IT’S interesting when our children make that crossover from adolescence to adulthood. They suddenly realise that life isn’t some kind of fairy tale and that everyone, including their own parents, isn’t perfect. Under each domestic umbrella shelters a unique set of human circumstances which conspires to mould and form all of us.

In my case, as I’ve written about on many occasions, it was an unpredictable father. A man who constantly sought money and power and, in doing so, constantly overstretched himself, causing huge hardship to his family in the process. Why do people do this? Can anyone out there explain why it is that some people have this need to want to control, either physically or psychologically, the lives of other people? All of these things seem in stark contrast to myself, who basically just wants a quiet life, to be allowed to get on with running a sawmill, and go for the occasional excursion on the motorbike. Yet, despite this desire for simplicity, my life seems to have been one continuous struggle against megalomaniacs.

After all, history is one continual account of such individuals. I recently watched a documentary on catching criminals. Two elderly citizens in the same village had died under suspicious circumstances. They’d both been relatively fit for their age and over a prolonged period of time their health deteriorated, and they died. Nothing unusual it would seem among elderly people. However, just before they died, both people transferred their estates, quite independently, into the name of a young gentleman living in the village. The young man in question had served some time as a care worker but was now training to be an Anglican priest. He was eloquent and highly academic, able to recite Shakespeare, and befriended these two lonely individuals.

His concern for these people seemed genuine and gave no rise to suspicion for the families. Over many years he slowly poisoned these two innocent, lonely people whist at the same time acquiring their property and other savings. It took years to implement this wicked plan and it left me wondering as to how anyone can set out with this kind of strategy in mind. It took the police years to collect enough evidence to prosecute him. However, in the end they did arrest him, and he got 36 years in jail.

When I first started writing ‘A Voice from the Woods’, I wrote about growing up in relative isolation on a farm in Upper Weardale. I recalled the dysfunctionality of family life, my constant hunger, and my solitary existence. I reflected on the complete ineffectiveness of the education system at the time, and the origins of what would be a career in forestry borne from a necessity to make money to provide food. Over the last three or four years, I’ve tried to illustrate the day-to-day running of a small sawmill. The constant battle against regulations, the unpredictability of staff and the immense amount of hours required to keep the whole show on the road. I’ve reflected on fluctuations in fortune, the impact of external events and constant attack by the bully boys; health and safety, the council and fickle politicians. It is, and remains, a constant battle against megalomaniacs!

Why be so melancholic and reflective, I hear you ask? I haven’t mentioned it much and I wanted to spare you from it but it’s probably because of COVID! You see it’s déjà vu and irony all rolled into one. It’s definitely a time of reflection.

Regular readers will recall me chopping sticks to raise the funds to buy food to eat, and how I was abandoned at a very young age to fend for myself, and how I scraped jam from the bottom of a jam jar to eat until someone returned; and, because it was winter at the time, my first rudimentary attempts to build a fire to keep warm. All of these proved to be invaluable lessons in life. You’ll also recall the tempestuous fluctuations in my own domestic life when I’ve spent weeks living on the mezzanine in the sawmill. The first such occasion was when I had the temerity to employ a female driver and the second, more recently, when I bought a motorbike. Well, I’m back on the mezzanine again!

Forestry Journal:

After 30 years of living with someone with uncontrollable jealousy, things have again come to a head. What has the purchase of a motorbike got to do with jealousy, I hear you ask? Freedom, is the simple answer. Please don’t misunderstand me, but I know working long hours, six days a week, puts a huge strain on any relationship. However, you will also appreciate that when Sunday comes, there’s an overwhelming need to relax in some form. That doesn’t mean I selfishly roar off at dawn and return at sunset! Far from it. I feel I have gone the extra mile to try and accommodate my partner’s wishes, from abandoning the motorbike to suggesting a variety of activities, but each has met with negativity. I’ve also noticed over the last few years she has shown a general reluctance to attend family events, weddings, holidays, hobbies, or anything come to that. Any suggested activity comes with a time restraint and the inevitable argument. I have scary visions of the film The Truman Show with Jim Carrey. Not my favourite actor, I hasten to add, but a tremendous and thought-provoking film. Carrey, unknown to him, spends his entire life inside a television show in which his every move is being monitored by a live audience. There are many clips of him mowing the lawn on a Sunday with the classic white picket fence in the background. Indeed, many husbands succumb to this lifestyle, but I’m not ready for it yet!

Then there’s the forced TV viewing. To me, soaps are utter garbage. I just don’t get it. I feel the premise of these programmes is subtle megalomania. Control by stealth. Nor do I get cookery programmes. Where once there was a genuine aim to improve the diets of the general population, there is now just a parade of egos. The other evening I was forced to watch a chef take an hour to fry some potatoes, skin on, for some of his luvvie London mates. As a teenager living in a shed, this was my go-to meal! The potatoes were from the garden and I didn’t peel them because I was usually starving, and the quicker I could get them into the frying pan the better!

And so, here I am getting washed after a full day’s work in cold water with no modern conveniences. The only electricity is from the mill generator, so I work until it’s time to sleep. There’s no TV or radio and so I either go straight to sleep or read. After all the arguments and bickering I’m really enjoying the peace and solitude. The only downside is the owls. They fly in and out of the sawmill all night long, making the strangest of screeches and screams. Apparently, the females screech and the males hoot. It’s a good job I’m not easily spooked as there are some very strange sounds!

However, I’ve been here before, only this time I intend to take advantage of this opportunity. I’ll drive my motorbike on a Sunday, I’ll go out occasionally with friends, and I may even take a holiday. All I’ve ever done since being a toddler is work. Clean cement off bricks, hump thousands of bales of hay and straw, thousands of hours of farm work, and another life in the forestry industry; quite a paper round!

All of those years ago, if someone had told me that in 2020 I would be back living in a shed but this time surrounded by wealthy individuals trying to buy my favour with bags of cash, over and above my faithful regular customers, while outside a deadly virus stalked the streets, I wouldn’t have believed them. Déjà vu or irony?

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