I’d like to tell you a story about a man called Jack. He is in his late thirties. He chooses not to work because he has his own projects to do. He doesn’t like forms or giving out personal information. He chooses to be anonymous from the world of databases. He likes to live his own life. He likes planting trees.
Jack loves gardening and has a passion for trees. He believes in letting everything grow to its optimum. He believes in bringing nature into towns to preserve the ecosystem. He dedicates his life to planting seeds along hedgerows and on wasteland. He says he is a guerilla gardener. He grows vegetables and fruit trees all over town.
One day he was discovered by the authorities. They said they didn’t like what he was doing and they cut back the trees. Jack was fuming with anger and decided to grow more and more trees whether they hacked them back or not. He grew a great lime tree in his front garden. It was admired by many though the local postman had difficulty gaining access to Jack’s front door due to the huge growth of this amazing tree.
Jack received a letter from the council asking him to remove or cut back his tree. Jack threw the letter away and carried on tending to his beautiful tree. Children loved it and one passer by told him the lime leaves were edible and very nutritious. He said the leaves are heart shaped because they’re good for the nerves.
Jack ate the leaves and started cooking amazing curries with them. His other favourite dish was veggie sausages wrapped in cabbage leaves from his garden. He would invite people round for sausage and cabbage dinner. His cooking was exceptional and we all came back for more.
He performed puppet shows and circus acts. In ‘The Dungeon’ as he called it (the cellar), he would hold great banquets where he’d dress up as a minstrel, play his violin and tell us stories. We loved him. He created a whole community spirit.
Jack wasn’t interested in the complaints he was getting from the council about his lime tree. The more letters arrived the more he tore them up furiously and threw them in the bin. He put a notice outside his front door, ‘LEAVE ME AND MY TREE ALONE!’
A week later he looked out of the window and saw a woman cutting at his tree. He shouted angrily at this mischief maker who had the audacity to step foot on his pathway and meddle with his prize tree. ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ The woman looked up and smiled.
‘Council orders Mr Strawman. We’ve had complaints about your tree and its in the way.’
‘You can’t do that to my tree! Who do you think you are?’
‘I’m an official of the council Mr Strawman and have an order to cut back your tree which is an offence to this neighbourhood. You have not complied to our requests and there is an order to cut back this tree.’
‘This is outrageous!’ Jack declared, clinging onto his pyjamas in disbelief. He considered throwing a jug of water out of the window onto this mischief maker’s head, but thought again.
‘That’s all Mr Strawman – all done.’ She left while Jack stared at his beautiful tree, all hacked up and forlorn looking. He seized his antique dagger from the cupboard, waving it in the air. ‘You think you’ve got me do you? Well, I’m not having it! I’m not having it!’
It was some weeks later when Jack received another letter from the council. He decided to open it, just to make sure his tree wasn’t under any further threat. It said,
Dear Mr Strawman,
We have decided that your tree is out of proportion with the rest of Concrete Street and does not fit into the general appearance here. If you do not comply with the following requests further action shall be taken. If there is any reason for this work not to be carried out please contact our office immediately. We also note that your property stands out in Concrete Street and is unacceptable for regeneration plans. You must either remove the tree or cut it back considerably. We enclose detailed diagrams of how this tree should look if it is still to stand. Exterior walls of your house must be painted in a neutral colour (white, cream or brown) with no other colours added.
Jack didn’t read any more, but threw the letter immediately in his open fire. ‘Who do they think they are?!’ he blurted out to the resident rat. ‘I’ve lived in this house for 15 years. How dare they try taking away my tree!’ He tore out of the house and took a load of chicken wire and wooden posts from the shed. With tools in hand he started to make a thick guard around the tree. He installed a spy hole on his front door so as to view anyone daring to chop down his beautiful tree.
Days went by. Jack was loosing his usual jovial state. He started erecting a platform by the front door so he could sit on it and peer through his spy hole. He spent most of his time doing this whilst children passed by looking mournfully at the well guarded tree. It now had barbed wire running all the way round it. It looked ugly and uninviting. The banquets and puppet shows stopped. Jack spent most of his time sitting on his platform looking through the spy hole.
Jack’s house did stand out. He’d painted it lime green and purple, with stars and rainbows above all the windows. He really had a talent for making things look unique. On each of the windows he’d painted an eye and on the front door it said in big letters, ‘JACK’S HOUSE, ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK BUT HAVE FUN’. As you came in through the front door an orchestra played automatically as if you were entering a concert hall. It was amazing. He was good with electronics and designing multi-media entertainment.
Jack had so many talents and ideas. There was no time to work for others and he didn’t want to anyway.
The next letter arrived, this time a court summons. He’d never been to court before and didn’t think he could face it. Why were these people hassling him so much?
Jack was worried sick about these letters. He was afraid to open them yet needed to know what was going on. He had little money left now. He had been living on the inheritance left by his parents after their car crash 6 years ago. He was living in their house. They’d always wanted him to express his talents and go far in life. The house was a great project and attracted many admirers. Children loved it.
But Jack was in the grips of turmoil. The council were threatening him with court action. What was he to do?
He said he didn’t believe in money. He only used it because he had to. He said he wanted to become a freeconomist and not use money at all if possible.
‘But you’ve got to go to court over your tree. What will you do?’ I asked him. ‘And what’s a freeconomist?’Jack rubbed his nose as he often did and didn’t reply. The one thing he definitely wasn’t going to do was give them any information about himself, sign any forms or cut back his tree.
As the court case loomed, Jack forgot to wash, shave or eat sometimes. He ate scraps of cheese or out of date biscuits. Bits of his hair started falling out. He didn’t know whether to go to court or not. We told him he could get legal aid. He was too afraid to discuss it with anyone. The thought of being in a court room full of Barristers and Magistrates was too frightening and brought a sickly feeling right from the depths of his stomach. He decided not to go to court and let it all just go away somehow. He was more concerned that no-one cut a single branch off his tree.
The court case happened without him. A week later Jack received another letter. They were fining him £500 for neglecting to follow orders to cut back his tree. Jack stared in disbelief. He grabbed a very old bottle sitting under the kitchen counter, whisky his dad used to drink. Jack never drank, but suddenly felt tempted.
Jack started drinking more and more. It lulled him into a quiet sleep. He would sit on his platform drinking whisky watching his tree out of the spy hole.
The bailiffs eventually came. Jack didn’t answer the door. He knew their tricks. He didn’t answer the door to anyone, just in case it was bailiffs in disguise. He didn’t trust the neighbours any more. The only friend he had in the world seemed to be his tree. Every day it was severely under threat. He talked to it often.
There was a news story soon after Jack’s trial in a national newspaper. Headline read, ‘Bees and Butterflies Dying out and in Severe Danger. More Wildlife Needed in Urban Areas. Tree and flower planting encouraged on national scale.’
When the bailiffs got in eventually when Jack was severely drunk they took most of his possessions, the valuable ones anyway. Jack was looking like a homeless vagrant. He hadn’t changed his clothes for months and was living off tins of spaghetti and biscuits. He drank plenty of whisky. His tree was withered but was left as it was. Jack was never the same again.
A year later the council decided more trees were needed in the town. They dropped Jack’s case and created incentives for people to grow bushes, trees and flowers in gardens, parks and wasteland.
Its a shame Jack wasn’t around to witness this. He was in rehab for alcoholism. He couldn’t remember a lot these days. That was the trouble.
THIS IS NOT A TRUE ACCOUNT BUT BASED ON A TRUE STORY