Sad tale of a sycamore and a chainsaw
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Sad tale of a sycamore and a chainsaw

Every now and again there is a news story that leaves you scratching your head prompting the question "What were they thinking?" That was my reaction on reading of the destruction by vandals of an iconic sycamore tree in the northern England county of Northumberland.

Okay, there are much worse things going on in the world than chopping down a tree, but it is still hard to fathom why anyone would use a chainsaw on such a majestic tree. Two arrests have been made but at the time of writing no one has actually confessed to reducing the tree to a sorry stump.

The 300-year-old Sycamore Gap Tree, which was named England's "Tree of the Year" in 2016, was located next to Hadrian's Wall and stood out as the solitary tree in a natural dip in the hills. It was a photographer's dream with its striking silhouette becoming familiar to people around the world.

The famous tree and Hadrian's Wall featured as the backdrop in scenes from the Kevin Costner 1991 film Robin Hood Prince of Thieves and has often been referred to as "The Robin Hood Tree".

Some eyebrows were raised by moviegoers at the time because shortly before the film's sycamore tree sequence Robin was shown arriving in England at the chalk cliffs of Seven Sisters on the Sussex coast.

It appears Robin opted for the "scenic route" with cinema sleuths pointing out that in just one afternoon he walked from the south coast to Nottingham via Hadrian's Wall way up north, an extremely circuitous journey of 900km.

The tree has also made a couple of cameo appearances in the TV crime series Vera which is set in the Northeast. Maybe detective Vera Stanhope could put her investigative skills to good use and solve the Mystery of The Sycamore Gap.

Forlorn tamarind

There was a semi-famous tree in Thailand that was chopped down in the late 1970s although it was for practical reasons and there were no major complaints.

A large tamarind tree had grown on Beach Road in South Pattaya close to what is now Walking Street. The tree was in the middle of the road which was okay in the old days when apart from a few buffaloes there was hardly any traffic. It also served as a natural roundabout. It had become something of a landmark and when giving directions people often mentioned the tree and the popular Dolf Riks restaurant which was adjacent to it.

However as tourism grew the road became much busier and the tree was being hit by assorted vehicles. As tends to happen in Thailand it was the tree that got the blame, not the wayward drivers and the tamarind was chopped down. It was a shame as the tree had a bit of character, unlike the vehicles that collided with it.

Mistaken identity

Speaking of disappearing trees, over the years in Thailand there have been assorted illegal logging "mishaps" involving a lot more than a single tree. One case I recall in the early days was when a logging company was awarded a contract to fell 50,000 "dead or deformed" trees in a Mae Hong Son forest. Unfortunately the logging company inadvertently chopped down 50,000 magnificent teak trees in their prime which certainly didn't look dead or deformed. They also fetched a very tidy sum for the loggers.

The Forestry Department held an investigation as to why the wrong trees got the axe and subsequently one official was transferred to an inactive post. Case closed.

Secret sawmill

A few years later in the Northeastern province of Sakon Nakhon there were a few red faces when it was discovered that an illegal saw mill had been operating for many years only 100 metres from the local forestry headquarters.

Despite the fact that the sawmill made a deafening racket none of the apparently hard-of-hearing officials seemed to be aware of its existence just down the road.

Sandbags and soggy socks

October is traditionally the sandbags and soggy socks season in Thailand and by the look of things we will not be spared this month. There are already 1.5 million sandbags being prepared to line the Chao Phraya River but one gets the feeling that if the river really wants to flood it will do so regardless of how many millions of sandbags are available.

No doubt soon we will be seeing high-ranking officials sloshing around in their newly-acquired wellington boots. Named after Britain's Duke of Wellington, the boots were fashionable during the Victorian era. They became known as wellies in England while around the world they were referred to as gumboots, gummies and the splendid muck boots. The boots are usually black but in Thailand come in all colours. There is a choice of pink, green, purple and blue for fashion conscious folk although for some reason the wellies are white for those who work in Bangkok's wet markets.

Smelly wellies

Wellies are ingrained in British culture. In 1974 Scottish comedian Billy Connolly had a big hit with "The Welly Boot Song". It included the following inspirational lyrics: "Wellies they are wonderful/Oh wellies they are swell/ Cause they keep out the water and keep in the smell." Anyway, I hope all readers are spared Soggy Socks Syndrome in the coming weeks and don't have to resort to wearing smelly wellies.

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Roger Crutchley

Bangkok Post columnist

A long time popular Bangkok Post columnist. In 1994 he won the Ayumongkol Literary Award. For many years he was Sports Editor at the Bangkok Post.

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