‘I don’t suppose you ever do much thinking about Christmas trees, do you?’ said the man across the table from me in the train.
It was quite extraordinary he should say that, because at the precise moment I hadn’t been thinking about Christmas trees at all.
‘No,’ I said.
‘The thing is,’ he said, ‘that we all rush out before Christmas to buy Christmas trees, and the streets are full of people carrying them home, and every other car has got a netted Christmas tree on top of it, but you never seem to see the equivalent after Christmas, do you?’
‘You mean . . ?’
‘We don’t see an endless procession of people taking their Christmas trees away, do we? So what happens to all those Christmas trees?’
‘Well, some people plant them in the garden for next year . . .’
‘Phooey!’ said the man. ‘That’s the sort of thing you read about in colour supplements and country magazines. It’s not the sort of thing that people actually do. There are whole swathes of things that people are meant to do, if they are going to lead a good and stylish life, but that nobody ever actually does in real life.’
‘Like all those elaborate picnic recipes involving home-made pies or stuffed peppers. Like doing in-flight exercises while on a long-haul plane trip. Like making your own furniture out of driftwood. Like building a sundial. Like compacting your newspapers into briquettes. Like turning your Halloween pumpkin into soup. Like....'
‘So what does happen to all those trees after Christmas?’ I said, conscious that I had cut out hundreds of articles like that, and never acted on any of them.
‘Some get burnt,’ he said. ‘Some get chipped down. Some get thrown into the undergrowth. All get the cold shoulder. What was once, for twelve glorious days, the glowing centrepiece of the home, is suddenly surplus to requirements. That which was once worshipped is now cast out and discarded.’
‘Hold on,’ I said. ‘That’s a bit . . .’
I paused, trying to think of a word meaning: "To give a religious overtone to something which doesn’t really deserve it." But before I could conclude that there is not actually such a word, he was back in the saddle.
‘Except the needles,’ he said. ‘That’s the funny thing about Christmas trees. You take the tree away after Christmas but the needles persist. They get in the carpet. They get in the corners. They get everywhere. They pile up like snowdrifts. You keep finding little deposits of needles long after Christmas, in spring and summer. When I was putting up our Christmas tree this year, in the corner of the dining room, I found needles left over from last year!’
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘that happened to me...’
‘And the curious thing is that they are as sharp and prickly as ever,’ he said. ‘Now, that’s odd. We are always told that things rot down. Leaves fall from trees. They blow about a bit and then they get sodden and they rot down. Not needles, apparently. Needles go on and on.’
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘that’s very true . . .’
‘And no-one has ever capitalised on this,’ he said, leaning closer. ‘Except me. I have devised a scheme which makes use of all those Christmas tree needles to provide a cheap source of . . . ‘
I don’t know how it quite happened, but before journey’s end I found myself signing a cheque which would enable me to partake in the enormous profits accruing from this previously unexploited resource. I have not heard from the gentleman since, but he assured me that things would very soon be in place to start the process rolling. Until that day, I can only urge any of my readers who are approached by a man with shining eyes and a conversation about Christmas trees to rise immediately and go to the other end of the train.
The Independent Thursday January 11 07