Being out in the countryside with my dogs gives me time to think. I’ve learnt the pleasure of solitude without being lonely, and that’s a good feeling for me.

Welcome to "Man with two dogs" - the family website for dog owners and dog walkers.

This is my countryside diary which appears each Saturday in the Dundee Courier newspaper.

Low fungi & high trees

October 28th, 2006

MUSHROOMS, TOADSTOOLS – or  puddockstools' as some folk used say. But a puddock is a frog (I've sometimes seen it spelt  paddock'), and you don't get  frogstools'. It must all get a bit confusing if you didn't grow up in  Courier' country.

What started this line of thought is the tremendous amount of fungi that has appeared in the woods this year. I grew up believing that mushrooms are edible, but toadstools are poisonous. I don't actually know how to distinguish between the two, despite reading a splendid little book called  Edible Fungi' by John Ramsbottom from which it seems that many toadstools are indeed edible. The Bible refers to  leprosy of a house' which apparently is the dry rot fungus, and probably best left out of your diet or your wooden leg may fall off.

Out with the dogs I came across a most colourful fungus at the foot of a monkey puzzle tree. Monkey puzzles are uncommon enough even in old country gardens laid out with exotic trees, and this fungus was new to me. Looking at the book it seems, from its bright coral pink lobes, to be Salmon Salad and from a distance it was certainly suggestive of a slice of cold salmon on a plate.

The noise of chain saws in nearby woods caught my attention and I had to go and investigate. It was two tree surgeons being tested for the top qualification in tree surgery. They were from Scottish & Southern Energy (Hydro Electric to you and me) and their job is to keep power lines free from potential branch damage and help maintain continuous electricity supply, as well as protect the public.

It's a very physical job and I watched them climbing trees with ropes, although they sometimes use climbing irons strapped to their boots. Health & Safety and protective equipment are primary considerations, which is not surprising when you consider the heights they work at. Chain saws revolve at the equivalent of over 50mph, so there's little time for second thoughts when you're forty feet up and the only things stopping you  falling off your perch' are your safety harness and climbing rope.

The arboriculture industry looks to prolong the life of trees, especially amenity trees, and tree surgeons have to be aware of matters such as tree ownership, planning and legal constraints and tree preservation orders. It was interesting to learn that the job also requires knowledge of such things as ground site fungi which attack root systems and make trees unstable – and ready for the chop. So it's certainly not a case of – “I'm a lumberjack and I'm OK” (Monty Python song).

Mr Ramsbottom advises against eating too large quantities of any fungi at once, which may result in “wishful reflection”. His safeguard against “accidents” is a hen dung and vinegar emetic!