WORKING in the private sector in the 1970s and 1980s held its own fascination. Yes, sure, it was fascinating to find, value and negotiate the sites for our Sitka, but just as satisfying was to meet a whole range of people – farmers, sheepmen, agents, lawyers, Scottish lawyers – all the various strands brought together, resulting in the acquisition of planting land in the uplands.

In the course of one season in Galloway I contrived to buy three farms for the same sum of money (which was suspicious enough) and indeed, I discovered later that the three vendors were all cronies and were making wagers as to which one of them could push me up on price. One of them, famously, was a reluctant party to the negotiation headed by his older brother, and we had all sorts of spats and quarrels to contend with as well. His comment, which has stuck with me ever since, was to declare that family relationship was the worst ship you would ever sail in.

Then there were the clients. We had showbusiness personalities, pop stars, captains of industry, generations of landed gentry and, latterly, pension fund wizards and financial legends. I took one Old Etonian lad, at the request of his father, on a trip to the Borders in pursuit of a rather nice and very plantable estate, which I managed (after a good deal of talk and not a little whisky) to agree a respectable price for, so long as we would take over a couple of thousand blackface ewes at the same time. My guest watched all this with a bemused eye. As we left (him driving for reasons aforesaid) he asked what would happen next.

“Now,” I said, “We have to find a customer. But don’t worry, we’ll meet in London next week and you can find out what happens next.”

He became pensive. “Can I have it? Would you mind?” The sum involved was just about half a million, not to be sneezed at then. My annual salary was perhaps £3,000 a year with luck.

“I think we’d better ask Dad what he thinks,” I said. At the next motorway services he vanished for 10 minutes while I had a coffee.

“Dad says OK,” he crowed on his return. Apropos of which, I happened to meet him last week in an entirely different context. And he’s still got the farm and at least some of the sheep, together with a super spruce wood, now being harvested.

Then there was Doctor Woods. He was a medic who had defected into the world of property development, in the City. We bought for him a rather nice wood in the Welsh borders, and this whetted his appetite for more. I looked at a range of rather overpriced stuff in the Thames Valley and, after yet another false trail, I asked, half-joking, why – since he had a chopper on the roof of his office – didn’t we look further afield; say, into Normandy?

Great idea. I got my French mate onto the job and we came up with a superb chateau with lakes, woods, wild boar, stags and above all, trees, which was being disposed of as mortgagees in possession by perhaps the best known French bank. Needless to say, this required some exhaustive work in getting to our valuation, and a good deal of lunching out with the bank’s representatives before we could come to an agreement.

It sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Flying from my home in Gloucestershire in a private helicopter and doing monster deals in Paris. A degree in forestry, did you say? You, my reader, know that foresters can do anything.

Sad to say, I was eulogising to our French hosts in a rather flash Paris hotel to celebrate the exchange of contracts and the payment of 10 per cent of the money when I got a message to ring the good doctor urgently.

He had, he told me, got into just bit of a spot because he planned to buy the French property with money ‘borrowed’ (to use a polite euphemism) from his company pension fund. This, the fraud squad told him, was a no-no. Could I negotiate a way out please, and try to get back his deposit?

Pity, I thought. I rather liked him. But I couldn’t really see him in jail, and, indeed, he got off the main charge on a technicality. After it all, he asked me how much he owed me. I was working on my own by now. I told him what might have been, and what I could manage on, and he paid up like a lamb.

Then there was the pop star. But I won’t go on. The tax bonanza enjoyed by forestry for the latter part of the 20th century, like all good things, eventually came to an end. It was responsible for huge and successful investment in new planting, and gave the whole sector an energy and excitement that it has yet to recover, 30 years later.

What did you say? Bring back Schedule D? With environmental safeguards? Sounds good to me. When do we start?

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