More in our series following one man’s sometimes funny, sometimes fraught, and oft-times harrowing journey through a 20-odd-year career in arboriculture.

ABOUT a year ago I decided to revamp an idea I had from around eight years ago, using the wood cut down from the tree business to manufacture things that people don’t really need – but think they do.

Originally, I was so busy with tree surgery that I simply didn’t have time to persuade housewives that they needed a bespoke beech rolling pin and breadboard set, so the idea faded away. Unfortunately, in the more recent resurrection of such, I seemed to have lost my domain name.

“Where is it?” I asked, wondering who, what or why anyone would want it.

“China,” I was told. “Someone bought it and might try and sell it back to you if you want it.”

I didn’t, not that badly, so I simply paid £8.99 for the version, rather than the (presumably) more expensive original.

But it isn’t the first time.

When I set up the tree business in 1990 the internet didn’t really exist, not like it does now, and (along with mobile telephones) didn’t play a big part in my life. As time went by it became apparent that it was a necessary tool and my brother – who knows about these things – insisted I had a website.

And so I enlisted help and created one, probably one of the first in this area for tree work.

It was well into the mid-nineties when the phone rang and I came across my first international scammer. To this day I have no idea what the scam was, it was totally baffling.

“Hello,” I said, probably reading out my business name though I can’t be sure exactly what I said three decades ago.

“If you want to keep your name, you pay me £50,” a gentleman demanded.

He didn’t sound local; there had been a delay in the phone connection and I realised that he was ringing from overseas.

I asked him what might happen if I didn’t pay the fee.

“You won’t be David Oliver any more, I will be,” explained the chap. From his accent I’d narrowed it down to the Far East and I puzzled that the name didn’t really suit him, telling him so.

We argued awhile and in the end I conceded that he could be me, but I was going to carry on being myself as well, which annoyed him enough to slam the phone down on me.

In fact, it doesn’t seem to have mattered much; I hope he’s done well with my name but it isn’t the only time this has happened.

One evening, half a decade after losing my identity, or at least sharing it, the phone rang again. I was tired, we’d been dismantling a huge beech at a local school and it wasn’t going to schedule, plan or price.

“Is that David Oliver?” an angry voice demanded.

Well, it was, one of at least two if the other fellow was still sharing with me, so I admitted such.

“Well, can you come over to my place and pick up all the xxxx you’ve thrown into my garden today?” shouted the irate man, somewhat unreasonably I thought, it being dark and the fellow insisting I come at once.

It took a long time to calm him down, I was patient despite my confusion and tiredness but I was also puzzled and a bit curious as to what had happened.

“Please, explain the problem …” I was cut short before I could finish, Mr Angry wanted to have his say and not bother too much with the niceties.

“Right, did you or did you not work in Pewsey today, reducing a hedge for my neighbour?”

This was easy. “I did not,” I replied.

“Yes, you did, you reduced a Leylandii on my boundary which you then threw all the tops into my xxxxxxx garden.”

“No, I was up a mature beech in Marlborough,” I said.

“Well, it was your men then, that’s the same thing in my book.” 

Mr Angry was living up to his name, which probably wasn’t that at all but which seemed to suit him.

“They were with me, on the ground, I was with them all day,” I argued, knowing it to be true not least because it had been such a long hard day and they weren’t happy.

There was a bit of further debate about whether I was telling the truth but it was slowly dawning on the chap that I might be innocent.

“They said that they were working for you, my neighbour paid cash and they cleared off leaving everything in my garden …” His voice trailed off.

Somehow I didn’t think that the fellow from the nineties who’d wanted my name had come over to Wiltshire to use it and I concluded that someone else was pretending to be me.

Eventually I agreed to pop over and see the scene for myself, mostly out of curiosity.
And so on the following morning the angry chap showed me the carnage; his entire vegetable plot and half the lawn covered in the torn-out, badly-cut tops of the overgrown hedge. There was minor damage, plant pots, trellis and other breakages and I was hardly surprised at the fury he’d been in the previous evening, but it wasn’t me and I think by then the chap realised as much.


“I thought it looked a bit rough for your lot,” he said, pointing beyond his damaged boundary fence at the hacked, uneven and raggedly torn Leylandii hedge.

It was all a bit disconcerting but in the end, begrudgingly, he conceded that he had been duped by the neighbour’s ‘contractors’. It wasn’t the end of the scam though and I wasn’t the only victim.

I can’t remember the exact details but after a number of similar instances I informed the police that I wasn’t in fact the rogue trader upsetting the locals with shoddy tree work. The whole thing came to a head when a rival (friendly) tree company caught the imposters in the act. It isn’t my story and I only heard it third-hand but the gist of it is that the owner of the other business arrived on site to carry out planned work.

“Oh hello dear, your men are already here round the back, they started without you.”

(I’ve made the dialogue up, I wasn’t there but that was pretty much what I understand was said.)

Anyway, ‘John’ (made up again) happened to be something of a dab hand at martial arts and despite being an affable sort wasn’t happy that his ‘men’ were somehow simultaneously sitting in the cab of his truck and already at work.

I don’t know the full detail of what happened next and I won’t speculate but I understand that the imposters hadn’t just been pretending to be me but also other tree workers. I heard that they left in a hurry when finally, and by that massive coincidence, the actual ‘John’ showed up and as far as I know they haven’t done the same since.

But something altogether much more bizarre has just happened to my son who now runs the tree surgery business – leaving me to do this writing and make unnecessary stuff out of his offcuts.

A lot of our domestic customers are elderly types, many of them longstanding and loyal as well as being dragged kicking and screaming into the world of e-commerce.

I’m sure it must actually be discriminatory in some way but anyone my age and older wasn’t brought up in the world of global electronic banking, emails and computers and they/we are being forced to catch up pretty quickly.

I was sitting in the house listening to a phone call my wife was taking with an elderly customer who seemed to be called Clive. It was getting quite fraught, despite Winnie trying her best to make her point politely and succinctly.

“No, Mr Clive,” insisted my wife. “That’s our email name.”

She listened a while and then repeated her assertion, DW Oliver was the front part of our email address and had been for some time, dating back to the first time I talked about having to share. It seemed it was all happening again, but this time with an old-timer from the next village who I could only deduce was making a gambit of his own to steal my name.

My wife was seemingly exasperated, which is quite rare, and I listened in with ever-increasing curiosity as to what was happening. Eventually, after tapping a few keys on the computer and raising her hands in surrender, she admitted defeat.

“Yes, Mr Clive,” she said, rolling her eyes ceilingwards. “You do indeed appear to be quite correct and I apologise.”

After a little more conversation she put down the phone and turned to me.

“That’s a new one,” she said, leaving me to ask what was.

“I told Mr Clive that if he wanted us to contact him by email, rather than phone, he should set himself up an email address, that it was reasonably easy and to let me know what his new email address was once it was set up,” she explained.

“And he managed all that did he?” I asked, impressed that the old fellow was at least as proficient as me, possibly more so, as these things always tend to go wrong when I have a go.

“Oh yes, but guess what his new email address is?”

I couldn’t but had a few goes, “,”

“No,!” revealed Winnie.

Again, for customer privacy and not wanting to risk upsetting anyone I made up the fellow’s name and the address, but the format and the dwoliver part are exactly right.

I have absolutely no idea why he chose to incorporate my business name into his new personal address but when Winnie asked he simply said that it was easy to remember that way, which really doesn’t explain anything at all!

Comedy aside, it’s all a bit worrying and if I had any choice I’d ditch the whole lot, from domain names through to the actual laptop itself. I don’t belong and even if I did I wouldn’t want to, but the whole world is dominated by the electronic cyber nonsense now and we all have to roll with it if we want banking, shopping, electricity and all the rest of it, as well as the ability to send wooden things to Shetland, which happens surprisingly often.

In fact, I’m guilty of identity theft myself and I’m still not sure whether it’s a good idea or not.

I needed Facebook, for advertising and keeping in contact. However, I was far from enthusiastic so I set up the page (if that’s what it’s called) in the name of one of my border collies. Being paranoid I actually used the collie dog’s nickname, rather than his real one, perhaps concerned that he’d be cloned by a Labrador or a St Bernard.

One of the reasons I did it was that I don’t really want to be looked up by anyone, which also means that people can’t find me that easily if I want to promote a rustic, ethically-sourced garden trug or an environmentally friendly rolling pin.

Eventually, the last of the technology-challenged generation will all die off, leaving the internet free of confused middle- and old-aged persons and more bandwidth for those that know what to do with it. I think I’ve got an epitaph in mind for when I do depart though:

‘Here lies David Oliver – one of the many.’