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Reading Aloud 2

Parish Councillors in general and one in particular

We have a number of Parish Councillors, all of them interesting personalities managing communal affairs in the best way possible, lending their ears to complaints, suggestions or whatever of their parishioners whose welfare, happiness and general satisfaction is their heartfelt concern. After all, most of them want to be re-elected.
They spare no trouble to determine which place exactly is the best for the village bench donated by a generous sponsor and apply themselves to all sorts of petty, really, I suppose, but on the other hand important business, like the height of somebody’s neighbour’s hedge and other matters. They are always eager to listen to one and mostly give a favourable opinion on one’s comments. Some are optimistic about being able to help, others are more wary, but always show good will. Such was Mrs Rivers’ experience with one of them who said that of course it was in his power to remedy a certain situation.
However, nothing happened much to her annoyance. What a worthless fellow! Needing to assert himself, no more. She didn’t care for being treated like that!

Some of them are managers in their professional lives, one in particular who manages an estate and lives in a house with a French name.
Part of the estate he is responsible for is the small piece of woodland next to our house, this lovely little wood just right for everyday purposes, a twenty-minute-walk through it and back first thing in the morning or after tea. Exercizing ground for our dog who uses it freely. A convenient source for firewood picked up from the ground, of course. Quite a few people from the village go there for walks and sometimes the pupils from the nearby school use it for their cross-country runs. We keep an eye on this wood because we have become quite attached to it. There are vandals cutting down young trees, an affair I personally investigated, or youths throwing knives at trees. Rubbish is dumped in it such as car batteries, mattresses, etc. which we have helped to remove, and motorcyclists use it for cross-country practise.

When I saw the Manager for the first time one morning as I was about to enter the wood, I was overcome by a bad conscience. Something told me that this gentleman who had parked his Landrover by the side of the wood just where access was easiest must be the Manager. I knew it from a distance, but felt I couldn’t turn round really, it would have looked so silly.
He must have sent out vibrations of some kind which hit me : the way he stood, the way he looked, something in his physiognomy, his sleek hair, his steely eyes, his strong nose; not a big person by any means; wiry; good at handling a whip, I imagine, in agricultural surroundings, of course, with horses about the place.
I approached him bravely, bent under the barbed wire, the reason for my bad conscience being that the public footpath was far from where I was, and half expected to be called to task. He didn’t, just looked at me in a calm and cool manner. I moved on, feeling a bit embarrassed and then saw that his attention was taken by motorbike tracks. I seized the opportunity to distract him from my own trespassing by reporting that I had only recently seen motorbikes race through the wood. He inquired where I lived, immediately next door, he was interested to hear, and asked me to let him know any registration numbers I might be able to take. This request was accompanied by a steely-eyed look. I thought to myself “for heaven’s sake I shall never do that” and said aloud “alright”. I could then proceed on my way without further questions being asked. After this little incident I didn’t see him again for years.

There has never been a sign of the wood being used by its owner in any way at all, and although there is only the one footpath, people tend to use it all over. As a result there are plenty of “unofficial” paths. This must have been going on for years. One day I discovered something that made my hair stand on end. There was a fair-sized uprooted cherry tree overhanging one of the main “unofficial” paths and leaning on a beech tree on the other side. This beech tree showed signs of advanced rot just where the other tree rested on it some five yards above the ground. It was visibly a matter of time when both trees would come down right across the path. This discovery upset me very much. I wrote a letter to both Owner and Manager, asking them to please defuse this time-bomb. My daughter handed the letter to the Owner.

A few days later I saw the well-known Landrover at the side of the wood. The Manager was no doubt inspecting the tree in question. I told the children to hurry up, it was time to go to school, I always accompany them through the wood, but one of them had forgotten to clean his shoes, the other one to pack up her games kit, and when we eventually left the house the Landrover was gone. I was disappointed not having been able to speak to the Manager. In retrospect I must say that it was probably better that way.

The day after I could hear from our garden a noise in the wood. Heavy machinery seemed to be at work and a tree was coming down. I felt triumphant. Fancy what a simple letter could do! When the noise had stopped I went with the children to inspect the work. Great was my disappointment when I found that the tree in question was still in its usual place. But two or three other trees had been felled and taken away, presumably the Manager had wanted some firewood. I waited a few more days, obviously nobody owed me an explanation, and then got onto the phone.
The Manager spoke in this cool, calm manner that I knew. He had no obligation whatsoever to take down this tree, he said. The public had no right to go there and that was it. I could see his point and told my children to watch this tree carefully.

Two or three months later they came home one Sunday morning after having fetched the newspaper, shouting triumphantly ‘the tree has come down’! It must have happened during the night under the impact of severe storm and rain.
At the moment we’re busy sawing it up, every day a piece. Good exercize. Other people do the same. There’s enough for everybody.