The National Trust has compiled a list of things that every child should do before the age of 11 3/4. One of them is to climb a tree. I would go further. Tree climbing ought to be a regular activity until the age of 65.
There is, however, a problem. Our local council proposes to ban tree-climbing in all its parks, including the large semi-rural one that my children and I walk through to and from school each day. In future, I would have to pay £500 for the privilege of swarming one of the oaks in the wood, unless I could satisfy the council that I had a reasonable excuse. Retrieving a stuck kite would not be a reasonable excuse, for the council plans to ban kite-flying too.
For £500 I could take out a six-month membership of our local David Lloyd gym and my children could exercise safely in a risk-assessed, temperature-controlled environment which has a mission statement and a latte machine.
But I shan't.
I shall continue to encourage them to climb trees and I shall continue to climb them myself. If need be I shall stage a one-woman protest from the crown of my favourite horse chestnut. For tree-climbing brings with it benefits that would be seized upon by a more enlightened authority:
It taught me diplomacy as I battled my brother over the most accommodating branch in our grandmother's garden.
It fostered my intellect as I revised for my A-Levels among the leaves of a local sycamore.
It forged friendships as I trialled new acquaintances with the offer of beer on a bough.
It bonds generations.
It has quickened my wits and my muscles and developed my social outreach as, with increasing regularity, I have had to call upon passing walkers to help me down.
Above all it has given me a unique perspective on the world through a lofty screen of leaves. There is a peace at the top of a tree that is seldom found outside churches and there a communion with Nature, as you dangle from gnarled bark, that is unequalled on solid ground.
In its heart of hearts the council understands this for, in its best-loved park, it has overruled local opposition and leased prime acres to Go Ape, the forest adventure company which, for a substantial entrance fee, enables customers to, er - climb trees.
Would you let your children climb a tree? Can you suggest a 'reasonable excuse' to spare me a fine should an official discover me or mine dangling from a branch?