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Monday, May 31, 2010

8. The Bolan Tree

Two centuries later, and another memorial to an English legend. Only this time the tree in question wasn't planted in honour of the dead hero, but was the direct cause of his death.
An unprepossessing sycamore on Queens Ride, Barnes in London marks the spot where T-Rex singer/songwriter Marc Bolan died on 16th September 1977. Bolan was returning from a night out at Mortons, a club in Mayfair, with his girlfriend Gloria Jones (singer of the original Tainted Love). They were less than a mile from Bolan's East Sheen home when Jones lost control of her Mini on a hump-back bridge and crashed into the tree.
Bolan, who wasn't wearing a seatbelt, was killed instantly.

Fans quickly turned the tree into an unofficial shrine to Bolan, and in 2007 (the 30th anniversary of his death), this was formalised by the English Tourist Board in 'England Rocks', their 'New Guide of Sites of Rock'n'Roll Importance'. Memorial plaques and a bronze bust of Bolan also feature at the site. The tree itself has been tended by the T-Rex Action Group since 1999, when it was in danger of falling down.

Several conspiracy theories suggest Bolan had a typically poetic premonition of his death:
• In the song 'Celebrate Summer' he sings "Summer is heaven in 77".
• In the song 'Solid Gold Easy Action', he sings "Easy as picking foxes from a tree". The number plate on Jones' Mini was FOX 661L.
• In the same song is the line "Woman from the East with her headlights shining eased my pain and stopped my crying". As they were driving from central to South West London, they were technically travelling from the East; plus their home was in East Sheen. Jones herself, however, was from Cincinnati, which is the West however you look at it.

I don't know if it helps to suggestthere's something mystical about a man dying in a car crash. But if you want to pay your respects to an undeniable talent, track the tree down (opposite Gypsy Lane) and leave your own floral tribute.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

7. The Trafalgar Woods and the Nile Clumps

Achille. Africa. Agamemnon. Ajax. Belleisle. Bellerophon. Britannia. Colossus. Conqueror. Defence. Defiance. Dreadnought. Entreprenante. Euryalus. Leviathan. Mars. Minotaur. Naiad. Neptune. Orion. Phoebe. Pickle. Polyphemus. Prince. Revenge. Royal Sovereign. Sirious. Spartiate. Swiftsure. Temeraire. Thunderer. Tonnant. Victory.

The final name in that list should be the giveaway even if you weren't paying attention in history class: they're the names of the 27 Ships-of-the-Line and six support ships of Nelson's fleet in the Battle of Trafalgar. It also happens to be the name of 33 woods planted across Great Britain and Northern Ireland by the Woodland Trust as part of its Trafalgar Woods project. Started in 2005 to mark the bicentennial of Nelson's famous victory over the Spanish and French fleets, the project has seen over 250,000 new trees planted, celebrating the link between British timber and its maritime history.

It is estimated that 6,000 trees went into the building of HMS Victory, 90% of which were oak, with pine, fir, elm and Lignum Vitae used in finishings. Construction began in 1759 but, thanks in part to the end of the Seven Years War, Victory's frame was uniquely left to season for three years (rather than the standard few months), which many believe was a key factor in the ship's longevity.

The Trafalgar Woods aren't the first time that trees have been planted to commemorate a Nelson victory: the Nile Clumps on Salisbury Plain mark his 1798 defeat of the French in the Battle of the Nile. Planted by Charles Douglas, 6th Marquess of Queensbury on his own estate near Stonehenge, the beech trees were built in clumps representing the positions of the French and British ships in the battle. Of an original 26 clumps, 17 still remain.

The trees are sometimes falsely referred to as the Trafalgar Clumps, although it is obvious that they do not refer to the position of ships at Trafalgar. Nelson's unorthodox tactic at Trafalgar was to puncture the Franco-Spanish line by driving his fleet perpendicularly through the enemy formation at two points, rather than coming alongside it in single file, as was the norm. So the trees on Salisbury Plain would more closely resemble a 'hash' symbol than two parallel lines had they been planted in honour of the later battle.