DESPITE living in an age of automation, making money is still down to meticulous planning and organisation. Living on site in recent months has meant I’ve been able to fix a lot of problems prior to the arrival of the workforce. This has resulted in a much smoother operation.

Much of this time has been spent sorting out logs before they enter the mill. When I first started working in the woods, we would have the sawlogs cut square and flat with the toes rounded off. With the way they now arrive, I’m beginning to think that harvester operators are being trained by having to watch these programmes from the USA where forests are hacked down and the logs are thrown into unceremonious heaps. Little or no consideration appears to be given to the poor sod who has to sort it out once it gets to the sawmill.

The small logs are usually fine, but the larger logs are coming in really rough. At times it seems as though the harvester hasn’t been able to cut through the trunk and has ripped the tree from its base. Other logs appear to have been cut through several times, with branches still intact and no attention given to the toes. Harvesters may well be quick, but if one has to go through the heap with a chainsaw preparing each log, then making a surcharge for double handling seems only fair.

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I know if I don’t do this preparation we’ll get problems further down the line. Logs can end up being suspended in mid-air and, if a log has a step cut or has been partially cut several times, there is a risk of the log breaking free from the carriage while being sawn. Similarly, if you’re trying to saw a log which still has branches, these branches can actually rip the teeth from the blades. Preparation can save an awful lot of time and money.

However, the weather has been foul, and with the days getting shorter and shorter my ability to prepare is somewhat compromised. The work I am able to do in the early hours before the staff arrives is now having to be done during the day. This has led to an inevitable fall in production as we battle the elements. It’s been a good year profit-wise, and the challenge really is to try and maintain a reasonable level of production through these winter months until the spring returns and we can crack on.

I know I keep saying this, but I’m determined, in the near future, to try and finally enjoy the motorbike. In a previous life it was such a bone of contention accompanied by huge arguments whenever I went out. I’m looking forward to being able to cruise along country lanes in the knowledge that World War III isn’t awaiting my return! Any new ‘association’ will have to fully understand my need to do this. Another major consideration will be living accommodation. My current home is a portable cabin on site. This seemed a practical solution at the time and has served my needs well, although I have noticed something weird. Usually at this time of the year I struggle with arthritic pain in my joints. Not this year! I’m much better and can only attribute this to the dry heat being generated in the cabin via the electric heaters. Because the cabin is really dry then so are my clothes and so I’m starting each day warm and comfortable. Thank goodness I never went down the farm cottage route.

When my current situation began, I was offered a number of farm cottages. I usually start very early in the mornings and finish late at night. Imagine coming back to a cold, damp cottage. Instead, I’m sleeping in a cabin which has been heated all day from the sawmill generator. There’s a nice hot shower and a well-equipped kitchen. What’s not to like?

So next year looks exciting and a bit of a blank canvas. I have been introduced to a whole new group of people and I’ve been invited to Christmas dinner by a couple who live just down the road. Although I don’t really know them, they’ve repeated the offer several times and so I’ve decided to accept. The few encounters with females I’ve had so far can only be described as interesting, so 2021 should be anything but boring!

It’s no wonder that relationship problems arise in an industry that revolves around production. Public sector hours are generally clearly defined and people in this sector can plan their lives, knowing when they can go on holiday, when they’ll be home, when they can go out on their bikes, etc. This may be an over-simplification, but most people in this industry have to be totally dedicated to be successful, and you need a partner who understands and is as dedicated as you are. I know it might seem extreme, but to be successful you have to be fairly single minded and 100 per cent committed, which makes the juggling of family life and business very difficult.

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As if to illustrate the point, I recently spent a horrible, cold, wet Sunday preparing logs. The time and effort I spent has really paid off as on the Monday we had one of the most productive days ever cutting roof purlins. This gets the week off to a flier and, assuming the rest of the week goes accordingly, then this coming Saturday will be spent on deliveries before the whole process starts again. So, looking forwards, what I really need is an understanding and supportive partner and a route to retirement. Unfortunately, the current tax system seems to have every angle covered to prevent you from trying to save and hence retire. Personally, I think tax rates should be reduced the more hours you work, or for the self-employed who appear to shoulder an unfair burden of the nation’s workload.

This year, thanks to COVID-19, I don’t seem to have received my usual attention from the clipboard warriors. I’ve not seen a single HSE inspector or been stopped by VOSA or had a run-in with the council or been involved in any dispute with the Inland Revenue (on several occasions they have attributed taxes to the wrong year). For the first time in a long time I’ve been able to get on uninterrupted, and guess what? I’ve actually made more, which in turn will generate more tax. Is there a message here? And if anyone assumes this has involved cutting corners, then they’re wrong. I’ve had more time to dedicate to the tasks involved, which means I’ve had money to spend on things like rewiring and installing new lighting systems. I’m currently working on cutting down on handling and, generally speaking, the place is safer and better. Obviously, no one wishes anyone ill, but if COVID-19 keeps these clipboard pen-pushers off my back, so be it.

Similarly, all the anti-Brexit doom mongers who predicted the end of the world didn’t seem to understand that a decline in imports might promote more home-grown demand. I’m picking up jobs (the roof purlin order) that would normally be supplied by foreign timber. As the fencing season ended, I got some big orders from fishermen to repair harbour walls in anticipation of an upturn in business. Basically, the end-of-the-world scenario promoted by the media is far from the truth as it seems to have breathed new life into small businesses. I was particularly angered by some Europhile on the radio claiming that the fishing industry represented only 0.01 per cent of the economy and was therefore expendable. Who are these people?

Anyway, back in the real world I had a pleasant ride out to deliver some of the timber for fishermen at North Shields fish quay. I’d forgotten just how much I enjoy being next to the sea in the early morning. There appears to be a magical quality about watching the world come to life from the vantage of the harbour walls; the smell of the sea, the cry of the gulls and the hope of the new day. The fishermen I met were easy to deal with and, being self-employed, had arrived very early to help unload the truck so I could get back to work. Need I say more?

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