NO matter which way I look at it, I’m a man short! After a very busy winter and manic spring (where I was often up at 4 a.m. and working late into the evenings) I was looking forward to a steady summer. Money isn’t the driving factor as I have a huge stockpile of both firewood and oak ready for the winter and there should be no good reason why I can’t ease off a little. The problem is I just can’t find that elusive third man. Basically, an employee who would turn up on time and work along with the rest of us.

It would have been nice to have taken on a youngster, but it seems that the younger generation have some kind of allergy to full-time work. Certainly not work that might involve getting your hands dirty! Why get up on a dark and rainy winter’s morning when you can lie in bed and fiddle with a keyboard? There seems to have been a cultural shift in the whole approach to work. Many local youngsters seem to only want to work part time, maybe up to 24 hours a week, stopping before they pay tax. My generation had ambitions to buy a car, save for a house, go on holiday, but the new millennials seem content to stay at home with their parents.

In my village, for instance, there are several young, big, strong lads. Traditionally, they’d have been snapped up by local industry in forestry or farming. By all accounts, they seem to emerge somewhere around lunch time, smoke a bit of weed with their mates in the afternoon and then do an evening shift at the Co-op before returning home for more weed, content in the knowledge that maybe, one day, they’ll inherit their parents’ home. I was recently chatting to my brother-in-law, who manages a large veterinary practice. He was reporting a very similar scenario. Young people lured into working with animals on account of their cuddliness (as seen on numerous TV programmes) just can’t hack a full day. They invariably end up working part-time. He just cannot get youngsters to work full-time.

Maybe this is the way forward for humanity in general? Work less, consume less and smoke weed! It all seems very nice as long as we, the older generation, don’t have to fund their lifestyle. I’m sure previous generations have probably said exactly the same.

So, with all that in mind, I decided to give a millennial a chance. My attention had been drawn to a youngster working part-time for minimum wage in a nearby takeaway. On the occasional visits I made to the establishment he’d often enquire if I had any work. I think he fancied the idea of driving the truck more than anything else. Because of the size of the business, my workforce needs to be flexible, able to muck in with everything. I decided to offer him a couple of hours a day stacking wood as a trial. By doing so, it would give me the chance to see if he was any good and, equally, he was unlikely to damage anything in the process. The great day arrived . . . and he never turned up!

However, even a millennial cloud can have a silver lining, as a few days later an older chap turned up looking for work. He’d just returned from working abroad and was also in possession of an HGV licence. This wasn’t the route I intended to take. However, the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. I could upgrade the truck to a bigger size and take a bit of pressure off myself, maybe even cut back my hours. Excited by this prospect, I strolled into work to be greeted by a delegation from the HSE.

I’ve written on this subject many times and I only have bad memories of the HSE. Doctored photographs where parts of one machine were joined to another to create an image or impression of some Frankenstein machinery; all photographs presented in a sepia tone and in twilight; fraudulent documents where times, dates and events had been changed... They had made the whole issue a personal vendetta against me. People who, to me, had probably never done a hard day’s work in their lives waltzed in in shiny shoes and attempted to trash a lifetime’s work. The experience was still raw.

With my daughter now in a good job and life generally on an even keel, I decided this time I’d just shut down the mill and fight them. I was set for a showdown and to hell with the consequences.

On the morning they arrived I had done an early delivery in the wagon and had noticed an old car at the end of the road, containing two suits. This had alerted me as to who it might be. HSE inspectors get paid a mileage allowance and often club together to buy an old rust bucket from the auctions in which to conduct their visits. If you see any such vehicles in the vicinity containing suits, then beware!

On my return to the yard, I secured a few guards and, with a pounding heart, prepared myself for a scrap. Minutes later, I was approached by a young woman and a male colleague. Both seemed amiable and polite and, instead of fighting fire with fire, I made them a peace offering. If they were fair with me, then I would be likewise, which I reckoned was reasonable given their past performance. 

Whereas in the previous visit it was all-out assault to find problems, this was a much more professional and fair approach. I took the opportunity to run through the cutting process. I showed them how the operator, me, was located well away from any danger; that a tilting conveyor reduced manual handling; the chain feed before re-sawing and cross cutting. We discussed the viability of guards and, all in all, it seemed a much more professional approach to things. They were doing their job and I was doing mine.

The whole thing left me somewhat puzzled. Why in the past did they seem hell-bent on trying to shut down small operators? Was it really authoritarian characters within the organisation misusing their power? Either way, this was a much more constructive experience. Other factors did emerge in that I now have to monitor the health of the workforce. Am I supposed to go to the pub with them at night and monitor their calorie intake? With forklift tests and driver’s CPCs also in the offing, it sometimes seems as though I’m working in a kindergarten. There are times when I seem almost overwhelmed by petty bureaucracy. All I ever wanted to do was cut wood!

This brings me finally to the CPC. The most depressing waste of time ever. Every year each driver has to complete one day’s training, or you can do five days every five years. After a full day’s work, most people are jaded and many actually fall asleep. The tutor (a term I use loosely) seems to think that in order to connect to his audience he has to repeatedly use foul language. There are seven hours of this tedium and when you’re running a business you’re constantly thinking about what’s happening elsewhere. Filling in word searches (which wouldn’t test the IQ of a gerbil) isn’t my idea of maintaining driving standards. The final ‘test’ involved a quiz on the back of which were placed the answers. Those who weren’t asleep duly achieved top marks! Having realised that the only way to fully protect myself from risk is to walk around in a space suit, I finally escaped. It was a beautiful evening and I jumped onto my motorbike and headed out into the country, with all its hazards.