The boys went conkering with their granny a couple of weekends ago. The couple of dozen they came back with looked so lovely we put them in a fruit bowl. Now the shine has come off them I've promised Thomas we'll plant some in the garden. It's a typically small London patch so, as we do with the walnut shoots that spring up from the nuts buried by the squirrels, anything that sprouts will have to be transplanted.
I'm very fond of tree-planting and must have planted over a thousand in my time. But one planting - or, more properly, transplanting - gives me particular pleasure. When at Oxford, about fifteen years ago, I had a room in a large, rambling Edwardian villa with only a small back garden, most of what was originally there having been eaten up by the College at the rear. The remainder was a rectangular patch of intensely green lawn.
One spring morning I was out there having a smoke, thinking, taking in the sun, when I noticed on the grass a little horse chestnut shoot. It must have been a seedling from one of the towering pink chestnut trees that marched along the college bounds, just popped up. In a matter of days, though, it would fall beneath the rotor blades of the year's first mowing. This couldn't be tolerated. Using some kitchen implements I dug it up and stuck it in a little plastic pot I found along the passage by the back door.
I watered it and occasionally chatted to it. It seemed happy enough and sat on my windowsill as spring turned to summer, lectures turned to revision then exams into parties and goodbyes. (It was around about this time T and I began to get serious - though serious doesn't really seem the right word when I look back at us satisfying our late night munchies by gorging on Dime Bar Crunch at George and Davis's).
When I moved to London, to a place in the Barbican, the sprout came with me. But almost immediately I was to go off to New York for a few weeks with my new job. Fortunately, people would be staying in the flat and I left no instructions at all apart from 'water my tree!' Naturally, they didn't and by the time I poked my head around the balcony door that September it was brown and stiff in its parched, shrunken soil, papery leaves hanging.
I didn't lose heart and resumed watering. It still seemed unwell, at best, but I took enormous heart from the single sticky bud that emerged from the top. As things turned out I moved flat three times that winter each time taking along what my friends began calling my 'stick'. I ignored their ridicule and kept it close.
That spring I was triumphantly justified: my ugly stick was transformed into a, well, stick with a leaf. But it lived! I nurtured it through the summer and when it went dormant again I transplanted it to the farm.
'Stick' indeed! It now stands about twenty foot high and, although it hasn't yet, I expect it will soon begin to flower and fruit. I feel very fortunate in having a living reminder of some very happy days.