This was a hilarious memory to read about, Merlin. I LOVED it – and of course I spread word all over the Internet. It’s so GREAT!! Thanks for sharing! What a crime! LOL

    • merlinfraser Says:

      Hi Raani, According to Buddha,

      Good deeds bring good results.
      Bad deeds bring bad results.
      Your own deeds bring your own results.

      At the time we were too young to know, or care, probably and we were just having fun.


  2. It wasn’t hard to get in trouble as a kid Merlin, merely walking out of the front door aroused suspicion in every adult. Guilt by association was common to the 7th degree of separation to the heinous crime at hand. I set fire to a bloke’s garden shed by the railway lines. What an event, fire engines, Plod on his pushbike (my godfather of all people) he kicked my arse all the way home, then when the old man came home he had a go to. I think with him though the punishment was for being caught.

  3. merlinfraser Says:

    Hey Laurie, you sound as if your childhood mirrored mine in so much just being a kid was cause enough to be rounded up among the usual suspects. Although in my case it was probably justified, I was one of the smallest kids and always being pushed to the front.

    My usual excuse being ‘A big kid did it and ran away !’


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