IF anyone’s wondering where I’ve been for the last few months, I shall endeavour to explain. Having found myself single for the first time in a long time, I’ve been attempting to sort out my life – or, depending on your view, digging myself into a bigger hole!

Our lives are shaped by those around us, the decisions we make regarding the careers we choose and our friends and acquaintances. As many of you will know, I spent years at the back of a chainsaw, but inwardly I was always interested in sawmilling and, looking back, the chainsawing was really just a step in the direction to owning and running a mill.

For this reason, I would never call myself an out-and-out woodsman or woodcutter, yet even now I find myself spending hours each week in the confines of the mill on the back of a chainsaw, cross-cutting oversized logs and rounding up big butts. Going from using little 254s when thinning, my weapon of choice these days is a 395 complete with Sugi Hara bar and Stihl chain. As saws go, the 395 has some serious grunt and requires a good level of strength from the operator to use it. I recently watched a colleague with it and noticed after a few minutes he was struggling to keep it under control, despite being physically very strong. I took some inner satisfaction that as a bloke in my mid 50s I’m still pretty fit and capable of using a big, powerful chainsaw (albeit only for an hour here and there). There’s no way I could now go and do an eight-hour day on the back of it.

The reason for using such a powerful saw is quite simple. When cutting a pile of oversized logs into shorter logs, it takes roughly two hours to cross-cut and stack them in a wagon-sized quantity with the loader. Using a smaller saw would increase the time this takes fourfold. The big saw will boldly go where others fear to tread. It will power through big logs even when they start to nip and, in pure economic terms, why pay two to do a job which I can do in less time?

READ MORE: A voice from the woods: February 2021

Economics aside, I have discovered using the saw for a few hours in the morning, several hours a week, provides the perfect amount of physical exercise to keep me fit and strong, even though I spend the majority of the week operating the band saw.

There’s no question that sawmilling is quite lucrative at the moment. I think if you can’t make money now then you never will. This period of time has afforded me the opportunity to consider what machinery needs replacing. The mill is made up of a selection of robust, basic machines with reliability being the number-one concern. Although many of the saws can be maintained and repaired, items like generators and forklifts have a shelf life and eventually need replacing.

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My biggest worry is the main generator, which is now recording something like 50,000 hours. What a machine! It saddens to me to think that in this current throw-away culture, where there is a clamour for recycling, we appear to be going backwards. The engine is stamped Perkins but I suspect it’s a badge-engineered Rolls Royce Eagle engine and really does demonstrate the best of British engineering. In 20 years it’s had a water pump, bearings and the injector pipes have been welded where the high-pressure diesel had corroded through. The only other repair in all this time are the injector pipes, which were overhauled about six months ago.

READ MORE: A voice from the woods: January 2021

Despite being very old and very dirty, the generator had been working well until recently and my decision to replace it only came about due to the availability of an identical offering. The generator in question has only 200 hours’ use and was a standby machine in a hospital. I’ve even managed to sell the old one for £1,000 less than I paid for it 20 years ago.

Also being replaced is the loader; it’s currently displaying 11,000 hours of use. But this is proving much more problematic. It’s been a good loader and we’ve had it for 15 years, but unlike the generator it has many parts which seem to have been designated a finite lifespan and are now in need of replacement. It really needs to go to someone who has the time to give it the TLC it deserves. Finding a replacement isn’t easy as current models, regardless of manufacturer, seem to be festooned with sticky-out plastic bits just asking to be broken off. For machines that work in yards like ours, where they’re constantly being driven into tight spaces, we need something that’s robust, which isn’t what’s being manufactured. For that reason any new machine will have to have guards fitted before it can be used, as we did with the old one to protect its large fibreglass bonnet.

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So, with the sawmill and the machinery being upgraded and in good working order I thought I’d turn my thoughts to romance. Most singletons of my age, it would appear, sign up to dating agencies like Tinder. I’m not really computer literate and these agencies appear to be full of weirdos and people who lie about their status and looks, so I’d resigned myself to the single life. After all, I was free to do what I wanted and was really looking forward to getting on the bike when the weather improved. Well, that was the plan. Up until Christmas I’d been working ridiculous hours and then Christmas itself was pretty miserable and I think all of this spurred me into looking for a girlfriend.

I have never minded being by myself and spent a good deal of my childhood in such a situation. However, riding motorbikes and ‘freedom’ as a main preoccupation began to lose their appeal as I found myself particularly interested in a young lady to whom I delivered sawdust. You don’t read or see on TV many plots like this. Man meets woman while delivering sawdust! Usually, I’m attracted to older women and let them do the running around, but on this occasion I found myself looking forward more and more to delivering sawdust. Being that she’s 20 years younger than myself, I was somewhat reluctant to make any advances. I know many men like a younger partner or wife almost as a status symbol, but those who know me know that I’m not that vain. I don’t need my ego massaged to that extent and so, in my mind, I dismissed the notion. Until, that is, Valentine’s Day when I sent her a message. Much to my surprise she replied almost immediately and the following week we went on a date.

READ MORE: A voice from the woods: December 2020

So, some months later, here I am engaged and we fully intend to get married. My life has been completely turned around, upside downed and back-to-fronted! She comes on the motorbike with me and I’ve been on her horse, although she looks a lot more relaxed on my motorbike than I do on her horse. Yes, friends and family seem to think I’ve had some kind of mental breakdown, yet the young lady seems completely unfazed by their reaction or the age difference.

Out of curiosity, I asked her why she was prepared to marry someone 21 years older than herself. Her reply was quite interesting and may provide hope to others in a similar situation. She felt that many younger people these days “haven’t got a day’s work in them”. She was attracted to the fact I worked with my hands and was genuinely fit as a result, unlike some of her previous suitors who worked out in gyms and were superficial and shallow, with fake tans and an inability to climb the stairs. She was attracted to my inner caveman and my hunter-gatherer genes. I feel I’ve met someone who’s attracted to me for all the right reasons.

It’s work that has made me the way I am and, it seems, has also brought me a pretty young wife.

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