Monday, January 07, 2008

Another Leylandii hedge bites the dust

It seems like ages ago now but in reality its only been a few weeks since we did this job. One of our long standing customers finally had to do something about their Leylandii hedge (thanks to a letter from the council!).

When we first started doing work for this customer, this monster hedge has always been the subject of many discussions and thoughts as to what to do with it - I suggested ripping it out of course as I loath them, but in the end our hand was forced slightly by this letter to reduce the hedge - so we duly booked in to do it.

As you can see from the pictures, this thing was massive - we had to get a cherry picker in and a huge chipper to reduce the 5 - 6 tonnes of waste created.

The job when finished looked really good - and now you can also get two cars passing at the same time now without the overhanging hedge.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Fantastic weekend for the Guernsey Boys

Picture: The Guernsey Boys before the start

As most of you know by now, I am a keen shooter and assistant game keeper on two local estates in Newbury. This weekend we had a visit arranged for the Guernsey Boys, who we have known for many years who love to come over and shoot a few pheasants, get drunk and party hard.
This week was no exception!

They arrived on Thursday afternoon so Chris, my game keeper friend and I popped down the pub for a quick one and to meet some of the other guns in the team who we didn't know. As usual, this turned into a bit of a session, however both Chris and I made a carefully planned exit as we had to be up early to sort out the final arrangements and prepare for the day's sport.

Lucky for us we did go early, as the guys arrived at the beaters hut looking a bit worse for wear!

After a few cups of coffee and a carefully planned wind up for one of the new guns who had never shot at live game before (this involved an imaginary game licence which was required, which of course everybody had except Andy, who has been looking forward to this trip for months. After a few moments searching himself for something he knew he didn't have, we could not hide our amusement any longer and he twigged....this really broke the ice and settled him down to the job in hand!).

Picture: Andy looking for the licence he never had!

I wont bore you with the blow by blow account of the day, but they all had a few shots and enjoyed themselves.

The next day, we went off to Thame to Chris's dad's shoot - a much smaller but nevertheless enjoyable shoot, with very different scenery and different type of drives. Again a great day had by all.

Chris also managed to convince me to bring Jasmine, my Labrador pup, out on the Friday for the first time. I was a little nervous as we were still bonding, but as usual he was right.

Jazz performed very well and really got the message of what she will be doing in the future - Holly and Amy did the business as usual and Chris's daughter Becky and her dog Holly were brilliant working with me to pick up dead and injured birds.

I am now on a "no drinking" week - my liver is groaning under the strain of 3 days solid booze, but it was really great to see our old friends - we will of course have to have a re-match away in Guernsey in the New Year....

Good weather at last!

Following my last post, the weather has made a huge improvement. I don't mind cold, its just rain I hate.

Last week saw a return to normal activities. It gave us a chance to catch up on the week before - we actually managed to do 2 days work in a single day - not that I want to repeat this too often as we were totally knackered after this feat.
We also finished off a really nice job in West Ilsley just outside Newbury, which has been ongoing in phases over the last 6 weeks or so. The final bit of this job was to create a raised veg garden where once there was nothing.
The most effective way of creating a raised bed is by using treated softwood sleepers. In days gone by, people used old creosoted sleepers but I would not recommend this as there are too many toxic chemicals which could get into your food.

This particular veg garden was to be built on a slopping bank, so we staggered the beds one above the other, fixing with cemented posts and then securing the sleepers with Timberlok screws to form the raised bed. Once done, several tonnes of blended loam, compost and soil are added to ensure the veg patch has a great start.

On this particular job we also cleared the front garden of old and overgrown shrubs and turfed an old area which had been used as a builders store area. As normal, when working in a village , just about everybody walks past to see what you are doing, passing judgement on your work and enquiring about the plans etc - this always works well for us and generates several further enquiries.

We also cleared out the middle garden to give the owners a blank sheet to start a new planting scheme in the spring - this involves removing old shrubs, digging over borders and generally getting it all sorted out.

We love these types of jobs as they are interesting and very rewarding to all parties - its a shame I didn't take the before pictures....note to self - make sure camera is in van before starting job!

Friday, December 07, 2007

I think I might have cursed us...

There's me saying what a month November was and WHAM - the weather has gone mental!

It's about the one thing we can do nothing about. This week has been a disaster.

Normally we work through rain showers and the like - it really is not much fun but all our gear is designed to work in all weathers and we just get togged up in the waterproofs and get on with it.

This week has been a bit different - cold strong winds blowing in freezing rain - it makes hedge cutting to dangerous and even things like weeding is impossible as the ground is water logged. I had even planned for a vine removal from a house - not on your Nelly in this wind.

The boys are really fed up as Christmas is only a few weeks away and we are not working, therefore not we have managed a few jobs - a bit of hedge cutting, a small garden clearance, a few maintenance contracts and yes I even final cut some grass today (when will it end!)

One good thing about having time in the office is that my paperwork is right up to date, I have carted off a few broken and in need of repair bit of equipment off to Kalehurst Garden Machines and of course this week spent some quality time with the puppy.

Our house used to be calm and the dogs no trouble - now this puppy, which I am sure has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), seems to be everywhere at the same time!

I bought her a toy pheasant from the pet shop and it seems to stop her chewing up everything else in the house (she ate a load of quotes I had prepared yesterday!) but now constantly wants to give it to me - its wet and smelly and I don't really want it Jazz!

Picture: A moment of peace - No I didn't shoot her (yet!)

PS we had to change her name too as she didn't take any notice of Casey - its now Jasmine, or Jazz or Jazzie for short - she is already responding to it - probably because I say it more than anything else at the moment - usually followed by NO!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The patter of tiny feet once more.....

As readers will know, I am passionate about working my Labradors. I am working 2 shoots all the time and helping out a few others when they need me - so consequently I am pretty busy at weekends etc.

Working dogs tend to get very tired after a few weeks of constant work and are also prone to injury. Luckily so far this season I have not had any injury (and fingers crossed I wont).

I have a 10 year old black lab, a 5 year old white lab (the black ones daughter) who both are incredible. My intention was to breed from Holly (the white one) but Alas she will not stand and so the clock has pretty much run out. This leaves me with a real problem.

Amy, the older dog, is just about knackeredat he end of a full day's work and the afternoons are a struggle for her (she was without doubt one of the best dogs I have ever seen). Holly is really at the top of her peak now and works superbly, but without a puppy to follow on I am in the mire as I have nothing coming on in the future.......until today that is!

I was fortunate enough to hear of a dog going to a working home - a 6 month old yellow lab. So I picked up my gamekeeper mate and dog mentor and zoomed off to High Wycombe to view this dog.

I was surprised at it. She really is a good looker and very bright - no training has been done but her blood line is superb and she has a sparkle about her. Needless to say, she soon was in the back of the car heading for Newbury before the guy changed his mind!

I had forgotten how much of a handful a 6 month old pup is, but with the other two to train her this should be easier than normal to sort.

Its first night, the howling hasn't started yet but she has already proven to be a bit naughty with biting tassels off the cushions and ripped up a few quotes I had stacked on the floor for posting off.....

Note to self - take Valium now to get through the next week or so!

Karen (the ever forgiving wife) has taken to Casey already, or is it the other way round?.... this dog is no fool!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Leverage, the Board Game

"Now what are you on about" I hear you cry!

Wife Karen (Irun Solutions) and I were invited over to Nigel and Diane Morgan's of Morgan PR on Friday night to play a Board Game called Leverage. This was devised by Brad Sugars - the founder of Action Coaching and self made billionaire whose seminar we all attended back in October.

The aim of the game is to get you thinking about your business, and business in general in a fun way. This game is quite complicated and Diane had created a spreadsheet to help with some of the calculations required at virtually every throw of the dice (otherwise it would have been a nightmare as the gins got larger!)

We arrived fashionably late....the kids decided that the careful plans we had made for them were not to their liking and so had devised some other dastardly and cunning plans which involved running them the length and breadth of the country ....completely stressing me out!

Nigel quickly picked up on my high stress levels, poured me a "Friday night Special" gin and tonic to get me back to earth! We had a fine fish curry prepared by Diane, then settled down to play.

I turns out that I am the unluckiest player ever and I quickly land on the "oops" areas which basically wipe you out of any profit you make during the game and subject you to all manner of problems with the bank etc. Nigel, being the luckiest geezer I have ever met, romps home to win of course (funny how the banker always wins in Monopoly too!).

Anyway, we had a load of laughs (mostly at my expense), destroyed a bottle of gin and some other strange drinks the Nigel kept appearing with.

Great night guys - I look forward to the return match - I am going to be the banker this time!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

This has GOT to be the final cut....

I can't believe we are still doing final cuts on grass in December!

I have been telling customers that this will be the last mowing visit for about a month now - but still it keeps growing!

I was hoping to service and moth-ball the mowing equipment back in November but we are still cutting. The poor machines have had a really tough season and luckily have lasted the course without any real problems, just a few wear and tear stuff like strimmer handles getting broken off and drive belts getting shredded etc but no large mechanical failures.

On the other hand, we did have an unusual one a few weeks ago with the hedge cutter. We were doing "the Hedge from Hell" for one of our letting agent customers in Kintbury which had not been properly cut back for quite a few years. The Council was starting to complain as the hedge had gone 18" over he pavement, making it a bit of an issue.

Basically, we were commissioned to reduce the size by at least 18" on the face as well as about 18" on the top. Instead of a nice hedge, this was a pyrocanthus, a very hard wood bush with nasty thorns which make you go septic if you get impaled. We decided that chipping the waste would be the best course of action to remove the huge quantities created.

As we started, I could see this job going a bit pair shaped as the shear toughness of the stems was proving quite and challenge even for our mega Stihl 30" heavy duty cutter, let alone our Husky commercial one. Chipping was also proving to be a challenge as the branches were so tangled together it was impossible to get them in the chipper without chainsawing them into chunks!

I sent one of the guys to trim the top of one of the hedges with the Husky, when after a few minutes he came back looking very sheepish. I asked him what the problem was and he said I should come and see....well I don't know what had happened but instead of a flat 24" blade, he had managed to bend it like a banana. Somehow, the teeth had got caught under each other and bent the bar! I took it to Kalehurst Garden Machinery and they had never seen the like of it!

Eventually we got the hedge finished and the customer was delighted - even though it cost me dearly in repairs!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Putting it into practice

Regular readers will recall our trip to Las Vegan in October for the Brad Sugar's Billionaire seminar. As with all these things, they only work if you put what is taught to you into practice.

Over this last month, I have been applying various tips picked up to improve the business, as well as our private lives too.

The results have been staggering.

November has been our busiest month ever, with record billings achieved, more contracts won and more quotes sent out - I am also looking to improve our close rates (its pretty good anyway, but always room for improvement!). Furthermore, I have implemented monitoring and quality measurements to ensure our performance is always improved.

My next project is to update our website and improve our conversion and click through rates via Irun Solutions and more google campaigns.

We have had a few set-backs - mostly due to mechanical failure of vehicles and machines, but this also has to be expected with an increase in work load. This obviously has an affect on the business, but my aim is to plan for these and ensure we have a back up option.

In our private life, Karen and I have got more organised, employed a cleaner/ironing service to remove the pressure of constantly having to think about this, attempted to sort out our shopping via the Internet (this really takes up loads of time to sort out initially!) and basically started to manage our time more effectively so we can spent more time together.
I have also managed to fit in more hobby time - I now spend much more time working my gun dogs and doing more field sports.
The law of space has prevailed - basically if you create space it will be filled, by getting more things sorted, I have more time to do other things and spend more time with the family - brilliant!