Shaking hands with a traffic warden

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The day you get need not necessarily be the day that you expected when you woke up. Certainly Sal had an interesting morning. I was feeding sheep and a lamb attacked her. In this case the ‘lamb’ weighed forty kilos and is nearly a year old. It was standing a couple of yards away from her and suddenly put its head down and charged her.

Of course she wasn’t there when the lamb arrived, just body swerving to allow it to go past. So for the next ten minutes they played together, the lamb prancing and charging it, and Sal quietly avoiding it and then loitering so that the lamb was tempted to have another go. This game amused them both until I fired up the quad ready to go to feed the next bunch and Sal abandoned her playmate to come with me.

And then we had one old ewe who had a somewhat rude awaking. The next bunch we had to feed consisted of fifteen ewes and their new-born lambs. Fourteen ewes saw me (and Sal) and thundered downhill to be the first to get to the feed. The problem is there was no sign of the fifteenth. So Sal and I wandered over the crest of the hill and there was our errant ewe, fast asleep in the sun, topping up her tan. Sal wandered across, the ewe’s two lambs scurried off to one side, then stopped to watch with interest what happened next. The ewe was awakened by a Border Collie bitch sniffing her nose. She leapt to her feet and ran to join the others.

‘A good job done’, I thought to myself. She’s bound to join the others and get her share of the feed.

By the time Sal and I crossed the crest again, the bluidy auld witch had gone and panicked the others and they’d all abandoned the feed and were forming a vaguely defensive clump fifty yards from it. Fortunately when they saw Sal the clump shuffled, in a somewhat embarrassed fashion, away from her and incidentally back to the feed.

And then that done I had to nip some meat in to the local homeless centre. Basically, having seen the meat our local homeless centre could afford (It’s a charity supported by donations) I was left feeling it must be bad enough being homeless without having to eat that stuff. So to cut a long story short I had a word with a butcher I knew and just bought a full forequarter from him. (Buy a full forequarter and it’s surprising how good a deal you’ll get.) Mainly it’s mince and stewing steak, there aren’t many joints at the front end. Then I phoned and emailed friends in various churches and elsewhere and told them what I’d done and would they like to chip in. Since then we’ve been on a roll and have kept them in beef. Ironically when the horsemeat scandal broke it struck me that in this town, the Homeless were eating better meat that a lot of people who were considerably wealthy.

But anyway I tend to store the beef in a freezer here and just drop a month’s supply off at a time (it means they have freezer space ready for your donation.)

So I drove into town with the beef. As I made my way down the street to them there was a traffic warden looking with disfavour at a builder’s van parked illegally outside the centre. The manager was there and discussions were underway. I parked down the back street and carried my two bags of meat into the centre. As I passed the traffic warden I gestured back to my car and said ‘I’m just dropping off, I’ll be gone soon.’

The warden just grinned and said, “Worrying about people carrying bits of cut up dead bodies in and out of homeless centres isn’t part of my job.”

Humour from a traffic warden? I took the meat in, handed it over to the kitchen staff and made my way out. The builder was now present and manager, builder and traffic warden were in deep conversation.

The traffic warden said, “Why don’t you just stick your van down the side street where he’s parked.” With this he pointed at me. “He’s just leaving.”
Keen to seem helpful I said, “Yes, I’m just leaving.”

“Can I?” Asked the builder.

“No problem.” And with this the traffic warden started to cancel the ticket. Then conversationally the traffic warden commented, “I had my formal appraisal yesterday. I was torn off a strip for two things. Firstly I’m too lenient.” Here he paused and looked at the ticket he’d just cancelled. “And then they tore a strip off me because I’m too strict.”

The manager asked, “Would you like a cup of tea or coffee?” There was a general feeling that he probably needed one.

“I’m sorry I cannot have one whilst I’m on duty. I’m not allowed to cross the threshold.”

Without thinking I said, “But even vampires can cross the threshold if they’re invited.”

I then contemplated what I’d just said.

And the traffic warden burst out laughing, shook my hand and said he’d have to remember that one.

 

Retreating back into the shed

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I often wondered about the that generation. They’d been through a lot; they’d lived through the war even if being in a reserved occupation meant they never got called up. By and large the ones I met were decent working men.

What struck me, looking back, is the way they lived their lives. Quietly, without a lot of fuss, and they often seemed to spend a lot of time in the shed or on the allotment.

Yes, they did stuff with family at times but they weren’t what you might call outspoken. You might occasionally get tales of the past out of them, you might occasionally get a curt comment on the current generation of politicians, but they were wise enough to leave it at that.

I suppose they realised early on what it’s taken those of us born later a lot longer to learn, nobody is at all interested in your opinion. Indeed the fact you might harbour such things is an embarrassment. So when somebody posts what might be described as a political statement on facebook or some other social media platform, you have to remember it’s not an invitation to debate.

Your expected contribution is merely to make some ‘right-on’ supportive comment.

When people are grandstanding or virtue signalling, from the left or from the right, it’s a largely solitary activity on their part and your role is limited to polite applause.

Once you finally understand this then this whole social media thing starts becoming more ‘do-able’, just quietly ignore the social activist/political crap, and whatever you do don’t ‘like’ it because otherwise the algorithms will merely ensure you’re drowned in the stuff.

But at least nowadays when you do retreat to the shed there should at least be good enough wifi to ensure you can still see the cute cat pictures.

 

Facing the wrong way

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It’s been a day of small surprises so far. I was on the quad taking feed to sheep. Because sheep will follow the quad and trailer, I led them over the hill into part of the field out of sight of sheep in other fields. This is because sheep in one field will occasionally crash through the hedge to get to the food that you are giving to another lot. Hence there is an art to working out just which group to feed first and where.

Anyway on the way back to the road, with an empty trailer I just opened the quad up a bit and discovered that Sal can run at 28mph for a couple of hundred yards and keep up with the quad. It’s a better turn of speed than I could manage.

Anyway the last bunch of sheep I had to feed this morning was the ewes who’ve been turned out with their lambs. I tend not to take Sal with me when I do these. When the lambs are very young, the ewes can be very protective and spend time glaring at the dog and stamping a front foot aggressively at her rather than coming to get the feed.

So with just me and two buckets of feed I went into the field. Immediately those ewes who saw me headed in my direction. I put the feed down in small heaps along the hedge line as I walked and the ewes dived in and started eating.

Now there is a minor problem here. Because there was no dog and hence no threat, the ladies weren’t too worried for their lambs. They just abandoned them and ran for the feed, on the grounds that the first there is best fed. The lambs, who haven’t been outside very long, stood aghast as mum disappeared. Then they pulled themselves together and ran after her, bleating.

I made it to the gate and there met a chap who was walking his dog. He asked why there was so much noise coming from the field. I explained that the lambs recognise their mother by her face and voice as well as by her scent. So when faced by a row of backsides they were a bit lost and wasn’t sure which one was theirs.

He thought briefly and commented, “I doubt I could recognise my wife’s in a line up either.”

The problem of the badly herded taxi.

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I’m not somebody with a down on taxi drivers. Frankly given the standard of driving you see on the roads, I’m just surprised that professional drivers who spend a lot of time coping with the rest of us haven’t resorted to drive-by shootings to cull the worst offenders.

But anyway, there was this taxi. I was going downhill on the quad, towing a trailer. The driver was coming uphill towards me. Now the lane is narrow, there is nowhere on that lane where I could squeeze past a car.

So the taxi keeps coming at me. I stopped. The taxi driver shrugged. I jerked a thumb over my shoulder in the relatively universal gesture which means, “Do you really expect me to back a trailer uphill when you’ve just got a car to back?” To put it in perspective, we’re talking about backing forty yards down a gentle slope, with a slight bend. It’s probably an easier task than the reverse they make you do when you take your driving test. Certainly we’re not talking about anything as tight as is shown in the photograph.

To be honest I’d have been faster backing the trailer. I mean I’ve seen ‘interesting’ driving in these lanes in my time.

For example there was the person in the little Fiat 126 who backed back for us and somehow ‘bottomed out’ and sat there with their wheels spinning uselessly. We got past them and then gave them a push until they’d got traction and were on their way again.

Or there was the lady in a large white delivery van. In her case I could see her point, you might be able to back the vehicle, but if you’re just using your mirrors, then you cannot see what is on the road behind you. So I acted as her banksman, we got her back ten feet and then stopped her. I opened a field gate and took quad and trailer into the field to let her past. So we’re willing to work with what we’ve got.

But now I’ve got this taxi driver. At first I thought they were trying to back close to the hedge so that I could squeeze past. Admittedly it wouldn’t have worked but still, it was a gallant effort. I stopped thinking this when they backed so far up the dike cop that they were in danger of rolling their car.
At this point they pulled forward and had another go and did the same on the other side. So they pulled forward again.

Sal our dog looked at me and I’d swear she had a worried expression. It was the look of a dog who feels that somehow she ought to be sorting this out and wasn’t entirely sure how to start. Guilt was written all over her face.

I tried to smile in a reassuring manner and she turned her attention back to the taxi. This had now slewed across the lane and for one moment I wondered it they were trying to turn round. Well that was another gallant plan that wasn’t going to work. Sal sank down closer to the road. Whether this was because she was coiling up ready to spring into action and sort things out, or whether she just hoped if she clung close enough to the ground nobody could see her and it wouldn’t be her fault.

Eventually, after almost rolling the taxi twice, our intrepid driver made it back into the wide level bit. We went past them and Sal watched with evident relief as the taxi disappeared up hill and out of our lives.

*****

Oh, and for the truly discerning ‘Sometimes I sits and thinks.’

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.

 

If you haven’t got a kindle, don’t worry, download the free kindle app from Amazon and you can read it on your phone or any computer.

Cultural Dissonance

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What’s the similarity between electric guitars and bank managers?

An interesting question and one which I discovered doesn’t necessarily have the same answer to a younger generation.

Indeed somebody once accused me of not being au fait with our modern culture. Not merely did I admit that they were right, I clasped their comment to me and wear it now as a badge of pride.

After all, as I said to myself hopefully, if I’m not part of this culture, suddenly I become a member of a minority culture and people will have to stop expecting me to apologise for things that happened long before I was born.

And when hell freezes over we can get there faster by travelling over the ice.

What sparked all this off was that somebody took a photo of me. I suspect that this is a common enough experience for most people; this person pulled out a phone and took a picture of me feeding sheep. Bar for the quad bike it’s a picture that hasn’t changed much in my lifetime. Anyway I thought nothing about it until a couple of days later when I discovered I needed a photo of me.

Now because we’ve no mobile signal down here, my mobile is an elderly nokia with no camera or whatever, and it lives switched off in a drawer until I travel to an area with signal. At which point it lives switched off in a pocket.

So in all candour pictures of me aren’t common, a selfie would involve me sitting in front of a mirror with oil paint and canvas.

So I bethought myself of this photo of me feeding sheep and phoned the individual in question and asked him to email me the picture.

“I can’t, I put it straight on snap chat.”

“And?”

“Well it disappeared after twenty-four hours?”

“So what’s the point of putting a picture on it?”

“It’s so that people who follow you can see what you’re doing during the day?”

Tact stopped me asking, “But who cares?”

But honestly who cares? Who has so little to do that they have to follow somebody else on an hourly basis to see what they’re doing?

I was about to say that anybody who has so little to do at work that they spend their time following others needs a real job. (I suppose it’s OK if you’re in the security services.)
Then I realised that anybody whose life offers them so little that they end up living vicariously through the pictures of others needs a real life of their own.

There again, it’s not my culture is it?
It’s like last night I landed home about 10:30pm and checked the lambing sheep. One had a lamb born dead so I nipped into the house, got changed, came back out and moved her and her dead lamb into a separate pen. Then I checked inside her and there was another lamb who hadn’t been born yet. I gently pulled it out, rubbed it a bit and put it in front of her for her to sniff. Immediately she started licking it down and five minutes later it was obvious to both mum and I that her lamb was going to make a go of it. Whether it’d have been alive if we’d waited much longer nobody knows.

And between us we managed it without photographing anything or anybody.

Still, as I said, what’s the similarity between electric guitars and bank managers?

Unless they’re screaming, you’re not playing them properly.

 

But the kids of today, you tell them that and some at least don’t believe you. Apparently guitars don’t scream like they used to.

Home comforts

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After a while what was once a vague suspicion becomes an outright certainty. Our lambing ewes are far too comfortable. So comfortable that they have no intention of doing anything so socially disadvantageous as giving birth!

At the moment those ewes furthest from lambing are still outside. Yes their diet is supplemented with some concentrate and hay, but basically they’re out there doing what umpteen generations of vaguely selective breeding has designed them to do. They’re eating wet grass in the rain.

As they get nearer the happy event they’re whisked inside and sleep on deep straw under a roof. In an environment where it’s warm, snug and out of the wind. Once they’ve lambed they’ll get a couple of days with the lambs in a small pen so everybody gets to know each other and then, first fine day they’re back out to grass again wondering just where they went wrong.

And so they sit with their legs crossed, putting off the awful moment when parturition means they move out of the relative luxury. We don’t have as many lambing this year but they seem determined to make the whole thing drag out as long as possible.

Given the weather we’ve had so far I confess to feeling the occasional twinge of sympathy.

Other than sheep, what else has been going on? Well thanks to the various gales etc we’ve had some trees which haven’t so much fallen as leaned gratefully on the shoulders of a tree downwind.

Over the years you’ll see some of them adapt to their new inclination, whilst others just die. And I’ve been out with the chainsaw chopping up dead trees and stacking the wood away for next winter. You realise you’ve reached the age of discretion when you’re logging trees that you planted somewhat earlier in life. People forget that trees are just a crop. You plant them, they grow, age, and if you don’t fell them, they fall down anyway. At which point you just plant more.

Another source of wood this winter has been a hedge I had intended to lay. Except that when I examined it more closely I realised that a lot of the timber in it was far too mature. In reality I’ve been ‘quarrying’ it for fire wood. Then when the younger stuff spreads to fill the gaps and new stuff comes up, I can lay it.
But unfortunately, and here we’re back where we began, the ground around the hedge I’m trying to quarry is so wet, I cannot haul away the wood I’ve chopped out. So that’s on hold until things get drier. And of course, at that point the rest of the ewes will start lambing because outside starts looking a better bet than inside again.

 

Oh, and for the truly discerning ‘Sometimes I sits and thinks.’

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.

 

If you haven’t got a kindle, don’t worry, download the free kindle app from Amazon and you can read it on your phone or any computer.

 

The milk of human kindness

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With cattle, especially dairy cows, you tend to deal with them as individuals quite a lot of the time. As you get to know them, you learn their little idiosyncrasies. Some are brighter than others, some curious, some laid back and placid. With sheep for the vast majority of the time they manage to blend into the flock and you tend to deal with an ‘average’ intellect. Admittedly it’s not a very high average, but at least sheep can console themselves that, by and large, they’re smarter than horses.

But at lambing you start dealing with individual sheep, and at this point you realise that the average rather flatters a lot of them.

This afternoon I noticed a ewe had lambed. I could see the two lambs snuggled up under the hedge. So I got the quad and trailer out and went to collect them. They were in a different field to the rest of the flock so I shut the gate behind me to ensure that they didn’t come streaming in behind me looking for food and getting in the way.

I then parked the trailer handy for the lambs, picked up the lambs, and walking backwards so mum could see them at all times, carried them to the trailer. Mum followed briefly before setting off at speed to look for them somewhere else entirely. Indeed she had obviously decided they’d rejoined the flock because when she found the gate was shut she crashed through the fence instead.

So now I had to get all of them into the yard to sort out our doting mother. And as they entered the yard she knocked down a hurdle and led them onto the lane instead. Some of them followed a bucket back but the others had to be brought back by the simple expedient of overtaking them on the quad and driving them back.

All this has to be done tactfully because in spite of the fact they seem to have forgotten this small technical detail; they’re all heavily in lamb and ought to behave sensibly. As I overtook one of them, I was close enough to notice that her eye looked a bit milky. When they’re in the field sheep aren’t keen on you getting too close, and this was something you could only see when you were a couple of yards away at most. It struck me she might be having problems with that eye and I’d better treat her.

When they were running back I watched out for the one with eye problems. As it ran into the yard it careered full tilt into a gate stoop that it had obviously not seen. By the look of it, we definitely had a sheep with eye problems (and probable concussion.)

So I sorted mum out into a pen and put the others back into the field. By this time the rain had started. I then backed the trailer to the pen gate and got mum into it with the two lambs. She appeared vaguely pleased to see them. I drove the trailer round to the other pens where she’ll stay until we’re convinced she’s looking after them properly and there was this bumping sound from the trailer. Oh joy, a flat tyre.

I backed the trailer up to the other pens, got her into one, got her two lambs in with her and shut the gate before she thought of anything else stupid to do.

Then it was a case of putting the trailer handy for taking the wheel off tomorrow morning, put the quad away and then go and get some colostrum into our two newcomers.
Now they’re fed, snug and happy, mum is beaming at them, and I’m wet, cold and hungry. At times like this you have to ask yourself which is the intelligent species.

 

Oh and if you are feeling particularly intelligent you might or might not have noticed that I produced a slim volume of these blog posts, nicely tidied up and with grammar, punctuation and everything.

 

If you’ve got 99p to splurge, then just go to

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sometimes-sits-thinks-Jim-Webster-ebook/dp/B06X6M3SYL

where you will find, ‘Sometimes I sits and thinks.’

If you haven’t got a kindle, don’t worry, download the free kindle app from Amazon and you can read it on your phone or any computer.