It was the ash trees that set us talking: we were looking for signs of die-back disease, which is in Kent, and cannot be kept from the trees at the Glebe. So far, so good, but V reckoned on a further ten years before we know whether any of ours will be the ones to preserve the species into the twenty-second century.
Naturally we slipped into talking of the elms, still around in our boyhoods. ‘You’ll have to go to Brighton to see a good specimen now’, said V, ‘and they are pumped full of fungicide’. He told me they grow from suckers in hedgerows elsewhere, but once they approach maturity, the beetles find them, bringing the Dutch Elm Disease fungus with them.
A useful tree, we agreed, as well as beautiful. I recalled seeing pipes made from elm, even in the iron-founding Taff valley in South Wales. Perhaps the wood was more flexible, less likely to crack, than cast iron.
Then, what should I see beside the level crossing in Canterbury, but these carved elm gutters, fallen, I guess, from the back of a lorry. How old are they, I wonder? From the smooth channels and the splintered ends, they look as though they would have been good for a few more years’ service when they were hacked up.