At 8.55 on Sunday morning Penny announced that she was going to prune the apple trees. She is always more alert than me first thing so it seemed safer to offer no comment. She dashed out of the bedroom in her customary blur.
As I lay dozing, I reflected that it was three years almost to the day since this had last been done properly. On that occasion, my old friend Owen – who is a musician or a landscape gardener depending on what time of the day or week you ask the question – was over from where he lives in Germany and, on a bitingly cold morning, gave them a proper and professional seeing too. They’d had some light trims since then but Penny was right: they now needed a serious haircut. Fine: her call. She’s the morning person round here. I slowly drifted back to sleep.
A few minutes later, I was woken by the phone: she was up the tree and could I bring her a saw? It seemed odd that she should have, for this task, taken her mobile but not anything to do the pruning. I guess that shows today’s priorities. Perhaps there’s a phone app that will turn a phone into a chain-saw but she’d forgotten the password and so needed the real thing.
As I got dressed, I reflected that, on such a lovely Sunday morning in late winter, many other people were probably doing the same thing: so, it was possible that this was not the only call being made by someone finding themselves in sudden difficulties halfway up a tree…
“Babs…is that Bab? Babs, it’s Claire…Claire…no, Claire from the Old Manor House. That’s right. Ha ha, that Claire. Listen – my dear, can you believe – I’m up an apple tree! It’s simply killing…what?…an apple tree…yes, of course it’s one of our apple trees, why would I climb up someone else’s apple tree?…well, yes, I know people do very strange things sometimes…why?…I’m pruning it – can you imagine?…Because it needed pruning…oh, why am I doing it? Well, I thought I would – such a lovely day, or it was, which why I’m…well, yes, I suppose we could have got a man in but I thought, well…well, no, as it happens I haven’t done it before but there’s a first time for…well, absolutely, always better to get a professional. But the reason I’m calling is that…well, of course they’ve been pruned before, I meant the first time for me, not the trees…yes, yes…a few years ago we had this wonderful man who did them for us, came all the way from Germany…yes, Germany…what?…no, of course he isn’t, Gerald would never allow a German to prune his trees after what happened to his father …goodness, I don’t know – Welsh, I think, but that’s not really the…really?…the person who prunes your trees is also a German teacher?…well, that’s terribly interesting, but…no, I don’t suppose our man teaches German, does he?…quite, why would he? They all speak German there already, don’t they? But I happen to know he plays the accordion…no, not your man, ours…what? No, of course he didn’t play it while he was up the tree…the thing is…hello Babs, are you still there?…oh good, the line went a bit funny for a mo…the thing is, could you come over?…yes now – you see, Gerald took this killing photo of little me, clippers in hand and looking desperately rustic but now he’s gone off to church and then the pub, probably…well, quite…but, as you might have noticed, it’s started to rain quite hard…no, of course I don’t need an umbrella, Babs. It’s the ladder – it’s fallen over and I can’t get…what?…in where?…oh – you’re in Bermuda, and it’s what?…it’s five in the morning…yes, I do see. I’m terribly sorry, I just thought…yes, absolutely, I’ll call someone else. Look, we must have you and Maurice over for lunch when you get…what?…,goodness me, no, I had no idea he’d left you, how shattering for you…oh, you left him? You must tell me all about…a girl’s night…oh, you’ve moved to Bermuda…and sold The Chantry?…Babs, I had simply not an inkling…gosh – well, anyway…yes, it’s been lovely to catch up…but I’ll let you get back to sleep…where, did you say?…oh, with Pierre…yes, quite…ha ha…well, I’ll just…oh blast, now I’ve dropped the phone…Babs? Babs! Can you hear me?…are you still there?…could you dial 999?…Babs!…damn, I think she’s gone…I don’t know if you can hear me, Babs, I’m just going to try this branch, it looks quite sturdy, if I just…oh, crikey…”