When I was very little I would wake up each morning and gaze outside my bedroom window at a pine tree that stood across the other side of the vacant section next door to our house in Palliser Road, part of a forest that ran down the hillside. The dark masses of its pine needles were silhouetted against the light, and in this light the crown of the tree resembled a gigantic head seen in profile. There was a small rounded gap in the pine needles, just where the eye of such a head would be, and a much longer gap open at one end, just in the right position for its mouth. If the prevailing north-westerly wind was blowing up the hillside, the masses of pine needles would be shaking up and down. I would watch transfixed as the eye of that great shadowy head seemed to blink at me. Its mouth in turn, opened and closed, open and closed. The tree, aided by the wind, seemed to be telling me stories in its special pine tree language.
This talking pine tree stood on the property of our neighbour Mr Hislop. He lived in a large stately house built a little further up the hillside from the pine forest. It had a mansard style roof with big attic windows that looked over the harbour. The house must have looked very grand inside, but we were never invited in to see it. Sometimes he would see us sneaking into his pine forest to play games. He would emerge from the house, gesticulating and shouting at us like the selfish giant in Oscar Wilde’s story of the same name, chasing the children out of his garden.
There was a wooden hut at the edge of his property facing our house. Outside the hut a big metal cone hung suspended from a post, it was the spinner dome from the propeller of an old aeroplane. Every New Year’s Eve, at midnight, Mr Hislop would come out from his house to furiously beat the metal cone with a stick; its clanging sound would ring out across the neighbourhood.
At that time, before the container ship era, there were many more boats and ships in the harbour. At midnight at New Year’s Eve, they would all blow their horns. The loud clanging of Mr Hislop’s aeroplane bell would mix with this chorus of ships horns coming up from the harbour; the lost sonic landscape of our neighbourhood from New Year Eves' past.