The continuing story of Malcolm Brown and his transition from art student to arb expert on the local parks department

MALCOLM was no stranger to the perils of parked vehicles. Manoeuvring the team’s trailer around the narrow terraced streets of Hanbridge was always a nerve-racking task.

Eastwood was a particularly bad area, as not only were the streets narrow but also involved negotiating some very steep hills. 

Parked cars were the main hazard. In the early days it wasn’t so much of a problem but gradually more and more vehicles began clogging up the streets. To Malcolm’s thinking there were few things more nerve-racking than trying to ease a van and trailer up a steep gradient with only millimetres to spare either side. 

“Are we good?” he called out, for the tenth time in as many minutes.

No answer came back over the noise of the revving engine as he tried his best not to stall or burn out the clutch.

He leaned out from the van window and looked back. 

“I said are we good?”

“Yes! I’ve got my thumb up. Look,” called out Vannie.

“I can’t see it, you idiot. You’re in my ruddy blind spot.”

“You’re a bit tight this side,” said Phil Drake at the front and looking concerned at the left wing.

Malcolm sighed and hauled on the handbrake. He looked down at the spare five centimetres of space on his side of the van then crawled over the seats to the opposite window. On that side the van was practically touching the parked car and the wheel arch of the trailer was dangerously close to another one’s bumper.

Returning to the driver’s seat Malcolm slowly inched the van back until Vannie shouted out: “WHOA!”

“I think you’re stuck,” said Phil, with a talent for stating the obvious.

Malcolm swore. “All right. Everyone empty the trailer. We’ll have to bump it.”

While the lads manhandled the stump grinder and other items of equipment from off the trailer, causing several loose logs to go bouncing off down the road, Malcolm muttered curses to himself about bloody trees that would insist on dying in awkward places.

Eventually, with the stink of roasted clutch stinging his nostrils, he eased the van up through the narrow gap, as the rest of the team bounced the trailer away from the parked cars. 

READ MORE: It's physical therapy for Malcolm in Tree Gang

By means of this slow creep, he managed to reach the top of the street without causing any damage and vowed never to repeat it. Alas he knew full well it was a futile promise.

At some point it was inevitable he would have to go through the same process all again. 

The trouble was in a highly populated city like Hanbridge there was always going to be a problem with parked cars. They blocked alleyways, parked over grass verges, clogged Victorian narrow streets and crowded around the street trees he needed to prune. It made every job a ruddy nightmare. 

Even at home he couldn’t escape the problem. A few weeks back he had been quietly reading in his front room when: bang! A passing delivery van took out the wing mirror on his car. This latest in a series of unfortunate mishaps left a sizeable dent down the offside. Even with the driver’s details it still took Malcolm several months of increasingly frustrated phone calls and a final angry letter to get any sort of payment off the company involved. So Malcolm had personal reasons for being careful. 

“How’s things going with your car now?” asked Phil.

“Came back from its final spray Monday. The whole process has been one long nightmare. It’s taken bloody months. I’m just glad it’s all over.”

“Till the next time,” grinned Vannie.

“God I hope not.” 

Before the wing mirror incident he’d got into his car one morning to find it emptied of petrol. Some lousy local “tea leaf” had slashed the fuel line in the night and syphoned off a whole tank. When it happened again the following week Malcolm became paranoid. He now ran it with a near empty tank and kept a spare can handy to top it up. His girlfriend

Eddie had recently bought a house out in one of the moorland villages. He wished he could move out of the city to a similarly quiet location.

“Dead tree reported on Holden Green Road,” said Dave, his boss. “Can you take a look?”

Holden Green Road was the long, mostly residential, stretch of road that ran from Holden Green to the industrial estate at the rear of Pit Park. Thankfully it was wide, with private driveways.

However, the dead tree in question happened to be down at the industrial end where folk tended to leave their vehicles while they went off to work. Coupled with other cars dropped off for repairs at a nearby garage it made access challenging. By the time Malcolm and his team arrived after lunch, the road was already clogged with parked cars. 

“We’ll have to get down early in the morning, before folk arrive,” Malcolm told the team.

However, the next day, they arrived to find three cars already parked up.

“Well, we can’t drop the bugger with them in the way,” said Tim Kelly, eyeing up the tree, a large mature elm in the last throes of Dutch Elm. A surprising number of Hanbridge elms had escaped the disease that had devastated the rest of the country, and a few lone specimens could still be found tucked down its streets. This tree had not been one of the lucky ones.

“There’s nothing for it. We’ll come in at first light and cone the place off.”


Malcolm shook his head. “Not likely, but if it’s any consolation you can all finish early on Friday.”

“Good enough for me.”

And so it was, at 6.30 am the next morning, that Malcolm and his team arrived as dawn was breaking. Thankfully, the road was clear and they quickly set up their cones and signage. The team worked hard all morning and had removed most of the upper branches by break time. 

Leaving the tree looking like a huge deformed hand with stumpy fingers the lads retired to the van for a sandwich break. Malcolm had settled down and was just about to tuck into his food when Vannie came out with those four words he always dreaded. 

“I need the loo.”

“Damn it Vannie, you always do this when I’m just about to eat. Why didn’t you go back at the depot?”

“I didn’t want to then. I do now. When you’ve gotta go you’ve gotta go.”

“Me too,” added Phil.

“And I could do with the shop,” said Ray.

“All right. Fine,” grumbled Malcolm putting down his bap and starting up the van.

They left the cones and signs in place as they headed off to the depot and returned, via the local shops, half an hour later. It had only been a short while but in their absence and a cheeky motorist had moved the cones and left his vehicle in the fallout zone near to the half-finished tree.

“Oh for God’s sake! Couldn’t they see we were still working?” Malcolm ranted.

Leaving the lads with the van, Malcolm went around to find the owner. He called at the repair garage and other work units in the area but to no avail.

“What are we going to do now?”

Malcolm sized up location of the car and the tree and came to a difficult decision.

“Be really careful.” 

And so, with utmost caution, they continued to dismantle the tree. By careful rope work they managed to lower branches away from the parked car and completed the job without any mishaps. Afterwards, as they were cleaning up, Malcolm went around the car to make sure it had not been damaged during the work. It was clean, with the only mark being a scraped wing mirror that Malcolm had noticed earlier.

He thought no more of the job until a few days later when his boss called him into the office. 

“I’ve just had a call from the transport office to say your van has been involved in an accident.”

“First I’ve heard about it. When was this supposed to have happened?”

“Cutting down that tree on Holden Green Road. The owner says you scraped his wing mirror.”

Malcolm tersely informed his boss that the alleged scrape had already been on the car when they started.

“That’s as may be but you know you shouldn’t have been working around it in the first place. You’ll have to fill out an accident form.”

Malcolm sighed and drove round to collect a blue form from top office. Filling it out he wrote and underlined the words “already present” in the damage-to-the-vehicle box and drew a sketch of his van nowhere near the car. He hoped that in this instance the claim would drag on longer than his had.

That night he went to visit Eddie in her new house, a nice, old cottage in one of the outlying villages. Boasting fine views over fields and woodland it lay tucked away down an untarmacked road in a cul-de-sac shared by four other houses. Malcolm loved it as soon as Eddie had shown it to him and, when he stayed there, liked to pretend it was his country house. 

As he sat out in the garden relaxing with a glass of wine in the evening sun he pondered his future. Perhaps he could persuade Eddie to let him join her out here permanently?

Their on-off relationship had grown more stable in the last few months. He could sell his house and come live here in the peace and quiet. This country idyll could be his refuge from all the trials of the city.

Forestry Journal:

Suddenly a loud metallic bang from beyond the hedge shattered his pleasant reverie.

Moments later a sheepish man appeared at the gate in dusty overalls. 

“Is this your car mate?” he said.

With a sinking feeling, Malcolm arose to investigate. Peering over the gate he saw a truck loaded up with hardcore jammed hard into the side of his car. It had dented the wing, removed the mirror and crushed the driver’s door.

“I’m really sorry mate. I didn’t think to look it’s not very often anyone parks down here.”

Evidently, thought Malcolm, with a heavy sigh. 

So much for the quiet country life.