Beware of the little people


It’s obvious that the great and the good are sadly disappointed in us. In spite of the bounty they pour upon us, the wise guidance they offer and the tender way they gently lead us into the golden future they have mapped out, we’re not to be trusted.


I noticed in the paper today that “Ofsted fears schools will squander extra cash.”

Apparently Ananda Spielman, the chief inspector of schools in England, said that “There was clearly room for improvement when it came to school budgeting and that bad financial decisions would be harmful to children’s education.”

Apparently she also hinted that there could be an expanded role for the inspectorate in analysing schools’ financial records to ensure budgets were properly spent. Given that nobody has seen any evidence that Ofsted actually has any competence in the financial field, one assumes that this expansion of their duties will, inevitably, lead to a considerable increase in their staff numbers. Equally inevitably this will lead to senior people being raised to higher grades, in recognition of their ‘greater responsibility’ with, of course, a corresponding increase in the level of their remuneration.

Strangely enough, the comments, “Were put online yesterday by accident before being quickly removed.”


At the same time, on a webpage from the Government Digital Service, small boat fishermen were described as ‘poor, less intelligent and depressed,’ categorising some of them as ‘rule beaters consistently seek to evade regulation’ who ‘are often unpopular with the rest of the fishing community.’

“The regulator said that the phrasing came from external research when developing the Catch Recording App, a new tool that small-scale English fishermen are being forced to use to record catches. To justify the need for submissions in the app before fish are landed, the paper claimed fishermen in the under-10 metre fleet (which makes up 80% of the catching industry) could not be trusted to unload their haul without ‘colluding’ with black-market sellers.”

Strangely enough, the fishing regulator has apologised for being ‘massively disrespectful’ about trawler-men, and the comments have been quickly removed from the website.


In agriculture we’ve had it for a while. One Defra run database told staff some years ago (in the last millennium, so the attitude is not new) that they were to assume that farmers were lying unless it was proven otherwise. This was a verbal briefing to staff (back then managers were either too wise, or not tech-savvy enough to inadvertently put stuff on the website by accident) but unfortunately due to the nature of the staff, it leaked out.
What senior people in Defra hadn’t realised is that a proportion of the staff recruited to work on the database were the wives or daughters of farmers. They were ideal employees because they actually understood what the data was supposed to show. Unfortunately, when they got home after work, they were also the ones who would gather up and submit the data that their farming family had to put on the database. As you can imagine, the warning they were given didn’t go down well.


I confess to being reminded of the words of Bertolt Brecht


After the uprising of the 17th of June

The Secretary of the Writers’ Union

Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee

Stating that the people

Had forfeited the confidence of the government

And could win it back only

By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier

In that case for the government

To dissolve the people

And elect another?

Sadly, we the little people, have forfeited the confidence of our masters in the bureaucracy. Perhaps they should show their displeasure by abandoning us and going off to administer somebody else? I’m sure that would teach us a strong lesson.


There again, what do I know? I recommend you discuss the matter with somebody who knows.

Available as paperback or ebook

As a reviewer commented, “If I were younger, I would love to spend a year following Jim and Sal around and listening to the stories and adding the special effects, but I sure get a lot of the picture from his well-chosen words.

Can’t wait for the next book! Beautifully done.”

Cobwebs and superglue


I remember, many years ago, watching the vet treat a cow which was tied in a stall in the building next to the milking parlour. Because it was easy to separate a cow from her mates there, after she’d been milked, this was the stall we used for cows the vet needed to see. It was light and easily pressure-hosed off so was always clean.

The vet looked up at the ceiling. To be fair we’d been wary of pressure hosing that, if only because the roof was a fair age and we didn’t fancy taking the risk of loosening the slates. The vet surveyed the thick cobwebs with some enthusiasm. “Always handy to have some of them about if you have a bad cut to treat.”
It’s actually a very old technique. Wash the wound with honey and vinegar, than gently pat it dry with a clean cloth, put a thick pad of cobweb over it, and then put a bandage round to hold the pad in place. Apparently, not only is there the physical effect of the fine mesh of spider silk, but also cobwebs contain vitamin K which helps clotting.

Obviously mindless bureaucracy has to impinge on these things and the advent of the dairy inspectorate with clipboards and boxes to tick meant that eventually the cobwebs disappeared.

But I suppose we’ve moved on. Step forward and take a bow, Superglue or ethyl-cyanoacrylate. Apparently in the US, midwives had been using it to “suture” perineal tears after birth. In their experience it was better and less invasive than stitches. Apparently for larger wounds it’s not flexible enough and science stepped forward with Butyl-cyanoacrylate which was used in Vietnam by battlefield medics who didn’t have time or the facilities to stitch wounds in the field. Vets and others who work in similar conditions use it. Indeed it is often used in A&E departments where patients have cuts, especially in ‘non-fleshy’ places, like eyebrows or foreheads.

But now if you have an animal with a bit of a cut you can sent a photo of it on your phone to the vet who’ll look at it and decide whether it’s one that needs stitching, or whether you can just treat it with a little superglue.

Certainly it has to be admitted that it’s a lot easier to apply superglue than to stitch a wound. Especially on dairy cows who’re used to being handled, I saw a cow with a cut in the side of her nose just stand there when superglue was used to seal the cut. She just stood there and let it happen without so much as shaking her head. If we’d tried to stitch her, even using local anaesthetic there’d have been two of us trying to hold her head still enough to give the vet a chance to work.

Given that Poundland sold eight tubes for a pound, that’s £0.12p. Not only that but the vet can cast an eye over the before and after without leaving his fireside by casting an eye over the pictures on his phone.

I must admit I’ve never used the cobwebs, but I’d vouch for the efficacy of honey smeared on a cut. Not only that but it doesn’t have to be the highly expensive Manuka. Supermarket ‘produce of more than one continent’ works perfectly adequately for me.


There again, what do I know? Ask the expert.

As a reviewer commented, “This is a selection of anecdotes about life as a farmer in Cumbria. The writer grew up on his farm, and generations of his family before him farmed the land. You develop a real feeling for the land you are hefted to and this comes across in these stories. We hear of the cattle, the sheep, his succession of working dogs, the weather and the neighbours, in an amusing and chatty style as the snippets of Jim Webster’s countryman’s wisdom fall gently. I love this collection.”


A small tornado a long way from London, nobody noticed.



Last month, during evening milking, the electric went off. This is a damned nuisance, especially given that at this time of year, it’s pretty much pitch dark. Even darker because it was a wet and windy evening. However before we managed to phone the electricity people to query gently when they expected service to return, it came back on again. So we promptly got on with life and put it down as ‘just one of those things.’ After all, we’re rural, electricity can come and go at times. It’s better than it used to be. You just make sure you know where the torches are. In the longer term we have an oil-fired Rayburn cooker that doesn’t depend on an electrical pump to work. In winter, we have an open fire, which uses a lot of logs and a little bit of coal. After all, the longest power cut I’ve experienced was six and a half days, which is an awful long time to be without warm food and heat.

But next day news began to filter in to us as to what had actually happened. A small tornado (there may well be a proper meteorological term for a bijou tornado-ette) had hit the island of Walney, cut across the south of the island and had headed for us. The first damage I could find was where it had run the length of one dike, tipping over hawthorn trees as it went. It then passed across a field and somehow missed one neighbour’s house. Instead it seems to have passed over another of our hedges, doing no damage. It then crossed a pretty large open area of the mosses where it may have gained speed and power, because it swung left and hit the front of another neighbour’s house. It put in two house windows and made a mess of a workshop before heading up through Furness. Finally it burnt itself out in the cemetery in Ulverston where it took down a lot of trees.

Looking at our toppled trees, my cunning plan is just to pull them back into the line of the hedge. This I’ll do gently so that I don’t put any more strain on the roots. Then I’ll hammer a fence post of two between the branches so it helps pin them in place. With any luck they’ll all survive.


And now we have Storm Ciara, which looks to be a bit rougher than the usual winter storm, but frankly not that much rougher round here. I think that the sheer weight of rain that came with it made it worse. That and the fact that it came in from the south and west just after the full moon so we had a higher tide than usual. This photo somebody took is the main road not far from our lane end.


At high tide it came over the wall and kept going.


A friend was travelling down one of the lanes and took a photo through the rain towards the sea. Even at two or more miles away you can see the waves breaking on the sea wall. Also note that there isn’t supposed to be a lake between the camera and the sea. Somewhere on the horizon there is supposed to be England. I suppose it’s still there.


But we’re lucky. When they decided to build a farm here, they picked a spot which was sheltered from the west (which is our main source of gales) and high enough up not to flood. There again, they were ignorant peasants, not wise and properly trained people like the members of planning committees. Still, eight hundred or so years ago we were too wise to have planning committees.


Still whatever the weather you can still snuggle up with a good book! Available in paperback or ebook

As a reviewer commented, “I always enjoy Jim’s farming stories, as he has a way of telling a tale that is entertaining but informative at the same time. I’ve learned a lot about sheep while reading this book, and always wondered how on earth a sheepdog learns to do what it does – but I know now that a new dog will learn from an old one. There were a few chuckles too, particularly at how Jim dealt with unwanted salespeople. There were a couple of shocks regarding how the price of cattle has decreased over the years, and also sadly how the number of UK dairy farms has dropped from 196,000 in 1950 to about 10,000 now.
Jim has spent his whole life farming and has acquired a wealth of knowledge, some of which he shares in this delightful book.”

The saga of Auldwick with Cowperthwaite village hall.Part seven, the start of an awfully big adventure.

Part 7 the start of an awfully big adventure.

Our steering committee was assembled in the conservatory at Ann Hodgson’s house. Normally our committee met in her kitchen but in honour of our greater numbers, she had put the conservatory at our disposal. Already I can see that the factions from Auldwick and from Cowperthwaite were coming together in unity. Rather than sit glaring at each other, Archie and Poppy sat side by side. Admittedly this was so they could glare at the younger new-comers, but still, I felt it was a positive move.
As well as the committee stalwarts, we had the vicar. She had a funeral visit but promised that she’d drop in if she could. We also had Young Geordie, but they had a cow calving so he too had promised to come when he could. Still we had Tess, his girlfriend, along with Joe Graham. Joe had a contented expression. Not only had two of the assembled company been reminded by his presence to book him for cleaning out their septic tanks; when he’d commented favourably on Ann Hodgson’s carrot cake, she’d cut him an extra slice ‘for your bait tin tomorrow.’ It sat in front of him in one of those universally useful plastic containers you get from Chinese takeaways. Joe’s girlfriend Kylie was also present, as was their three month old baby, Toby. Kylie had been ‘invited’ by Tess, as she felt the other young woman would be a stalwart ally in the discussion on affordable housing. Kylie and Joe weren’t homeless, but lived in a caravan carefully concealed behind an overgrown hawthorn hedge in the orchard on the smallholding owned by Kylie’s parents.

I started the meeting by blathering my way through the formalities. Wendy had volunteered to be treasurer.  It was universally agreed that Megan was the obvious person to be secretary, and she took the post with resigned good grace. She then passed round copies of the village hall constitution that she’d photocopied.

Archie fingered his copy a little nervously. “So what does the constitution tell us that we have to do?”

“In short, run a village hall, providing events to entertain and educate, oversee the maintenance, and provide training for those who have returned from the Great War.”

He lapsed into silence, and Poppy asked, “So we can build another one.”

“Yes, and as you’ll see, in with the constitution, we have the deeds to the land owned by the Village Hall. Not only is there the hall itself, plus the three acres, but we actually own a couple of small plots around the village. I’ve looked at them, people seem to have quietly incorporated them into their gardens.”

Poppy seemed shocked, “How dare they?”

“I don’t know. But one of them may be you.”

“But it was just wasteland.”

I smiled sweetly. “We can worry about this later. After all, the hall doesn’t need it and the sale could raise much needed cash for our project.”

Megan asked, “So how much cash?”

I’d talked to people at ACTion with Communities in Cumbria about this. “We have to think of a minimum of a quarter of a million pounds.”
Kylie asked, “Would that include proper facilities for a toddler group?”
“And would it be carbon neutral?” Poppy added.

“No, the figure is pretty much a minimum, apparently a third of a million is a more realistic figure.”

“And the way people keep adding things, it’ll be half a million,” Archie chuntered. “Who’s got that sort of money?”
“Just cock your clogs and leave your house to the village hall,” Poppy suggested sweetly. “That should do nicely.

Wendy stepped in to stop the bickering. “Raising money is going to be a very important part of our work. I assume we’re going to have to approach various funding bodies. We’re not going to raise the money we need from a cake stall.”
“Oh I don’t know,” Joe muttered loyally, staring fondly as his extra piece of carrot cake.

I decided to ignore them. “So at the moment we’ve got Tess, the vicar and Megan who were working on a questionnaire about what sort of housing we need.”
Megan chipped in. “We thought we might as well ask what sort of village hall people want as well.”
It seemed a wise move. I had a feeling that it was one of the things I was supposed to have suggested and had forgotten to.

“And we’ve got our constitution, we know our legal position.”
“And I can just see all those Great War veterans queuing up for the training opportunities we’re going to offer them,” Poppy muttered.

I turned to Tess. “So did you have a chance to talk to people in the Planning Office.”
“Yes, apparently something has come down from above that they have to provide a certain amount of housing, so they seemed reasonably positive.”
“Not necessarily a good sign,” Archie said, gloomily.

“He’s right, they try and lure you into a false sense of security and then they’ll insist you spend a million more than you need to, demanding that you build the walls of Lakeland stone, and a slate roof.” If anything Poppy seemed more gloomy than Archie.

I looked around the table. “Anybody else got any cheerful comments?”
It was Tess who got in first. “Yes, after talking to the planning officers, their suggestion was to keep the village hall and the housing projects running separately. In the long run the houses might contribute towards the hall, but until they’re built and lived in, they’ll also need a lot of money spending. So do we run it as a separate project or does this steering committee oversee them both?”

I looked around the table. “Suggestions please?”

I sat back and listened to the debate around the table. I must confess I felt quietly confident. By chance or good management I’d managed to assemble a group of remarkably competent people. With luck, at some point in the next two years they’d organise a coup and replace me as chairman.


You might not have realised but it’s now ‘Village Halls Week.’ As somebody who, one way or another, has spent a lot of time in village halls in various places, I’m a believer in their importance. So I thought I’d celebrate them a bit. So the story will continue.
Now if you’re lucky enough to live in Cumbria there is ACTion with Communities in Cumbria, our Rural Community Council, on hand to help.

If you’re in the rest of England you want ACRE, Action with Communities in Rural England.


Alternatively, when you just want a good book


Available in paperback or ebook,

As a reviewer commented, “Another excellent compendium of observations from the back of Mr. Webster’s quad bike in which we learn a lot more about sheep, border collies and people. On the whole, I think the collies come out of it best. If you fancy being educated on the ways of the world, with a gentle humour and a nice line in well observed philosophy, you could do a lot worse than this.”

The saga of Auldwick with Cowperthwaite village hall Part six. The Indiana Jones experience.

Part 6 The Indiana Jones experience.

One of the questions the nice lady from ACTion with Communities in Cumbria had asked me was, “What is the charity status of your village hall?” In the face of my incomprehension she’d asked the follow-up question, “What does your constitution say.”
I was forced to confess that I had never actually seen the constitution, and to the best of my knowledge nobody had ever mentioned sending the accounts of our village hall to anybody. In fact I’ve always felt that the treasurer at a committee meeting is a bit like the corpse at a funeral. Everybody expects them to be present, but if they start speaking, people get distinctly nervous. Still, Wendy, our treasurer, had long mastered the art of appearing quietly competent. So I thought that it might be an idea to sound her out about our charity status.

Given it was a fine morning and I had to take some photographs of the hall, purely to prove to the world how much we needed a new one, I decided I’d drop in and see her after I’d got the photographs. I showed her the pictures and asked her to choose the ones she felt did full justice to the dilapidation and decrepitude.  As she was engrossed in studying them, I tentatively raised the question of our charity status.

“Oh yes,” she said, still looking at the pictures on my phone, “I sent our accounts off to the Charity Commission every year. Indeed I do them on-line.”

I experienced the warm glow that comes to any great leader when they realise they are leading a team of competent people who get on with the tasks delegated to them.
It struck me that I might have the answer to my problems. I asked, “So, do you have a copy of our constitution.”

“No, never seen it. Have you asked Megan? She is the secretary.”
“She’s also a teacher, she’ll be in work.”
“No problems, I’ll text her.”

We drank coffee and discussed the possibilities for fund-raising, until Wendy’s phone pinged. “Ah, Megan has texted back.”
“Oh good, what does she say?”
Wendy read the text. “Never seen it.”

“Indeed. Given that Megan took the job on when Gladys, her predecessor, died, we can hardly ask Gladys.” With forced casualness, Wendy asked, “You could always ask Archie Wilson.”

Now it’s true that Archie had been chairman for forty years, starting his period of misrule in the 1970s, but frankly he didn’t strike me as the sort of person who kept up to speed with the paperwork.
“You know Archie, ask him anything and he’d leap in and try and take control again. Not because he wants it, but out of pure habit. Could you ask the Charity Commission if they have a copy?”
“The problem with that is that it looks awfully unprofessional. And what happens if they say ‘no’. Not only do we not have a constitution, but the world of officialdom then knows we don’t have a constitution.”

I sighed, then had a moment of inspiration. “Who was secretary before Gladys?”

Wendy stared into her coffee. “I’m tempted to say ‘Adam’, but it might have been Noah.” She paused. “Was it Tucker Wainwright?”

“You’re right, it was old Tucker.”
“But he’s been dead forty years.”
“And the rest. But his daughter still lives in Cowperthwaite. She’s the sort of person who has never thrown anything out in her life. She might still have his papers.”
Wendy shrugged. “I suppose there’s always a chance.”


Molly Wainwright stared into space when I mentioned old Tucker’s papers. “I didn’t throw them out. It’s just a matter of where I put them.” She gestured to the kitchen table. “Sit down and have a cup of tea and I’ll try to remember.”

It took the best part of a teapot full of tea to loosen the gates of memory. Frankly there is only so much tea and coffee a chap can drink, and I was about to make my desperate excuses and leave when Molly said, “That’s it, I never had them. Dad got fed up of them cluttering up the cottage and stored them with Toby Graham. This was sometime before the war. You go and see the Grahams.”


The quest continued! I decided to drop in and see the Grahams after milking. Mark Graham was coming out of the milking parlour when I arrived. He’s Toby’s grandson. I explained my plight.

“Grandfather was a hoarder. He had all sorts of stuff squirrelled away in the old granary. I’ll get our Joseph to give you a hand looking.” He shouted across to his youngest son. “Joe, see if you can find some papers he’s looking for in Grandfather’s shed.”

Joe was the younger of the two sons. Not a bad cowman, but the farm couldn’t support him and his brother. So Joe had his own business. He had a tractor and a vacuum slurry tanker and emptied septic tanks locally. I’d had him round to do ours, he’s a steady lad and doesn’t make a mess. Also he has a digger which he’ll take round to jobs on a low loader pulled behind the tractor. And of course, when he’s not busy, he’ll help out at home.

Joe led me through a maze of old buildings, until eventually we came to a door that was blocked off by a pile of sheep feed-blocks. We moved enough of them to open the door, and Joe led the way in. “We don’t go in here much now. I’m sure there was a light switch. He reached out and clicked the switch. Somewhere up above us in the cobwebs, a light-bulb woke into dim life. Irritated spiders doubtless scuttled for cover, muttering about how the neighbourhood was going to the dogs.

As I looked round, it was obvious that the old granary was quite big, but was pretty much packed solid. The double doors at the front were barred from the inside, but you couldn’t have opened them anyway because an old Triumph Herald blocked the way. Judging by the tyres it hadn’t moved since the 1970s either. We picked our way down a narrow path between piles of buckets and drums filled with the sort of miscellaneous bolts and fittings that nobody in their right mind would ever throw out, ‘because they’ll always come in.’

Eventually we came to a set of shelves which filled the back wall. Joe glanced at the shelves and then pointed, “Look there, if we ever buy an old Fergie tractor, we’ve already for a set of wheel weights for it.”
With that he led me along the front of the shelves and at one end there was a gap. It was only when I passed through the gap that I realised there was another ‘room’ behind the shelving.

“This is where the old lad stored stuff for folk.”

Most of it was covered with old sheets, stiff with dust. Joe flicked a sheet aside. “Good grief I wondered where this had gone.” He picked up a rifle. I recognised it, Short Magazine Lee Enfield. “I remember Grandad telling me old Toby had a rifle when he was in the Home Guard and he’d not given it back because it was too useful for rabbiting.”
I looked at the rifle, I’d have said it was last cleaned at some point in the early 1950s, which was probably when Old Toby’s borrowed ammunition finally ran out.
Joe was delving deeper amongst the heaps. “Here you are, a chest of drawers.” He pointed to the top. Written across the top in yellow smit was a name. “Tucker Wainwright.”

Gingerly I pulled open one of the drawers. It was filled with manila folders full of yellowing correspondence, faded account books and finally, in a faded and only slightly damp envelope postmarked 3rd August 1920, was the document I’d been searching for, ‘The constitution of Auldwick with Cowperthwaite village hall.’


You might not have realised but it’s now ‘Village Halls Week.’ As somebody who, one way or another, has spent a lot of time in village halls in various places, I’m a believer in their importance. So I thought I’d celebrate them a bit. So the story will continue.
Now if you’re lucky enough to live in Cumbria there is ACTion with Communities in Cumbria, our Rural Community Council, on hand to help.

If you’re in the rest of England you want ACRE, Action with Communities in Rural England.


Alternatively, when you just want a good book

As a reviewer commented, “Yet another quiet, but highly entertaining, amble through Jim Webster’s farming life, accompanied by Sal, his collie extraordinarie.
Sheep, cattle, government eccentricities and wry observations are all included.”

The saga of Auldwick with Cowperthwaite village hall Part five, taking the crisis out of housing.

Part 5 Taking the crisis out of housing.

Jenny, our vicar, called round for coffee the following morning. We’d agreed to meet, to start putting together a steering committee. Now traditionally everybody holds meetings involving the vicar in the vicarage. The problem with this is that, with the vicarage being as it were, the natural haunt of clergy, that’s where people phone when they want the vicar for something. So if you hold your meeting there, it’s always interrupted by phone calls or even people dropping stuff off. So I’d invited her to drink coffee with my lady wife and me, and have the meeting then.

By way of celebration I broke open a packet of Jaffa Cakes and we got down to business.

I had also invited young Tess Wainwright. I’d been interested in her comments about affordable housing. Tess has what she describes as ‘a part time job with the council.’ I suppose that to a dairy farmer’s daughter, thirty hours a week can only be regarded as part-time. Especially when the council introduced flexitime and in the first week she’d got all her hours in by the time she clocked off on Wednesday evening. When her line manager asked her why she had done this, she merely explained that it allowed her to do four days a week relief milking.

When everybody was sitting comfortably and had mouths full of coffee and therefore couldn’t interrupt, I started the meeting. “I thought we ought to deal with the affordable housing side of things first.”

Well that got a smile from Tess, and Jenny nodded her agreement. So before either had a chance to spoil everything by saying something, I continued. “So I thought Tess here was the perfect person to take things forward.”

To be fair, Tess didn’t splurt coffee all over me. Jenny had some go down the wrong way and we had to wait for her to get over her coughing fit. When she had regained control I continued. “After all, Tess strikes me as the idea person. Firstly you’re committed to it. Secondly you work in the same building as the planning department.”
“Well it’s not as if they’ll speak to us in the back office.”
Jenny interrupted her, “Tess, you work on payroll. I suspect they consider you one of the more important people in the organisation.”

But Jenny turned to me. “I can see why you’d consider Tess, but, without being nasty, has she got the experience?”
“Tess,” I asked her. “How long have you been doing the farm accounts?”
“Since I was twelve. My mum had bad depression after our John was born, and there’s no point in leaving it to my dad. He always says that if he’d wanted a clerk’s job, he’d have worked harder at school.”

“And who deals with the Rural Payments Agency, filling in all the forms and chasing them up over errors in their paperwork?”
“Me, I suppose. And I have to deal with the inspectors when they turn up, unannounced. To be honest, that’s mainly because my dad struggles to be polite to them.”

“I also remember your dad telling me how well you coped with the VAT inspection a couple of years ago.” I turned to Jenny. “I rest my case. After dealing with the people she has had to deal with, a few planning officers should hold no fears.”

It was obvious that Jenny had been won over. “I hope you do take this on, Tess. And we’ll do everything we can to support you.”

My lady wife interrupted the conversation. “Before she talks to planning officers, she’ll need to know what you want to build. Affordable housing yes, but do you want starter homes, or retirement bungalows for people to retire to or what?”
“I had a quick google last night, Jenny commented. Apparently you can build twelve houses per acre, and you’ve three acres. You could have both.”

“We don’t want little boxes.” Tess was emphatic. “And some people will want a bit of garden.” She’d got the bit between her teeth now. “For a starter home, just look at the young people round here. For Geordie and me we’ll need enough space to park a Land Rover and trailer, as well as my car. Then he needs somewhere for his three working dogs to sleep. If you take his mate Alan, he does forestry work and dry stone walling. So he really wants a garage he can back a van and trailer under cover and lockable so he isn’t having to load and unload it every night when he comes home from work. We need houses that are the base for a small rural business.”

I listened to the discussion with interest. “Remember we probably do want some of the area as a village hall carpark as well. Also there may be other facilities we could put there.”

My lady wife smiled at me as if I was a not particularly gifted pupil who had suddenly excelled themselves. There are times when you can tell that you’re married to a retired teacher. “Yes dear. So basically, before Tess can have a chat with the nice people in planning, she will have to be able to show some sort of local need.”
“A survey?” I asked.

“Oh that won’t be a problem, work out the questions and I can get Young Farmers to go round door to door asking people, if that’s what it takes.”

I could just imagine Tess doing that. Dropping off a survey form with the comment that the Young Farmers Would come round, and Would expect a completed form. I did have a brief frisson of guilt. Had I created a monster? Certainly I had no doubt that in forty years’ time, Tess would be the sort of lady who holds the community together, quelling unruly meetings with a single steely glance, and reducing local government officials to nervous acquiescence. The one consolation was that by that time, I would be safely dead.

I left them discussing matters and went to make more coffee. Through the open door I heard them talk over whether Tess ought to make a casual informal approach to see what the planners were looking for. It was pointed out that it was at least theoretically possible that they wanted the same things as we did, and even if they didn’t, doubtless things could be fudged. A name was mentioned, apparently somebody senior in the planning office, and I heard my wife comment, “I’m sure I taught him.”

Somebody else mentioned the ‘Housing Hub,’ which is run by ACTion with Communities in Cumbria, as an obvious first port of call. When I walked back in with the refilled cafetiere it seemed everything had been decided. Then as she sat back with a refilled mug of coffee my lady wife commented, “Oh yes, and whenever possible, use the word ‘community’. It works wonders.”


You might not have realised but it’s now ‘Village Halls Week.’ As somebody who, one way or another, has spent a lot of time in village halls in various places, I’m a believer in their importance. So I thought I’d celebrate them a bit. So the story will continue.
Now if you’re lucky enough to live in Cumbria there is ACTion with Communities in Cumbria, our Rural Community Council, on hand to help.

If you’re in the rest of England you want ACRE, Action with Communities in Rural England.


Alternatively, when you just want a good book

Available in paperback and as an ebook

As a reviewer commented, “This is a delightful collection of gentle rants and witty reminiscences about life in a quiet corner of South Cumbria. Lots of sheep, cattle and collie dogs, but also wisdom, poetic insight, and humour. It was James Herriot who told us that ‘It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet’ but Jim Webster beautifully demonstrates that it usually happened to the farmer too, but far less money changed hands.

I, for one, am hoping that this short collection of blogs finds a wide and generous audience – not least because I’m sure there’s more where this came from. And at 99p you can’t go wrong!”

The saga of Auldwick with Cowperthwaite village hall. Part four, The public meeting!

Part 4 The public meeting!


Of course it had to be a wet night. I assumed that would mean we had fewer people. But obviously I had underestimated my fellow citizens. Driven by a sense of public duty, (or lured by carrot cake, but in all candour I was in no position to be judgemental) our meeting was attended by perhaps a score of people, as well as the Hall committee. We had set the hall up carefully, giving due consideration to health and safety. I had decided against having the committee sit together on the top table facing the assembled villagers. That sort of thing can easily lead to confrontation, with a defensive committee circling the wagons and defying all-comers from the safety of their redoubt. I would sit alone with somebody to take notes of the meeting. Everybody else would sit in chairs placed around the wall. I’d fenced the middle section of the floor off using four chairs and plenty of baler twine. So long as nobody forgot themselves and entered the cordoned off area I was reasonably confident the floor would hold.

I must admit I’d been worried that the electricity wouldn’t work, but when I threw the light switch I got that comforting tingle which tells you that the system is live. The ceiling heaters I left switched off, they kept tripping the system out. I managed to plug three fan heaters into the one wall socket that still worked and they succeeded in taking the chill off the room.

People filed in and took their seats, drank coffee or tea served out of flasks and ate their piece of carrot cake. I sat at the other side of the room, ensconced behind the table. It felt like nothing so much as a job interview where I was about to be interviewed by a large and belligerent panel, who didn’t want to come too close lest they caught something unpleasant from me. Still I opened the meeting by welcoming them, explained the problems and talked about possible solutions. I also pointed out that if we were to have a new hall, we had to decide what we wanted to do with it. With that I smiled sweetly and explained that I was hoping they all had ideas about what they needed the hall for. Whilst they muttered together I took the opportunity to ask Jenny our vicar to come forward and note down the suggestions.

Archie Wilson started by asking whether we needed a new hall at all. In his words, “This one seems to be perfectly watertight thanks to the sterling work done by Young Geordie.”

Geordie had barely had chance to bask in the gratitude of his peers when there was a bang and three of the lights went out. Water was running down the cable of one of them and was dripping off the bulb onto the floor.
Even Archie seemed somewhat put out at this, especially when some wag at the back commented it would probably be cheaper to build a new hall than to constantly replace the lightbulbs in this one.
So I asked for suggestions as to what we could use a new hall for.

Some other wit suggested that we keep this one and use it as a morgue.

But after the chuckles had died down we got more reasonable suggestions.

“We want somewhere for coffee mornings, so it’ll need a good kitchen.”

“We want somewhere for a toddler group, so it’ll need somewhere convenient or storing toys.”
“It will need some small rooms so we can have the practice nurse or chiropodist visit.”
“We could do somewhere for a pop-up shop a couple of times a week.”
“And a post office could call.”
“And what about a pop-up pub. A mate of mine is part of a group that runs one. They take over the village hall one Saturday night every other month. It makes a mint and makes a big contribution to the running costs.”

Poppy Atkinson said firmly, “And it has to be carbon neutral.”

Another wit commented, “Well it will struggle to have a smaller carbon footprint than this place.”

As the rain drummed audibly on the improvised silage sheet roof, Poppy added severely, “And no single-use plastics.”

“But it wasn’t single use.” Geordie was obvious hurt by the inference. “It had done three seasons as a silage sheet before we used it here.”

I had been growing more and more aware of the smell of melting insulation, so I used the sudden enthusiasm for green issues to switch the fan heaters off. The adapter was hot to the touch and I suspected that the three plugs had welded themselves into it.

Geordie decided to change the subject. “And what about a room we can hire to play 40K in? Somewhere we can leave the table set up overnight.”

A lot of people looked blank, including me. The vicar said, “It’s a sort of science fiction wargame. When I was at theological college we modified the rules to refight the campaigns of Abimelech, son of Gideon, against other Canaanite warlords.”
“That sounds cool.” Geordie sounded genuinely impressed.

Jenny added, “I’m sure my husband still has the figures.”

I could see Geordie’s opinion of theology was rising. Mind you, Tess Wainwright, who considers herself to be his steady girlfriend, was looking rather worried, as if she’d discovered a whole new side of her boyfriend’s character and wasn’t entirely sure she approved. Still she is a gallant young woman and rallied swiftly.

“We need more affordable housing.” She turned and glared at Geordie. “Then young couples can afford to get married.”

Now it was Geordie’s turn to look nonplussed. Tess continued, “After all the village hall has three acres of land next to it.”
Poppy sprang to the land’s defence. “That’s the wilderness area!”

Archie Wilson saw an opportunity to discomfort his old antagonist. “Well actually it’s the old Plague Pits. When they demolished old brickworks in Much Lindeth they tipped the rubble there. It was supposed to be levelled to make a carpark but somehow it never got done.”
“A three acre carpark!” Poppy’s tone suggested that she wasn’t entirely sure he was telling the truth.
“Well the village hall was much more popular back then.” Even to himself Archie sounded defensive. So he continued, “And to be honest, I think somebody had ideas of building executive housing, but they were caught up in a nasty corruption scandal and retired to Spain in a hurry.”

Jenny, our vicar, looked up from her page of notes, “You’ll probably need a steering committee to oversee this project. You’ll need people with a wider range of skills and experience than you have on the village hall committee.”
I agreed with this completely. Given our village hall committee hadn’t even been able to run the village hall, I had never seen them as entirely the right body to organise the creation of a new one. It’s just that I’d never really had the courage to say it. Still Jenny had given me an opening, I nodded sagely as if this had only just occurred to me. “So apart from you as secretary, who else do you have in mind?”
“I’m sure with you as chair, we shall not lack for members of the highest calibre,” she purred, pulling the knife out of her back and sticking it into me with more enthusiasm than I felt the occasion called for. There was a ripple of applause from around the room as people showed their appreciation of her low blow. Penny continued, “I suggest that you and I meet and we’ll put a list of names together and then run them past the village hall committee.”
This was met with silence as people pondered whether they were likely to be on the list of names. I noticed one or two look distinctly worried when they remembered that Jenny had taken the names of all who attended. They had shown interest. Indeed it might almost be called enthusiasm. A couple of people were starting to shuffle uncomfortably, as if they’d just thought of an excellent excuse to not being drafted, but wanted to get their excuse in first lest somebody else had thought of it.

I decided to draw the meeting to a close. This would reduce the chances of anybody getting their excuse out in public. Not only that but two more bulbs had popped, the fumes from the adaptor that the fan heaters had been plugged into made my eyes sting, and I felt that we might be pushing our luck staying here any longer.
So I thanked everybody for their ideas and hastened them back out into the night before anybody caught pneumonia.

As they left I noticed Geordie walked between Jenny the vicar and Tess Wainwright. He had the harassed expression of a gentleman who really wants to talk to both ladies, but not necessarily in the presence of the other one.


You might not have realised but it’s now ‘Village Halls Week.’ As somebody who, one way or another, has spent a lot of time in village halls in various places, I’m a believer in their importance. So I thought I’d celebrate them a bit. So the story will continue.
Now if you’re lucky enough to live in Cumbria there is ACTion with Communities in Cumbria, our Rural Community Council, on hand to help.

If you’re in the rest of England you want ACRE, Action with Communities in Rural England.


Alternatively, when you just want a good book


Available in paperback and as an ebook

As a reviewer commented, “This book charts a year in the life of a Cumbrian sheep farmer. It’s sprinkled with anecdotes and memories of other years. Some parts (especially when featuring Sal, the Border Collie) were so funny as to cause me to have to read them out loud to my husband. It’s very interesting to read these things from the pen of the man who is actually out there doing it – usually in the rain! A very good read.”