Monthly Archives: March 2013

Easter People?

Someone once told me if I had something to say, Blog it. I suppose it’s more pithy than telling me to drop it down into an abyss of forgotten electrons where it’ll sink without trace until it comes to rest far from sight or memory.
But you know this winter we’ve been having? I mean the one we’re having now, not the one we had last month. Well just north of us there are people in deep trouble, or rather deep snow.
The gales meant it drifted and sheep, huddled behind hedges for shelter, were buried. Whilst it’s happening there isn’t much you can do, go out into the blizzard to try and help and you’ll probably die as well.
So as soon as the wind drops, you go out to try and rescue them. But of course the ground is covered in snow, it’s colder than charity and you don’t actually know where they are (because they’re buried), you just know from past experience (your own or handed down) where they might be.
There’s only so long they can survive. Not only that but last summer was rubbish, and so was the fodder a lot of people were able to make. And because it was wet shepherds and their sheep have been fighting a fierce battle against liver-fluke. So this ‘spring’ sheep are not is as good a condition as you’d hope
So by now, those sheep that were trapped are dead. But that isn’t the end of it. Firstly they’ll be finding dead sheep through to June as the snow melts. (Big drifts take a lot of shifting up on the fell.) Then there’s the financial implications, no sheep, no income. To replace the sheep costs money, loose a hundred sheep; it will cost you over £10,000 to replace them. Not only that but thanks to EU regulation, you cannot just bury them when you find them, you’ve got to pay a knacker £50 to take each one away.
Given that Oxfam in a survey last year found that a lot of hill farmers are living below the poverty line on less than £8,000 a year, that money will take a lot of finding.
But I went for a walk today, looking for grass, because whilst we haven’t got snow, we’ve got ewes with lambs who need feeding. Because it’s Good Friday and one local church has got a series of displays telling the Easter Story, I dropped in. What really struck me was a painting, done yesterday, by a lady who had been showing a school class round and when they left, she felt she had to do something, and for her, this meant paint.
So there is this new painting, of a piece of rough hill country. To someone round here, it’s obviously fell country she’s drawn, the sort of land you get up on Corney and across to Birker. And on this fell are three stark crosses. And the sky behind the crosses is stormy, but the lower sky is white as if there’s a great tranche of snow about to burst forward over you as you look at the picture.
And to me that picture sums up the sort of pain, stress, and suffering that the people up the coast from us are suffering.
But it’s Easter, and I suppose the other thing is that there’s also one who said ‘I am the Good Shepherd’ and I think he’ll understand what these folk are going through at the moment.

from http://www.facebook.com/farmingdelivers

digging out sheep

And you try and tell the young people of today that ….. they won’t believe you.

I remember my Grandfather telling about how he and his brother went to a dance up in Broughton in Furness. This was a bike ride of seventeen miles there and seventeen miles back.
(I’ve done it myself, but didn’t dance when I got there!)
Anyway they were almost home and it was late (or early depending on how you look at these things.) My Grandfather commented to his brother that it was 4am, so they might get an hour in bed before their father woke them up to start milking.
They got home and found father sitting in the kitchen putting his boots on. His only comment was ‘well you’ll be no good for anything today so we’d better get a good start.’ So they didn’t actually get to bed that night.

Now I’ve no tales like that to recount, I was far too sensible, and soon discovered that ‘I’ve got to milk tomorrow morning’ was a perfectly acceptable excuse to leave early.
In fact, milking got me out of at least one school detention. The teacher who taught us French was keeping us in for an extra hour after the 3:45pm finish because some of the class had been messing about. Anyway I didn’t say anything, just packed my bag and quietly walked out. He stopped me at the door and asked where I was going. I replied “I’m going home to milk. My Dad has gone to a farm sale and I promised I’d get home in good time to make a start. So be so good as to take this up with him.” He stood opened mouthed as I bade him a courteous good day and left. I suppose it isn’t an excuse you get from many fourteen/fifteen year olds

Another time, way back when I was about eight, I remember my Dad collecting me from school. Now this just didn’t happen, and what’s more he turned with a tractor and trailer. ‘How cool is that!’ I mean anyone can travel by car.
It turns out that they were baling. The knotters on the baler were slightly out of alignment. The first bale was tied perfectly, the second well enough, but the third bale wasn’t tied at all. But if you hit the knotter ‘just there’ with a hammer, just after it had tied the second bale, then it tied the next bale perfectly.
Now Alan Armer would have had a mechanic out to fix it within minutes, but fixing them would have taken an hour and rain was promised. So the field was baled by having me sit on the back of the baler with a hammer. First bale tied perfectly, second bale tied well enough, clunk with the hammer, First bale tied perfectly, next bale tied well enough, clunk.

But thinking back this wasn’t my only contribution. In the same year, still aged about eight, I was sat on the seat of the MF135 when we were carting straw. Grandfather put the tractor in low gear, I was there to steer and men would throw bales up to my grandfather on top of the trailer. If he wanted the tractor to stop he’d show ‘Whoa’. I’d get off the seat and stand on the clutch (At the age of eight I couldn’t reach the clutch peddle from the seat.) When he wanted the tractor to move off again he’d shout ‘Hod’ and I’d get off the clutch, go back to the seat and concentrate on the technical details of steering.

Funnily enough when I tell some of these stories people look horrified. But think about it. How many eight year olds feel valued and part of the team? Feel they’re making a genuine contribution to the family business?
Anyway it was all worth it just for the expression on the face of the French master.

Give folk what they want

Not a long blog, just a comment really. Everyone told me that ‘you’re a writer; you’ve got to have a blog’.
The idea being that you mention your books in a blog and people are so overwhelmed with the deathless quality of your prose they dash off to buy the books.
So I’ve been doing this for five months; my thoughts so far?
It has been my experience that the less I mention writing, or my books, or anything like that, the more popular the blog post is. The two most popular are when I ranted about horsemeat in burgers.
The third most popular article sums up the whole shebang for me to be honest. The one that crops up in the search engines, the one that everyone wants to read, is ‘Marks and Spencer knicker adverts’.
It probably tells you everything you need to know about culture and the internet doesn’t it?

Beach cobbles and courtesy

It’s a lot of years ago now when I come to think of it. But on one side of our meadow gate, leading into the yard, there was a low wall. It was made of beach cobbles, (think rustic rubble,) and cement. The only thing of real interest was that one of the stones was a reasonably substantial piece of sandstone; substantial enough that the Ordinance Survey had cut one of their benchmarks into it.
Anyway it was just one of those things that you have lying about. We didn’t think a lot about it. Life went on. Anyway at a farm sale we’d picked up a three ton trailer for about a fiver. It wasn’t in particularly good condition but really we got it for one specific job, it did the job and was then parked in the meadow out of the way.
Then suddenly we had another job for it. I yoked it onto the tractor and towed it out of the meadow gate. A piece of the trailer floor was sticking out and was going to catch on the wall, but the floor was rotten, and if it broke off, it’d save me having to cut it off, so this wasn’t a problem.
Except when it caught the end of the wall it pulled about five feet of the wall down, the wood remained determinedly unbroken. Of course, in the five feet of wall that had collapsed was the piece of sandstone with the benchmark on it.
Anyway I doubtless muttered something and went and got on with whatever I was doing. Next time it was fine and I had a free couple of hours (which might not necessarily have been the same year) I rebuilt the wall up again. Now I don’t know if you’ve ever had to work with beach cobbles, but it isn’t like building with bricks. They sort of go together but you have to work with them, not against them. As a result of this, when the bench mark went back into the wall, it was probably three feet to the left and four feet higher than it had been when whoever it was had cut it.
This wasn’t, in our eyes at least, a problem. Indeed we thought no more about it. The wall had come down, the wall had been fixed, end of story. Except that some years later some bloke wanders into the yard with a lot of surveying kit, and proceeds to start doing measurements. These involve him checking the benchmark. Repeatedly.
Now I don’t know about you, but if I go into a place and there’s someone there, I say ‘hello’. I may have a right to be there, I may have a duty to be there, but common courtesy dictates that if you traipse across someone’s yard and garden, you do at least say ‘hello’ and perhaps even explain what you’re doing.
Well I worked out that he must be from the Ordinance Survey or some vaguely affiliated body from stuff he had in his car. But he ignored both my Dad and myself, and just walked up and down our yard doing repeated measurements and repeated calculations. At regular intervals he came back to the benchmark and recalculated all over again.
As we had a brew and watched him out of the window, I did ask my Dad if we should bring him up to date with the new situation, but Dad said that if the bloke was too ignorant to say ‘Good Morning’ then he was obviously too ignorant to be worth dealing with. So we didn’t bother.
Anyway after quite some time the bloke drove away and we never saw him again, and no one else said anything about it, so perhaps he fudged the figures. Who knows.
Then again, if they do finally come to check, they’ll have problems, the wall has long gone, there is a building there, and today is the first time in more than ten years I’ve even thought about the incident, and I haven’t a clue where we put that lump of sandstone.

Marks and Spencer knicker adverts

Now I cannot claim to have set out to be a connoisseur of M&S knickers, but a cruel and unkind fate as forced the role upon me. Still there are questions unanswered, for example, surely rosebuds just there cannot be comfortable?
Still I’m getting ahead of myself. Really this piece should be entitled something prosaic like ‘Who needs this technology stuff anyway, part two?’ But frankly I wouldn’t bother to read a piece with a title like that so I don’t see why you should.
Anyway, to finally get to the point, none of it is my fault. I hope that you believe me in this. It all came about because my Lady wife had a birthday. I remembered the birthday, and I bought her some stuff (Not M&S knickers in case you were wondering.) But youngest daughter also was looking for a present for her mum. After discussion, mother and daughter agreed that mum would like a nice pullover. They had a fun afternoon shopping (There is irony in this statement, neither is overly enthused at the idea of trailing round endless shops looking for clothes), but never actually bought a pullover.
Then we got an email from youngest daughter which said something along the lines of, ‘have you tried looking at (insert weblink here.)’ So lady wife clicked on the weblink and browsed the appropriate page. Didn’t see anything suitable, but decided (probably because she’d prized the keyboard away from me) to try M&S whilst she was at it. So she looked at M&S pullovers.
And that, she assures me, was that. She looked at the jumpers, didn’t particularly fancy any of them, switched off the computer and went to do something more interesting. Yet next morning when I started looking at various forums/fora/whatever, all the adverts were for M&S knickers.
Now I’m bad with adverts. I just never notice them. I can subconsciously screen them out. I can read a full newspaper from cover to cover and not be able to tell you anyone who advertised. I’m similarly gifted when it comes to the web. I don’t bother with ad-blocker software because, as it were, I’ve got it fitted personally as part of the default settings.
But endless knicker models parading across your screen is frankly distracting. Also they do raise many interesting questions, such as, it cannot be comfortable to have rosebuds just there?
So it has come as something of a relief that my good lady has been called upon to check up on the antecedents of someone buried in our churchyard. The knicker models have been replaced by adverts for genealogy websites which I can unthinkingly ignore.
It has been pointed out to me that this whole sorry episode does sum up my bad attitude towards advertising. Not only am I a bad person to advertise to, I’m totally pathetic when it comes to doing any advertising. After all I was told I had to create a blog to convince people to read the books I’ve written. No, scrub that, it’s to convince people to buy them. Reading them later would be nice, but it’s the buying that I’m supposed to be majoring on. (Not coming across as a bit mercenary at this point am I?)
At this point I wouldn’t be surprised if you were asking yourself ‘Books, what books?’
See what I mean? I’ve waffled on for over five hundred words and haven’t even mentioned the books. In fact scroll through the various blog posts and you’d probably struggle to find anything about them. As an advertiser I confess I’m in a class of my own.
Still if you are in anyway interested, have nothing better to do with your time you might want to click on the ‘About’ button. Or try https://jandbvwebster.wordpress.com/about/

Oh, and there’s a third book out as well, a nice, stand-alone fantasy adventure, guaranteed no elves, dwarves or suchlike. It’s called ‘The Flames of the City’ and it has got one rather nice review which reads as follows.

This is Jim Webster’s third book and though it doesn’t carry on from the previous two it is set in the same fantasy world. We follow a young man named Freelor as he takes on a job to cover a winter time when he’s unable to get home, where he is due to marry. There are other sub-plots in this story and if you have read his earlier books, you will recognise the name of the city which falls and is destroyed by fire. One of the subplots concerns a shaman’s amulet worn by Freelor, which grows hot in the presence of the evil god Hkada whose followers are able to summon him. There are exciting battles and some serious temple raiding resulting in a possession by the god Hkada.

The story is a quest tale with Freelor leaving his usual haunts to undertake a journey to a temple where his friend, the academic Tolshin, hopes to find information about Hkada. It’s a fantasy classic and I particularly like some of Jim Webster’s phrases, for example, the merchant’s expression, “I keep my grandmother freshly washed and presentable, against the possibility of impulse buyers.” And the exchange between the soldier and his superior, “Just got my boots off for the first time for three days.” “Exotic pleasures of the flesh are reserved for officers. Get your boots fastened and get over here!”

A really good read!

Who needs this technology stuff anyway?

I have a confession to make. I’m not really an ‘early adopter’ when it comes to new technology.

I suppose I object to using something, just because it’s new when the old one still works well enough. Some of it might be the farmer in me. After all, we’re in an industry which has been going strong for five thousand years or more. I suspect that after the first two or three millennia you get a bit jaded when yet another bright young thing comes along with the invention that’s going to turn the world upside down.
In ‘Queen Mary’s House’ in Jedburgh I saw a billhook, found at the battlefield
at Flodden where it had been dropped in 1513. It would take a standard modern handle. The ‘design parameters’ for a billhook were laid down a thousand years ago, and there has been no need to update them. I’ll try and fit a picture in about here so you know what I’m talking about.
BillHook

Then there are sheep shears. If I can cope with the technology there should be a picture of some bronze sheep shears found in Flag Fen, still in their carrying case!

Sheep shears

A mere three thousand years old. Or you could buy some from Amazon
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Silverline-988844-One-Handed-Shears/dp/B003TNNAYI/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1362402067&sr=8-4

Amazon sheepshears

I’m a believer in the fact that appropriate technology doesn’t die. Indeed you know those big black wrapped silage bales? To get the wrap off, in winter I’ve been know to carry a piece of flint in my pocket, because flint cuts that stuff better than steel.

At this point I’d better mention my mobile phone. It’s a nokia, it’ll do texts (but frankly the length of time it takes me to text, it’s faster to visit.) and of course I can talk to people on it. Or I can when it’s switched on, because as we don’t have signal here, it spends most of its life switched off in a drawer. OK it’s an elderly, probably obsolete phone, but it does ‘switched off in a drawer’ every bit as well as something more modern with all sorts of features.
I suppose that at some point I’ll have to buy a newer phone, but I’ve discovered that I can live perfectly happily without internet access on the move, and because my phone is always switched off, people who want me phone the landline and someone will take a message.
Indeed I’d suggest that landline phones are the way forward. You walk out the house and suddenly no one can get hold of you, so you can do whatever you want, get some work done, whatever, without being bothered by someone desperate to tell you ‘they’re on the train’ or ‘what are you doing at the moment’.