Trees, Libraries, and Chinese Communism

To wrap a ribbon round a UK tree
And tie it into Chinese tyranny,
Or flag up five star Chinese hostelry
Above a Yorks* Art Deco library,
May tighten minds to ask: “How can that be?”—
The links are not far fetched. Please bear with me.

First Cut

Felling Trees in Sheffield

Leaves swing, golden to the ground,
Then strafe across the paving in the wind.
They’re frisked into a twisting, fractal mound …
But not for long – they fly, they’ll not be pinned.

The trees they took off from, stretch up, reach,
Strong as greek or roman columns, high,
And try to hold and mend the awkward breach
Growing from the earth into the sky

I see one tree—like any healthy tree,
Whose bark, as quiet as a Labrador,
Has lapped the sap that drools internally
And circled it for twenty years and more—

It grew and balanced well its height and roots,
But, being buried shallow, its grasping core
Has gashed the surface soil like tough old boots
Kicking through the street’s pedestrian floor.

This makes the walk along this pavement fraught
For footwear, buggy, wheelchair, walking aid.
And on the main road, trees of similar sort
Have crazed the paving like it’s half unlaid.

But streets aren’t meant to be one flat backyard
Nor high streets just one flattened place for trade:
All trees shine benefits like warming stars
And thriving trees should grow, not be unmade.

Yet, Sheffield City Council has seen fit
To classify this tree as valueless
And will not remedy the pavement’s split,
Instead they’ll cut it to a stubbled mess.

Since twenty-twelve they’ve felled four thousand trees
Despite an independent group’s report
Identifying just one thousand trees
As needing cutout treatment of this sort.

On seventeenth November two-thousand-sixteen
The leafy ground of Rustlings Road was clomped
With barely visible boots, some soiled, some clean,
As one big flash mob of officials stomped.

At five a.m., before the sun was up,
This band of warmed-up men marched up the road
To make a way for felling gear and pick up
To slice the dancing leave-falls’ mother lode.

Uniformed police banged fists on doors
Requiring residents to move their cars;
Tree surgeons’ fists were knuckled on their saws
Primed to take down trees’ par-tic-u-lars.

Trunks, once proud, were clopped and blocked and botched,
The saw clouds flinging chips like fleas.
Civilians, some in cold pajamas, watched,
With three arrested standing by the trees.

A Panel’s tree report on Rustlings Road
Written in July was bagged and held
Till half an hour before the surgeons showed
That they had gathered there to have trees felled.

The document outlined best policy.
The expert panel picked out three to go
And five still had “good life expectancy”,
But all eight trees were buzz-cropped in one go.

The sun rose up at seven thirty six—
Less wood, more plastic curb-side furniture,
Cones, fences, sawdust, a few stray sticks,
Showed the trees would plenish life no more.

UK papers, TV, radio
Reported on the action, much surprised.
So the Council let the watchers know
It had done wrong and apologized.

No more trees would be cut down, it said,
Earlier than seven—at start of day.
The Council seemed to raise its heart and head.
But soon this wiff of change was whisked away.

The Council would still bald the city’s views—
Some people found it had a quiet plan
To lose commemorative avenues
Where lines of trees were planted tree for man—

For men who died as soldiers for just claims;
Who fought to keep the Peace in World War One;
Young men from local schools who have their names
Matched to trees so memories live on;

Boys from Crookesmoor School and Western Road
Who died away when classmates did come back;
And so these reverential trees were sowed
To somehow fill up families’ sense of lack.

It’s like some Council members play base tricks
To keep their face and make themselves seem strong.
It’s not some case of chess-like politics,
It’s more like human dignity gone wrong.

Just as these dead are buried in the ground
So too the contract of the company
Engaged to manage trees is ‘underground’,
Hidden by some formal filigree.

Although the Council says it will not crop
The double line of memorable trees,
Many Sheffielders recall the drop
Of Council promises put out to please.

Despite appeals through just and legal means,
Amey’s bond with Sheffield’s Cabinate
Can’t be seen. To show it contravenes
The constructs of commercial etiquette,

They say.  This management of road and tree—
A civic contract of expensive range
To span a quarter of a century—
Is certainly unusual and strange—

But less strange now in Sheffield where our trust
Of bureaucratic morals has gone bust
For Council rhetoric leeks rot and rust
And promises turn wooden mounds of dust.

Though naff to talk about, it’s evident
That what’s forgotten in this Sheffield deal
Is that living trees are sentient—
They sense things and respond like they can feel.

Growers on allotments talk to plants,
To roots and bulbs and fruitage in the ground.
Their anecdotal evidence (or rants)
Suggest that growth is better with good sound.

Though dunked as pseudo-science—paranormal—
As plants lack organs, neurons and a brain—
There’s evidence—both casual and formal—
That plants have matched the outward signs of pain.

That plants have shown a human kind of joy;
That plants can recognize our moods and thoughts.
That humans’ distant thinking can destroy
Wide-ranging bio-tissue of all sorts.

Cleve Backster proved it with his polygraphs.
Rupert Shelldrake and more scientists
Push theories that have often garnered laughs
From the ranks of challenged mechanists.

For human thought to live it must define;
But once a definition is in place,
White blinkers set the pace and tow the line,
And so periph’ral thoughts aren’t given grace.

Plants do react to earth-based stimuli.
Their raw responses can be analyzed.
They’ll interact though slow, as though they’re shy,
Get deeper, as new methods are devised.

Trees are plants—much bigger than the norm
In tundras, deserts, gardens and indoors—
But no matter what their breed or form,
These trees can sense the surgeons’ minds and saws.

Tree surgeons do not deal in anesthetics.
They cut full on, they don’t hold back to ease.
They use no analgesic, drug, or fix
To smooth the deaths of lacerated trees.

This tree is marked to fall beside this road
Not for health or beauty’s sanity.
Although we’re told it helps shift safety’s load,
It seems for short-term gain in secrecy.

As said before, this deal for road and tree
Is packed with money we can call a wad
And eats a quarter of a century—
It’s certainly unusual and odd.

So who can be surprised to find it’s real
That Sheffield City Council’s doesn’t fret
To sketchify a sixty year long deal
With a Chinese business that’s in debt.

No surprise this Council digs a pit
To root a billion pounds’ shenanigans
And knit a pact whose detail won’t yet sit
For scrutiny by Sheffield’s citizens.

The central city libr’ry is the hub
Of a three-part city-wide entangle
Whose muggy skin the Council cannot scrub—
It won’t look good from any normal angle.

A lengthy future contract does seem nice;
One billion pounds would help, without a doubt;
But ev’ry payout has a cover price—
Here it’s conscience being scalpeled out—

That living humans’ organs are restitched,
The donors killed, their emptied bodies flamed—
With evidence dismissed as fever-pitched
By those whose sino-commerce is defamed.

This backdrop does not leave our souls enriched.
This cut-off of compassion leaves minds maimed.
Who can believe that morals can be ditched
And guilty perpetrators left unshamed.

The chairman of the Chinese company
That Sheffield Council would do business with
Brings the Chinese Communist Party’s fee
And its obsessional survival myth.

Right now I’ll put this story’s limbs on ice—
Though soon I’ll bring a further branch to splice.

End of First Cut

*‘Yorks’ is abbreviation for Yorkshire, a county in the North of England, UK. Sheffield is in South Yorks.


Fake News!

On China spreading fake news through Western media

How sad The New York Times
Thin bread for a monetary sandwich

How high the red mould* climbs
On a leaning castle’s pitch

How sad The Daily Telegraph
Squashing a pâté of confuse

How high the red mould climbs
On crumbling battlements of news

How sad The Wall Street Journal
Wrapped round packs of poison

How high the red mould climbs
On falling citadels of reason

How high the red mould climbs
On media in Australia

How high the red mould climbs
Til it drops on the blocks it feeds on


*British spelling of mold

Damian Robin lives in England. He works for an international newspaper. He lives with his wife and three children.


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