A Country Life: Getting on the property ladder, treehouse-style

'It is unsurprising that a man whose best friend is his spirit level should also be a man of perfect equilibrium'
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The Independent Online

We have just acquired a new property. It stands in several acres of woodland in an area of outstanding natural beauty and has a west-facing aspect. Guests arrive by ladder and leave, if a quick departure is what they're after, by fireman's pole. Our new property, you've guessed, is a treehouse.

We have just acquired a new property. It stands in several acres of woodland in an area of outstanding natural beauty and has a west-facing aspect. Guests arrive by ladder and leave, if a quick departure is what they're after, by fireman's pole. Our new property, you've guessed, is a treehouse.

We had a treehouse in our London garden, yet no tree. Here we have, at a rough estimate, 150 trees. So it seemed only right and proper to have a treehouse built, although paradoxically the profusion of trees made it much harder than it was in London to find the right spot. Eventually, in consultation with our carpenter, Alan Gwilliam, we chose a handsome old elm.

Alan, despite being carpentry's answer to Zinedine Zidane, had never built a treehouse before, and looked on the internet for inspiration. As so often with the internet, what he got was inspiration overload. Do a Google search for treehouses and you'll see what I mean. Never mind a Secret Seven summit, there are some that could accommodate a G7 summit.

Eventually Alan downloaded pictures of the kind of treehouse he had in mind. We all agreed that it looked great, and he set to work. Let me tell you about Alan. For several months after we moved here nearly two years ago, the house was a kind of battleground, full of regiments of electricians, battalions of builders and platoons of plumbers. Both Tetley's and Tate & Lyle reported record profits for that quarter. "Apparently there's a woman in north Herefordshire making 30 mugs of sugar an hour with a little tea added," said a happy Tate & Lyle spokesman.

Jane, however, was less cheerful. She is a resourceful woman, my wife, as most daughters of South Yorkshire are. But there were moments when the dust and wires and exposed floorboards began to get her down, and it was at those moments that she appreciated Alan not only for his preference for tea with no sugar!!!, but also for his reassuring, almost preternatural calm. I suppose it is unsurprising that a man whose best friend is his spirit level should also be a man of perfect equilibrium. Whatever, Alan, as she puts it, kept her sane at a challenging time.

So it is always nice to have him back, and it was especially nice to hand him the treehouse project, which he threw himself into heart and soul. He finished it inside a week and it is absolutely splendid. The children don't know how lucky they are, although it is not for want of my telling them.

They are even planning to sleep in there one night, which reminds me of a story my friend Mike tells, about an exchange visit he made to a French home 30-odd summers ago when he was 10. The French boy, Didier, had a wonderful treehouse, and his parents said that he and Mike could spend the night there. They were settling down in their sleeping bags, at about 10pm, when Didier's mother came rushing out of the house in floods of tears, crying: "Papa est mort, Papa est mort!"

Didier started crying too, and plans to sleep in the treehouse were abandoned. He and Mike trudged back into the house, while Didier's mum tearfully phoned Mike's parents to say that arrangements would have to be made for him to fly home to England the following day.

At breakfast the next day, the tears continued. Then Didier's father came into the room. Mike looked at him, astonished. He nudged Didier, and summoning up his best French, said "Didier, regard! C'est Papa. Il n'est pas mort!"

But Didier kept on crying. "Papa", he discovered, was the Pope. And they were a sufficiently devout Catholic family for the Pope's death to be not only distressing, but distressing enough to send Mike home. It's not really a treehouse story, but I love relating it, especially the bit where Mike assures Didier that his father is alive and well. Mike, incidentally, is now a big shot at Channel 4. He tells me that after being so abruptly and traumatically denied that night, he never has slept in a treehouse. Whether because of emotional scarring or because the opportunity has simply not arisen, I don't know. Either way, I think it's time he did and I know just the one.

I'm sorry, I clean forgot...

We have just voted for the first time since we moved to the country and how different the experience was compared with voting in the city. For one thing, the polling station was the home of some people a few fields away, Sue and Richard. We parked in their drive and there was Sue, behind a table in their hall, fishing out our voting cards and offering us a cup of tea and a piece of cake. We then had a conversation about their donkey, who had just died, which made Sue a bit tearful.

After composing herself, she told me she'd been meaning to call after reading in this column that our golden retriever Milo had rolled in badger poo and we simply couldn't get rid of the smell. When it happened to her dog, she said, she applied liberal quantities of tomato ketchup, then hosed down the fur and the smell had gone. We laughed about this for a while, and said we'd try it next time Milo rolls in badger poo. After 15 minutes of this we only just remembered why we were there. Democracy is a wonderful institution, especially in the country.

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