Stories from the day hospice: The easy tree

1 February 2013

 Illustration by Marianne Dear
[object Object]

Illustration by Marianne Dear

Throughout the summer of 2012, Chrissie Giles spent time at the day hospice at Princess Alice Hospice, Esher, running a creative writing group. In a series of posts accompanying our exhibition Death: A self-portrait, she reflects on her experiences there and showcases some of the writing produced by group members.

I’d been going to the hospice for a couple of weeks and hadn’t yet met Brian, but I noticed him straight away this particular Tuesday. An older man, he reminded me of the granddad I knew only when I was a child. He has a wide smile and twinkling eyes and was resplendent in a patterned Hawaiian-style shirt, evidently one of several such items in his wardrobe

Everyone that saw him greeted him with affection, chatting excitedly, catching up on his news. In the writing group, he came up with some fascinating tales from his childhood, including the time his dad went what he described as ‘rootling’ on holiday in Great Yarmouth. Scouring the rocks on the sea edge, he found an iron BC coin – you could still make out the head on one of its faces. Brian still has it today.

Discussing what we might put in a ‘museum of me’, Brian told us about the ‘easy tree’. “The whole gang used to go up there,” Brian said, describing a hawthorn tree that was so loved, the spikes were soon worn away, rendering the tree smooth and no longer painful to climb. Its name came from the fact that it was so easy to climb, even girls could do it.

We asked whether the tree was still there, imagining Brian erecting a plaque next to it. “No,” he said, shaking his head. For a reason he still can’t work out, he and his friends got together when they were around 15 and destroyed it.

Listen to Chrissie read this piece:

Chrissie Giles is a Senior Editor at the Wellcome Trust. Death: A self-portraitis open until 28 February 2013. Find out more about Princess Alice Hospice at