The Value of Things: The Killing of the Black Tree


My friend Bronwen  is a gardener and in her care things effortlessly thrive and grow strong.

Gardeners are providers of food, makers of homes for wildlife, artists & designers, caretakers & nurturers of the land, and sowers of hope.

I might describe myself as a gardener, if my skill and patience matched that of Bronwen’s, even fractionally.

In Bronwen’s garden, there is a tree, and I’ve coveted this tree for many years.


I found one like it for sale in a nursery – quite by chance. It cost way more than I’d hoped, but I wanted it so bad, that I just handed over the cash and got it home.

I watered it and sat it in the shade and let it acclimatise for a few days and then chose the right spot, and dug a big hole. I filled the hole with water, and put the tree in, filling the soil back in with care, and finally patted it down to make it feel secure and loved.

Every day for a week I visited it, and it became the most valued thing in my garden and this remained the case for the next 8 years. It became known as ‘the black tree’
Paul said to me one day

‘of all the things in the garden, that black tree really is my most favourite thing’.


And like any gardener, I felt proud to hear this, but would never allow myself to openly agree to such a statement of preference, as doing so would be akin to admitting I had a favourite child.

Each Spring and Summer the tree bloomed for me, and the contrast in colours took my breath away, but despite that I became a little disappointed by it’s progress in comparison to the tree I admired so much in Bronwen’s garden.

Why had my tree not fulfilled its true potential I would think to myself. After all it was definitely capable of more.

In its 9th year, and after months of a grey dreary Winter the Spring came in. When Spring chooses to arrive she comes all of a sudden and in a rush of colours. The garden was suddenly filled with sunshine and noise.

Everywhere there is life,  joy and optimism.

I noticed that the black tree had become quite grown and beautiful. Though it was tall, it was hidden, and as the Spring turned in to Summer, one evening (and very much on impulse), I conceived an ill thought out plan to move it. Because if I moved it, it would be admired more.

So, fuelled by pride and I began digging.

And three hours later I was still digging and frustrated at being no further forward.

Initially there had been care and consideration but now with dusk coming, I turned to brute strength and tried to leverage it out.

Still no movement from the stubborn tree

I stood in the hole I’d dug for myself, right up to my knees and knew I’d come too far to turn back. Even if I wanted to, that moment was gone.

So taking the spade, I dealt a cowardly blow to the thickest root,  slicing straight through it. A fait accomplis

If I’m honest, I think the tree and I were both a little shocked by my brutality.

It fell to its knees as it tried  to catch its breath.

Frightened, I gathered it up quickly, replanting it in the dark, regretting wholly the sorry part I’d played in the story.

Two days later it shed all of its leaves in silent protest. I found them in a pile at its feet when I visited it.

Treating nature in a casual way comes with casualties. Always casualties.

My tree, in actual fact, had been just as beautiful as Bronwens. For all the looking I’d done over the years,  I just hadn’t been able to see it. 

Life is funny like that, realisation can come in the snap of a finger after living so long in obliviousness.

There’s not much left to say, apart from Autumn came soon after, and that was pretty much that.


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The Value of Things: When we Were Treasure Hunters & The Story of the Giant Cat

I was born in Bradford in 1969, and remember as a youngster watching a lot of TV. It was always on – that big old TV. There was no viewing supervision which meant I pretty much watched everything I wanted to.
Ealing comedies to Benny Hill, the news, to Saturday afternoon wrestling with Giant Haystacks & Big Daddy, songs of Praise to Jesus of Nazareth, the Professionals, to Westerns and Alfred Hitchcock. I watched it all. I read everything too. Preferring stories of the fantastic and improbable. Good overcoming bad. Lead characters in magical lands, with mythical creatures.  Bollywood films 

showed life as unpredictable, one minute bleak & tragic but that eventually everything always came good if you remained positive. So I became an optimist and began to believe that everything was possible too.

I decided I wanted to be an astronaut, it was that, or be a pirate. As it turned out, I became a project manager instead. I met Paul, relatively late in life by most peoples standards and noticed fairly early on that he owned hundreds of reference books. Sometimes he’d flick through them with me when he wanted to teach me something.

The shelves were stuffed full of them. Books on chairs and clocks, pottery, silver, tin toys, radios, cameras, Matisse, art nouveau, coffee makers, Danish art, Impressionism, architecture, building design, textiles and everything.

He’d amassed the contents of these in to his head. His job was ‘finding things’ . He found things that were beautiful, and of value. He found them for very little and sold them for more because he knew people would desire them. That was his job.
He was a real life treasure hunter. That’s what he was.
A seeker. A mid-century adventurer, an explorer.
I gave up the idea of becoming an astronaut, and thought being a treasure hunter with him was better.



So off we went, and got ourselves married. It was 2005 & we honeymooned in Italy. Italy was hot in the Summer, we hired a car, opened all the windows & travelled the whole length, North to South. East to West.

Through rolling valleys of sunflowers on Tuscan landscapes,and across perilous plunging cliff tops on the Sorrento coastline, over the dense truffle wooded mountains of Umbria.



We stayed where it appealed, sometimes in castle turrets, we’d eat in vineyards or olive groves, and at dusk we’d cool down in medieval squares whilst watching opera and drinking banana daiquiris

Everywhere we went, we’d stop and look for treasure. It was everywhere if you looked hard enough. We found grillo phones behind Vatican square and bought a suitcase full of them for a song.



Near Castagliano de Lago we came across a remote pottery one evening, and nearly didn’t go in, half expecting to find only mass produced pots for tourists
But we did go in, and that ‘dear reader’ turned out to be one of two of the most extraordinary finds of our mid-century modern life.

The pottery was piled high, full of vintage Bitossi. I really do mean piled high.
Vases, pots, stylised animals. All sizes and shapes textures and glaze. All in mint condition. All at a fraction of the cost you’d expect.
It’s what any discoverers dreams are made of and it had remained undiscovered.
We bought everything in there. Hundreds of pieces. All of it every last little bit.
I forget the name of the shopkeeper, now that years have passed, she thought we had sunstroke at first, and was mildly suspicious – but we paid her what she asked for, and went back the next day to work out how to get it all shipped home.
I remember unpacking it all a few weeks later, carefully, and feeling nervous and excited, heart in mouth – hoping it would all be as it needed to be.
It was.
A few weeks later she called to say she’d found a load more in her shed, and did we want it. Of course we said yes, we hadn’t seen it, but took a risk and hoped for the best.
When it arrived we found a giant cat had managed to find its way in to the delivery. He was solid and heavy too.

She said his ears were a little damaged but he was free if we wanted him – as way of a thank you for taking all of her stock

‘She’d decided to close her shop, and retire’, and go buy the lemon grove she’d always wanted.





So you see, the unlikely and improbable can and does happen from time to time.
I might not ever make it to the moon as an astronaut, (although as an optimist I’d like to think it might still happen), but being a treasure hunter has been a pretty good second best.

The giant cat shares the mantelpiece with  the blue rooster – I’ll go back to Italy one day, and he’ll come with me of course, and we’ll try to find that lemon grove.


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