Why the Woodpecker Tree?

It goes back to something my mother once said. She reminisced about how, as a girl, she would take a book and slip down an overgrown path near her home, climb a tree and lose herself in the story. She escaped into a world of her own, and never lost that love of literature. She was a country girl of course, and it was easier to find trees like that in the 1930s perhaps, but I always dreamed of having my own reading tree.

I might not have had my tree, but some of my favourite memories take me back to the way we played in the 1960s as I grew up. An only child, I was blessed with imagination and could lie on my back at the foot of the garden path staring at the pink cherry blossom against a vivid blue sky, untroubled by demands from younger siblings. I also recall gazing at a privet hedge, catching the late evening sun after a wet day and being overwhelmed by the jewel-like sparkles on the dark foliage. “I’ll always remember this,” I told myself seriously. And, as you see, I did.

I may have been a quiet and imaginative child, content with her own company, but I have vivid memories of how my friends and I played and revelled in the world around us. On the day we moved to a new home, this hesitant 9 year old watched the group of children hanging around outside the gate, curious to find out who the new girl was. Dad spotted the stand off through the window and marched out to introduce his shy daughter to these new friends.

We stood for a moment, eyeing each other uncertainly, until one, ( Joy, I think it was, a bundle of red-haired, rosy-cheeked laughter), announced, “Come on! Let’s go and make mud pies!”

From that day on, my memories take me to the dens we built, the armfuls of bluebells we collected, the ears of wheat we picked and ate, the fences we balanced on and then fell and grazed our knees. We hurtled around the village streets on our bikes, climbed the hill to the old castle and hunted for caves and tunnels. And, of course, buried treasure. We started secret societies and planned midnight feasts, (which we never had, thanks to being good sleepers after all that fresh air!)

Yes, I was lucky to live in a village, but even as the landscape changed and Runcorn New Town took away our fields, we still gathered under the street lights and played, like the moths which danced around our heads. Our imagination was sparked by our world and, to us, it was better than any Famous Five adventure.

There is a tendency to look at those days through rose-tinted glasses and reflect that it was a safer world. Yet this was the era of Brady and Hindley and the horrors of Saddleworth Moor. We were aware then, as now, that the world could be a dangerous place. Yet we were shielded from it. We didn’t have mobile phones, internet access, online games. Violence was a Tom & Jerry cartoon, or the villains in those Enid Blyton mysteries. Television was Blue Peter and Crackerjack while you ate your tea, news was not for children’s eyes. As a result our imagination didn’t take us into darker places.

Today’s children need to escape from the unpleasantness of reality as much as we did. They need to spark their imaginations by observing the world around them and finding escapism in simpler things and searching for things which will make them smile. At the same time, it’s worth saying, I hope they will learn to respect the world around them, not want to deface it or destroy it.

My stories do not avoid the real world. Much as I would love the children of today to have a chance to build dens and make mud pies, I know it isn’t always possible. But if they can swing in the branches of the trees and listen to the birds for a while, just as my mother did, I shall be happy.

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