Flattened

My earliest recorded escape from death involved an oak tree, a rope ladder and the Archaeologist’s small but determined arse.

At the time, about 1964, we lived high on the hills of north Surrey, in a semi detached house of no pretension or aesthetic merit with a garden split evenly between lawn and flower beds (my mother’s  domain and where the Archaeologist and I spent most time) and a vegetable plot where my father would disappear at times of stress or if housework loomed.

At approximately the meeting point between these two spheres of influence stood an oak tree. It seemed large to little me but was perhaps on the nondescript end of the quercus spectrum.

Part of the canopy hung over our neighbours’ fence. Our neighbour was a beardy Scot called Hastie – a wonderfully inapt name for someone so ponderous – who had something of a twinkle in his eye and an accent about as impenetrable as geometry was for me back then.

Being before children were recognised as a protected species and health and safety mantras ruined their fun, we had been gifted a rope ladder, made with an encouragingly modern orange nylon rope. In those swinging sixties, modern = good so, of course we two small but determined successors to Speke and Burton were allowed to use the rope ladder to access the oak and, by dint of the altitude, study Hastie in his natural environment.

An early picture of the Archaeologist with ‘that tree’ in the background

Such curiosity went unremarked and we enjoyed our innocent voyeurism for a while.

But being small, imaginative and instinctively reckless we moved the ladder from its sturdy perch to the highest point we could reach.

Imagine the scene: to our left Mum is deadheading some visiting relative while talking to her clematis and hoping soothing words will overcome the lack of any nutriments in the chalky Surrey soil, while to our right Dad is leaning on his fork, smoking a Silk Cut while pondering the vissisitudes of a man destined to sell chemicals for 20 more years.

Having changed the hanging point, the Archaeologist, as was expected of the older wiser sibling took his place on the top most accessible rung, while I, his willing Sancho Panzer, his Passpartout, slipped into a rung best placed to do what all brotherly shadows have done down the years: make the bigger older boy look good while hoping not to be noticed and thus either clumped or worse, banished.

Me, Punch the family dog and said tree to my right..

‘Look Mum! Dad!’

As our distracted parents turned to look at their offspring, the newly selected hook proved not to be up to its allotted task. If it was disappointed at this failure, history doesn’t recall. No one knows how it coped with the understandable disappointment of letting itself down.

What is known in the arena of ‘letting down’ is that Newtonian physics were alive and well at that juncture in North Surrey. Not for one moment had these basic laws felt so threatened by their quantum cousins that they shrugged their shoulders and allowed an uncertainty principle to apply at this point to the following equation:

two small boys plus a now unsecured rope ladder multiplied by the height above the ground equals an inevitable mess.

We dropped. Normally at that point in our lives, were we to undertake a race of any kind: foot or bicycle – the Archaeologist would soon overtake me. This time, whether through a growing appreciation of the need to let me win occasionally or some reluctance to test the evenhandedness of gravity he let me stay ahead of him in the ‘whose going to hit the ground first’ competition.

I did. Not by much and maybe, in racing parlance, ‘winning by a short head’ is as appropriate a way to describe my small but glorious achievement given what soon transpired.

As I rejoined the mammal genus after my brief sojourn as an avian and  hit the packed earth my head came to rest on the path. Without the benefit of a video replay it is impossible to know if I allowed my head to dawdle but the fact is it remained in place while the Archaeologist joined me as a flightless being.

If there’s been one constant in the Archaeologist’s life it is that he is instinctively drawn to the ‘comfortable’ option. In given circumstances he will endure trial and torment, but if things are evenly balanced, then he will tend to the cushioned.

And so it was that my recently winning ‘short head’ was joined by his small bony bottom, creating a path – head – bottom sandwich.

Afterwards my mother described the sheer terror of watching these events unfold. I don’t recall  much by way of consequence, frankly. I had a headache. I got a day off school. I saw a doctor – a Welshman given to long sentences and slurping tea – who told Mum not to worry which was far from helpful.

I don’t think I was brain damaged. Perhaps it was the trigger for my recurring  fascination with hitting my head on as many static solid objects as I can. One thing, however did change that day: I no longer climbed trees.

This is written as part of Irene Waters Times Past series, this month asking us to focus on a tree that meant something to us. Please visit her blog to see the other memories. I am a classic baby boomer living in the UK .

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published four books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars, Salisbury Square and Buster & Moo. In addition I have published two anthologies of short stories, Life, in a Grain of Sand and Life in a Flash. More will appear soon, including a memoir of my mother's last years. I will try and continue to blog regularly at geofflepard.com about whatever takes my fancy. I hope it does yours too. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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40 Responses to Flattened

  1. Chris White says:

    Hi there Geoff. I so enjoyed this. I like the style of your writing and the subject matter was very close to my heart. Great to be a baby boomer as well. What year were you born ? Chris.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The Good Ole Days, the vegetable patch and the back section was a lot bigger when quarter acre sections ruled the landscape [in NZ they did!]. Enjoyable post, Geoff!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Mick Canning says:

    It’s what small boys are meant to do, of course. Fall out of trees so as to learn it’s not a good idea. Tick. Job done.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Rowena says:

    Hi Geoff,
    I really enjoyed reading this. It reminded me a bit of the Famous Five all condensed into two boys, especially when I saw your shoes. They are very Enid Blyton! I used to love climbing trees and sitting in them and looking through the leaves. There were particular trees too where you were too small to reach the branch and had to watch all the big kids climb up without you. From that point, I think climbing trees was my first real experience of conquering the elements. There was a red Illawarra Flame tree at Church, which particularly comes to mind. We had an oak in our backyard. It apparently was a gift of Anthony Horderns, a big department store in Sydney, who had the oak tree as their emblem.
    Despite it’s auspicious origins, our oak tree “mysteriously” died. It was blocking the sun from our swimming pool. Nobody came out to investigate.
    BTW I think you should overcome your phobia of climbing trees and find one in your local park to climb. Maybe you could also wear a chicken suit or something and go all out. You wouldn’t want to be locked up without due cause.
    xx Ro

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Darlene says:

    I love this story!!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. trifflepudling says:

    Very amusing indeed! Do you still have the bump or scar?

    The mention of Silk Cut reminded me of my father, only it would’ve been Player’s Navy Cut. In ye olden tymes, people used to give each other special gift boxes of 50 cigarettes for Christmas or buy 200 cigarettes to see themselves over the Christmas holiday (all of 2 days back then!).

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great story Geoff. I am glad you survived to tell the tale. 🌼

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Those were the days. You jumped, you climbed, you soared, you fell. Kids these days have no idea what experiences they’re missing: scrapes and broken bones, bleeding noses and bleeding knees. These made baby boomers tough. Haha.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Ritu says:

    Oh His Geoffleship… now I know why you write such off-the-wall tales… it was that bump to the head with the added seasoning of your brothers bum landing on top!
    But seriously, glad you are still here to tell your colourful tale!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Wonderfully described Geoff! 😀 It was fun being a kid back then!! I too spent a bit of time perfecting the art of falling gracelessly from trees – fences, piano crates, shed roofs, washing lines……… Heck, you just made me realise all those years of practise allows me now to fall gracelessly from the floor!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. ‘deadheading some visiting relative while talking to her clematis’ 😂 made me laugh! Boys will be boys 😊 great post very funny

    Liked by 1 person

  12. gordon759 says:

    I am proud of my role in one of your first attempts to get an honourable mention in the Darwin Awards.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. JT Twissel says:

    A headache – I can imagine. Your poor mum.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Great story, Geoff. Lucky for the Archeologist’s bum that your head is so soft 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  15. LucciaGray says:

    Glad you survived! Pity about not climbing trees any more😂

    Liked by 1 person

  16. tidalscribe says:

    No visit to A&E then? My various tom boy accidents with trees, bikes and in Frencham Ponds never ended in a visit to hopital.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Charli Mills says:

    I love how you slowed the decent in writerly slow-motion so we could fully appreciate the flattened experience. Good on your brother to let you win a race for once, and good on you for cushioning his fall. A fitting story for Times Past: Trees!

    Liked by 1 person

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