The Whistler – April 2013

THE ENGLISH ELMS by Carol Ann Duffy


Seven Sisters in Tottenham,

long gone, except for their names,

were English elms.

Others stood at the edge of farms,

twinned with the shapes of clouds

like green rhymes;

or cupped the beads of rain

in their leaf palms;

or glowered, grim giants, warning of


In the hedgerows in old films,

elegiacally, they loom,

the English elms;

or find posthumous fame

in the lines of poems –

the music making elm –

for ours is a world without them…

to whom the artists came,

time upon time,

scumbling, paint on their fingers and


and the woodcutters, who knew the


was a coffin’s deadly aim;

and the mavis, her new nest unharmed

in the crook of a living, wooden arm;

and boys, with ball and stumps and bat

for a game;

and nursing ewes and lambs, calm

under the English elms…

great, masterpiece trees,

who were overwhelmed.


The poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, wrote this poem in 2010 about the decline of the English elm caused by Dutch elm disease. The centuries old healthy elm tree at Seven Dials is one of the survivors of the disease which destroyed millions of elms throughout the UK in the 1970s.

Brighton houses the National Elm Collection and is home to rare ancient elms, including the Preston Park Twins, reputedly the oldest remaining English elm in the world, and the hollow veteran at Brighton Pavilion, which was planted in 1776.



We elect local councillors to look after local interests and do their best to preserve and improve local services for residents. Do they always get it right? No – and that’s why there are local elections every few years so if people don’t like what the politicians have done, they can vote them out and start again, hoping that another set of promises made will be kept. As Jim Gowans reported in his Pavement Clutter piece in the February edition of The Whistler, the elm tree was to be removed as part of the improvements to the Seven Dials. In answer to Della’s question in her letter in the Letters section, “Does anyone else see anything horribly wrong with a Green council deciding to chop down an ancient Elm tree at the Seven Dials?” – it seems that a lot of people thought that it was wrong.

Brighton is the home to the National Elm collection. Valedictory messages posted on the tree changed to pleas for it to be saved from the chop and Tom Druitt and Stephen Hendry set up camp in it, with local residents taking guard below it. As the protest drew attention, some councillors and even the local MP suddenly twigged that the last healthy elm tree at the Seven Dials (two others had previously succumbed to Dutch elm disease which wiped out millions of elm trees in the 1970s) was to be felled.

It seems that people power is breaking out all over the Seven Dials. With the Exeter Street Hall now safely in the hands of the community after a magnificent campaign to raise the funds to buy it, it just goes to show how powerful passion for a cause can be.

Local politics matter and are the very best reason to get out and vote in local elections. Voter turnout in the May 2011 council elections was 41%.


After Della sent us her letter in February, things moved on apace [Ed]

The events of the last few days have shown that residents are appalled by the decision, but at least it looks like we’ve bought some time. I was there at 6am on Thursday morning to prevent the tree cutters from getting near it, together with a handful of very courageous people standing in the cold and rain. I wanted to give moral support to the two guys who ended up spending 2 nights and 2 days up in the tree. I provided them with hot water bottles whenever they were cold, and as more people came by more and more food/drink was brought along. I also made 2 “Save Our Tree” banners with the table cloth we used at our wedding last year, one for our window on Vernon Terrace and one to hang on the tree.

D Collins, Vernon Terrace

Dear Whistler

With ref to your February front page, as I’m sure many people will have pointed out, “cropped up” is not an irregular verb. Nor is “watch out.” Compound verbs, phrasal verbs, yes – but both completely regular.

Nick Szczepanik, Football writer

Spotted round the Dials

After 20+ years at the Seven Dials, Kevin John of Classic Cuts at 64 Dyke Road is hanging up his scissors and returning to his home town of Liverpool. Kevin has cut hair across many generations of Brightonians – many of his clients were brought in as children to have their hair cut, they continued as adults, and then brought in their kids for Kevin’s famous cuts. He’s been a sounding board and a father confessor to many. We’ll miss him.
The wonderful thing about the Dials is that it keeps going round and round (let’s hope that continues once all the road lanes have been narrowed) and so it’s goodbye to Kevin but hello to Alex Burt, who has opened Teddy Edwards Barbers at 83 Dyke Road – just opposite Classic Cuts. Alex has a great smile – he will fit right in!
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Another Great Briton

After the great successes of 2012, you may be looking for further achievements by British people. I have one that may surprise you.

Marian McPartland
Marian McPartland
Marian Turner was born in 1918. This year she will be 95. A talented pianist, she studied at London’s Guildhall School of Music. A career as a classical musician seemed inevitable, but she had other ideas. Fascinated by the popular music and jazz of the 1930s, she began to appear in theatres and music halls. Sometimes she appeared in a three or four piano act with Billy Mayerl, one of the great popular pianists of the day. She adopted the stage name “Marion Page”.
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Brighton Festival 2013

“Brighton Festival 2013 will be 3 weeks of unrivalled arts celebration” promised Guest Director, children’s novelist and poet, Michael Rosen when this year’s festival was launched to a media gathering in March. He said that many of his interests and passions will be explored in a wide-ranging programme, that spans music, theatre, dance, film, literature and debate. Let us hope that, for the sake a healthy box office, this also reflects the public’s interests and passions. There will be over 370 performances and 154 events in 30 venues across the City which includes 27 unique Brighton Festival commissions, premieres and exclusives. Let us hope some of these will exploit the talents of local artists, musicians, writers and commentators.
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