The giant woodpecker I heard in the trees at the end of the garden turned out to be a BT engineer up a ladder making adjustments to a telegraph pole. It was planted, he told me, in 1945, and still good, apparently, for another ten years or so. He explained how to read the labels that tell you the pole’s age and height, a skill I immediately put into practice on every neighbouring pole. My best find: the one that carries my calls over the moat from the house to the road – dated 1934 (and 26 feet high). It doesn’t say whether it’s pine or Douglas fir.
I hurried back to ask my woodpecker friend if 75 years is an unusual lifespan. ‘Pretty good’, he said. ‘We’ll have to change it soon, but it’s still safe.’ ‘What about the new ones?’ was my next question. ‘Hopeless.’ he said. ‘They don’t season them or pickle them properly any more. They used to age them for two years, then pickle them in creosote. Now they’re just fresh trees given a pressure treatment with wood preserver. I have far more trouble with the new ones.’
I wasn’t surprised. Telegraph poles are not the only timber that comes green, unseasoned, not properly treated and ready to rot. We’ve had to replace a gate post after three years. Does no one believe in the future any more?