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The Phantom Tree-Slayer bites the sawdust

April 25, 2021

At the end of my previous post, I promised more when I had it on the Phantom Tree-Slayer who has been plaguing deepest Surrey. But if you read the English national newspapers, you will probably know that the saga is over. The alleged perpetrator has been arrested.

As it turned out, I didn’t join the tree patrol that public-spirited residents formed in order to stop the arboreal massacre. I doubt if my knees would have appreciated the effects of lurking behind bushes and hiding in the undergrowth in an attempt to catch the Tree-Slayer in the act. And if I had joined those who waited in unlit cars in the dead of night, I wouldn’t have been much use. I would have fallen asleep.

As I suspected it would, the story of the Tree-Slayer has gone mainstream. It even inspired a Peter Brookes cartoon in The Times (above), which showed Dominic Cummings cutting a tree under which Boris Johnson was sitting, a reference to the argument between two of our leading political miscreants, who are currently attempting to devour each other.

I suspect that my abiding memory of the episode will be the thought of the good citizens of Weybridge hiding in bushes in the hope of capturing the Slayer. It has echoes of Dad’s Army, except that the enemy was not a German spy, but a 24-year-old man in whose car the police found an array of tree-cutting implements including a chainsaw, a hacksaw and some rope.

No doubt when we discover what motivated the chap, he will be dealt with accordingly (unlike all the burglars and car thieves in our neck of the woods who have never been caught), and the episode will quietly slip into history. Perhaps his tools will become an exhibit in the Weybridge Museum, which sits above the public library in the high street. But for our latter-day Captain Mainwarings and Private Pikes, the thrill of the chase will surely be the subject of endless conversations in the St George’s Hill Tennis Club, Waitrose and the local charity shops.

Hopefully they will be encouraged to engage in other public-spirited acts of surveillance. Like catching people who scoop their dogs’ excretions into garish-coloured plastic bags and hang them like Christmas tree ornaments on bushes beside public footpaths. Perhaps also they will become COVID sneaks, and patrol the parks in the hope of catching those who break the sacred Rule of Six, or peek over each other’s garden hedges in the hope of capturing their neighbours hosting orgies under the cover of family barbecues.

Regardless of the aspirations of its activist residents, the Tree-Slayer outrage wasn’t the only source of excitement in our normally quiet little town. The other day, as we were sitting in our garden taking in the pastoral sounds of nearby tree-surgeons (genuine ones this time – our next-door neighbour was giving his forest a haircut) and manic lawn mowers, the sky suddenly became full of police helicopters circulating above. It seems that some guy got into an argument about where he could park his car when visiting the Marks and Spencer store. He mowed down a couple of people, killing one and injuring the other. Very sad, but also very Pennsylvania.

And then came a report that a diesel theft from a nearby bus depot had resulted in a spillage of fuel into the River Wey. We were asked to watch out for “wildlife in the river looking distressed”. Another job for the tree patrol, I suggest, who could station themselves by the river, ready to come to the assistance of collapsing joggers and little old ladies overcome by fumes while feeding the ducks. They could also report any local restauranteur who offers “a little diesel with your trout, madam?”.

I’m beginning to wonder how much more of this excitement I can take. A Surrey town whose main claim to fame is as the birthplace of Barnes Wallis’s bouncing bomb which wreaked havoc on the German dams in the Second World War has, it seems, become a hotbed of violence, pollution and mental instability. Maybe it’s no accident that H. G. Wells chose nearby Woking as the place where the Martians arrived in The War of the Worlds. Did he know something that we don’t?

I await the coming of the aliens with keen interest. Either that, or divine punishment for my cynical glibness.

From → Social, Travel, UK

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