One Touch of Nature – by Eleanor Sturdy

Primrose Hill Short Story Entry

I arrived in Primrose Hill a long time ago and thought there was nothing I hadn’t seen.
But what on earth has been going on this year? In March, suddenly, the skies cleared, with no tracks from the metal birds. We could see more children in the park on days when they normally disappear somewhere. We spotted roses, hollyhocks and jasmine out this year with blowsier flowers and clearer, sweeter scent. We even heard that our lime tree neighbours in Ainger Road are less sticky and have a purer green hue than we have seen for many decades. Every day has been a picnic day, but much of the human chat we can overhear has been sad or worried, irritated or confused.

This is such a far cry from the early days, when those “excellent Victorians” stacked up bricks as Regents Park Road was coming together. The builders worked fast, and the terrace appeared quickly, ending up handsome with big, clear windows looking out at the new park.

Our family had become known for our ability to thrive in polluted places, so we were the absolute favourite for those plucky developers in London. The smells of house-coal fires, horse manure and all manner of rubbish were sucked in by us, and we provided oxygen as nature intended. We loved the jingling, clopping, snorting sounds of horses, soon joined by delivery boys on bikes with bells. The gaslights came in and gave us such entertainment as the lights buzzed and flickered, hissing and smelling in a new way.

Nothing prepared me and my cousins for the roaring monsters that were the motorised chariots, however. It seemed impossible that they would ever get up Primrose Hill Road, and many a driver would swear and curse when their new vehicle gave up and stalled on the climb. Horses passed by with a superior glance, easily more reliable than the metal contraption, or so we thought.

Pretty soon the fire-breathing dragon near Gloucester Avenue was pouring out black smoke which tainted the lovely new houses, getting into every crevice and making our human neighbours cough and splutter. We continued to grow and expand in girth, puffing out oxygen as only we could.

It was eerily dark in the two wartimes. We didn’t know why everyone was fighting but the chatting in the park suggested that many people didn’t like others back then. I suppose the songs and stories helped to stoke the locals’ loyalty, but we were already a mixture of Orientalis and Occidentalis. When screeching lumps fell from the sky and exploded near us, smashing some rows of homes, we understood the terror a bit more.
How fast the years have moved, with my waistline growing ever larger and my roots pushing through the walls and pavement beside me. I am rather proud now, standing as a fine specimen of my type, enjoying my annual pollard that means I can live next to the houses. My leaves get to the size of dustbin lids and cause the sweeper such a headache every Autumn. Some of the oldest members of our family are about 250 now, living down in Kensington Gardens.

My soft leaves were stroked this morning by a boy walking past who had time to stop and chat, instead of rushing by. I was glad of his touch, connecting me with everything around. Each day, absorbing the wind and drinking in the sudden thunderstorms, we trees do our thing. Nothing really bothers us, we bend and sway before whatever comes along.
As the lockdown year passes, the traffic is back and there is a new type around that is quiet and doesn’t smoke. Picnics seem happier; there are smiles returning and neighbours chat in the street, but strangely far apart. I wonder if the air will stay so sweet.
“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin…” William Shakespeare

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