Putting things in perspective

I was in Kew Gardens yesterday, where I was really struck by the juxtaposition of the Lucombe Oak and an Airbus A380 passing overhead on its way to landing in Heathrow.

The Lucombe Oak in Kew dates to 1773 and is thought to be one of Lucombe’s original seedlings.

We live in a rapidly changing world, our lives permeated and saturated with all sorts of technology and devices. Yet this image sums up what a recent development all of these things are, just a blink in the life time of this tree.

The Lucombe Oak predates radio, television and the internet. It also started growing before the French revolution, the industrial revolution had yet to get underway (although it was not far off, James Watt patented a steam engine that produced continuous rotary motion in 1781), penicillin had not yet been discovered. It would be another 130 years before two bike mechanics in Dayton, Ohio would succeed in their attempts at launching their powered and controlled flying machine. No cars, no bicycles.. come to that. All European monarchies were still going strong, the map of the world looking very different from today.

From seedling to mature tree, this very tree has been witness to all of these and many others momentous changes and developments that have shaped this anthropocene age…

Talk about putting things in perspective!

Alternative careers?

What would I do if I were to stop tree work?

Umm… good question. I have never really gone through life with a very clear pathway laid out before me, rather things have… evolved. I have a rough idea, do not get me wrong, but some people seem have it all mapped out, down to the very last detail… I am not one of those people.

Still, having said that, this is a idea for a business I have had kicking around my head for a while: how about a mobile chicken grill? I would convert a van, have an open sided grill part at the back with an awning and a big plastic chicken on the roof. I would call it… Poulet in the Head. (Poulet, by the way, is French for chicken. It also rhymes with “bullet”). I would drive through the streets of my town blasting Rage Against the Machine with the volume cranked up to max – a bit like the ice cream man when we were kids. Just different.

I would do this all wearing a rubber glove on my head, so as to really get into the role.


Actually, on second thoughts, I have been vegetarian for years, and this plan is all fine and dandy, except for the chicken part. That grosses me out a bit. I also see some ethical issues. But, hey, let’s face it: Tofu Burger in the Head just does not have the same je ne sais qui, the same pizzazz.

Oh well, I reckon I will stick with tree work for the time being.

Rather nice

Yesterday we had a day working over the river Rhine, which was rather nice.

The job involved removing some wild growth out of a wall below the old university (see below), when I say old, this means it dates back to 1459. The walls along this stretch of the embankment are rather exciting, lots of nooks and crannies to explore. In this case, there were sizable maples growing straight out of the wall… looking at the pic below though, the trees visible on the left hand side were all removed quite a while ago, I certainly cannot remember them, but instead the wall immediately above the water has become very overgrown.

Luckily, as everything was rather crumbly, not offering the best anchor points in the world, there was a black pine on the uppermost terrace that we could use as an anchor point, this made working the lower terrace and wall a doddle.

Again, in the set up no open connectors were used to install the anchor, thus mitigating the risk of gates coming into contact with structure. The connection of the access lines was one of DMM’s rigging hubs, then I used a Sirius 10 mm Pinto Loop to tie a six coil Prusik, backed up by an Alpine butterfly. Through this I ran my climbing line.

Not rocket science, I realize, but worth mentioning none the less, I thought.

That, and I rather liked the view.


Bricks are heavy, as L7 famously once stated.

True as this may be, I would add to that that rope also is bloody heavy.

If I had any gripes about my choice of career (which I do not really, by the way), it would be that the gear is so heavy. Professional joggers or concert triangle players, now those are professions that would allow you to travel light, with just a pair of running shoes – respectively your triangle, and maybe a replacement one, just to be on the safe side – to pack. Why, you would be traveling with carry on only. All the time. From an arborist’s perspective this thought makes me laugh, as we always seem to max out our luggage allowance.

And that is not because we travel with our favorite bricks, but rather due to all the rope and the assortment of aluminium that we lug around with us.

Yesterday we did a thorough inspection of all the gear in our company.

This resulted in a fair number of old lines being binned. Manu decided to check out just how heavy they really were… he combined this with some rather cunning mime numbers, see below for the results. I thought it was a pretty good effort on his part.

Feeling mortal

There are a number of things I was thinking of  writing about. Yet today, I do not feel like it.

Yesterday I heard that a friend had had a very serious work accident earlier during the day. This left me feeling extremely upset, raw and… mortal.

I managed to speak to her today and she seems to be in the best care possible. After fretting since receiving  the call, hearing her voice was an immense relief.

The line we walk that we refer to as normality is such a thin one, we do well to remind ourselves of this from time to time and to value all that we have – and so frequently take for granted. Moments like this really drive home the point how this can change in less than the blink of an eye.

Heal fast and get well soon, His.

Taking about lubricants

All that talk about Duck Oil yesterday got me wondering about how to lubricate other items.

How about those cheap-o karabiners you picked up on eBay? A deal at €5 per krab, and they even came in pretty colours for that price!

Well, for Far Eastern products, we recommend Peking Duck Oil… to lube the sheave on the rigging block you picked up from the same dealer, we suggest you consider using Peking Impact Force Lube.

For products originating from France, however, the more appropriate option is Foi de Grease, or Huile de Canard à l’Orange.

This one could run and run (thanks, Noddy, for your suggestions in this matter)… do you have any further ideas for specific lubricants? Suggestions, as always, on a postcard, please. Naturally, treeemagineers will not publish any proposals that are not squeaky clean! ? (I know, I need to stop these puns… it’s like Beano, 12-year old school boy-type humour)

And remember! You read about it here first!

Now spread the word…


The other day I was posting about the recommendation for karabiner inspection recently issued by DMM.

One of the points the document highlights regarding lubrication is not to use graphite, the correct lubricant is Duck Oil. This got me wondering…

Duck Oil? Whisky Tango Foxtrot?!

First off: What kind of duck, you may be asking yourself? Good question.

The answer is, it really depends. You can simply go with American black ducks or green-winged teals. The discerning lubricator and connoisseur may prefer the red-breasted merganser or even a lesser scaup, depending on what effect he or she is aiming to achieve.

Righhhhht… so how do you get to the oil from there, you ask?

Well, I had a vision of big, burly Sumo wrestler-type men clad in loin cloths tramping on vats filled with aforementioned ducks in order to squeeze every last bit of oil out of them (ugh, as I am writing this I am realizing this is actually rather an off-putting thought).

Or maybe duck oil is a substance produced by the pituitary gland of a certain species of rare aquatic bird, the little egret, that historically was harvested in a remote region of Dagestan, where women of the ethnic group of the Lezgin skillfully massaged the oil out of the ducks’ neck, producing a thick, viscous substance?

A side effect that all this would surely be that it would be easy to recognize vegans by their squeaky karabiner gates…

Sounds a bit weird?

That is because it is. Reality, as so often, is far less entertaining (well, this strictly depends upon your point of view – from where the duck is standing this is probably a good thing in view of humanity’s pretty tarnished track record when it comes to doing horrible things to other creatures).

In actual fact, Duck Oil is a lubricant manufactured by Swarfega, which is – to quote their blurb – a silicone-free, non-conductive, multi-purpose service spray. Exceptionally low surface tension means it can easily penetrate, lubricate and protect with no need to dismantle machinery and parts.

So now you know. Whether vegan, fruitarian, omnivore or carnivore, no more excuses for sticky karabiner gates.

Extra virgin duck oil? You could say this one really quacked me up! ? (Yes, that one hurt, sorry)

On the road…

Last week we had a treemagineers meeting up in Llanberris at DMM to do some work on some on-going projects. Here are some of my impressions…

Oh, by the way, California, if you are looking for where your rain went, you might want to check in the UK, I think that is where it all went…

We drove from London up and across to Wales in dense traffic most of the ways. If I was ever under the illusion that driving a truck towing an over-width shed on a flatbed trailer could possibly be a reason not to overtake another truck on the motorway, this trip proved me wrong. You can!

A bit scary to be around, mind you…

We finally got to Caernarfon in one piece and met up in Llanberris the next morning. I have said it before, but have to say again how every time I marvel how such sophisticated and beautiful gear can come out of a place that superficially feels rather haphazard and looks like a bunch of rather ramshackle industrial buildings. But once inside, it is so impressive to see the depth of dedication and knowledge invested in delivering the best possible product – and this is where the answer lies, this passion and common vision seems to be what drives the company.

(Yes, you can really tell how Nevena loves having her picture taken, just come so naturally. Teenagers, huh!?)

Treemagineers meetings are always a good thing. I like spending time with the others, whether it involves blue sky thinking, brainstorming or really getting stuck into a theme in an effort to gain a better understanding of the how and why we do things.

Here is an awkward moment, when Beddes realized he was being stalked by some bloke in full camo outfit, you can tell he was worried…

What are the pixels about? I could tell you, but then I am afraid I would have to take you round the back of the building and do something terminal to you, sorry, nothing personal. So I reckoned pixelating was the better option. Stay tuned for where this goes – let me say this much: I am very excited.

We had a nice evening out with Fred Hall, one of the directors of DMM. Fred is a source of endless stories related to all things climbing that will have you clutching your sides laughing. The Pub we went to in Caernarfon was the Black Boy Inn. Umm… yes, not very politically correct? That may have something to do with the fact that the place dates back to the 1550’s, I do not think that is a name you would chose today.

Then back to London, where we had a quick spin round Science Museum, a place I love – every time I go there, there seem to be new things to discover. This time I was thinking about how industry has changed from the Victorian age, where it was something you took pride in and displayed – oftentimes in a flamboyant fashion. Industrial design back then often incorporated ornamental elements that are in stark contrast to the very utilitarian take we have on industry today, where it is almost as though it were something slightly icky that needs to be hidden away…

Case in question? I loved the design of this Foden truck – I’d have one like a shot! Imagine rocking up to the next job in one of these… might be a bit heavy on fuel, mind you.

And finally, walking around the Information Age exhibition, I couldn’t help but marvel at how rapidly we have come to take for granted the means of communication we have at our disposal today, looking back at how computers looked just a couple of decades back really drives this point home. Certainly a long way from the machine allowing me to write down these thoughts and uploading them to a world-spanning net of information channels… quite an evolution from the talking drums of Mail, even though the basic aim is the same, which is to spread and share information.

CDC 6600 computer by Control Data Ltd., 1968
CDC 6600 computer by Control Data Ltd., 1968

And then back home. Yes, those treemagineers meetings are all about work, work, work – never any fun at all.


RTFM – not a luxury!

The tragic story of Tito Traversa goes to prove this.

Traversa, a 12 year-old rock climbing child prodigy fell to his death near Grenoble in 2013 due to his quickdraw slings having been misassembled by another person – who exactly remains is subject of an on-going investigation – , this person unintentionally passed the karabiner only through the rubber retaining element, rather through both the retainer and the quickdraw sling.

Part of the aftermath of such a tragedy, besides the psychological and emotional trauma for all concerned, are legal proceedings in an attempt to establish who was at fault. In this case, five people have been charged on manslaughter charges: the owner of the company that produced the rubber keepers without instructions, and the owner of the gear shop that sold the keepers. The manager of the club that organized the climbing trip, as well as two of the instructors who were on site, have also been charged for failing to monitor the assembly of the equipment.

Why not the person who threaded the quickdraws? The common link between all persons charged is that they were involved in the case at a professional level.

Could the providing of user instructions have prevented this incident? The fact that the owner of the company that manufactured the quickdraw slings is indicted is possibly an indicator that there may be an issue that the user manual, either by not being provided or having been found lacking. Yet really, the question whether this could have prevented the accident is somewhat of a moot point.

The PPE directive 89/686/EEC and also the General Product Safety Directive 2011/95/EC are very clear on the legally binding necessity to provide appropriate and sufficient information to the end user, consisting of:

  • Title page, product name, type or code, trade name, image;
  • Technical specifications and certification (Declaration of Conformity);
  • Relation to other documents;
  • Contents, list of images, icons and attachments;
  • Introduction: indications for the use of the user manual;
  • General safety prescriptions;
  • Description of the product, composition of the product;
  • Implementation, installation, adjustments;
  • Description of the operation, how to use the product, application possibilities;
  • Maintenance and maintenance schedule;
  • Storage and transport;
  • Faults and repairing;
  • Accessories, and peripherals;
  • Dismantle, environment;
  • Index;
  • Glossary;
  • Attachments

Proof of appropriate and sufficient information being provided to the end user is part of the CE certification process and will be looked at closely by the notified body prior to confirming conformity to the relevant regulations and standards.

I was in a local climbing shop a while back when this chap bought one of Petzl’s Micro Traxions. He asked the vendor, after having paid, whether he could leave the packaging there. No probs, replied the sales person – and in the bin the whole lot went. But… so did the user instructions – and that is a really serious omission on the part of the vendor! Instructions MUST be delivered with the product. If the user then decides to discard them, that becomes his or her decision.

User instructions should not be an afterthought, something a manufacturer d0es because they are required to by law, rather this document needs to be seen as a core element in the communication between said manufacturer and the end user.

This being said, I am all the more gobsmacked by the low quality of the information supplied with some products sold into tree care. True, a manufacturer in the US is subject to different requirements, but the fact remains that a dealer importing equipment from the US to Europe in order to sell it on within Europe becomes, from a legal point of view, the manufacturer of that piece of gear. In case of an incident, should it be found that appropriate information has not been supplied or is lacking, such a reseller might well face consequences similar to the Traversa case described above. Manslaughter charges are a very serious matter – regardless of which geographic region you happen to be manufacturing in.

All of this does not by any means relate only to Personal Protective Equipment. Rigging equipment falls under the machinery directive 2006/42/EC which makes even more stringent demands than the PPE directive in regards to information that shall be provided.

And of course the information shall be provided in all languages of the countries the product is sold into.

A bit over the top, you say?

Not really.

You are entitled to a statement by the manufacturer explaining how they have tested the device you just bought, how it was designed to be used and what they consider to be appropriate use, as well as foreseeable errors. Sometimes even gear that appears superficially to be intuitive in handling can cause unexpected problems.

Such as quick draw slings and rubber retainers.

Do not follow the leader! Unless you have really given it some thought, that is.

Last week, I went so see Star Wars – and I though it was absolutely great. I thought the characters were great, love the machinery and the scenery – good job they got rid of Georg Lucas! There we go, geek confession over with, it’s out there now.

But you know, it did get me thinking…

Just a couple of years ago, if you were contemplating filming a blockbuster in Hollywood, a considerable part of the budget would be blown on super-expensive CGI sequences – EVERYBODY was doing this. It reached a point where it became simply absurd, with films looking like overblown computer games. Peter Jackson fell foul of this in the Hobbit films, for instance, that as a result feel very different from the Lord of the Rings films, that had much less CGI in them.

Now we seem to have gone full circle and people are starting to (re)discover the value of using dressed up actors, more manual effects and models again. This is certainly the case in the new installment of Star Wars, with the chess set in the Millennium Falcon in The Force Awakens, for instance, using the same animation techniques used in the original back in the seventies.

Errrr… what on earth is Mark on about?! you wonder – and well you may. Let me explain.

All this reminded me of how, fifteen years ago, all manufacturers seemed to be falling over each other in their haste to move East.

If you were clued up, or at least so it was suggested, you were either out-sourcing or relocating your production to some far Eastern country – and if not, you were smiled down upon condescendingly, after all EVERYBODY was doing it. Today, the picture is less clear. Far Eastern production, it turned out, can come with considerable hidden costs and can pose complex quality assurance problems, to name but two issues. Companies who chose not follow the herd on their gold rush east, who continued producing the way they alway have – despite what everybody else said – come out of this looking rather clever.

My point is this: just because EVERYBODY says something, this does not yet make it correct, true and/ or a good idea. This is as true of manufacturing PPE, filming a Hollywood blockbuster or politics, as it is of sketchy techniques presented on Youtube or other social media platforms – and so the list goes on.

Take a step back, take a deep breath – and develop you own, independent position based upon facts that you can back up with fact, not merely hearsay.

So go on, give it some depth…