A chainsaw is a marvellous tool – or as my adopted Australian friends would call it ‘A bonza bit of gear’. It can slice through huge tree trunks like butter, and let me tell you you won’t want to grab an axe ever again once you’ve used one of those little beauties.
See, I was planning to use a chainsaw to help out my dear old pals Jane and Chris, my parents’ oldest friends whom I’d always known as my aunt and uncle. I was on a visit back to England from my home in Australia, and I wanted to see how the elderly couple were getting along.
And I’m sorry to tell you, Jack, that things were not looking good. Jane and Chris, both retired solicitors, had taken on ‘Journey’s End’, six years ago. It’s a lovely little old cottage with a small area of land in Wiltshire. They’d established a donkey sanctuary there, and the landowner whose huge property surrounded their home, had become a good mate, who thoroughly approved of the couple and their elderly animals.
However, three years after they arrived, the old landowner died and his relatives sold the estate to a Chinese businessman, Mr Lee. Mr Lee told Jane and Chris that he wanted to buy their cottage and land. They refused to sell. But he kept on nagging, and then shortly afterwards, as a way of pressuring them, he had then planted one hundred fast-growing leylandii trees in a square so that they completely surrounded their cottage and land. When I arrived I saw that they had grown to twenty feet in height and had totally blocked out all the light, so that midday seemed like midnight.
The house had fallen into rack and ruin, with plumbing problems, building defects, filth and grime and poor Jane had lost weight with the stress of it all: they’d simply lost the will to go on with the struggle. The donkeys mooched about unhappily in the gloom, and poor old Chris, who was now in his eighties, had lost that magnificent smile that I’d always remembered from my childhood. I’m a practical kind of guy, I like to get things done, and when I saw their miserable plight, and how the fact they weren’t allowed to cut down the wretched trees was ruining their lives, I decided on a plan of action.
“No arguments,” I told them. “You’re booked on the flight to Paris, then on to Nice, for a fortnight’s stay in a luxury hotel, and I’m paying all the bills. Meanwhile I’ll stay on here, look after the donkeys and try to talk some sense into Mr Lee. I’m a self-made property millionaire – I know how to deal with unscrupulous businessmen like that. Leave it to me.”
The dear old couple were so upset and beaten down by life that they hadn’t got the strength to disagree with my plan, and as I drove them to the airport they shed a few tears about the way their retirement had turned out, and how they could see no alternative to selling to Mr Lee, and selling the donkeys to whoever might buy them, and ending their days in a small flat in town.
Next I lost no time in visiting Mr Lee. He was an recalcitrant old bastard, and I disliked him on sight. However, during my handling of lots of construction projects in Australia I’ve found that sometimes you have to talk tough to get what you want, you have to really make things crystal clear, and sometimes even use a bit of gentle persuasion. What a shit of a man, eh? Harassing a harmless old couple like that, how dare he? In the end I’m glad to say that he finally saw things my way.
Then on the second day, after feeding the three donkeys, Alice, Laurence and Fred, whom I’d already fallen in love with, I went into town, hired myself a chainsaw and also a truck with a shredder, or wood chipper, that is a large machine attached to the truck that shreds up the timber and branches, reducing them to woodchips in seconds. We call them ‘Big Bessies’ In Australia, on account of their size and prodigious appetite.
Next, I made enquiries and found some nice people in the village who agreed to come back and help me: Norman, a plumber, Jack, a general builder, and Louise, Jack’s wife, who had a rip-roaring business cleaning houses. The three of them proceeded to fix the place up, while I made a start cutting down the trees and shredding them.
By the end of a fortnight, we had fixed up the place real good, and we’d all had a great time together, having some laughs and going out for meals and having a few beers in the evenings. I’d cut down the last of the damned trees and a local factory had agreed to take the wood chippings, and I’d duly delivered the loads as the tipper lorry I’d hired filled up. I was pleased: the cottage was once more standing proud, with sunlight filling its windows. And now also, thanks to my new mates, everything was fixed up properly, and, thanks to Louise, the place was spruced up shiny as a new pin. The donkeys were nosing into my bag of goodies as I fed them. I could tell they were much happier, they were frisking around the fields, loving to feel the sunlight on their backs.
When Jane and Chris returned they couldn’t believe what I had achieved.
“We can’t thank you enough for giving us back our lives,” Jane told me, smiling with genuine happiness. “All the work on the cottage. But most of all for getting rid of those terrible trees. How on earth did you get Mr Lee to agree?”
I tapped the side of my nose. “Trade secret. But you got no worries now, believe me. Mr Lee is well and truly sorted. You won’t be hearing from him any more, scouts honour!” I made the silly salute with two fingers and we all burst out laughing.
“I never asked you, Bill, what exactly is the nature of your business in Australia,” Chris asked me that evening, as we discussed the next stage of my travels, a visit to Uncle Ralph in Ireland the following day.
“Oh you, know, it’s complicated,” I said. “This and that. Property mostly. People come to me and I help them solve problems.”
“You’re not working with criminals, are you?” He looked worried. “People like the mafia? Gangsters?”
“People get called lots of names,” I evaded. “At the end of the day everyone’s in business and if it helps to get along with a guy who’s a bit on the wild side, who am I to argue? We’ve all got to make a buck.”
As I got into the taxi next day I pondered on the many uses of a wood chipper. In my early days in Oz, in my wild times as a roustabout willing to do any job for a few bucks, I’d learnt lots of building and farming skills. I remembered the big shredders we’d use and how, along with the tree branches and hunks of lumber we’d occasionally toss in a dead Roo or a bit of old meat to see what happened to it. The shreds of wood chip would come out dyed a bit red sometimes, and we’d have a laugh, you know? Figuring how the blood and the bone fragments must have mixed in with the woodchips.
I smiled to myself. I knew beyond any doubt that Jane and Chris would never again hear sight nor sound of Mr Lee.