Pontifications on a road less travelled. Looking back on the present?

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This week we’ve had politics and I’ve been devoutly glad this house doesn’t possess either a TV or a TV licence. Thus we’ve been spared great screeds of analysis that was out of date within an hour or two of being broadcast.

But during the week it has occurred to me that when I read history, there I read about the arguments of the past, set in their context. When I read modern current affairs, the context, obvious in history, is lost.

I am beginning to suspect that historians, two thousand years hence, will discuss this decade. Admittedly it’ll be in much foot-noted articles in obscure magazines, but they’ll discuss it. Now it’s been said that most democracies are actually oligarchies where the demos does occasionally get a say. Occasionally you get a period where the demos get more of a say, Athens was one example where, for brief periods, the demos seems to have been in control. The problem is that the periods where the demos were in control are the periods when Athens was at its most volatile. Perhaps democracy fades into oligarchy as a sort of stabilising mechanism? Think of the oligarchs as the training wheels on a bicycle.
So perhaps our future historians will look back at the whole Brexit and Trump era and ask whether the period saw a bitter battle between two competing oligarchies. The old oligarchs fighting savagely to retain power, whilst the new, aspiring oligarchs, fought equally savagely to achieve power, with the demos being reduced to cheering or booing from the sidelines.
Doubtless some, of our future historians (perhaps the less cynical) will see it instead as the demos, sickened by the obvious corruption and greed of a current generation of oligarchs, rising against them. Who knows, and when they pen their articles, will anybody read them anyway.

Then there’s a comment a friend of mine made. “I’ve never been sold on libertarianism. Sure it’s possible to over-regulate. But every time we go the other way it leads to massive corruption and stupidity once people realise no one is watching. It really makes me wonder if common sense ever plays a part in these things.

He’s right, leaving me to wonder if common sense is something you learn in adversity and when stuff is a bit tough, so the privileged never learn it? It also struck me that it’s interesting that both libertarianism and totalitarianism lead to corruption and stupidity. This leads me to wonder if what we really need is freedom and openness. This way people can shine the light into the dark corners and drag the corrupt kicking and screaming out into the light where they face the derision of the mob. All a bit like the MPs expenses scandal that we had here in the UK. This fits in nicely with his comment about ‘when people realise no one is watching.’ Too often the political class act to draw the curtains to ensure that the mob don’t get to see what’s really going on.
It also strikes me that we need those politicians who act as ‘Tribunes of the People.’ The picture is of Charles James Fox who spent the vast majority of his political career in opposition. He stood for many things but was a leading parliamentary advocate of religious tolerance and individual liberty. Neither of these are particularly popular options.

There are other politicians who have filled the role. Tony Benn, although I disagreed with much of what he said, served the people far better when he was in opposition than he ever did when in power. Power and authority trammel a great thinker and force them to conform to the petty dictates of current expediency: whereas their real purpose is to see over the hill and prepare the ground for the future.

Another thing our future historians might ponder is whether the fall of the oligarchy was due to a shift within the political tribes. Fifty years ago you could largely spot the difference between MPs of various parties by their background, their life experience, and their education. That has passed, now we have a comparatively homogeneous political class who largely enter politics from university, working their way up from being MP’s assistants and similar until finally they’re well enough thought of for the Apparatchiks who run the party to ensure they get offered a winnable seat. Far too high a proportion of them have never really had a proper job. Even those who were not within the golden circle tend to have jobs with political organisations and politically appropriate lobby groups and corporations. They rarely mix with hoi polloi. Indeed given their wealth it’s unlikely they ever will. To be in the top 5% in the UK at the moment you need an income of £70,000 a year (waving at you, MPs) and earning over £130k puts you in the 1% (and a big hello to all those people in the civil service and NHS earning more than the Prime Minister.) With snouts so deeply in the trough they’re unable to see over the side of the trough to discover how the rest of us are really faring.
Over the last few years I’ve talked to more and more people of the ‘Labour’ tribe who feel they can no longer vote for a party that appears to have nothing in common with them. Similarly I have talked to many people of the ‘Conservative’ tribe who also feel that their views, beliefs and life experience are not shared by the party that they used to support. Perhaps Brexit is just going to be the catalyst for a major realignment of the tribes as they find somebody new to vote for?

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Alternatively you could just seek wisdom in the pages of a good book

 

To quote the reviewer “Someone has tried to cheat Benor and his young ‘apprentice’ Mutt. They set out, with a little help, to redress the balance. Another in this series of Port Naain novellas that had me smiling. They are not belly-laugh stories but full of wry, clever and thoughtful humour. Often, it’s the way he tells them. I’m always up for more of these stories.”

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Funny what makes you think

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Cumbria is an interesting county. The photo I took on Wednesday, looking north. The small white blob is Orton church tower. It’s not necessarily what people normally associate with Cumbria, but it’s a very diverse county.

One thing we do have is lots of tourists and lots of sheep. To be fair there are large parts were you rarely see a tourist and even parts where the ratio of sheep to inhabitants drops down low enough to give humanity some hope of achieving parity.

But sheep aren’t far from our minds. I was feeding a small group of fat lambs (the last of the sheep, because sheep and dairy cows don’t mix well on a small farm) and I was genuinely surprised how well the grass was looking. The field had been eaten off by ewes earlier in the autumn and had been given a shot of slurry and left. Now there’s no sign at all of the muck but the grass has come on nicely. OK it’s not enough for cattle, but it’ll do a handful of fattening lambs really nicely.

Up until now Brexit has done Cumbria quite a few favours, the big drop in the value of the pound brought the tourists flooding in; and because we export so much lamb, the fact the pound fell meant those we exported and sold in euros brought in more money.

But I’ve always been nervous about sheep, after Brexit. The EU runs a tariff wall and the main thing is does is keep up the price of food. So if we drop out of the tariff wall, whilst the food we buy in the shops in the UK could actually become cheaper. On the other hand we could find the stuff we sell priced out of the EU market because of the tariffs.

Now for milk and beef that isn’t really a problem. We are net importers. We can go a long way on import substitution. So if our price drops, even a little, it’ll help UK product displace EU product. It’s the EU who has to worry on that one because they then have to find a home for more expensive dairy and beef products. Hence the reason why the Irish are worried.
Grain isn’t too much of an issue, it’s largely a commodity traded at world market price anyway.

But lamb does present a difficulty. We are one of the world’s major exporters of mutton and lamb. Actually there aren’t many major exporters. It’s a niche activity.

But the EU tariff wall could hit lamb production and I confess I was worried. A lot of the pundits seem to be worried and experts were pontificating unfavourably on the subject.

Then today I read the papers and on the front page it commented that Prince Charles was taking over the management of the Sandringham estate. He’s getting rid of the arable and moving the entire estate over to organic sheep production. The flock is increasing from 3,000 ewes to 15,000 ewes.

Now whatever you think about the Prince of Wales, when it comes to running farms and estates he has a good track record. Under his management he’s got a lot of them turned round and they’re making money. It’s not all expensive biscuits or novelty teas either. He’s got a good grasp of the basics.

Now it could well be that he’s got a damned good management team behind him. I hope he has, because every other farmer depends on the often unmentioned management team that supports him. But in this case, the management team, with the Prince as head or figurehead depending on your politics and outlook, have got a very good track record.

When asked why they were doing this, the answer was the Chinese market and Brexit.
Now the Chinese market makes sense. Australia and New Zealand are selling into it. Indeed we’re getting fewer exports from those two countries because China is such a good market. So obviously we want to be in there. But Brexit?
Now this goes right against the perceived wisdom. But the perceived wisdom is that of academics, pundits, politicians and commentators. The decision was taken by a proven management team putting their money behind the decision.

So who do we believe? Given the last few years why should you believe anybody?

boy who cried wolf

 

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Me, I’d suggest we just let the dog sort them all out

 

As a reviewer commented, “Brilliantly written, honest, funny and if you’re from this little bit of land you’ll have been intrigued by the title – sold by the end of the very first line “There’s a lamb climbing out the oven””

And the truth will set you free

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It’s all the fault of my mate Kier who posted a link to a video by the Historian Niall Ferguson. Being a historian Ferguson tends to take a somewhat longer view than most modern pundits for whom a whole decade appears to be an unimaginably long period of time. But Niall Ferguson commented that our current age with the explosion of the internet, most resembled the 1500s with the equally violent explosion in the number of books created by the invention of the printing press. It’s worth a watch

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yLiPPtxKRAA&feature=share

 

You can see the drift of his argument. The problem is that discussions are happening so much faster now than they did in the 1500s. I can remember in the 1980s being a member of a society with a journal that was published every other month. If you disagreed with the author of an article, you had a couple of weeks to read around the subject, marshal your arguments and prepare your response which you posted off to the editor. This would then appear in the next issue of the magazine. Those who disagreed with you would also get the same amount of time to contemplate and check their facts before responding. Discussions lasting a year or more, with people doing genuine research into the original texts, were not uncommon.

Now with the membership of the same society, the whole discussion can take place in an internet forum in a couple of days. But the quality of research that goes into the answers isn’t what it was. In reality people walk away from the discussion and in six months or so it flares up again as people return with new ideas and evidence. So we’ve seen a change in the nature of our debates. But frankly it doesn’t matter; nobody is ever going to campaign for election or try to change legislation on the strength of the evidence we put forward.

The problem you see in agriculture is that we’re a complicated industry. But just as “We all went to school so we all understand education,” so, “We all eat food so we all understand agriculture.”

In forty years of freelance journalism I’ve seen agriculture change, but more than that I’ve seen the reporting change. One brief phenomenon was when various learned scientific journals started publishing scientific abstracts on CDs. A newspaper could buy a CD, some bright spark could do a quick search using terms that could be linked to a food scare, and before the week was out they’d have got a handful of suitably frightening articles out of it. Obviously they’d never gone to the trouble of reading the full paper! But if you read the full paper you run the risk of ruining the story!

That was another thing I discovered early on as a freelance journalist. People would contact me with ‘stories.’ I’d check them out and looking back I’d estimate that two out of three weren’t actually stories. When you investigated them properly and found out what was happening, there was nothing to see.

So obviously I’d walk away from them, and occasionally an editor would ask me about the story her or his competitors were running. When I explained that it wasn’t a story and didn’t withstand investigation their responses were indicative of the quality of the paper. Some couldn’t see lack of validity as in anyway disqualifying the story. Some understood me completely. Others asked me to write up the non-story in all its gory detail, because it made their competitors look like the charlatans they were.

The problem is that with the web, all those non-stories are being published on websites and online newspapers. Then once published they get shared and reshared and passed on through social media. Facebook is a nightmare for that sort of stuff. Indeed is can actively revive ‘dead’ stories by showing people the stuff they had in their memories, thus the story can come back from the dead to haunt us, two years later and every bit as wrong as it was the first time.

In my time I’ve seen any number of them. The one that could have done serious damage was the 9p FMD vaccine. During 2001 and our FMD outbreak, somebody started a story that there was a vaccine out there which would protect livestock and it only cost 9p a shot. (I think it was 9p but it might have been even cheaper.)

This caused chaos; Tony Blair’s office contacted the Vets running the fight against FMD in Cumbria and asked them if farmers would be willing to use this vaccine. One of the vets phoned me to talk over the consequences. Finally, sick of seeing farmers attacked on internet forums as being unfit to care for animals because they were too mean to use the obvious vaccine, I spent half an hour with friend Google looking for the damned stuff.

Yes, there was a vaccine out there for the price. It was produced in India, it was a live vaccine (which means it would be illegal to use within the EU) and what is more it didn’t offer protection from the strain of FMD we had, it was for a different strain. So it would have been utterly useless.)
Obviously I mentioned it, but did anybody take any notice?
This brings us back to the whole 1500 issue that Niall Ferguson has let us to. People aren’t holding beliefs because they’ve done the research and spend months or even years in discussion. Many are just holding them with religious devotion because ‘they believe’ and that’s the beginning and end of it all.

Back in 2001, of course nobody was interested in the fact that the 9p vaccine was a non-story. Government spin doctors wanted the 9p vaccine because its existence showed that the failure to defeat FMD wasn’t the government’s fault, it was the fault of the ignorant farmers refusing to get with the 21st century. The animal rights activists weren’t interested in the truth, because they were happily using the existence of a cheap vaccine to prove that farmers weren’t fit to have livestock anyway. The worrying thing is that when a single issue lobby group and the office of the Prime Minister accept the same spurious evidence as true, policy can be made on the back of it. Fortunately in this case it seems Ministry Vets put their foot down and stopped something stupid happening.

We have indeed slipped back into the 1500s, because we’ve left the age of reason behind us. We have people who no longer care about the facts, if they’re inconvenient then they are to be ignored. They merely argue from a position of belief and if you don’t believe you’re no longer a proper person, you’re merely a heretic, an animal abuser, tory scum, thicko racist brexiteer.

Apparently now heresy trials are conducted over on Twitter if you can be bothered?
But when you ask yourself whether you can or cannot say something, always remember the words of Voltaire

voltaire

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Actually it strikes me that you might want to just wash your hands of the whole damned lot of them. After all, if it’s not your circus, they’re not your monkeys.

So how about escaping with a good book

 

As the reviewer said
“Tallis Steelyard makes a living as a poet, which is sufficiently remarkable in itself, but in reality he is a ducker and diver at the more genteel end of society in the imaginary town of Port Naiin in Jim Webster’s richly comic and intriguing fictional world. This is my first encounter with Mr. Steelyard in book form but I doubt that it will be my last. His tales are warmly amusing rather than laugh-out-loud funny but are none the worse for that. Give Tallis a try, you’ll be glad you did.”

And a happy new year to you all as well!

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I know people who cannot remember what they were doing last New Year’s Eve. I know people who only remember because they got a photocopy of the police charge sheet which describes their antics in inglorious detail.

For myself I confess I’m not a great celebrator of New Year’s Eve. From memory I think I’ve seen in two (or it might be three) but one of them was by accident.

Some of it is the feeling that I’ve never had a year so bad that I wanted to drown it, some of it was pragmatism. I did the morning milking for over thirty consecutive New Year’s mornings. The sure knowledge that you’re the one who is going to be standing in a milking parlour at 5:30am is the perfect answer to, “Come on Jim, just another glass.”

Not only that but early on I learned the secret of the New Year. It comes in all by itself. When you’re self-employed and working on your own, it’s a real joy to find a job you can delegate to somebody else.

But still, it does seem to be the season for good wishes and maudlin sentimentality.

Thus and so I thought I’d provide the sincere good wishes and leave the maudlin sentimentality to Tallis Steelyard (https://tallissteelyard.wordpress.com/) who does it so much better than I do. Here is a poem for the season.

 

The bottles sprawl unheeded

The discarded valiant dead

Their sacrifice accepted

Sobriety has fled

The truth it surfaced briefly

But shrugged and went to bed.

Will you walk again beside me?

Will you tread the path I tread?

The wine it made me wordy

The truth when poured was red

I didn’t mean to speak them

But I meant the words I said.

 

Still it strikes me that on a day like today, it is time to put those resolutions into practice early. You know, the one you made about reading more. So to help you, I’d recommend

 

 

In fact, if this is the season for sentimentality, surely it’d be an excellent idea of buy copies for all your friends as well

Anyway, Happy New Year

Pontifications on a road less travelled. The cat that got all of the cream.

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There was a comment in the paper the other day. Here in the UK, clowns are starting to complain that politicians are being called clowns. The clowns point out that being a clown is damned hard work, demands considerable fitness, great timing and the ability to work closely with others as part of a well drilled team!
Another comment I saw was an MP pointing out that because he’d voted to reduce the legal aid bill, the reduction now meant that he wasn’t eligible to get legal aid. Yes, revel in the schadenfreude but stop and think about it a minute.

In this country at the moment, if your income is the same as the prime-minister, a cabinet minister or a shadow cabinet minister, then you’re in the top 1%. In simple terms, 99% of the population earn less than you do. Given that all our politicians have the ability to clock up a fair heap of expenses, get invited to travel to exotic foreign parts at somebody else’s expense (and we ask no more than they remember to declare the trip) I think we can safely assume that most MPs and similar are, if not actually in the magical 1%, at least in the top two or three percent.

So in this country legal costs have got so high, even people in the top two or three percent can no longer afford them and need legal aid, financial assistance from the taxpayer, before they can cope?
Now it’s long been a tactic by the wealthy, be they unscrupulous millionaires, or senior departmental civil servants, to use the almost infinite wealth at their command to crush those who get in their way. HM Revenue and Customs will regularly send out letters which mean (but don’t actually say,) ‘We think you own us x, but because you haven’t paid it, we want you to pay 2x. Or we can take you to court and bankrupt you whatever the court decided.’

But let’s take a look at this top two or three percent. Yes, everybody points the finger at the multi-millionaire businessman. Let’s look at Denise Coates. Her Grandfather started with a few betting shops. She’s the one who had the guts to take betting on-line, borrowed the money to do it and had she failed, she’d have been bankrupt. So now she’s making serious money and paying serious tax.

But in that 1% we have over 700 civil and public servants and those serving on quangos. Then you’ve got all those people who work for the BBC. The BBC had 214 staff earning more than the PM. That probably doesn’t include all those the BBC pushed onto into self-employment because the BBC didn’t want to have to pay their national insurance or pensions. But as a general rule, when a broadcaster interviews a politician, the broadcaster will be the one with the biggest income.

Now if you disapprove of Denise Coates, you can take immediate action. If you don’t bet with her company, you don’t contribute to her wealth. But if you feel the PM or the leader of the opposition is earning too much, tough, they’ll just siphon the money out of your pocket whatever you think. Same with the BBC, you disapprove? Tough, if you want to watch any TV at all, whether BBC or not, you’ve still got to contribute.

But what really hacks me off about those politicians and civil servants who are doing nicely as part of the top two or three percent is that they know the figures.

They have sat there and said, “This is exactly how much the state can screw out of our taxpayers. Obviously we need this much money set aside for us first, to reward us for being so utterly wonderful and efficient.”
Then they have to look at how to spend the rest. So when you meet the care worker on the minimum wage struggling to keep a patient with Alzheimer’s clean and dry, you know where the money has gone, you know just who to blame.

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Strangely enough I’ve never really had the urge to become obscenely rich, I just sort of rub along and get by. Also, in the interests of cheering people up I write a bit. So if you’re just hacked off with our masters and want to buy one of my books as a political gesture, or alternatively just fancy a good read, I’d encourage you to invest the magnificent sum of £0.99!

As the reviewer said, “Someone has tried to cheat Benor and his young ‘apprentice’ Mutt. They set out, with a little help, to redress the balance. Another in this series of Port Naain novellas that had me smiling. They are not belly-laugh stories but full of wry, clever and thoughtful humour. Often, it’s the way he tells them. I’m always up for more of these stories.”

Slouching Towards Bethlehem

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There are a lot of Christmas traditions about. Some are long lasting, some almost transient. A friend of mine used to be in the catering/retail trade and one year, calling in the wholesalers just before Christmas, discovered that the wholesalers already had Easter eggs. You can see their point; there is no real point in a wholesaler majoring of Christmas items on the 20th December.

So my friend bought some of the Easter eggs, and his nephews got them for Christmas as part of their Christmas present from their delightfully eccentric uncle. Easter eggs in their Christmas stocking became, for that small group of small boys, a venerable and much loved tradition which eventually faded away with the passing of the years.

But there are all sorts of Christmas traditions. Some are faith based, some are particular to a nation, a community, and the best ones, the ones that really mean something, can be particular to a family.

For us, at the moment, Midnight Communion is an important part of our Christmas. For me, it marks the real beginning of the season. But when I was milking, the idea of getting home from a church service at 1am and getting up to milk at 5:30am was unthinkable.

Certainly when I was in my teens and early twenties, Christmas started for me when, at about 3pm on Christmas Eve, my mother would make mince pies whilst listening to the nine lessons and carols from Kings College. I don’t think I ever heard the entire broadcast because I’ve always had to go out to milk, but still, for me, it was the start of the season.

Another tradition I remember from youth was the entire family gathering at my maternal grandparents for a Christmas Dinner, normally on the 27th of December. The five daughters, their husbands and children would all sort of arrive about 11am, we’d eat together, there’d be talking and the grandchildren would play together, and then by about 3pm, people were starting to leave. All the sons-in-law were farmers, all had cows to milk and all wanted to be back home by 4pm to start milking. This is another tradition which faded. My grandparents died, so we’d meet at the home of one of the daughters, but then, as the grandchildren grew up, married, had their own children and in-laws, gathering the clan for a major get-together became a logistic nightmare.

Even the pattern of Christmas Day has slowly evolved. As a child, opening presents happened twice. When we woke up there would be a stocking at the end of the bed from Father Christmas. This tended to be small stuff, fun, and gave us a chance to experience the decadence of eating chocolate before breakfast.

After breakfast, as children, we’d go out and do what jobs we could so that when my Dad came in for his coffee about 10am, he didn’t have to go out again. With coffee we had the grand opening of presents we gave each other, then my mother would put the final touches to the dinner, and we’d eat at noon as usual.

After dinner we would sit, perhaps watch telly, perhaps read, because Christmas always involved a number of new books. Then at 3pm we watched the Queen’s Speech and went out to milk. About 6pm we’d be in and ready for our tea which was always help yourself to cold turkey, pickles and whatever. Normally there would be a good film on the telly and we’d watch that as a family.

Now daughters organise the meal, and my lady wife and I arrive in the early afternoon in time to be fed. I don’t have to milk but I’ll check sheep, feed the dry cows and give the dairy herd its midday feed before I go and get my meal, which is how it should be.

This year, as we were doing our Christmas cards, we had the usual discussion about who had died since last time we sent them a card. The list of people I’m sending cards to is shrinking as a generation slowly fades away. Soon it’ll be my generation that starts slowly fading away, as that rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born.

So our ancient traditions gradually evolve and continue to remind us of the important of the things that matter, family and those we love.

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Anyway I hope you all have a really good Christmas, the ‘language’ on the card is a Cumbrian dialect. It’s not one I speak although I can understand it and do use a lot of the words.

In the bleak midwinter

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From memory it was 2005. It started when I had to take a dead bullock up to a veterinary investigation centre north of Penrith. At the time I was driving a Ford Granada I’d inherited from my late father. A nice car, not a lot of acceleration but it was lovely to drive and once it got up to speed it would cruise without any apparent effort.

I was towing a cattle trailer with the dead bullock in it, and we went up the M6. This is where I started having problems. There was a gale blowing out of the south west and it was pushing me north. Unfortunately there wasn’t a lot of weight in the trailer and if I went much over 50mph the damn thing started to fishtail! So I was driving uphill with my foot more on the brake than the accelerator.

Anyway I dumped the carcass for inspection and drove back. It got worse. Now, with pedal to the metal, I struggled to reach 50mph. Not only that but the gale was bringing in driving rain as well. Water was flowing up out of the drains at the side of the motorway and was flowing over the surface of the road.

I did, briefly, contemplate leaving the motorway for a more sheltered route but that would probably be flooded so I stuck with the M6 for as long as I could. Eventually I got home, parked the trailer by an old lean-to building, put the car away and got on with getting livestock fed. OK so it was blowing a gale, but this is Cumbria, we’re on the Atlantic coast, we’re used to gales.

In the middle of the night things got really wild out there, so wild I went downstairs and looked out of the back kitchen door. It was as black as the ace of spades but there were a lot of things creaking and groaning in the wind. I shrugged; there wasn’t anything I could do so I shut the door again. At this point there was a lot of tearing and clanging and the lights went off. So I went back to bed.

Next morning I could see that the clanging had been the roof of the lean-to blowing off and landing on the roof of a building behind it. Well these things happen, but it had also landed on our electricity supply. It had pulled the cable out of its connection on the ‘live’ side. Now there was no way we could do anything with this stuff, it’s strictly a job for the utility company. So we phoned them.

Except that at the time, Carlisle was flooded and the RNLI and police were cruising the streets in inflatable dinghies rescuing people! Everybody was being rushed north to get them fixed. It seemed fair enough to be honest. So I kept working, stepping over this cable that was strung across our yard at knee height and twice a day I’d phone the utility people just to remind them we were still without electric.

We had a tractor generator but that powered the buildings (important for a dairy farm) and one socket in the house. From this socket extension leads snaked round the house to feed the freezers. At one end of the house we had an oil fired rayburn cooker and an open fire, so we could cook and had two warm rooms. Also because the rayburn heats our hot water; as it had to be kept turned up most of the time, you could have as many hot baths as you wanted, provided you had them in the dark.
Also the tractor was parked under our bedroom window, so if we wanted to sleep we had to switch the tractor off. But then I’m a big boy, I can sleep in the dark. Also once a day we unplugged a freezer and I switched the computer on for an hour and went on line. Back then we had dial-up but it gave us a chance to try and find out what was going on!

Like everybody else in Cumbria, when there’s an emergency, we listened to Radio Cumbria. To be fair to them, they rise to the occasion. Slowly it looked like order was being restored, and the Utility assured everybody they had installed special emergency helpdesks for those still without electricity. So I phoned the number given.

I was assured by the emergency call centre that actually I had electricity and did not have a problem. I explained I was stepping across the downed cable at regular intervals and we didn’t have electricity. So the person guaranteed us that this would be brought to the attention of the powers that be and we’d soon be sorted. This process continued for four days! Apparently the super help lines had a lot of people with school desks, telephones and note pads. They’d take a call, make a note, and walk to the front of the class where they’d hand their note to somebody in charge who would do something with it.

It was on the sixth day (days when round here it barely got light, and we lived in permanent gloom) that Radio Cumbria announced they were going to have a phone-in with the boss of the Utility. I phoned immediately was told I’d be second on the list to speak to him.

I sat in a room illuminated only by the glow from the fire and listened to the show start. Then the first lady came on. She was magnificent. She utterly flayed the Utility boss. She dissected him. She had passed through despair, anger and rage; she was firmly entrenched on that cold icy wasteland of utter contempt. Without raising her voice and without resorting to bad language, she filleted him. I was holding the telephone at the time waiting for my turn so I had to stop myself cheering her on.

Then it was my turn. I think the Utility boss was hoping for something less painful, but when I pointed out that we’d been off since it started and had talked to his help-line twice a day every day, he could hardly say we’d not told him our problems. Compared to the previous caller I was almost jovial, when she went for icy disdain, I went for self-deprecation and a bitter irony.

Next day, not one, but two teams arrived in our yard, and six and a half days after the lights went off, we had power again.

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The perfect book for the person who wants to stay warm!

 

As one reviewer said, “Another great Tallis Steelyard tale. 

I find there’s nothing better on a cold wet day, than to sit indoors, near a warm fire/radiator, with a hot coffee, some biscuits/cake and one of Jim Webster’s books. So that’s what I’ve done today, with this particular book.
I find the plots intriguing, the characters endearing (even the ‘bad/evil’ ones) and the storytelling style relaxing.
The various threads in the stories are always neatly tied up and the endings invariably satisfactory.”