Afternoon Treat

In 1589 a botanical garden was opened in Basle, a Chestnut tree was planted in Duddleswell, East Sussex, whilst over in Somerset John Harrington was busy inventing the first flushing water closet at his house at Keelson in Bath.
He called it ‘Ajax’ a pun on an Elizabethan slang word for privy – ‘Jakes’ –
Elizabeth I ordered a Harrington WC to be installed at her palace in Richmond.
Seven years later Harrington under the pseudonym of Misacmos, wrote a book called ‘A New Discourse upon a Stale Subject: The Metamorphosis of Ajax’ about his new flushing Karzy. It was, however, a coded attack on the ‘stercus’ or excrement that was poisoning society, so good old Queen Bess, banished John for his naughtiness. The proverbial scatalogy hit the fan.
Now 47 years earlier Henry the Eighth was eating like a pig and getting fatter and fatter. According to Suzanne Groom a fast meal served to Henry VIII and Katharine of Aragon included ‘soup, herring, cod, lampreys, pike, salmon, whiting, haddock, plaice, bream, porpoise, seal, carp, trout, crabs, lobsters, custard, tart, fritters and fruit.’ And that was just for starters.
Henry got so fat, he couldn’t walk or ride – well maybe he could – but I bet he couldn’t stand the thought of his thighs rubbing together under his tunic and chafing on his cod piece. No Johnson’s talcum powder for that baby, and necessity being the mother of invention and all that, meant his serfs built him a platform to stand on called ‘Kings Standing’, a spit from Duddleswell. There he stood, on his little wooden tower, crossbow, in hand, firing off arrows as the deer ran past him.
Oh! dear. Are you still with me? Hope so.
I want you to fast forward to 1589 again, 47 years after ‘Henery the Eighth I am I am’ died, and remember that likkle Chestnut Tree sapling in Duddleswsell all tiny and growing, a mere five minutes canter from Kings Standing.
One hundred years later In 1689, as the Glorious Revolution revolted all over England, that tree, was still growing. It didn’t stop chucking out its branches even as George Washington was being inaugurated as America’s first president in 1789. Another century goes by and it dropped its sweet chestnuts as Vincent van Gogh painted ‘The Starry Night at Saint-Remy-de-Provence’ in 1889, then in 1999, as ‘Spongebob SquarePants’ had its premiere, oblivious to the goings on in that cinema, that good old chestnut tree still flourished. Another hundred years later and its 2009, and not even the appointment of the first ever lesbian Prime Minister of Iceland, Johanna Siguroardottir, or the overthrowing of President Marc Ravalomanana in Madagascar, or even Barack Obama, getting the Nobel Peace prize, could stop that rare old tree from getting bigger and bigger. In a couple of years time, when Trump has been banished to the newly refurbished Alcatraz, to make America great again, and Ms May may or may not be our first Minister, that Castaneae will still be standing, in the tea rooms at the Garden Centre in Duddleswell.
And if, like today, you have the pleasure, as I did, of sitting under that 450 year-old-tree, supping your latte, as the sun shines through the dappled leaves, or you gasp at the glory of the ancient bark as the plate is set down before you with the perfect bacon sarnie, it’s tomato ketchup oozing out of the soft white bread, if you decide to take an afternoon walk in Kings Standing, then settle beneath the branches of that ancient Chestnut Tree, with your very own old git, you may remember the summer of 2017 when Hurricane Irma battered Cuba, Texas, and half The Carribbean, and be grateful for this tiny piece of England.
God Bless us all.

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