In the latest in our A Voice from the Woods series, our insider takes a look at changing attitudes. 

I KNOW many people reading this will run their own businesses, so I don’t need to tell you just how dedicated to ‘the cause’ you have to be. Because you created it and nurtured it, it’s largely down to you, the owner, to drive things forward and maintain its profitability.

One aspect which is rarely taken into account is your own wellbeing. Are you exhausted or even unwell? There’s no ringing yourself to call in sick, so you just have to get on with it! Fortunately, after yet another exhausting period, I was able to get a little break over Easter, though Easter Monday was spent getting the mill ready for lift-off the following day when the staff returned. The main saw was fitted with sharp blades, the generator filled with diesel, sawlogs were organised into some kind of order and the wagon was loaded with sawdust. All jobs intended to enable a more efficient use of time so the staff aren’t standing around doing nothing waiting for me.

Forestry Journal:

Tuesday arrives and I’m up at four. With a bit of luck I’ll be able to complete a delivery and get back to the yard before the staff get in at 8 am. Things go well and I manage to get back to the yard for 7.30, which means I can grab a well-earned cup of tea. The staff duly arrive, but it’s then that the frustration kicks in. If you’ve been up since 4 am and already loaded and delivered the wagon, then by 8 am you’re well up to speed and raring to go! This is in sharp contrast to the workforce who have been following a different agenda over the Easter break.

READ MORE: Voice from the Woods April 2022: Singing the praises of Tsumura and Sugihara chainbars

They appear to be in a different mode – a slow-motion mode – and I spend the rest of the morning dragging them up to speed. By lunchtime the sawmill is buzzing again and by 5 pm, even though I’ve been on the go since 4a m, I still have to work long after the staff have gone to prepare for the following day. With such a demanding job and time being at a premium, everything has to be done quickly and efficiently. I can’t take my foot off the throttle – not even for a second – or things grind to a halt.

This is also true of my time away from the mill. With the spring here, a certain feeling returns. I suppose it’s the same principle of the swallows returning from Africa. The need to ride my motorbike! I have two bikes, neither working particularly well, and I thought it would be a good idea to have them prepared and ready to go. Maybe, as the days lengthen, I might just get the chance to pop out for an hour one evening for a quick blast. Motorbike One, a 30-year-old Harley, was spluttering and I deduced the problem was likely a dirty carburettor. Cleaning the carburettor is a job that, at one time, I would have done for fun, but with nerve damage to my hand these fiddly jobs have become slow and tedious and so I thought I’d leave it to the experts. Motorbike Two, also a Harley, has a battery which keeps going flat and the only way I could start it was to jump it off a tractor. The problem looked to be caused by the alarm and as the battery was new I decided to disconnect the alarm. When this didn’t work I didn’t want to start messing around with the wiring and so again, decided to leave it to the experts. I also reasoned that if I took the bikes in now then I’d beat the spring rush because, as the days get warmer and the sun shines, the bikers come out and the workshops become very busy.

After some weeks, Bike One returned with new plugs but the bike still misfires. Surely they must have noticed this? Then, a few days later, Bike Two appeared and, again, the plugs have been replaced. The following day the battery is flat. So, it looks as though I’ll be doing a carburettor overhaul and having to work out the wiring system which connects the battery to the alarm. So much for experts and the art of delegation!

Actually, the next person who mentions the word ‘delegation’ or tells me I need to do more of it is likely to get hit over the head with a large piece of wood. If not by me then by someone I’ve delegated the task to!

According to expert opinion, one of the ways to a long and healthy life is to work long hours. Start early and work late, incorporating a good deal of physicality; sounds like the job description of a woodman. Apparently our increasingly sedentary lifestyle is fuelling many of our current disorders like back and joint pain. I feel I clearly don’t fit into this category of people as I’m on the go non-stop, but recently I had the recurrence of a pain in my leg where it was crushed by a shifting sawlog. After about half an hour I became very cold and the only way I could keep warm was to wear my motorbike clothes over the top of my work clothes. I can honestly say that afternoon was the hardest of my working life. I still don’t know how I made it through and, at 5 pm, when the staff left, I crawled into the office, lay down and nearly passed out. I was so weak and feverish I couldn’t even answer the phone and lay there all night in severe pain. At some point I began to think I might have COVID, but then the leg became sore and swollen.

Fortunately I managed to get a GP appointment and expected to be sent immediately for an X-ray, but no. I’ve now been to the GP’s on four separate occasions and each time I’m given antibiotics which have no effect. The problem is clearly where my leg was crushed and only an X-ray will determine what’s going on. Maybe a visit to A&E (and all that involves) is the only way.

It seems to me the attitude of the doctor was the same as that of the motorbike repair shop. If we put new plugs in it that should sort it out . . . but it didn’t. If we pump him full of antibiotics that will cure him . . . but it hasn’t. I wonder how many people contact the NHS every day with relatively minor issues. Colds, sprains and the like all cure themselves in about seven days, which is why most courses of tablets are temporary and given over a seven-day period. Handing out tablets just encourages the same people to keep returning for more. I suppose it’s a bit like a free bar at a wedding and must cost the country an eye-watering amount of money. Might a charge to go and see your GP make people think twice before going? The whole issue of the NHS is such a political one and vote-determiner that any type of reform seems out of the question. It will probably continue to get more bogged down in bureaucracy serving as a drug dispensary to most, which in turn acts as a firewall for those really needing treatment – and all with staggering costs. Once you break through the firewall there are some very clever and conscientious people, as I discovered with my spinal surgery. It did take 18 months to diagnose and X-ray and a further 12 months for surgery, but in the end it was perfect.

Forestry Journal:

I think the reason my health and mortality have been at the fore this month is largely down to how hard the tax man is clobbering us, with fuel costs in particular trebling. Most people like me, brought up in the 1970s, were taught how to fix things. Now we have successive generations who don’t have a clue or who rely on the dwindling band of people who can.

READ MORE: Voice from the Woods March 2022: Red diesel, biomass and storm-damaged timber being left to rot

How many of today’s generation can fix a puncture on a bicycle tyre, let alone strip down an engine? If, like me, you watch things like Aussie Gold Hunters or Axmen, you realise the earth’s resources are indeed finite and instead of planting trees, utilising hydroelectric power and developing sustainable farming methods, successive governments are just taxing the older generation into oblivion, and they, in turn, are flogging themselves ever harder.

Storm Arwen is a classic example. Apparently, over 7 million trees were destroyed. If we had the woodmen or chainsaw operators, then so much of this timber could have been saved. Instead it’s getting hacked off and thrown into large heaps, presumably for chipping. Is this really progress?