Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Rex's Nuts - Thereby Hangs A Tale

About a year ago I wrote about the 400 year old chestnut trees that grow in Greenwich park home of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and wrote up my favourite recipe for them. For the nuts that is - not for 400 year old trees!

Rex wrote to me and asked for a few to plant at the famous Christmas place Hunting Club AKA The Deer Camp that his blog is named after. I said 'sure I'd love to' and there by hangs a tale:

By the time I got back to the park the best and oldest trees were totally picked out leaving only a few wrinkled specimens that didn't look like they'd germinate.

So i put 'mail Rex his nuts' in the diary and promptly forgot all about them. The Apple laptop that had been my constant companion finally died, even though it had survived a scooter smash that had me off the road for two weeks, and I forgot all about Rex's nuts. A few weeks ago I was collecting a few nuts in the park and the reminder popped into my head.

Along the way I'd learned of the terrible fate of the North American Chestnut, a tree that was a common sight all over the North American Continent as recently as the 1930s but now only exists in one isolated location. A fungal infection known as chestnut blight which had first been noticed on the east coast in 1904 and, spread westwards carried by burrowing insects and killed off most of the chestnut trees in North America within thirty years. As a result of this and a few other incidents the US postal service irradiate all post entering the USA to prevent the introduction of invasive species, so just sticking them in the post and hoping for the best wasn't going to do it.

I was tortured by thoughts of being responsible for the deforestation of the Mississippi and being hunted down by an angry mob made up of members of the American chestnut foundation, i could see them in my minds eye, distinguished looking but angry, burning torches held aloft shouting 'burn burn burn the infecter!'

I'm guessing that many of you feel the same way: i try to limit my exposure to government and government agencies to Hatchin's, Matchin's and Dispatchin's, but according to my scout around on the net i was now attempting to become a seed exporter, a trade I'd never imagined myself entering in a million years.There was nothing for it, the time had come to contact DEFRA
[cue ominous roll of thunder].
For those of you who don't live in the UK or who rarely leave the city the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are the most maligned of government departments, they enjoy the same sort of reputation as Americas DMV, a place of Kafkaesque bureaucracy where nothing ever happens and whole forests are consumed to feed the departments insatiable lust for paperwork. In triplicate. Look on any farming forum and you'll see countless tales of their meddling while things are going well, and doing nothing when they could do some good. Nice people work there, but the organisation is too bloated to ever be effective as anything other than a hole to pour public money down.

They have a website! things have changed! there is hope!

The phone number on the website is not connected, hope hangs by a thread.

I call another number, they give me the right number

I speak to a very nice lady, who cant help laughing as she explains what I've let myself in for.

No I cant drop them off at their office or pop them in the post, I must make an appointment for an inspector to visit me at my place of business.
"this isn't a business I'm just sending them to a blogger"
The inspector with have to come to your primary residence then
"who do they think i am? Of course i only have one residence!"

A chap comes round, he's a very nice man. He's got a 'you have no idea' look on his face the whole time. He collects the chestnuts from me. they must now be sent to York to be examined, then sterilised. Then a certificate can be issued, the seeds can be sent back to me, i can pay £41.50 plus postage (ouch) for the privilege. Luckily he cant receive payment, that will have to be done with another department and no they don't take cards or paypal, they want a bankers draft.

A couple of weeks pass

Ring Ring " Hi it's Ruth"
Wow long time no see! how are you? How are the kids?
I'm Ruth from DEFRA
Well hello Ruth from DEFRA I'm guessing your calling about my nuts?
Yes were you really trying to send them to the US?
Err I err was?
Well you can't do that ( her tone suggest that this in fact common knowledge)

So our hands across the ocean dream of having a stand of Chestnut trees, spawned in Greenwich park, growing at the Christmas Place Hunting Club is, it seems, no more.

As ever your pal