If there’s one experience unlikely to be on offer in London town, it is the chopping down of a tree. Not just because we don’t have enough to go round (it’s an overcrowded city, Sherwood Forest probably wouldn’t have enough to go round), but also because I believe the authorities wise in their wish to avoid 12 million irritable commuters trotting about with axes on their shoulders.

An excursion to choose and chop down my own Christmas tree was, as you might therefore guess, a bit of a departure from the norm. My father-in-law took us into the Black Hills, trussed up appropriately in large coat and comfy boots (see previous weather warning re: blizzards). And with an axe. On my shoulder.

The Black Hills are beautiful at the best of times, but magical in the snow. My father-in-law hunts in this area and knows it like the back of his hand, so knew the perfect route for treespotting. And so off we drove, a permit to hack at the shrub of my choice clutched in my glove, peering through the window (past the arse of the dog), pointing at trees and screeching: “That one!”

Some time later, I pointed at a tree that wasn’t lopsided, stunted, taller than the permit allowed, suitable only for Charlie Brown or completely the wrong species, and was given the go ahead. Never have you seen a more inept display of lumberjacking: I flung that axe about with all the innate skill of a seahorse.

I’m not clear as to whether father-in-law told me it was time to swap to the saw because it was, or because he took pity on (what was left of) the tree. Or possibly on me: have you any idea how hard it is to chop down a tree? I have new respect for lumberjacks.

Still, eventually, down it came: one juniper, struck down in the prime of its life by my own fair hands. Cue proper lumberjack pose of victory: this is definitely more fun than buying a tree from a bloke at the side of the road.


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