So here, at last, is the story of the hedge.
It was 1968, year of flower power and student unrest. Not in Yorkshire though, for we were good girls, and we were only twelve.
The school was built in the 1930s, all red brick and parquet flooring and carved ceremonial chairs made by the North Yorkshire mouse man, each with a little mouse climbing up its leg. Outside the school were remnants of a slightly grander past: huge lawns, slightly past-their-best tennis courts and the old House Gardens – all now rather overgrown - where in former years each House in the school would compete to grow the best flowers.
All along the drive that swept up to the front of the school was a huge, magnificent beech hedge, in full bright leaf that summer morning, made from a long row of beech trees planted closely together.
And by the school gates, screened from the teachers’ view, some men with an electric saw were cutting it down. As Sarah and I pounded through the school gates, late as usual, two or three of the trees were already on the ground.
We knew it was going to be a disaster as soon as we saw it. So, because we were good girls, and only twelve, we did the right thing and rushed to tell a grown-up. Because it was so important, we went bravely in through the forbidden front entrance and banged rather loudly on the Headmistress’s door.
“Miss Lee! Miss Lee!”
She opened the door with her usual air of regal grandeur and rebuked us for our hastiness and noisiness and lateness and unladylikeness.
“But they’re cutting down the hedge!”
“What on earth do you mean, girls? Cutting down what hedge?”
“The beech hedge! The men are cutting it down. With a saw!”
She gave one of those short, bright, knowing laughs.
“Hah! Nonsense, girls. They’re not cutting it down. They’re just pruning it because it’s untidy.”
“But, Miss, they ARE cutting it down. We saw some of the trees on the ground. They are, really, Miss.”
“No, I’ve told you, it’s only the branches, I spoke to the council yesterday. Now, hurry along to your formroom, you’ll be late for assembly.”
“But, Miss Lee, if you would come and look-“
“I’ve had enough of this, girls. I’m sure you mean well but you’re talking nonsense. Off to assembly at once, now!”
By lunchtime, when one of the teachers finally noticed, every one of the hundred or so trees was lying horizontally on the ground.
Next morning, in assembly, Miss Lee told the whole school of the terrible misunderstanding which had led to all the trees being cut down, when the men were only supposed to be pruning them: and how, unfortunately, nobody had noticed until every single tree was gone and it was too late to do anything about it.
I stayed at that school for a further five years and Miss Lee never looked me in the eye once during that whole time.
I haven’t forgiven her, either.