Plague, Pee, Warts ‘n’ All



To our Saxon ancestors, cankers were treatable with ointments made of goats gall and honey. For those afflicted with malarial quivers on the East Anglian marshes it was the Quake Doctor who waved his wand.

Wart-charmers recommended rubbing a piece of meat on one’s crusty infection. When the flesh was decaying, so the wart disappeared. Or, you could prick the warty growth with a pin and stick it into an Ash tree while reciting the following rhyme:

Ashen tree, ashen tree, Pray buy these warts from me.”

The warts then download to the tree like a pagan PayPal transaction.

Daubed with a bubonic red cross, our proud Ashes have been condemned to become urban amputees, their flattened stumps sawn across by the chainsaw gangs of Lambeth’s tree surgeons. Citing disease as the reason for this cull, they have felled 6 of our 64 century-old monoliths, reducing their 60-foot reach towards the south London’s airliners to barely breaking out out from mother earth’s surface.

If a red cross were perfect targets for the saw to zip through, it’s also an epicentre for a local ritual. Each Saturday morning youth teams stud across the grass for minor league footie. But before the first whistle from the fatty referee who pants across the pitch to make that snappy foul decision, the boys line up around our side of the trees and piss sugary Isotonic juice up the trunk like Parisiennes in a pissoir. I’ve long-wanted to photograph this ritual of indecent exposure but my own kids reckon I could be reported for indecency myself by an accompanying touch-line dad. I reckon the council might be interested seeing as they’ve only this year renovated toilets less than one hundred metres away.

If ash yellows or verticillium wilt aren’t killing Lambeth’s 15,000 ash tree park population, perhaps it’s adolescent urine or just long-term neglect by urban councils who have recently awoken to slap on Tree Preservation Orders. Winter storms are becoming fiercer, bringing down trunks or minor boughs so they can’t afford the blame of passers-by or car driver deaths as happened at King’s Heath, Birmingham in 1999 when three were crushed by a terminally-ill Ash.

Art voyeur John Ruskin, whose name is given to this Edwardian arboretum, must be peeing himself against the rusty Pearly Gates.


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