IS there such a thing as a good nightmare? We’re certainly living in unprecedented times, but to describe the situation as a ‘good dream’ just seems a little tame. And so, with a large percentage of the population trapped within the confines of their own homes, everyone seems to be engaged in a project.

I suppose it’s the perfect storm. Spring is here, the weather is good and people have both the time and the money to build a deck, repair a fence, build a play area for the kids, attempt to construct a Viking longship and – in one such case – sculpt a three-metre-high bear from a giant beech log!

The challenge for the timber industry is to make hay while the sun shines. Anyone familiar with this industry will be well aware of the fluctuation of fortune. Demand rises and falls quite dramatically, and we are lucky to be in this sector at a time when demand has never been so good. Ships bringing in timber from abroad have clearly failed to arrive so the need for home-grown is massive. My phone at work is overwhelmed with people searching for every single timber product. Fence boards, decking and large sleepers head the ‘must have’ list, with most local merchants clearly having run out. Many building suppliers have run out of Postcrete as the factories have shut down and the mill has become a bit of a battleground as jobbing builders from near and far come in search of supplies.

Being a small mill, we haven’t the facilities to accommodate this sudden influx of visitors and we have had to close the site off during the day, only opening the gates to release orders and for a couple of hours at the end of the day and all day Saturday. The idea is that it enables us to get on with production and provide a barrier from the public, thus adhering to COVID-19 safety regulations. To assist in this process, I have provided a huge sign at the entrance requesting that visitors wait patiently until they can be attended to. Access to and from the yard is vital and (needless to say) a huge volume of people completely ignore the notice. On several occasions I’ve begun reversing a JCB fully laden with sawlogs only to suddenly find a white transit van parked immediately behind. We are having to invent ever more elaborate ways to try to prevent this element of the public (usually tradespeople from the town) entering the yard.

Placing a large sawlog across the entrance works, but only to a degree. The moment the log is removed to allow in an articulated wagon, several vans will take the opportunity to rush in. I’m wasting an increasing amount of my time trying to be polite to people in order to get them out of the way so normal business can resume. One or two heated exchanges have taken place, especially when a visitor tries to buy wood which is set out as an order for some other customer. I’ve asked people politely not to touch packs which have been strapped up, only to find that the minute I walk away that’s exactly what they do. I’ve even had mobs! Two or three guys turned up in a van and tried to intimidate me into selling them wood. They failed.

But this is how crazy things have become and, as people have begun slowly returning to work, the number of day visitors has begun to ease (although the phone shows no signs of calming down). This has meant we can all now concentrate more on production. In order to reach the levels we need, we require big, clean logs, which fortunately seem in good supply. So, I think I can reflect on the situation with the term ‘happy days’. All those years of perseverance when I could have gone down an easier route are finally starting to pay off. With virtually our entire stock sold off, finances are in good health (that is, until I spend it all on wood again). It would have provided a great basis for retirement. But as that isn’t yet on the cards, then, with some exciting times ahead, maybe a property of some kind could be in order?

Forestry Journal:

I am genuinely struggling to comprehend what’s going on. I got my start in forestry by chopping sticks to earn some money for food. Like many other young people growing up in the ’70s, we were poverty-stricken, and life was tough. Fast-forward all these years to a situation where people are literally throwing money at me. Folk are arriving at the mill with wads of cash, presented in such a way as to ‘jump the queue’. I’ve never seen so many opportunities to make money and several young lads I know have realised this. With the New Zealanders stuck at home, there’s no-one to clip the sheep and with just about everyone else involved in some aspect of home improvement, the opportunities are great. That is, of course, until you finally get home, switch on the TV and discover the media predicting imminent doom. That’s exactly what happened at the start of the ’70s and I don’t want to see it again.

After what felt like a long, cold, and wet winter, I was looking forward to getting out on the bike (motor or otherwise) when the weather improved. And what a glorious spring it’s turned out to be. However, with current events and the demand from work, this has proved difficult. I’ve been heading for work at 5am and returning at 7pm. These hours are punishing and not conducive to cycling. On Sunday, I got up early to do paperwork and then got the motorbikes out of the garage. I have a GS 650 BMW on which I was intending to commute to work. As it does 95 mpg, I thought it would be both economical and fun. I used it for a week over the winter and already rust has appeared throughout the frame (even appearing through the chrome on the forks). To add insult to injury, I couldn’t get it to start, unlike my other bike – a Harley Sportster – which started first time after a longer break.

I decided to head out to the mill on the Harley to collect a few things. On my return route, there’s a little humpback bridge. It’s in a remote location and I always do a short jump over it for kicks and to provide entertainment for the sheep grazing nearby. On this occasion, I was probably a little over-zealous on the throttle, and as I took off the bike skewed slightly sideways. Nothing I couldn’t manage on this old plodder, but it might have looked a little reckless to an onlooker. After the bridge, the road climbs up a short hill which I accelerated up. As I neared the top, I noticed a small group of ramblers who must have been watching. Each had their fingers in their ears and, as I sped past, they all shouted ‘hooligan’ at the top of their voices. Naturally, at over 50 years of age, I took this as a huge compliment.

Needless to say, the ramblers were right. I’ve traded in the BMW for a bright yellow and chrome Harley Custom Sportster with straight pipes, which I think are legal. The better half thinks I’m developing mental health issues in reaction to a diet of constant doom. After years of Brexit (where the sky was due to fall in and all children above a certain age would be eaten) followed by the COVID-19 ‘we’re all going to die’ virus, followed by financial doomsday apocalypse in the media, she might have a point.

My remedy is to not listen to the news anymore but become an ageing hooligan on a bright yellow Harley Davidson. It’s called having fun!

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