Dear Sherwood Forest
We used to come to you when I was a child growing up in Nottingham and play as if Robin Hood’s merry men. My mother, was of course Maid Marion to my father’s Robin Hood. The rest of the world was the nasty Sheriff of Nottingham.
You were our England with: your great Royal forest of ancient oak trees and greenery around, your stately homes of Dukes and the neighbouring area of coal mines. It was a country which had just survived two terrible world wars. I think I learnt the words war and world as forever linked. We were in the cold war when I was young – indeed for most of my life – between the east and the west of the world. Maybe I should write a letter to the west: land of plenty, the shores of America and the sweetness of the setting sun.
In your forest, Robin Hood could do no wrong. He was chivalrous and fair whilst the Sheriff was mean and cruel. Like those tiny flickering TV screens, it was all black and white in those days outside of your forest. We really thought we were building a fairer and more secure society after the terror of war and it was as if Robin Hood and Richard the Lion Heart aka Winston Churchill and the ordinary fighting men and women of Britain, having won the war, were now winning the peace.
Sherwood Forest, I will always have a place in my heart for you. Even though now you seem more like pockets of trees and green and not the wild open place I had once imagined. I have seen real forests in the East of Poland or in America. This little place that you are, does n’t feel so wild at all. I think I knew as a child that my homeland was n’t so very exotic or exciting and to meet my needs for a special place I had to make up a heroic relationship with you.
When I was seriously ill as a child Robin Hood was summoned up. “Have his courage and fight like him and you will get better.” To this day, like many men, I still believe that the fighting spirit will make me better far more than any medicine or medical expertise. I know how stupid that is but I know it shaped my father’s life to the end.
I grew up in a council house in Nottingham after World War Two and my grand-dad had got one a generation before us looking South from Mapperley Plains. A home fit for heroes after the First World War. It felt like the whole place was a home for heroes and the women were maids like Maid Marion and we were all a merry band. It must have been very hard to live up to and it is a shared myth I still find hard to abandon. I suppose you leaned back in the wind of your ancient oak branches and laughed at our pretences to being just one nation with one heroic story. In the end we could n’t stay a single band of heroes and had to stop playing in the forest except on special occasions.
With love and sadness