‘Welcome to Contracting’

Toolbox Talk

13th December 2019 | Info

You know when someone makes a comment early on in your career or just life in general, and then that comment haunts you for the rest of your life? Sometimes in a good way or often in a bad way; well, this is one of my favourites.  It first started off being an irritating one but gradually (and eventually) has become one of my favourites, having brought me great joy over the past 27 years.

How It Began

The year was 1991, and I was a young subcontract climber, desperate to build up enough of my own work to ‘go it alone’ as soon as possible. Most of the week I was climbing for my good friend and still mentor to this day, Reg Harris from Urban Forestry and at the weekends, working dusk till dawn. This was to a) fit my private jobs in so I could get a full five days in for Reg and b) earn as much money as I could to afford a new kit and hopefully one day, a woodchipper. This was the ultimate dream as at that time loans were not as easy to get and, unlike the kids of today, my parents didn’t buy me a tipper and woodchipper the second I left college yes, I am still very bitter.

As time went on, I was begging Reg for a few days off to catch up on some of my work that was building up. I was definitely still a little jealous of him, a successful tree surgeon who had continuous work lined up and could employ young Herbert’s like myself.

I like to think that I was becoming a real asset to his company at this stage, despite the ultimate goal that I had to be my own boss. I knew this was starting to become an issue between us (something I would learn to understand better, a few years down the line) as Reg had trained me up to that point where I was working to his standard and was responsible enough to be left on my own.

The Phrase

I think I rocked up to the yard one morning, loaded up the truck and jumped in the van with Reg and thought I’d kick up a conversation about one of my weekend jobs that hadn’t quite gone to plan, hoping for a little sympathy or maybe some of Reg’s advice on how to get it right next time. Only that didn’t happen, and I received those fatal words that would resonate through my skull for the next 27 years… ‘Welcome to contracting’.

What this actually meant was; ‘you want to go it alone; well this is what you have to look forward to’ and ‘I don’t really want to listen to you moaning about it’. 

This wasn’t the last time I heard this comment, and maybe I should have learned my lesson and not discussed my work ever again but well, I did.

My Experience

Let’s skip forward the next six months or so and Reg and I parted ways. Even though I didn’t have days, let alone weeks of work, lined up, it was just time to make that move as we were irritating the hell out of each other by this point and it was time to make that move.

We all know how hard the Arb industry is, so I won’t harp on about the struggles of running a tree surgery business. Over the next 27 years, I obviously had my fair share of climbers come and go, some of which were just not cut out for tree surgery, others blatantly learning as much as they could in preparation of starting their own tree surgery business. Yes, it is frustrating, but you have to just go with it. Most guys would (and will) just announce that they were off and that was it, you never hear from them again. Some of your lads you become close friends with and will always keep in contact with (despite feeling a little resentful of those years and money spent on just getting them where you want them for them just to leave you starting all over again).

So Pleasurable

Now, every now and then, I have the pleasure of using ‘the Phrase’. I laugh each and every time I say it, often practising my smug face before hitting them with the words. The lads know the story behind the saying, which I guess makes it a little more annoying, and I always get the same response, which is too rude to type I am afraid.

And yes… those words are as effective sent by text.

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