There is no official title for those who, as small children, collected tree bark, yes, tree bark, as kids we would collect anything, and for a short while I had a collection of tree bark.
No, I don’t know why either, I suppose it seemed like a good idea at the time and was something that we could do with our pocket knives, yes, when I was a kid it was de rigueur to wander abroad on the streets armed to the teeth with pocket knives, either folding pen knives or a fixed sheath knife, as favoured by myself, a horn handled short bladed knife in a leather scabbard that we kept sharp by spitting on old peoples sandstone walls and rubbing the knife blade one way and the other – we’d often be found sitting and spitting on the stone walls of several suitable abodes while the old people stood banging on the window asking what the hell those kids were doing spitting on their wall like that.
We weren’t psychopaths or street hoodlums, just ten year olds who were allowed to carry knives and who managed to get through their teenage years without sticking those knives into each other with murderous intent.
Well, almost anyway.
There was a game we played when totally bored which involved one person being dared to place their left hand on a slab of wood or soft earth and spread their fingers apart, then use the knife in their right hand to stick between each finger in turn, getting faster and faster until they eventually managed to impale themselves and we’d all cry with laughter while they cried in pain.
Or the game where one person would be dared to stand still while the others threw their knives at the ground in front of their feet, the winner being the one who could stick his knife the closest to the unfortunates feet, that game usually ended with impaled feet and tears as well.
Come to think of it, it was usually the same kid who got dared every time, one of the Ackroyd brothers, either one would do, they were both as daft as each other and covered in puncture wounds as they made their way through teenage into adulthood.
So we’re walking back home from playing football on “the top field”, unsurprisingly the field at the top of the hill, when we pass the water tower at the very top of the hill and behind the fence of the water tower is a group of Scots Pine trees, they are still there, in fact I live on that same street now, yes there’s a huge water tower and reservoir at the top of our street at the very top of the hill, we have a community street rowing boat on constant standby, just in case.
Looking at those trees for no apparent reason the idea of a tree bark collection suddenly struck me as being a fine idea, something to distract from the stamp collection and postcard collection of late, why not collect bark, you could classify it and everything and then one day you might even grow up to be an expert on tree bark and get your own TV programme and everything, the more I think about it I think the BBC have missed a trick here.
So I reached through the fence and with my deadly four inch sheath knife I carved off a small piece of tree bark, took it home, put it in a biscuit tin lined with sawdust and made out a small label with “Scots Pine” written in my best hand writing, the start of my tree bark collection.
It was also the end of my tree bark collection for I quickly lost interest in tree bark and the world of natural sciences has been in deficit ever since, why just the other day an article in New Scientist bemoaned the deficit of tree bark specialists in the world today and I had to hold up my hand and admit that yes, I’m sorry for losing interest so quickly.
In fact I lost interest so quickly that my tree bark collection only ever consisted of “Scots Pine”, I lost interest so quickly that I didn’t even bother walking down to the end of our garden and collecting a further two samples from the Silver Birch and Oak trees that we had in our own garden, I could have tripled my collection from within our own garden but couldn’t be arsed, thats how quickly I lost interest.
But then I found another use for the sawdust lined biscuit tin with a different and highly illegal collection from the world of nature …