Sent up a thorn tree by Mr Wee: Magnus Mills agrees to do the neighbourly thing and finds himself out on a limb

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Indy Lifestyle Online
MY FRIEND Mr Wee is 5ft 2in tall. I am 6ft 3in, so if he has any domestic chores that require tallness, I go round to help. If I'm lucky, he cooks me Chinese food as a reward. If not (which is more usual), I get tea and burnt toast. Mr Wee's manner is imperious, to say the least; I would describe myself as truculent: we get on very well together.

Recently Mr Wee summoned me to his flat and ordered me to bring my bowsaw. 'There is a tree obscuring my view,' he told me. I arrived on Sunday morning and removed my boots (a prerequisite for entry into the Wee household on account of the expensive carpets). I knocked and waited. And waited. Eventually the door opened and Mr Wee examined my feet before ushering me in. He did not apologise. 'I was just bathing the cats.'

We went through the hallway and the cats (Felicity and Solidarity) glared at me from the bathroom, their Sunday morning soak having been rudely interrupted. I continued my wait in the living room, surrounded by marble busts of great composers, Purcell coming from the gramophone. When the ablutions were at last completed, Mr Wee returned and I was given my ration of tea. He lit his pipe. The tree in question was outside the back window. (Mr Wee lives on the second floor). It was a great overgrown thorny thing and Mr Wee expected me to climb into it and remove some branches. I asked if we were allowed to interfere with the tree. 'Of course,' he snapped impatiently. 'I have permission to carry out the work from the manager of the block.'

'We'll need a ladder,' I said.

'Of course.'

Apparently it was all arranged: we were to carry the (borrowed) ladder through a flat belonging to one of Mr Wee's neighbours. I didn't like the sound of this, but said nothing. I got my boots on and we collected the ladder. We went to the other flat and I was preparing to remove my boots again, but Mr Wee told me it did not matter. He knocked on the door and it was opened by an elderly lady, Mrs Petrov. 'We're coming through with the ladder,' said Mr Wee. 'But it's Sunday morning,' complained Mrs Petrov, revealing a strong East European accent. Mr Wee muttered something and bustled into the flat, taking the ladder with him. Mrs Petrov followed him and closed the door. I waited outside. Presently I heard raised voices within. I began to feel uneasy. Suddenly the door was flung open and Mrs Petrov commanded me to come and help quickly. I dashed through the flat and found Mr Wee untangling the ladder from her kitchen curtains. She began shouting at him. He shouted back at her. Then she noticed my boots and shouted at me. Quickly I got the ladder out the back.

We started to examine the tree. I said that it was going to be a bit of a balancing act and I was going to get thorns stuck in me. This did not concern Mr Wee. 'Are you afraid of heights?' he asked. I said I was not. I started up the ladder and as I did so I noticed curtains beginning to twitch in another of the flats. I began to feel uneasy again and went up into the tree. A man emerged from the flats. He looked upset.

'Johnny, what are you doing?' (For some reason Mr Wee's neighbours call him Johnny, although his real name is Hock).

'This tree is obscuring my view,' came the answer. 'But you're treading all over my garden,' the man said, barely controlling his voice.

Mr Wee looked down at some crushed plants beneath his feet. He muttered something and led the man away to calm him down. I stayed in the tree. I heard no raised voices so I started work. I chose the largest branch that could be safely removed with a bowsaw. After much sweating, it dropped neatly to the ground. Mr Wee reappeared and peered up into the tree. 'Not that branch: that one]' he roared, pointing to a huge vertical trunk amounting to half the tree. 'I'm not cutting that]' I yelled back. 'I'll probably kill myself or put it through someone's window]'.

Mr Wee stamped round like Rumpelstiltskin. I sawed away at a few other branches until we both felt calmer. Then I came down. Mr Wee said he supposed that would have to do. I didn't strangle him. Running the gauntlet of Mrs Petrov again, we returned to his flat. I pointed out that his view was no longer obscured. In fact, so much light was flooding into the room that Mr Wee closed the curtains, thus defeating the object of the exercise. He grudgingly offered me another cup of tea. But there was to be no Chinese food.