police helmet

“… so just let me see if I’ve got this right. The tent that’s been stolen was fully pitched – in a tree!” - reaction of the desk sergeant at Weybridge Police Station…

In the summer of 1967 or 1968 I was helping out at a sort of ‘Holiday Club’ thing operating out of the Scout’s hut in Oatlands Recreation Ground. One of the large chestnut trees (probably a relic or the Oatlands Palace deer park) had two very strong horizontal branches around ten feet off the ground that lent themselves to having a wooden platform placed upon them as a ‘lookout post’ to warn of the immanent arrival of marauding hoards from Weybridge (or some such childhood play image).

Permission was obtained for a platform to be put up with a rope ladder for access provided that, in doing so, it caused no damage to the tree (damage to falling children apparently wasn’t an issue in those days). Having prevailed upon my dad’s woodworking skills (as I had been doing regularly since the age of five after volunteering him to make Santa’s sleigh for the school Christmas play) the solidly built platform was ceremoniously carried to the ‘rec’ and lashed to the branches through holes in the framework – all drilled by hand of course, no cordless drills in those days.

After two days, with no marauding hoards spotted on the horizon, the novelty began to wear off – drastic thinking was called for and drastic thinking was what emerged. That night dad was back up a ladder fitting eye-bolts through the platform and when the children arrived the following morning – Voila!!! Resplendent in the morning sunlight filtering through the chestnut leaves was a tree-house, or rather a ‘tree-tent’… Instant hit with the kids and, of course, I was happy to take the credit.

Two days later the tent had disappeared - I always suspected that the marauding hoards had taken it as the only plunder of a well-planned, if somewhat ill-conceived, night raid.

A trip to the police station was organised and the facts of the matter were duly conveyed to the officer on duty. The more we said, the higher his eyebrows rose – until there was a very real chance, it seemed to me, that they would meet what remained of his hair at the back of his bald patch. I can clearly picture his face and the astonished look even though I cannot remember his name – he was a Weybridge ‘regular’ though. The dialogue went something along the lines of:

Policeman: “So you want to report a stolen tent?”

Us: “Yes please”

Policeman: “And where was the tent when it was stolen?”

Us: “Oatlands Recreation Ground”

Policeman: “Where in Oatlands Recreation Ground?”

Us: “In a chestnut tree”

His eyebrows began to rise sharply at this point…

Policeman: “You’d put it in a tree, why? For storage over night?”

Us: “ Oh no, it was fully pitched…”

The rate of eyebrow ascent increased dramatically and continued, unabated, through the lengthy explanation that followed…

Needless to say, the tent was never recovered. I was down one tent, the children were down one tree-house, but I still have a wonderful memory of “The case of the Disappearing Tent”…

Duncan Amos – September 2009