Thursday, 27 September 2012

Trees

As a boy growing up in Kingsley trees formed an important part of daily life and Kingsley and its surrounding area was rich in trees of many varieties. Quite apart from the various bits and pieces that we made from the wood of the trees, the obvious reason they had been put on earth was to be climbed. We climbed them for all sorts of reasons, birds nesting, nutting, camp making, and as look outs in order to see what was going on over the hedges and in distant areas. But, I suppose, just like mountaineers we climbed many of them just because they were there and presented a bit of a challenge. Although I liked climbing I have never had a great head for heights and consequently I never went to the great heights of my pal Lewis Batty. Lewis was a real tree monkey and had no fear, he went where others feared to tread. Once again it should be remembered that for boys in the era of which I write, most of our pastimes had to be created, we had few toys and our days were spent in the open air pursuing whatever the seasons provided by way of time fillers and diversions. After each long day spent outside there would usually be a discussion as to where we would clear off to tomorrow. This, of course, was at weekends and during school holidays. School annoyingly interrupted our days during term time.
 
"Clearing off" generally meant leaving the house after breakfast and going off for the day in pursuit of some objective, it could involve the whole day, and our return would often not occur until tea time. That sort of day might involve going to rather more distant areas such as Oakhanger Common, the common beyond the Bordon – Farnham road out towards Lindford, or a trip to Alice Holt Forest in the Buckshorn Oak area. On the other hand it could have been a trip towards Worldham or Binsted. We walked miles but generally there was a reason for so doing. It could be in search of nuts berries or fungi, the location of new varieties of bird or animal habitats that might provide some bounty or other for self or school. The seasons played a great part in all of this but the weather was never much of a consideration, we went off come rain or shine and, for the most part, dispensed with coats as they got in the way. By the time we were ten or eleven years old most of us had a mental map of the whole of the village of Kingsley and the surrounding areas as described above. Registered upon it were the locations of where all the various species of birds nested, where to find the best nuts, sloes, mushrooms and wild flowers. Where the various species of fish were best sought, where to catch Harvest and Dormice etc. I still know where owls, jackdaws, stock doves, yellow hammers and long tailed tits nests could be found and many others beside. This then was the background to our daily routines and in which the trees around us played such a central role. Apart from climbing them we sheltered beneath them as necessary except, of course, when thunder and lightning was around. We had all had it well drummed into us not to get under trees for fear of lightning strike. We built camps in the trees and climbed them to hide from passers-by when we found ourselves in places that perhaps we ought not to be.
 
It was the norm, when on our wanders, and upon coming across a particularly interesting tree for the group to ask if any one present had been up it. If the answer was no, then it had to be climbed. This we did both individually and on occasions two or three of us together. If the lower branches of the tree were too high to be reached one of our number would stoop down facing the tree with his hands upon its trunk. The climber would then stand upon the shoulders of the stooper who would then stand up with the aid of the rest of those present thus elevating the climber to within reach of the lowest branch. If this were not achievable we would walk away from the trunk following the direction of a sloping branch and seek to grab it at its lowest point above the ground. The branch would then be held down by the non-climbers whilst the climber would grab the branch with both hands with his back to the tree. He would then swing his legs upwards in order to lock them around the branch with his body suspended towards the ground. In this way he would crawl forwards with hands and feet a few inches at a time until close enough to the trunk and larger branches to enable himself to swing around and gain an upward position and hence achieve the climb.On the way down the climber would slide out along the lowest branch, easing his body downwards whilst holding the branch with both hands until fully suspended and then quite simply drop the distance to the ground. This could be anything from six to eight feet. Upon reaching the ground the trick was to bend the knees and break the fall in much the same way as a parachutist would. I do not recall a single injury as a result of these escapades.
 
There were a number of specialised techniques which we developed whilst birds nesting and or egg collecting but I will deal with them in a later edition when addressing those subjects.
 
The other great Kingsley pastime was that of swinging! We were the original swingers!! Gasps of horror I hear. The Kingsley swingers were all small boys and had nothing to do with the modern usage of the word. Our form of swinging had nothing to do with dodgy parties, wife swapping and those sort of goings on. Thank God I hear the Blog Master muttering! Having read that the common is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest, I suspect swinging would almost certainly be banned upon it now. I am not sure how it all began, I suspect it was one of those days when idle hands became a little bored and upon searching for a new diversion some member of the group present shinned up a birch tree. For, it was the birch tree that featured in our swinging activities.
 
This is what you do. First find your tree, the quality of your swing, or perhaps more accurately your jump, is determined by the size and width of your tree. Depending upon the size of the climber, and ours ranged from seven or eight year olds through to thirteen to fourteen year olds, the trees size is important. The idea is that the climber climbs as high as he can up the tree. At a point when the tree begins to give the climbers hands are extended to grab the trunk above his head and he then throws himself of the tree sideways whilst retaining his grip. The tree bends gracefully and gently lowers the climber to the ground. Well, that is the theory and if you get it right it works very well. If you get it wrong you are sent back to earth with something of a thud. Anyway, the two important factors are the circumference of the trunk and climbing up high enough. Both of these are in relation to the size and weight of the climber. If the climber is too light and the tree too thick, when the climber throws himself sideways, the tree refuses to bend over and the climber is left dangling from a great height and the return to terra firma can be nasty. On the other hand if the climber is large and heavy the sideways throw results in an immediate reaction from the tree which, instead of gently lowering the climber down, deposits him almost instantly back to earth at break neck speed. Also not particularly pleasant. It is therefore very important when swinging to get the basics right and although, not an exact science, a little practice will result in almost total success. Swinging was, therefore, a much practised and very popular way of passing a few hours. The good news is the trees do not appear to suffer any damage as a result of the actions of the swingers. They are pliable enough not to break and in all cases they regain their former erectness within a couple of days. Thus favoured specimens were highly prized and used many times.
 
Quite apart from any conservation concerns that English Nature, DEFRA and numerous other modern organisations might have regarding the poor trees, I have no doubt there are a hundred reasons why the Health and Safety Police would object to such dangerous activities. Well, we must have performed hundreds of such swings across a wide range of childhood ages and I knew not of any injuries and not a single tree was broken. Do not attempt this with trees other than birch some are very brittle and do not bend well!! I do not anticipate large numbers of the Kingsley adult population to suddenly start leaping out of trees, birch of otherwise, but if I have any younger readers, this is great fun where it can be done legally.

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