‘Opening your village hall?’ Or ‘Any muppet can manage their multi-use community facilities’


It struck me that you might want to open your village hall or community centre so I thought I’d guide you through the new rules which are at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-for-the-safe-use-of-multi-purpose-community-facilities/covid-19-guidance-for-the-safe-use-of-multi-purpose-community-facilities

First there is a series of warnings.

Many community facilities are also workplaces and those responsible for the premises should therefore be aware of their responsibilities as employers. The government is clear that no one is obliged to work in an unsafe workplace.


Organisations also have a duty of care to volunteers to ensure as far as reasonably practicable they are not exposed to risks to their health and safety and are afforded the same level of protection as employees and the self-employed. [As an aside that came as a surprise to me, I didn’t realise the self-employed were entitled to any level of protection. Heigh-ho, live and learn.]


You should also consider the security implications of any changes you intend to make as a result of COVID -19. [Whose security? National Security, are we worried about terrorist threats here? Or just make sure the building is locked properly overnight?]


After telling us to be aware of “2 metres distancing (or 1 metre with risk mitigation)” we get to the nitty-gritty.


“From 4 July, users of community facilities should limit their social interactions to 2 households (including support bubbles) in any location; or, if outdoors, potentially up to 6 people from different households. It will be against the law for gatherings of more than 30 people to take place.”


So whilst you can have up to thirty people in your village hall, this is only possible if they come from no more than two households (plus their support bubbles. Between ourselves are bubbles all that structural? I for one wouldn’t want to be supported by one.)

Actually the ‘support bubble’ is “if you live by yourself or are a single parent with dependent children”. So each support bubble can add one adult and an unknown number of children.


Then you get to this bit.
“However, premises or locations which are COVID-19 secure will be able to hold more than 30 people, subject to their own capacity limits, although any individual groups should not interact with anyone outside of the group they are attending the venue with – so in a group no larger than 2 households or 6 people if outdoors.”


As far as I can make out, if your village hall has a several meeting rooms which don’t force people to mix with other groups, you can have people in these meeting rooms and as long as each group is no more than thirty strong you can have more than thirty in your village hall. But each room can only be used by people from two households (and one assumes support bubbles, but it doesn’t actually say.)


I will pass over the section on entrances, exits and queue management.


Then we get to your relationship with other ventures in the area.


“The Individual businesses or venues should consider the cumulative impact of many venues re-opening in a small area. This means working with local authorities, neighbouring businesses and travel operators to assess this risk and applying additional mitigations. These could include:


Further lowering capacity – even if it is possible to safely seat a number of people inside a venue, it may not be safe for them all to travel or enter that venue.

Staggering entry times with other venues and taking steps to avoid queues building up in surrounding areas.

Arranging one-way travel routes between transport hubs and venues.

Advising patrons to avoid particular forms of transport or routes and to avoid crowded areas when in transit to the venue.”

So according to this the manager of the community centre will talk to the manager of the cemetery on one side and the school on the other and they’ll work together to fix their opening times, and take control of the pavements outside marking lanes for people to walk. At the same time they’re making sure that they don’t all come on the same bus. (To be fair, with a village hall in a rural area, there won’t have been a bus since some time in the last century.)


Who wrote this? What planet are they living on?


So let us take our village hall booking secretary. He or she is probably at home as they’re likely to be over seventy and they’re taking telephone bookings. Let us call them Pat Smith


The phone rings

“Pat Smith here.”

“Hi Pat, I’ve heard the hall’s open so we want to book a room for history society meeting.”
“How many are coming?”

“Haven’t a clue Pat, you know how these things are.”
“Well how many households might come?”

“Well everybody is a member of a separate household.”

“Well you’ve got two households with their support bubbles. That probably means no more than four of you. But apparently six can meet outside to perhaps you could leave a window open and the others can stand outside?”

“Well I suppose if the speaker shouts everybody will be able to hear him.”
“No shouting, the guidance states, ‘All venues should ensure that steps are taken to avoid people needing to unduly raise their voices to each other’.”

“Right you are Pat. Will you collect the money?”
“No I cannot leave the house, just push the money through the door as usual.”

“We’ve got our key so we’ll let ourselves in.”

“Yes but how are you getting there?”

“Well I was just going to walk.”

“Could you walk via Biglands Farm. It means you avoid the school and the bus stop because we’ve got to avoid transport hubs.”
“But it’s an extra three miles.”

“Oh and can you delay your return until 11pm because the Flower circle is meeting and you know how long it’ll take for some of them to walk home.”

“How come the Flower circle is meeting in the village hall, there must be a dozen of them and they’re all in different households.”
“They’re not meeting in the village hall. They’re meeting in the queue outside the chippy. They can stand a meter apart and talk for as long as they like.”


The whole document runs to 3620 words. Christian charity demands that I spare you the rest of it. But trust me it doesn’t get any better. There’s even an enforcement section which promises poor Pat Smith, “serious fines and even imprisonment for up to 2 years”.


It has to be said that people who’ve seen this have commented on it. But actually when I read it I just thought, ‘same old same old.’

I have spent a lot of time working with Defra over the years, as part of the consultation process. In reality a lot of this means going through draft regulations and draft statutory instruments correcting them.

You see, left to their own devices, the civil service seem to produce stuff like that I’ve just critiqued. I may have been unlucky in dealing with Defra and the RPA but a lot of their stuff starts off just like this. If you work your way through a document and you don’t discover clauses that contradict each other, clauses that are impossible to obey and others that are impossible to police or even measure, then you’ve probably got a version that’s already been consulted on previously. I’ve seen clauses in draft regulations which were actually worded to be diametrically opposed to the regulation they were implementing. I’ve seen stuff that has just been copied and pasted out of a previous document and put into this one, even though it was agreed to drop it when the previous document was scrutinised.


I realise that there isn’t time for a full consultation process on these documents, but please, could we just have a grown-up with some experience of the real world go through them with a thick red pen crossing out bits and annotating it.


Let’s be sensible here. “The Individual businesses or venues should consider the cumulative impact of many venues re-opening in a small area”


So why are all the shops in the town centre open at the same time?
“Arranging one-way travel routes between transport hubs and venues.

Advising patrons to avoid particular forms of transport or routes and to avoid crowded areas when in transit to the venue.”


Well Tesco doesn’t do it. Walking down the main street in town to get to the bank, none of the shops or institutions I went into advised me, “to avoid particular forms of transport or routes and to avoid crowded areas when in transit to the venue.” So if HSBC or Tesco don’t have to do it, why does poor old Pat Smith?


We cannot have six standing in the village hall car park, but if you stand in the queue at a takeaway you can have any number of you meeting.


Frankly it’s no wonder people have lost patience with it all.


So if you do want to reopen your village hall, I recommend you read this first. It’ll be absolutely no help whatsoever but it has the advantage of being comprehensible, amusing and well written.


We continue to explore the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. In this invaluable publication Tallis Steelyard discusses the ways in which a writer can bring their work to the attention of the masses and more importantly, sell the book to them. As well as this, we have the importance of getting home under your own steam, music and decorum, brass knuckles for a lady, and of course, a few simple spices.
Surely this is the one essential book that every aspiring novelist should both purchase and study.


As one reviewer commented, “Tallis Steelyard: A Guide for Writers, and Other Stories by Jim Webster is as advertised, a collection of stories with different themes. I will look at only a few of the twenty-six tales. The School for Assassins under the title Tidying Up Loose Ends is remarkable in its tone. In some areas of Tallis Steelyard World, purposeful and planned killing is accepted; it is the casual acceptance portrayed in the story that I find worthy of attention. There are several sections on writing (per the title). Tallis will comment on the associated functions of publishing and promotion. If you are a writer, an avid reader, a reviewer, a publisher, or a person who attends events for the free food and drink, these sections are not to be missed. Readers may find themselves portrayed in one of the groups. The section on writers who write about writing for fun, profit, and financial independence will stick in my mind for a long time. Webster uses humor rather than a direct assault on the commission of scams by charlatans. I believe the author is holding back on “saying what he really thinks.”

The unsurpassed beauty of Tallis Steelyard creations is the elegant language used with precision to separate the occasional absurd from the daily mundane then remixing to produce entertaining stories. I like to select favorite quotes because there is no better way to illustrate what I find to be a unique writing style. This five-star collection reminds me of a quote from a film (possibly paraphrased). “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never quite know what you are going to get.” (Attributed to F. Gump). Readers will find literary candy of many varieties in this “guide.”

The importance of getting home under your own steam ***** Readers might guess by this story’s title that there is alcohol involved. True, but it was Bongo’s birthday. The passing of years brought Bongo to maudlin reflection on a boring life. Tallis and company decided that if Bongo could be transported home on a palanquin carried by a score of naked harlots, at least the birthday party would be a point of interest in Bongo’s otherwise humdrum life.

I will point out one feature of why Tallis Steelyard stories are great. Look at the word “naked;” it is OK to free associate. Then “By the time the wine was finished I was somehow surrounded by nearly three dozen young women dressed much as nature had intended.” (Kindle location 53). Further interesting imagery comes to mind. The narrator is not vulgar or offensive and does not employ “shock” terminology to describe weird situations. Bongo’s wife was not offended; readers should follow her example.

Not perhaps the best location ***** Sneal, a wandering merchant spent a day traveling on his way home through the unfamiliar countryside in the hope of discovering new markets for his goods. He ended the first day by spending the night at an inn located in a tree. After traveling the next day, the same thing happened. Same inn, same customers, same barmaid. The third day was a repeat of the earlier two. Finally, he arrived home. How did this happen? Cue the scary music. What happened when he recounted his adventure to Tallis?

The frantic scribblings of a novelist ***** This chapter is the first of several observations related to the lives of a novelist or a poet. Tallis offers contrasts as he pities the unfortunate novelist. Poets are superior in their social lives and sufficiency of income. Tallis said so. This section and the following five sections explore the world of writing. Quotes that stick in my mind follow.

There in Black and White ***** One of my pet peeves is discovering that after I download a Kindle book, 20% of it is devoted to promotion. Tallis points this out with “There is a feeling amongst publishers that the reader doesn’t really want the book they’ve purchased, but instead in point of fact wishes to peruse an assortment of other books that the publisher has available. Pictures of these and even sample chapters can in extreme cases double the size of the book.” (Kindle location 181).

Learning from others ***** Writing books from the comfort of home while in any state of dress and personal hygiene imaginable can bring instant and immense wealth. All one must do is follow the advice of proven authors. Tallis looks at the advisors as “a community of writers writing books about how to sell books that were bought largely by people who were interested in writing books about selling books.” (Kindle location 244).

Nobody does it like that anymore ***** Tallis does not dismiss time tested good advice. Departing from tongue-in-cheek humor, Tallis notes, “Writing is just another craft like joinery or metalwork, the more you do it, the better you get.” (Kindle location 271).

The uncompromising principles of the successful writer ***** Tallis consults a printer to find out the kind of literature that sells best. “This is what feeds the press Tallis my boy, cheap stories of forbidden vampire love, or demon love, or love with a score of fantastical, imaginary, or hopefully extinct creatures. (Kindle location 331).

A distinct shortage of assets ***** Many authors assure readers that reviews are vital to an author’s success. How can an author get reviews quickly? Tallis would “ instruct (the printer’s) domestic staff and secretary to write glowing reviews of his work under false names” (Kindle location 401).

Subsequent stories address other topics as Tallis leaves the subject of writing out of fear of appearing maudlin. Any would-be writers should continue reading the rest of this collection to pull themselves out of any depression caused by an examination of prospects for fame and riches in their chosen profession.

At the end of this Tallis Steelyard set of musings, I am left with only one question not addressed in this examination of the world of writers. Why does an author choose to sell a novel for USD 1.26?”

Now we know why they wanted all that toilet paper!


The Lake District National Park Authority held a Visitor Poll on the 30th and 31st of May. They asked interesting questions.


Before your visit which of the following things did you do?
Use the LDNPA website to check how busy areas were.  35.5%

Plan your destination AND end up at that destination.  38.7%

Plan your destination AND change your plan enroute. 55.1%

Use social media to research your visit.    43.4%

Bring a picnic and refreshments.    42.2%

Bring a BBQ.    25.8%

Bring alcohol.    70.3%


Then they asked them; before your visit, which of the following things were you aware of.


Not all car parks are open.      58.2%

Not all toilets are open.     70.3%

Most shops are closed.  74.6%

Most food businesses are closed.  39.5%

Local people are worried about visitors not respecting social distancing.  86.7%

You should take your litter home.  34.4%

You should follow the Country Code.  12.5%

You should check how busy areas are before you arrive.  59.4%


Then they asked them, in normal times would you have been in the

Lake District Today?  80% answered no they would have been somewhere else.


Finally they asked them, what was your main reason for visiting the Lake District today?
We love the Lake District.   13.5%

We wanted to cool off in the water.  12.2%

We wanted to take exercise.  9.8%

We wanted to meet family and friends in a safe environment. 18.8%

The lockdown has been lifted.  8.2%

The thing we’d normally be doing is closed. 15.3%

Family gathering to celebrate Eid al Fitr.  3.3%

Other outdoor destinations were too busy. 9.8%

Passive aggressive responses such as ‘why not’ or mentioning Dominic Cummings 4.2%

Motorbike was gathering dust. 4.9%


Now there has been a move to get more tourists into the Park, but also to reach out to people who don’t normally visit. It looks like this weekend they’d inadvertently succeeded.


The Park also produced a weekend summary which highlighted problems.


  • Visitor numbers increased by an estimated 40% on the peak of the bank holiday weekend.
  • Anywhere with access to water was rammed.
  • It’s worth noting that it was busy in some areas. It was not however an old fashioned busy day in the Lakes. The towns are mostly very quiet.


However there were ‘issues’ which the summary highlighted.


The Park staff normally collect 10 bin bags of litter per week. (Obviously this does not include the litter people have very correctly deposited in bins.)

On this weekend they collected 138 bags of litter picked up off the ground.


The Park staff normally dispose of around 3 pieces of human waste from their car parks in the average month. In this one weekend they disposed over 100 pieces of human waste. Many of these in car parks where there was a toilet that was open.


There were large numbers of BBQ’s, camp fires and similar found throughout the weekend in spite of people being asked not to light them and there being a fire risk.


The Park Rangers and other organisations found over 200 overnight campers in the park during the weekend. On Islands, shores, mountains and car parks. That’s just the ones they found.


Car parks in the Rydal area were at capacity by 9am on both days. Terrible parking problems in the surrounding areas. The Park staff did put out cones and signs but it was a losing battle. The whole Coniston area was bad. East of the Lake was the worst anybody had seen. The road was virtually impassable for much of the day. The standard of parking was frankly appalling.


Windermere and the shores around it were intensely busy with inconsiderate parking closing resident access. People couldn’t get in or out of their homes.


With regard to Buttermere, Derwentwater, Borrowdale, Wasdale & Ennerdale, Bassenthwaite, and the shores of Ullswater.

These areas were simply the old problems of terrible fly parking, but with increased numbers of people. The people there had less respect for the natural environment than pre-COVID19 visitors. Roads became impassable for much of the day.



So, having read the survey and the summary what have we learned? Well up until now, the Lake District appears to have attracted a selection of visitors who have been largely educated in how to behave. Perhaps we never realised how well behaved they were. Also it shows how a large part of our urban population doesn’t really understand the rural environment and frankly doesn’t particularly care whether they inconvenience people or not, provided they get a decent place on the lake shore. Indeed it is entirely possible that the old saying, “I wouldn’t trust them to sit the right way on a lavatory” might well be literally true in some cases.”

What can we do about it? Well traffic and ridiculous parking is something that we could tackle. The roads are so crowded you literally couldn’t get in to tow people away. If you clamped them it might actually make things worse. Swamp the area with wardens handing out fixed penalty parking tickets? Serious fixed penalties, given these people are blocking not merely the access of other visitors but also the access of emergency vehicles.
Alternatively they could perhaps stop traffic on a road and authorise a tractor with a silage trailer to go through to clear the passage with the emergency vehicle following behind.

I think there is going to have to be a tourist tax. Cumbria has a population of fewer than half a million. Yet Cumbrians are providing the police, car parking and toilets (even if not all the tourists know how to use them) for about 20 million visitors.
Or we could just cut tourist numbers. You want to come to Cumbria, book ahead, without a booking you get turned back as you try to leave the M6?

Or perhaps we could just ban their cars? When you pay your council tax in Cumbria you get a disc you can put on your car and that allows you into the county. Everybody else comes in by public transport or parks in a ‘park and ride’ car park near the motorway junction?
Some or all these ideas are probably impracticable, but we cannot go on like this.


Somebody I know who was out on the fells recently commented, “I despair at the large groups of lads shouting at each other, playing music on their phones and tripping each other up and causing rock slides. One group said I was ‘organised’ because I was able to tell them where they were and which direction they needed to go as I had a map. People are wandering around between Styhead tarn, Great End, the bottom of Piers Gill and Broad Crag with no idea of where they were and no idea of how to figure out where they were. ‘How long till Sca Fell Pike…and is this the way’ I was asked by three separate groups.

Smart phones have a lot to answer for. There is no familiarisation with maps at all now for many people. Drop a pin in on Google maps and magically the car finds itself there. Phones have GPS, but an OS or BMC map won’t go flat. The phone is mainly there to instagram and facebook as people show where they are and what they are doing.

I also can’t remember finding cans of lager in the hills either. Around camp sites and roads and near pubs etc, but not at 3,000 feet.”


It’s not just Cumbria that is going to suffer, the other National Parks will doubtless get more visitors. And don’t try going by road, apparently there’s been a boom in caravan sales.

From car dealer magazine.
“One campervan dealer told us he had sold a month’s worth of stock in the first week back after the lockdown while Auto Trader has reported caravan advert views up 18 per cent and motorhome adverts up 17 per cent.

Meanwhile, auctions are selling to the trade and well above predicted prices with bidding ‘frenzied’ among dealers scrabbling to replenish stock.”




I don’t know where you were hoping to get to, but frankly it could be quicker walking.



What do I know?
Speak to the expert

A collection of anecdotes, it’s the distillation of a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England. I’d like to say ‘All human life is here,’ but frankly there’s more about Border Collies, Cattle and Sheep.

As a reviewer commented, “A delightful, chatty collection of jottings, which capture the mindset of sheep and their shepherd on a day to day basis. Thank you for this refreshing ramble in the Cumbrian countryside, Jim!”

Kettle wedges and zoom


Back in April we had a tree blow down. I suppose it’s arguable whether it was our tree that blew down or our next door neighbours, but either way it made sense for me to be the one who cut it up. This is the tree that blew down and we ‘stood up again.’




But now, at last, it’s all home and reduced to ‘kit form’. The branches I just reduced to nine inch lengths as I went along, so that they were ready to dry out and burn. By the time we got to last winter, I’d taken most of the branches and some of the trunk. But then the weather got silly. So nothing much happened.
Anyway this month I decided to tackle the rest of it. The trunk was actually two trunks which had ‘almost’ grown together. They came apart under their own weight, and the top one I cut into slices about nine inches to a foot thick. What surprised me was whilst the end slice had ‘dried out’, the other slices were still moist and pretty heavy. The tree had been cut off from its roots for over a year and the slices were still too wet to be split with an axe.

Anyway the slices can stand in an old barn and dry out nicely. I’ll not really need them this winter anyway.

The bottom trunk I had dragged out of the nettles and rubbish which accumulates around them when you’re working on them. I then sliced this. It was at this point that the weather got ridiculously warm and humid. Wearing chainsaw protective trousers etc I was overdressed anyway, and then there were cleggs/horseflies trying to eat me alive. It’s difficult to slap a horsefly that’s landed on your left arm when you’re using the right hand to control the chainsaw.

The problem with cutting slices from a trunk this thick was that it was thicker than the bar of my chainsaw was long. So I would go down one side of the trunk. Walk round to the other side and cut down that side. Now when you’re cutting thinner branches, no more than nine inches or so thick, it seems you can keep the cut reasonably straight. But when you get to the sort of thing I was cutting you discover that, actually (in my case) I must ‘pull’ the chainsaw to the right. Perhaps it’s because I’m left handed?

This means that when I go round the other side of the trunk to do the second cut, if both cuts pull to the right, they actually diverge and you’re left with uncut wood between them which you’ve got to slide the saw in and cut through.
But anyway, on the last morning I was faced with the lump that was left. I decided there was no way I could slice that, so instead I sort of ‘whittled it away’ with the chainsaw. Because the middle was hollow I would cut down along the line of the hollow. Almost like cutting a slice from a circular cake with the hollow being the centre of the cake. Once I’d done as much of that as I could, I cut the bits I was left with in half or thirds so they were light enough to pick up and carry to the quad trailer. This heap of overly large kettle wedges is now stacked in an artistically interesting and culturally significant heap in the yard where they can dry out. Then in a year or so I’ll have another go at getting them small enough to fit in the fire place.

Other than that, life proceeds. I’m now an ‘old hand’ at zoom meetings. The fact that I attend them on a desktop computer without a camera is essentially an advantage. (After all who bothers to put a camera on a desktop computer with rural broadband and a download speed of 3.5Mbps and an upload speed of a quarter of that?)

But one phenomena I’m coming across is ‘zoom meeting fatigue.’
A friend of mine has a job in the third sector in Cumbria. The normal pattern of her day would be that she might have a meeting, drive thirty, forty, ninety miles, have another one. The driving time was useful, it gave her time to mentally process one meeting and prepare for the next.
Now with zoom, there can be days with a meeting every hour on the hour. These meetings can be very intense. But she’s noticed that most of the people she deals with are government or local government people and at 5pm they switch off. She then has to spend her evening actually doing that part of her job which doesn’t involve meetings, and on Saturday, because the third (voluntary) sector is all about volunteers, she ‘meets’ with volunteers who were of course working during the week.

There is also a growing suspicion that a proportion of the meetings are being called by people who feel they have to ‘look busy’ if they are going stave off redundancy, or at least to come out of the lockdown with an enhanced CV and improved prospects of promotion within their department.

There is a growing suspicion among some of the people I know that zoom is ‘too easy to use.’ My experience has been that it was worked well enough because the meetings I’ve attended have been with people I’ve known and worked with for years. In point of fact, projecting a blank rectangle rather than a video of me has worked to my advantage. Rather than have to look ‘engaged’ or worry about my appearance, I can concentrate on the body language of other attendees. But because I know them, because we’ve ‘broken bread together’ then I can read them reasonably well.

I suspect that whilst zoom meetings will continue, ‘real meetings’ will also restart. Because it is in the real meeting that you get to know people, chat to them over a coffee, and work out how they tick.


There again, do you really want to know how some people tick?


In his own well chosen words, Tallis Steelyard reveals to us the life of Maljie, a lady of his acquaintance. In no particular order we hear about her bathing with clog dancers, her time as a usurer, pirate, and the difficulties encountered when one tries to sell on a kidnapped orchestra. We enter a world of fish, pet pigs, steam launches, theological disputation, and the use of water under pressure to dispose of foul smelling birds. Oh yes, and we learn how the donkey ended up on the roof.


As a reviewer commented, “Maljie is a pretty amazing woman, especially when you consider she has to deal with living in Port Naain, which is a medieval fantasy city. However, she is not one to let such things as expected gender roles hold her back – indeed no, those are merely there to be exploited!

We see Maljie and learn of her adventures through the eyes of Tallis Steelyard, a jobbing poet and himself an acute and wickedly perceptive inhabitant of Port Naain.

These stories are not so much a collection of anecdotes as a tour de force of hilarious and unlikely situations brought together in a single volume and showing the unstoppable rise and rise of the irrepressible Marjie.

If you want some feel-good reading to brighten your day, Jim Webster is your man and Maljie is, most certainly the right woman for the job!”

Dry grass and cats running in flip flops.


People struggle to understand why I can get so interested in grass. After all it’s green and normally wet. But really, my life has been spent creating optimum conditions for grass. That way I had enough to feed to cattle or sheep, and somehow we made a living.

In a perfect world, when making silage, you’d move the grass at exactly the right stage at exactly the right time. (So ideally you mow the grass in the evening. This is because the grass produces sugars during the day, but during the night moves them down to the roots. So if you mow the same field in the morning, the leaves, the bit you harvest, will contain less sugar than if you mow it twelve hours later (or earlier.) As an aside that probably means to keep your lawn strong and healthy you should mow it first thing in the morning as soon as the dew is off it.

But back to silage. You must remember that the ‘D’ value of grass is also important. D value is the percentage of digestible organic matter in the dry matter. Obviously you measure it in the dry matter, because that which isn’t dry matter is water, and whilst necessary, there’s damn all feed value in it and it can fluctuate wildly anyway.

Older grass will be below 60%, young leafy grasses can be over 70%. So picking a time to silage is a case of balancing quality and quantity. Go too early and you’ll have excellent silage but not enough. Go too late you’ll have plenty of belly filler but they’ll not milk off it.

At the moment things have got even more complicated in that we had a long dry spell. Normally, the advantage of second cut silage is that as the grass was all mown on the same day in May, it starts again and is a very even crop for second cut. But because of the dry spell, in the same field you have patches where the soil contains more sand. The grass there suffered from the drought and some even went to seed (which from the D value point of view means it is low.) But with the rain those areas are greening up and putting out new shoots. Similarly other parts of the field with soils that held more water were hit less. So an appropriate date for mowing one part of the field is too late for some of the field and too early for other bits. But in agriculture, we’re used to trying to find the least worst option.


On an entirely different front, Sal and Billy are still working on their relationship. We had a cow calve and Sal discovered the afterbirth. Border Collies have simple tastes. Afterbirth is a welcome breakfast snack. So she was quietly helping herself to it. Billy appeared on the scene. He remains fascinated by Sal, and will regularly jog across to see what she’s up to. He watched her eat with interest but showed no sign of wanting to join it. Anyway he then walked under her, rubbing his back on her tummy. I get the feeling that this wasn’t something Sal had been expecting with her breakfast and she leapt to one side, but kept a good hold of breakfast.

It’s interesting watching the two animals run. If I shout Sal, when she runs it is the run of an animal that is determined to cover the ground. She’s got a fair turn of speed and when going flat out, she’s this sleek streamlined missile, hurtling along. If Billy runs after her the effect is entirely different. Somehow he runs as if he’s wearing flip flops and is trying not to lose them.

And talking about waiting for the right moment, it looks as if there might be a change in the guidelines over social distancing.

My suspicion is that we will be advised to go to the World Health Organisation recommendation of one meter rather than our current one of two meters. When you think about it, people will actually work happily at one meter, it’s about what we think of as our personal space.

Now towards the start of the outbreak, YouGov started a ‘chat’ which they email to people every couple of days. I suppose it’s a way of getting a feel for how people are feeling.


Yesterday two of the questions were:-


Do you think levels of frustration and anger in the population are higher or lower than usual?

Results so far…

Much higher – 50%

A little higher – 44%

None of these – 4%

A little lower – 2%

Much lower – 1%


Do you think over the next month feelings of frustration will…?

Latest results…

Increase – 70%

Decrease – 18%

Neither – 13%


I must admit I wouldn’t disagree with those findings. A lot of people are going quietly out of their minds, stuck at home with only the BBC and Social Media.

But then there were these questions as well.



For the time being, do you think we continue to need rules on social distancing?

Latest results…

Yes – 81%

No – 13%

Not sure – 7%


And should those rules require us to stay 1m apart or 2m?

Latest results…


2m apart – 63%

1m apart – 29%

No need at all – 6%

More – 2%


I’m now the one who does the shopping, and I’ve noticed that in our local Tesco people vary a lot. You’ll get those who will not go within six feet of somebody else under pretty much any circumstances. Some of them are even wearing masks (but still less than 5%).

Then you get those wave you past if they’re looking for something in particular and aren’t going to move. I fall firmly into that category.

But it’s the staff that I’ve watched most. Like me, they’ve been working throughout the entire pandemic. To be fair to Tesco, they’ve got the arrows on the floor, screens up for the check-out staff and everything is done properly. But when I go in about 8am, there are a lot of staff out restacking shelves and moving stuff about. Their behaviour has reverted to normal, they don’t get in each other’s ‘personal space’ but otherwise if you talk to them, they’ll stand about three or four feet away, just like normal people always did.

My suspicion is that we’re very much in two worlds. Those who’re out there and who have been working through it have long adapted and are no longer worried about things. There are bigger risks. Then we have those who’re stuck at home. I still know people who haven’t been past the garden gate and don’t particularly want to. But then if you’re somebody on a guaranteed income (government paid salary and you’re at home shielding a vulnerable relative) why on earth would you push for change?

As it is, looking at the epidemic, https://unherd.com/2020/06/karl-friston-up-to-80-not-even-susceptible-to-covid-19/ is interesting and does hang together nicely.


He comments that the Ferguson/Imperial College model may be correct, it’s just he didn’t allow for a large proportion of the population being naturally resistant to the virus.
Indeed the current outbreak in China fits in with his model. It isn’t a ‘second peak’, it’s just that China is so large that the lockdown managed to prevent spread to distant areas. But eventually the virus gets there and you have another peak in what is effectively a new naïve population.


There again, what do I know?

More tales from a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England, with sheep, Border Collies, cattle, and many other interesting individuals. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is just one of those things.


As a reviewer commented, “Like the other two books in this series, Jim Webster gives us a perspective of farm life we may not have appreciated. Some of the facts given will come as a shock to non-farming readers, but they do need to be read. Having said that, there are plenty of humorous anecdotes to make the book an enjoyable read.”

Killer on the loose.


It has to be said that whilst Billy our cat is a charming character, he is a killer. He’s a cat so it goes with the territory. When he arrived, a rescue kitten, feral and vaccinated to the eyeballs he didn’t particularly like people. To be fair, you can understand his point of view. But we fed him for a couple of days whilst he was in the cage, then opened the door and kept putting a bit of food down so he knew where to find us.

Since then we have ‘supplemented’ his diet as opposed to feeding him. If he started looking hungry or a bit bedraggled we’d know he needed more, but it’s obvious that he’s feeding himself nicely. He is happy disposing of rats with the occasional crow for a change.
But interestingly he has ‘adopted’ the three of us he sees regularly. I have never fed him but he makes a point of coming up to me and shouting at me to attract my attention. That way he gets his ears rubbed or his tummy tickled. Indeed when the weather got hot and the kitchen door stood open, he several times wandered in to see what was going on. My lady wife he watched with vague interest, got his ears rubbed by me and wandered out again.

If there’s a stranger in the yard he doesn’t generally approve. I was talking to one person and Billy appeared. He walked across to me and then realised there was company. He shouted at me and then stalked away looking most affronted. Indeed when one chap came and sat with his air rifle, watching for vermin, Billy sat near him. Not near enough to be touched, but near enough to keep an eye on the situation. He did this for the full two hours.
So at heart, our Billy is a feral cat who happens to like a small group of people. If there’s a sudden noise, a strange dog, or something surprising, he just disappears at speed.

He gets on with Sal. She seems to fascinate him. This may merely be that she’s the one nearest to him in size. Sal regards Billy as ‘just one of those things.’ She doesn’t ignore him, she’ll happily pinch his supper if he isn’t there to guard it, and it’s quite fun watching them both lapping up spilled milk. Sal with the much larger tongue does seem to have a distinct advantage.

Milk cows are, I suspect, just too big to be considered as anything but terrain. A calf had got out of her pen and was dancing around the yard. Billy sat on his haunches watching it with interest but made no effort to get any closer. With regard to adult cattle he’ll walk along the path next to the collecting yard and doesn’t seem to bother about the cows watching him as they wait to be milked. Even if they lower their heads to get a closer look. There again the cow who snorted and put out a tongue longer than Billy to lick his tail got a very old-fashioned look.

Still, as feral cats go, Billy is remarkably easy to worm. Apparently if you wrap the tablet in a little bit of meat, he eats it with enthusiasm. Unfortunately the issue of baths arose. Billy appeared, caked with mud and worse. He’d obviously fallen into something, and whilst he might have made an attempt to get rid of it, it was now caked on. So somebody (not me) picked him up by the scruff of the neck and washed him down with a hosepipe. Finally she just about got him clean but eventually had to give up. It wasn’t this feral cat’s needle sharp teeth or razor sharp claws. It was the way he cried pathetically. That being said, it wasn’t long before he was his usual sunny self, shouting at me to bend down and rub his ears.


Nice to know you’ve got friends isn’t it

Another collection of anecdotes drawn from a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England. As usual Border Collies, Cattle and Sheep get fair coverage, but it’s mixed with family history and the joys of living along a single track road.

Move along, nothing to see here

move along

The feeling that the world is splitting into two different societies is becoming overwhelming. I recently saw a photograph on social media of a few people on a beach and somebody commented, “They should stay at home, nobody else is going out, even to work.” It’s comments like that which remind you how far some people have drifted from the reality of the situation.

Yet in the world I live in, everybody has been going to work for quite some time now, even if they did have a week or so off at the start. This isn’t just farming, but all sorts of industries locally. The ones that are still shut are largely those shut by regulation.


Now the other afternoon I was talking to the milk tanker driver. The first thing that struck me was ‘social distancing.’ The World Health Organisation (whom we are told are the people government should always listen to) insist that


Maintain at least 1 metre (3 feet) distance between yourself and others. Why? When someone coughs, sneezes, or speaks they spray small liquid droplets from their nose or mouth which may contain virus. If you are too close, you can breathe in the droplets, including the COVID-19 virus if the person has the disease.


Avoid going to crowded places. Why? Where people come together in crowds, you are more likely to come into close contact with someone that has COIVD-19 and it is more difficult to maintain physical distance of 1 metre (3 feet).




Yet just watching people chatting, it’s rare people go nearer than that anyway. (Perhaps we’re naturally programmed?) When I see farmers and contractors talking, they’d both be leaning on something and were always four or five feet apart long before social distancing became popular. Being within three feet of somebody makes people feel uncomfortable and crowded.


But anyway, talking to the tanker driver, his comment was that the ‘good times’ have passed. Obviously he worked normally though the whole lockdown. He remembers the happy day when he glanced round and realised he was the only vehicle on the M6. He even had a brief moment of panic, “Have they shut it and I’ve not noticed the no entry sign?” But now the roads are back to close to normal round here.
We saw the same in our lanes. In the first few weeks we were quite busy with walkers. I was working on a gateway and in the hour I spent on the job, about seven walkers passed, most said ‘hi’ and I chatted to some of them. I lost track of the number of cyclists.

Now when it comes to walkers and cyclists we’re back down to pre-outbreak levels, people going for a walk are obviously getting in their car and going further, or more probably, they’re at work.

I think that people are being sensible. I was talking to one lady. She had got herself properly worked up. Her parents are elderly and neither enjoys good health. Indeed for the last three years they didn’t expect her father to see Christmas. (You buy his present in December and it’s something he’ll have finished by the end of January.)
She’d been talking to her parents through the window and her father had just commented, “I’m not sure it’s worth the effort of going on. What’s the point?”

Distressed by this, she’d discussed it with her husband and her brother, and had got both parents into her car and had taken them out round the lakes. They didn’t get out of the car but they stopped for a ‘picnic’ which was a drink of tea from their flask, and went home feeling vastly better.

People can do their research, they can see what is happening elsewhere in the world. They’ve noticed that other European countries are going back to normal and there isn’t a ‘second spike’. Indeed somebody told me that South Korea had a ‘spike’ and we ought to lock down more tightly. The South Korean spike means that today they have “39 additional cases of the coronavirus, all but three of them reported in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area.” Somebody else commented to me that ‘if that is a spike, bring it on.’

So the British Public are doing wild and dangerous things, if they visit friends and need the loo, they’re using it rather than popping behind a bush in the garden.

They are also noticing that, in reality, the lockdown is starting to do more damage that good. We’re starting to see major mental health issues, we have people who are literally terrified of leaving home. How on earth are they going to integrate back into society and live normal lives?

On a wider front millions of children are going unvaccinated. Vaccine programmes have collapsed because either governments have abandoned them, or where governments haven’t the collapse in air traffic means that there are no flights to fly the vaccines to the country.



Cancer specialists are pointing out that there is a huge backlog of cancer work that needs to be caught up on, people who normally would have contacted their doctor are still sitting at home unseen.


The lockdown is going to kill people, so we better make sure it kills fewer than it saves.


But we have problems. Too many people are scared. Yet some people aren’t, in parts of this country as many as 70% of children who could go back to school did go. They may have been encouraged by the Norwegian PM, Erna Solberg who is now saying she panicked when she shut schools and thinks that they should have been left open. The comment has been made in this country, that if the retail sector had insisted on the level of precautions the schools are insisting on for reopening, we would all have starved.


I’m beginning to think that the drift to opening up is inexorable. Government is slowly following the population at large. Dragging their heels firmly at the back is a lot of naysayers and critics who are in full lockdown mode. They’re still accusing the government of being wild and reckless. Personally I suspect some of them will never forgive the government if there isn’t a second spike. Still it’s been a brilliant few weeks for those who liked telling other people what to do and making sure they didn’t enjoy themselves.
When people start checking shopping bags to make sure you’ve only been making essential purchases you know that the control freaks have reached a whole new peak of ecstasy


There again, what do I know?

More tales from a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England, with sheep, Border Collies, cattle, and many other interesting individuals. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is just one of those things.


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.”

Spilt milk and social distancing.


The sun continues to beat down on us, things are distinctly dry, but there’s vague hopes of a drop of rain about Wednesday, so who knows, we might get some.

Because things were so wet over winter, the rain that we’ve had has just about been enough to keep us going, but I’ve noticed some of the sandy land is starting to burn off again. To be honest this is three months earlier than we could expect it. Still we’ve still time for torrential rain and flooding in July.

I saw a comment which sums the area up. Somebody was asking for advice on when to visit Cumbria, they had a choice of June or July and somebody else had answered, “Forget trying to predict the weather, either month could be hot and sunny or cold and wet.”

Yep, that’s Cumbria.

We’re starting to see hints of other changes on the horizon. Apparently, “Searches on Rightmove by Londoners for homes outside the capital were up to 51 per cent compared to 42 per cent this time last year.

The number of home searches by people in Edinburgh, Birmingham, Liverpool, Sheffield, Glasgow and Bristol looking at property outside their cities also rose, as people in lockdown reassessed their lives.”


Now we don’t know whether these urges to move will last any longer than the urges to declutter, learn Sanskrit, or stop eating junk food. But it does strike me that the lockdown largely negates the advantages of living in a major city. Also with so many people working from home, why not work from home somewhere worth living?

Why I’m so interested is that this isn’t a new phenomenon but part of a growing trend.


“According to the statistics, 73,000 people living in the capital chose to buy property elsewhere in 2019, which is up more than 10,000 from five years ago and around 32,000 from 10 years ago in 2009.

And they’re not just moving to commutable towns and cities around London any more. Last year saw the highest number of Londoners move to the north of the country at 13%, up from just 1% who did so a decade ago. A further 15% moved to the Midlands.

While the highest proportion (69%) did stick to the south when they said goodbye to the capital, this is a major fall from 92% back in 2009.”




So generally are we going to see more people moving into rural areas? Provided you’ve got decent broadband, then you can sell in London and buy elsewhere secure in the knowledge you can work adequately from home. Indeed I know a lot of people who have sold small properties in London and become cash buyers of far nicer and larger properties in the north. This has been true for decades, provided you never intended to move back into London, it was a shrewd move. I remember an auctioneer telling me that one couple had decided that this was going to be their last move, sold in London and ended up buying a farm off him as a cash buyer. The auctioneer arranged for a local farmer to rent the land off them. At that point the chap who’d bought the farm looked at the cheque he was being paid for the rent and pondered early retirement.

There are problems, do rural communities need an influx of new people with no real understanding of the community? Is it going to push rural house prices up even further?
But then, on the horizon, there are other indicators that the world is changing. “Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Thursday that most Facebook employees can work from home wherever they want. But they should not expect to get Silicon Valley salary levels if they relocate to less-expensive areas.

Speaking at an internal employee town hall meeting livestreamed on Facebook, Zuckerberg said the company will take a “more measured approach to opening permanent remote work for existing employees.”  Currently, most Facebook workers can opt to work from home through the end of the year, thanks to the pandemic.

Now, Zuckerberg envisions that over the next decade or more, about half of Facebook’s workers could be remote. But there’s a lot of “ifs,” “ands” and “buts” attached – although not butts in the seats.

If you qualify for remote work and move to cheaper areas, you will have to tell Facebook, and pay will be adjusted accordingly, Zuckerberg said. There will be “severe ramifications” for those discovered to be falsifying addresses.

“We’ll adjust salary to your location at that point,” said Zuckerberg, who said the adjustment would be necessary for taxes and accounting. “There’ll be severe ramifications for people who are not honest about this.” He added the system will work on the “honor code,” but will “put in some basic precautions” to make sure that the honor system is being honest. Those methods were not detailed.”




Now in this country, we already have ‘London weighting’. It’s accepted that some areas are more expensive to live in. So it’s entirely reasonable that some areas will be regarded as cheaper. And when you think about it, you can save a lot of money if you stop commuting (A friend saved £5,000 a year when they stopped commuting into London and got a job local to where they lived.) Also you’re probably paying a smaller mortgage.

So if this catches on, I wonder whether people will be quite so keen to move into rural areas. In the case of Cumbria, if you live in Ambleside will you expect to be paid more than if you live in Millom? Given the depth of data these online companies have, they might even be able to differentiate between quite small towns.

So whilst we might have people moving into rural areas intending to work at home, they might not be the wealthy incomers a previous generation witnessed.


But actually it’s worth taking this forward a bit. Let us assume you already work for one of these companies. When you decide to move to somewhere unfashionable to be nearer parents, so you’re handy as they grow older and more frail, then obviously your salary may drop. But what if your parents lived somewhere more expensive, how would Facebook react to paying you more because of your house move?

It actually gets even more interesting, what happens when you apply for a job. There you are, being interviewed over zoom, for the position. The interviewing panel might be on two or three different continents. But there again so might the people they’re interviewing.
So you get the job offer. “Yes, we’ll be happy to employ you, but you live in rather an expensive area. For somebody of your grade we are looking at you living in a different priced area. Have you considered New Delhi or Bogota rather than Manchester?

Luckily in agriculture these are not live issues for us. If I phone a contractor to come and do something, I rather expect him to turn up in the yard with his digger. So far we’ve not found a use for somebody who ‘virtually’ mows our grass. I suspect that once more, agriculture is going to be stuck in the past as the future eddies and flows around us. We might social distance but that’s because he’s working from a different tractor cab, not a different continent.


There again, don’t confuse me with somebody who knows what they’re talking about


Rather than his usual collection of anecdotes, this time Tallis presents us with one gripping story. A tale of adventure, duplicity and gentility. Why does an otherwise respectable lady have a pair of sedan chair bearers hidden in her spare bedroom? Why was the middle aged usurer brandishing an axe? Can a gangster’s moll be accepted into polite society? Answer these questions and more as Tallis Steelyard ventures unwillingly into the seedy world of respectable ladies who love of sedan chair racing.


As a reviewer commented, “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.”

How do you slice the chocolate box?


It’s an interesting question, how soon should we open up the countryside and tourist hotspots to visitors. I thought I’d visit Towngill situated in the south of the beautiful Lake District and ask a selection of people.

First I was chatting to George and Mary. They retired more than twenty years ago when George was sixty. He was something in the city, Mary stayed at home and looked after the children. She also did a lot of charity work. They sold a nice house somewhere down south to buy their cottage. They threw themselves into the local community, and even though they’re both in their eighties they were stalwarts of church and village hall. Since the lockdown they’ve been very careful, not leaving their garden. They have had all their food delivered from Booths and when not gardening have been glued to the BBC to keep up with what is happening. Mary is perhaps heavier than she should be, but nobody would be so harsh as to call her obese. George had a bypass some years ago and his diabetes and high blood pressure is under control. Frankly they’re terrified of anybody coming into the village bringing the virus, and want the lockdown to last as long as possible.

Then I dropped round to see Christopher and Jacqueline. They were teachers and cleverly managed their careers so that in their forties they got jobs in Cumbria. They saw the way things were going and when Christopher was offered voluntary redundancy he jumped at it. He then took his pension a year later at 55 and Jacqueline followed suit a year later. They both frankly admit that this year has been amazing. The Easter Weekend was unbelievable, the weather was beautiful, the scenery stunning and they had the fells to themselves with absolutely no visitors. Not only that but they can drive into Kendal to do their shopping in half the time it normally takes and life is just so much more civilised. This, they feel, is what the area should be. It’s the best thing that ever happened to them.

Paul and Louise farm just above the village. Theirs is a small beef and sheep farm. Paul’s been busy with lambing and calving, and Louise normally helps out in the village shop three mornings a week. The shop job came to a dead stop, Louise suspects that with the drop in trade, her job is inevitably going to disappear permanently. Certainly she has been told that there’s no point her going in until the tourists come back. On the other hand that’s been something of a blessing. Once the silage season started down in Furness, Paul has been working with some mates on one of the silage teams. Now Louise looks after the farm. In this she’s helped by their son, Harry, who should be at school but obviously isn’t. He’ll be leaving next year and wants to farm. With the agricultural college closing at Newton Rigg, Louise is a bit uncertain about how they can organise an apprenticeship for him. Their daughter Sarah is also at home. She was working full time for the hotel up the road, it does pony trekking. She still works a couple of hours every morning helping clean out the stables. Apparently the hotel is deathly quiet, just the manager and his wife, the other staff are furloughed or still trapped in Spain.
To be honest Louise and Paul are in two minds about the tourists returning. Paul hopes that if they do come back, it’ll be after he’s got his silage so he’s not fighting his way against the traffic on narrow lanes clogged with traffic. Louise worries about the long term and what will happen to her job and Sarah’s if the tourists don’t return.

Towngill has some holiday cottages. I was asking George and Mary about them. Apparently a couple of cottages are still owned by the children of the last people to live there. The children live and work elsewhere (In one case Manchester, in the other, Sydney.) Two more were, he thinks, bought as an investment opportunity. They’re all managed by a company with an office in Windermere. I thought I’d talk to them and got put through to Terry who lives in Kendal. The company he works for manages sixty or seventy of these cottages. Obviously nothing’s happening and Terry has been furloughed. He does the overall management. His is the number tourists ring at midnight when they’re too drunk to read the instructions to the microwave. He also organises the cleaning. He has a bunch of ladies from Millom. He merely phones them and they turn up, three of them in a battered Ford Kia. The company pays a fixed sum to clean and prepare a house for the next guests and these ladies can do two cottages between children going to school and coming home again. He does worry a bit about them. Two of them at least are the family breadwinners, and of course they weren’t employed, or even had contracts. Millom isn’t a good area to look for new jobs. Obviously if he still has a job after the lockdown is over, he’ll be in touch with them immediately they start taking bookings.

Finally there’s Dez and Tracy. I couldn’t meet them because they weren’t there. They have the second home. They bought it with the money they were left when Tracy’s mother died. Dez was born nearby but left the area thirty years ago to find work. He and Tracy spend their holidays here and hope to retire here. Dez still has family in the area. They’ve had a miserable few weeks. They live in a small flat overlooking a rundown industrial estate. The one bright spot has been the drug dealers haven’t shown their faces down there. Tracy has asthma and hasn’t dared go outside the flat since the end of March.


Now obviously I haven’t actually been to visit all these people. Indeed one thing I do regret is that I hadn’t got a legitimate excuse to go into the Southern Lakes over the Easter Weekend. You’d have thought somebody could have had an emotional of financial crisis and needed help. There again I was still getting over having the virus myself so whilst I was safe to be with, I didn’t really feel like a lot of travelling.


Also you’d struggle to find Towngill on the map. But there is no shortage of small communities like it scattered around the South of Cumbria. Then there are the people. No, they don’t live in the same village, but they all exist. I know them and they all live in the general area. All I’ve done is changed the names.


Then there’s the demography of the village. Well the map above shows the proportion of the population over 65 in various areas.


So when will we open the tourist spots? Will opening them irrevocably split communities? Will tourists find a welcome or hostility from inhabitants who don’t want them?
Remember that Terry and his ladies from Millom won’t even be asked, one way or another.


There again, what do I know? Check with the expert first.


Another collection of anecdotes drawn from a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England. As usual Border Collies, Cattle and Sheep get fair coverage, but it’s mixed with family history and the joys of living along a single track road.

Lockdown and the foodchain


When we start talking about the lockdown and when it should have started, we have a couple of fixed dates.

The first is the 16 March 2020. This is when the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team produced ‘Impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to reduce COVID19 mortality and healthcare demand.’



In the document itself it mentions that the picture they paint is based on experience in Italy. This is because prior to this they’d mainly had Chinese data to work on. So the 16th March makes a nice start date. This is the scientific evidence that we were probably going to need a lockdown.

If you had demanded a lockdown before then you’d just be another nutter shambling along wearing your sandwich boards, muttering about the end of the world being nigh.

If you look back from now and say we should have locked down before that date, you’re just another social media warrior with perfect hindsight.


A harsh lockdown wasn’t on the cards. To quote the Guardian of the 19th March, “Sadiq Khan said no one wanted to order sweeping and unprecedented measures such as closing schools. “But these are extraordinary times. It’s very important we understand the consequence of people’s liberties and human rights not being deprived or curtailed, suspended, is lives being lost.”

Khan, a former human rights lawyer, was critical of what he said was ambiguous information being released by the government, and said bans might be needed to stop people gathering in bars and restaurants. “We are not there yet,” he said. “The advice from the government is just advice. I think that provides a mixed message. It’s clearly not been clear enough. We may move to a situation where we move from advice to bans.”




Then we come to our next date. On 20 March, the four governments (England, Scotland, Northern Island and Wales,) shut all schools, restaurants, pubs, indoor entertainment venues and leisure centres, with some minor exceptions.

Then there is our final date, to quote the wiki, “On 23 March, the UK government imposed a lockdown on the whole population, banning all “non-essential” travel and contact with people outside one’s home (including family and partners), and shutting almost all businesses, venues, facilities, amenities and places of worship. People were told to keep apart in public. Police were empowered to enforce the lockdown, and the Coronavirus Act 2020 gave the government emergency powers not used since the Second World War.”


So let’s look at the foodchain.
In the UK, depending on how you measure it, but about 30% of food eaten is sold to us in a finished form from catering outlets. So this is the pizza delivered to your home, or the sandwich and coffee you nip out of work to buy for your dinner, the nice restaurant meal you enjoy that evening.

So on the 16th March the food chain should have been ticking along nicely because nothing had changed. Except that it wasn’t ticking along nicely, for no entirely logical reason, we had a wave of panic buying. It was on the 20th March that Dawn Bilbrough filmed herself crying after finding supermarket shelves empty after spending two days working at an intensive care ward. Supermarkets started rationing people to no more than three or four of the same item.

Now into this situation government are forced to introduce the lock down on catering outlets. Suddenly people have to buy all their own food from retailers rather than caterers. Technically the food is there. The problem is that it isn’t in the place where it needs to be. The food was sitting in Pret warehouses, or in a partially prepared state in the Greggs supply chain. It wasn’t in supermarkets, and even if it had been, it wouldn’t have been saleable or useably by the ordinary consumer. Suddenly supermarkets had to frantically find that lost thirty percent. To make it worse, the form it was currently produced in might not have been suitable for the retail trade. It is fine for a factory to send out cartoons of fifty identical pizzas in a large plastic pack with a packing slip glued to it saying what they are. Your caterer can cope with that. But to be sold direct to the customer, they’ve got to be entirely repackaged. If only for public health reasons. Do you want somebody ahead of you in the queue rummaging through a pile of unpackaged pizzas to find the one she likes best?
On top of this, wild stockpiling by bizarrely panicking shoppers had left supermarket stocks run down. Obviously some of that food would come out of domestic stockpiles, as people ate their way through their own personal pasta mountain. But there were newspaper reports of a lot being thrown away because people had stockpiled fresh fruit and loaves of bread!

So the foodchain had a problem. It had to source thirty percent more, almost literally overnight, with damn all warning and preparation time. Amazingly there wasn’t chaos. In the milk industry a couple of dairies who had focussed on the catering market came unstuck and their farmer suppliers were forced to pour milk down the drain. But a lot of sharp people got to work and at one point a UK based dairy was exporting concentrated milk (This is ordinary milk with some of the water taken out to save space on transport. The milk is used for manufacturing at the other end.).

It’s the same with the rest of the foodchain. Buyers were scouring the world for stuff that they could ship. But at the same time there’s no point in, for example, Tesco, sourcing a lot of cheese or fruit in Spain if they cannot bring it into the country. An awful lot of stuff comes into the country in wagons, and even under the current quarantine arrangements, these drivers are still coming in. You either have them or we bring in food rationing.

There were obviously problems, beef and lamb prices have been hit. But the show has somehow stayed on the road.

That short gap between when the 20th when government shut the catering trade, and the 23rd when they just shut a lot more, was very useful. It gave the retail trade a chance to re-jig things. It gave manufacturers time to get packing materials suitable for the new outlet. It gave people a chance to take on extra employers. Because the lockdown had been flagged it gave these companies (along with many others) a chance to work out who could work from home, and who had to come in. In our case it meant that my lady wife could nip out and pick up a handful of things which meant that three days later, when we got coronavirus and had to self-isolate anyway for a fortnight, the only thing we ran out of was clementines.

A fortnight later I went out to do our first shopping and noticed immediately that our local Tesco had gaps. To be honest I rather expected them. The next time I went a week later the gaps were still there but different products were missing. I was chatting to a mate of mine who works there. I asked him what it was like from his side of the counter. The answer was interesting.

“It’s madness. They’re just sending us stuff, and we cannot sell it.”
“So what would you want me to buy today?”
“Could you just take a whole shelf of yoghurt, Jim? I could replace it twice with stuff in the back.”

Given the intricacy of the supermarket’s ‘just in time’ ordering system, I don’t think there is any reason for surprise that it wasn’t working too well. Instead of the depot sending the manager what he asked for, they were just sending him what they’d got.

But to be honest, what strikes me is that the really amazing thing is that our foodchain might have flexed a bit, there might have been screams when some bits were put under a lot of pressure, but it didn’t break.

That to me is the real miracle. To be honest I’ve no patience for the arguments that ‘It could have been done better.’ Could we have saved ten or twenty thousand deaths? Or if we’d locked down so fast the food chain broke, could we have lost an extra twenty thousand because desperate people took panic buying to another level and swamped retailers, ignoring totally social distancing and hand washing?


There again, what to I know?
Ask the expert


A collection of anecdotes, it’s the distillation of a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England. I’d like to say ‘All human life is here,’ but frankly there’s more about Border Collies, Cattle and Sheep.

Round here we use telegraph poles as draining rods


It has to be said that if I ran a scrupulously tidy place this could never happened. It’s just that some years ago, the utility company was replacing the poles carrying the electric wires. Initially the three phase was carried across two fields by three poles, one in the hedge and two more, one in the middle of each field. To be honest it was a bit of a pain but you live with it because at least that way we get electricity.

Anyway the cunning plan, to bring things up to the new specifications, was to replace all three by a taller and heavier post in the central hedge. That was fine. Obviously to do it they’d have to cut the power. So all this was booked and we were told a few weeks ahead, on this day the electric will go off at 9am and come back on at 4pm. Admittedly it’s January, but you can work round things.

On the great day a gang arrived and started work, they were almost all Portuguese, who obviously didn’t mind working on diggers and suchlike in the pouring rain. I was talking to one and he commented he’d just spoken to his mother back in Portugal. She was stuck in their village because of the snow.

They did what preparation they could and took out the fuses. Then because they were sensible people, they checked the wire and discovered it was still live. So they went to the farm at the other end of the wire and asked, “Are you perchance generating electricity.”

Even as they said it, everybody’s eyes turned to the wind turbine on the hill next to them. Whilst they knew it was there (they could see it) because it wasn’t marked on their map, they assumed it wasn’t going to have an impact on the job. After all the electricity it generated didn’t have to join the grid at this farm. It struck me at the time that most precautions we have to take at work are to protect us from the consequences of bureaucrats not getting the paperwork right, sending people out with obsolete maps, forgetting to mention things etc.

So there was a hasty conference into which I and the other farmer were invited. The engineer running the show and his lads decided that they’d switch the electricity back on. If they pressed on, cutting power from the other end as well, it could take an extra three or four hours and the feeling was that was too long to leave people without electricity in January. So they just did everything they could without touching the wire.

Then they left. We then got a letter saying that they’d been back on a new date to do the job. When they arrived the engineer said they weren’t switching the electric off unless it was urgent. He now had in his team people qualified to handle live cables and they would do the cable work with the electricity still running. (I think he called it hot wiring or live wiring) This they did, briskly and efficiently.

And of course it meant that whilst they put one pole in, they took some out and one of them the left lying tidily against a fence that kept livestock out of a gutter.


Now back in the 1980s I’d decided that I had to do something with ‘that gutter.’ So with a ‘back actor’ on the tractor, I took the useable bits of several days (the time when I wasn’t milking, feeding round or whatever) and dug the gutter out. It was quite a serious piece of work. And in the gate way, I’d acquired a length of second hand rubber/plastic pipe that had an internal diameter of a couple of feet. So I dug the gutter across the gateway and then put in the length of pipe and covered it up again. To be fair, this worked really well for thirty years but the last two wet winters etc meant that the damned thing needed digging out again.

The tractor was broken for spares perhaps ten years ago and the back actor went scrap the last time we had a clean out.
But anyway I got hold of a young chap who has a handy tracked digger and his quote for digging it all out was reasonable. So he set to work. He did the length up to the gateway with the water following him and showing him his level. Then he did a length on the other side of the gateway. His idea was that this way he’d find the pipe. He wasn’t sure what we’d have to do with it. We suspected we’d have the hassle of digging it out, and the suggestion was that perhaps we could then hold it up by one end and bang it up and down a time or two so the stuff blocking it dropped out.
But after cleaning out both ends of the pipe, water started trickling through. Not with any great enthusiasm but it was obvious the pipe wasn’t irredeemably blocked. At that point he noticed the pole lying there. So that was dropped into the gutter and with the digger bucket behind it, it was pushed through the pipe. If the pole had been a foot shorter we’d have had to improvise further, but as it was, it worked perfectly.

Mind you it does leave me with a bit of a quandary. I’m left with a somewhat grubby telegraph pole. Now admittedly if I leave it there it’ll soon wash clean in the rain. But the underlying issue is, ‘Do I put it away.’ Here it has to be admitted that storing telegraph poles does take a fair bit of room. Or, ‘do I leave it here, handy for next time?’


Whilst you’re waiting for me to make my mind up, you might fancy a good book to read?

The fourth of these collections of anecdotes, rants, pious maunderings and general observations on life. Yes we have dogs, quads, sheep and cattle, but in this one we follow the ‘lambing year.’ It starts with ewes being put to the tup in late autumn and finishes in summer with the last of the laggards lambing.
But as well as this we have endless rain, as well as sleeping in a manger. Be brave and you’ll meet young ladies in high heeled cowboy boots, Sir John Moore of Corunna, brassieres for cows, and, incidentally, David Essex.