THE papers and the telly continue to be preoccupied by medical stories which, surprisingly, seem to contain very little mention of your actual doctors. Is the medical profession still there?

We hear a lot about mental health. A neighbour tells me that he attended the village surgery with our local GP, complaining that he felt depressed and was filled with foreboding for the future.

“Is this the end?” he sobbed. “Are we all doomed? Can this be the final curtain? I feel that it is.”

“Were you to feel like a pair of curtains,” said the doctor, “I would tell you to pull yourself together. Next please!”

Well, we’ve had torrential showers, continuous rain, severe frost, snow and floods to take our minds off the virus. They don’t help. Neither do the statistics, the pages of sometimes conflicting numbers which remind me of my student days, when a course on interpretation of data included the concept of statistical significance. And of standard error and standard deviation (being any kind of deviant carries some kind of overtone these days, doesn’t it?).

READ MORE: Forester's diary: Getting to the point

The part of the whole exercise which resonates with me was the statement that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics. And when I need to pull myself together when confronted with more and more data, I pull down from my bookshelf a slim, blue plastic book, dating from 1975, published by Her Majesty’s Stationary Office and entitled, Forest Mensuration Handbook. The acknowledgements contain a few half-remembered names but more who are, if not forgotten, then hidden in the rich foliage of facts and data. Christie, Miller, Hendrie, Johnson and Fletcher are all good Forestry Commission names, but the named author, GJ Hamilton MSc, didn’t impinge much on my beardless visage of a very junior District Officer 2, busy planting the Welsh Valleys with Sitka, and thus providing future generations with the opportunity to apply all kinds of scientific and mathematical analyses.

Here’s an example, taken at random. It concerns solid volume/stacked volume conversion factors. It starts with a diagram of two methods of stacking cylinders, uniform in length and diameter. With square stacking (diagram a) the solid/ stacked conversion factor is 0.78, while with octagonal stacking (diagram b) the factor is 0.91. The diagrams a and b look like one of those old packets of 20 fags, which we used to have, seen end-on. Says the book: “A preliminary sample must be taken in estimating the appropriate coefficient of variation before applying the sampling intensity.”

Listen, I can just tell this is all getting too much for you, so I will save plane figures and basic cross-dimensional sizes of sawn softwoods for another diary. I’m not going to leave it for too long though, as some smarty-pants tech nerd is going to phone me up to say he’s developed an app using robotics so that any stand of timber can measure itself and send the forest manager an e-mail giving all the tariff numbers and length conversions of any stand of timber from A to Z, Abies nobilis to ash, stacked or standing, together with a report on the weather. What would the good Mr Hamilton make of computer science data analysis as applied to top height/tariff number relationships, assortment tables and bark thickness in the major conifers?

This book cost me £4 in 1975. Bidding will start on the internet or on the Antiques Roadshow with a reserve of £250 subject to standard variation on the price. Don’t miss the chance to acquire a unique bit of UK forestry history. If you’ve already got one, I’ll give you a tenner for it.

Wait a minute, there’s my phone! You’ve done what? When? Just now? After reading my diary? I might have known it.

Just be sure when you Google “mensuration” to spell it right.

Keep healthy.

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