Miles Kington: So what do they call a tangerine in Tangiers?

Nobody in Scotland ever called anything 'Scottish'. Whisky may be called 'Scotch' in the rest of the world, but in Scotland it's always 'whisky'
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Even in the depths of January there is plenty of nature to see in the British countryside, as we shall find out if we accompany Uncle Geoffrey on one of his inspiring country walks with his nephew Robert and his niece Susan.

Today they are going out for a walk in the Chilterns, so come on, children! Let's go with them!

"Here in the Chilterns it is still comparatively well wooded," remarked Uncle Geoffrey, as they strode through a stretch of spacious beech woods. "Of course, there was a time when Britain was all forests, and the early inhabitants could only find space to farm by felling trees and winning land from the forest."

"Nowadays the pendulum seems to have swung too far," said Robert. "I read the other day that there are not enough oak trees to satisfy demand. Indeed, they are even having to import oak from abroad. Not only that, but importing foreign acorns to help replant British oaks!"

"Can any tree really be said to be British?" said Susan. "How can a tree be conscious of national borders? Does it matter to a tree where it comes from?"

"It must do," said Robert. "Otherwise we would not have trees called Scots pines, and Turkish oaks, and Spanish chestnuts ..."

"I spot a fallacy there," said Uncle Geoffrey. "It is not the trees who choose their names, but the nationalistic human beings round them. It is the Scots who call their trees 'Scots pine'."

"Ah, now, I dispute that," said Robert. "Nobody in Scotland ever called anything 'Scottish'. Why should they? They take it for granted. Whisky may be called 'Scotch' in the rest of the world, but in Scotland it is always called 'whisky'. I would wager that the Turkish oak in Turkey is just called the 'oak'. And that a tangerine is not called a tangerine in Tangiers."

Uncle Robert said nothing, realising that Robert was almost certainly right, and wishing that one day his two young relatives would get their long-awaited comeuppance.

His wish was granted sooner than he expected. As they walked along the woodland path, there was a great cracking noise, and a huge branch broke off from a beech tree overhead, pinioning Robert and Susan to the ground, without, luckily, injuring them too much.

"Uncle Geoffrey!" cried Robert. "We are trapped! Get us out!"

"You were lucky to see that," said Uncle Geoffrey, staring up into the tree responsible. "Beech trees are especially prone to losing big branches, but one seldom witnesses it actually happening."

"Uncle Geoffrey!" cried Susan. "I can't move my leg! It's stuck under this branch!"

"People often think that when a branch falls from a tree, the tree must be rotten, and should be felled," said Uncle Geoffrey to his captive audience. "What nonsense! Trees can sense when a limb is misbehaving, and have their own mechanism for getting rid of it. When a branch falls off a tree, it is like us getting rid of unwanted hair or teeth or a frost-bitten toe, or something. So a falling branch is a sign of a healthy tree! Not a rotten one! And yet you get townspeople moving into the country, who as soon as they see a branch fall off one of their trees, think they have to cut the whole damned thing down!"

"Uncle Geoffrey," said Robert, snivelling a bit. "We can't move. Can you help us out?"

"Of course, Robert," said Uncle Geoffrey. "I'll just pull these branches away ..."

But Uncle Geoffrey was not quite strong enough to remove the obstacles which were preventing Robert and Susan from regaining their liberty.

"Never mind," he said, "I'll go and get help. If necessarily, I'll borrow a saw or axe and come back to release you. Wait here, you two. Don't wander off!"

And he went off purposefully.

"I am not sure I like the idea of Uncle Geoffrey laying about him with an axe," said Robert. "I think if we could possibly work our way free before he gets back, it would be to our advantage."

That's all the nature study we have time for today, children! Do you think that Robert and Susan will be alive and well for the next walk? Let's hope so!

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