I have been trained in health and safety (with a certificate to prove it), regularly read updates from the Health and Safety Executive and I have a wife who constantly voices her concern that I am a bit carefree in my attitude when working in potentially dangerous situations.

But, at the end of the day, the art of cutting corners to save a few moments simply outweighs common sense and at least once a year I manage to say to myself: “Boy, that was close, I’m glad Susan didn’t see that.”

Various incidents over the years on this farm might fall into the hazardous category; from toppling into the crush in front of a half mad steer, to watching the Jack Russell emerge ‘drunk’ from inhaling slurry gas, or clinging desperately to the roof of a shed as a sheet of tin mysteriously buckled beneath me.

I’m quite sure many of us could tell our own near-miss story and isn’t it ironic that something so serious is usually recounted in a way that amuses our audience. Furthermore, the responses to these tales are usually along the lines of: “That was nothing, wait ‘till you hear what happened when I...”, and the recipient can manage to trump your account with something far more ‘impressive’.


This year’s health and safety warning concerns a chainsaw, mature laurels, and a 61-year-old that still won’t take time to plan too far ahead. In other words, no excuses, and a lack of forward planning conspired to leave me with the sorest shoulder imaginable.

In the middle of my woodland are areas of laurels that have been growing freely for decades. I have been told by tree specialists, eco warriors and nature-friendly environmentalists that laurels are an invasive species that do not support a wide variety of biodiversity on the forest floor due to the nature of their canopy.

Therefore, I took a notion last winter that I would simply walk into the middle of one area, nip off lots of main branches and kill off the source of the problem.

Except, things are never that simple.

I hadn’t realised that the main stems would be over a foot across. On top of that, the first couple went off like a gunshot when the saw was three quarters way through them, and it quickly dawned on me that this was a seriously hard and dense timber.

Therefore, it soon became apparent that I had almost unlimited quantities of good firewood (I know it must be well dried, as green laurel can give off cyanide when burnt). So, for a few afternoons I logged as much of this timber as possible and brought it home to dry in a shed.

Returning to it last week, I thought I would bring a few more loads home for next winter, except I had already taken most of the handily placed branches (they tend to grow along the ground, then upwards, where they entwine themselves across other trees).

Starting in one area, I managed to open up a lovely 15m pathway with foliage across the top, making it into a sort of covered walkway. It was my very own version of the Dark Hedges.


I was getting on far too well, and in my haste to finish this brilliant creation, I just needed to nip a big laurel that was lying across a half-dead birch tree at an angle of 45 degrees.

Without taking two seconds to study the situation, I nipped off a couple of branches above my head, whereupon the whole branch leaned on the birch, and it snapped off without warning.

It hit me on the side of the head and the top of my left shoulder. Honestly, it wasn’t even that impressive in size, but I suppose it fell from a height and I didn’t see it coming.

To say it was sore would be a slight understatement; driving the quad and trailer home was pure agony. When I got back to the house, I was unable to remove my boilersuit due to a lack of movement in the shoulder (and the pain).

Then, Susan came home and instead of lavishing me with love and tender care (and chocolate), she accosted me for not being more careful. The list of crimes I had committed included: not concentrating, not wearing safety gear, not telling anyone where I was going and not having someone with me. I suppose she has a point.

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