9 April 2017

Cherry blossom time

The street was lined with cherry trees, each one loaded with heavy clusters of pink blossoms. All exactly the same heady shade of pink. After all the streets we visited, all the little two-storey houses each with something right and something wrong about it, the cherry blossom swung it.

We were looking for a house we could afford in Walthamstow. There were things wrong with that house, like all the others, but it wasn't as bad as some, and there was obviously going to be a downside to every one of the houses that were for sale. This one had no fireplaces, an awful kitchen and vinyl wallpaper everywhere, but it didn't have pvc windows or a crappy home-made kitchen extension, or rooms that you could only get to through another room. And it did have a good sized garden with a cherry tree of its own. So we went for the immediate feel-good factor and put in an offer. Four months later we finally got the keys.

Every April pink petals made deep drifts on the pavement and in the gutters, and sprinkled the parked cars with pink confetti. Some of our down to earth neighbours thought it was a nuisance and swept them out of their concreted front gardens, but we were newly pleased every time. Our two growing boys were a plausible excuse for childish games, throwing handfuls in the air or at each other. Twenty years later, we still live there.

The trees must have been as old as the houses, nearly a hundred years old. The gnarly old trunks oozed resin and blocked the pavement in places, so you had to squeeze past between crusty bark and overgrown hedges. We lost a tree when the boys were still in primary school. The lady next door but one used to bleach her front yard every day, and the chemical run-off drained across the pavement into the tree roots, with predictable results. The council came and cut it down. Other trees disappeared, and the council filled some of the gaps with new trees, but they were all white blossom varieties, not pink.

At the end of the street is a little warehouse and lorries come most days to unload pallets of car parts in wooden crates, using a gas-powered forklift. The lorry drivers have a hard time parking in the narrow street, and several times they backed into my car, wrecking the driver's-side door just enough for an insurance claim, but not enough to make it worth getting the damage repaired. Eventually one of them managed to back into the tree nearest to our house, knocking it right over. I watched, torn between amusement and indignation as they decided what to do about it. They looked worried. Eventually they decided to hide the evidence by using the forklift to load the tree on to their lorry. Before driving off, they thought it would be a good idea to back the lorry onto the pavement to smooth down the patch of bare soil. Then they burned off in a hurry. I called the council but they were not very interested. So it was a surprise when a month later a new tree appeared, complete with two stout posts and a watering tube. As I write, it is getting to a decent size, past the stage of being easy to vandalise, and doing its best to resurrect the almost defunct pink blossom effect.

Last year most of the old trees were in a sad state, with obvious rot in the old trunks, and many dead branches. This year they all got cut down, all but three of the original trees, leaving stumps a metre high. Later, an expensive-looking machine came along to grind the stumps down to sawdust, and a new timber pole marks the location of each former tree. If that means replacements are on their way, maybe it's the beginning of another generation of hundred-year old trees.