I guess I must have got the notion from old films, probably starring John Wayne, and it can't just have been me because Monty Python's Lumberjack song gets its laughs by subverting the ideal of a rugged man with muscles, pitting himself against hardwood.
"I cut down trees,
I skip and jump
I skip and jump
I like to press wild flowers
I put on women's clothing
And hang around in bars."
I never did figure out how to become a lumberjack and it's probably just as well, I'm thinking, as the unwanted branch of the maple tree I've been hacking off in my garden gives way unexpectedly and belts me on the leg, causing cuts, bruises and several contusions. Whatever they might be.
"Must have been saw," Al says afterwards, over a beer in the Tickled Trout. "Listen, son," he says, leaning over and prodding me in the chest. "Engineering is about planning for failure. You got to anticipate and avoid.
"You, I regret to say, have a poorly developed sense of danger. You'd have been dead long ago if you'd gone in for lumberjacking. Crushed to a flat wet stain on the grass by a hundred tonnes of falling timber."
"Not at all," I say. "I recognise dangers. I have a healthy respect for heights. I'm scared of women."
"Women and heights?" he says, taking a pull of his beer, then wiping his lips with the back of his hand. "What about really high women?"
"I have nightmares about the Statue of Liberty," I say.
"Suppose someone said you had to abseil from Venus Williams's forehead ..."
"Couldn't do it."
"... and they'd give you a thousand pounds."
"Nope," I say. "Not for a million."
"Missed opportunity," he says, shaking his head. "Closest I ever got to being a lumberjack was whittling."
"Whittling," he says. "Carving little pieces of wood into artistic shapes with a sharp knife."
"After Frank Whittle, the man who invented the jet engine," he says. "It was his hobby as a boy."
"Really?" I say.
"He started with penny whistles then got ambitious," he says. Made a full-scale model of Mae West's bosom from a piece of driftwood when he was 15. Then he whittled the world's first jet engine out of balsa-wood in his bedroom. It caught fire and burned a hole in the carpet, so his mum took his knife away. Unlike you, though, he persevered with his dream and the rest is history."
"What do you whittle then?" I say.
"Wood from the old door to my sitting-room," he says. "Took it off when I was doing up the house. I carve it into animals - dogs, cats, otters. I've liked otters since I read Ring of Bright Water."
"Sheep would be easier," I say.
"I don't think so," he says.
"Door into otters?" I say.
"As you'd have them door into ewe," he says.
"Well, I got to get back," I say, finishing my beer and bursting into song. "I chop down trees, I wear high heels, suspenders and a bra. I wish I'd been a girlie, just like my dear papa."
"Don't be a plank," Al says, as we emerge blinking into the summer sunshine and head for home.