Monthly Archives: March 2015

Ode to the auld white faced witch with her head stuck in the dike

There was something I was going to tell you, but blowed if I can remember. But anyway, for those who’re following matters of international importance, one of the six ladies with their legs crossed waiting for spring has finally decided to lamb.

She had two large twin lambs rather than the triplets she was scanned for, but even she couldn’t have coped with three lambs the size of these two.

But anyway we had a real Luke 15:4 moment yesterday. We’d stuck four ewes and their lambs on the lawn. (Yes, our lawn is fenced for sheep.) It’s an intermediate destination for those ewes and their lambs who aren’t quite 100% but really ought to be outside.

Except that one ratching auld witch wiggled her way through the dike and the others followed her. Anyway we found them and fetched them home. All bar for one lamb who seemed to have got lost.

So whilst I put thorns in the gap, people went to look for the lamb but still no sign. Finally I took Sal and walked along the route the ewes had taken. At one point I heard a bleat. By the time I heard the second bleat Sal was hurtling at about mach three in the direction of the bleat. When I arrived on the scene Sal was dancing round the lamb who was looking a little put out by the performance.

So I caught the lamb. In this case I didn’t “lay it on my shoulders, rejoicing” because frankly the poor little mite wasn’t big enough. It tucked nicely under my arm whilst Sal trotted behind with the professionally ‘keen’ expression worn by Border Collies who’ve achieved something.

This morning on the other hand she was less successful. I was feeding hay to one lot of ewes and noticed one was staying by the fence. I drove across on the quad and discovered that, yes; the white faced auld witch had been pushing through and had got her head stuck in the netting. Unfortunately her way of resolving this was to keep pushing forwards. Sal was entirely in agreement with this approach and the two of them seemed to be working on the principle that if the head got through, the body will follow.

I confess at this point I was forced to remonstrate with both of them; indeed I may even have descended to vulgar abuse.

But eventually, after a frank and open exchange of views, I managed to get her head out and she trotted off to join her lambs and then glared at me in a most affronted manner.

And all this totally put out of mind what I was intending to tell you. But at last, I’ve finally remembered

The e-book version of Justice 4.1

is going to be available for free download, from the 31st March to 2nd

As the Bishop said to the Actress…

It’s just that Cumbria has got a new Bishop, ought I to dig out this old blog and send her a link to it?

Oh, before I start, a number of people have asked me about the six ewes scanned in lamb with triplets who have their legs crossed and are hanging on waiting for spring and some nice weather before lambing.

As of twenty minutes ago, they have all still got their legs crossed and are still hanging on.

But anyway now I’ve passed on the important news, is there anything else worth talking about?

Well somebody asked me about a joke about the Bishop and the Actress.

Now I was pondering this. One of the joys of the Church of England with its fine tradition of clerical eccentricity is that there are almost certainly bishops who’ve married actresses, and now after the latest round of reforms, give us a while and we’ll have bishops who were actresses.

Well we’ve had bishops who’d been professional Cricketers, David Sheppard, Bishop of Liverpool was. He’s the one who said something along the lines that, “When Saint Paul went anywhere; they stoned him and drove him out of town. When I visit they give me a nice cup of tea. I wonder if I’m doing it right.”


So perhaps bishops are supposed to stir things up and cause trouble? I looked at the salary scale. Effectively if you’re a bishop you’re on a similar salary to a Civil Service Grade Eight (Senior Executive Officer.) This is about two thirds of a MPs salary, and you don’t get their generous expenses. However you get a tied house to live in, but obviously you’ve still got to buy somewhere so you have somewhere to retire to.

The other advantage Bishops have is their background. If you want to find people who’ve done a variety of jobs in the ‘real’ world, you’re probably better off looking in the House of Bishops than in the Cabinet or Shadow Cabinet. And as all Bishops have been ordinary clergy on less than the national average wage they’re probably more in touch with the economics of the average household.

But is the purpose of a Bishop to say things that ensure people stone them? Perhaps it’s a case that they ought to ask the questions that force other people to ask themselves questions? I’d suggest that if they’re under attack by senior politicians and business leaders they’re doing their job properly. Even if the bishop is wrong, they’ve still forced people to think about the question and produce a coherent justification.

But it also occurs to me that it’s up to all of us to ask questions that make people stop and think. Some of the toughest questions are best made without a lot of fuss.

Some of the toughest are,

“Are the methods you want to use doing more damage than the problem you’re attempting to solve?”

“How immoral are you entitled to be to restore morality?”

“At what point will your defence of freedom destroy the freedom you are trying to defend?”

Look, I’m currently a mixture of maternity nurse and lavatory attendant. Others might call me a farmer. When I turn my back on my proper jobs I write a bit.
A book should have a good story, it should make you want to turn the page, you should really enjoy it.

But when you finally put the book down and walk out to meet the day, I don’t think it’s a bad thing if, at the back of your mind, there’s a small voice asking you a big question.


As a reviewer commented, “50 year old Benor is back in his home city of Toelar, enjoying a quiet life of roof running, paramouring, etc, when one day his routine gets disturbed, making a fast getaway necessary.
However, his escape route is blocked by an Urlan Knight.
Fortunately, the said Knight saves Benor’s life, without even unsheathing his sword, by just being there.
Unfortunately, the said Knight has been looking for Benor and has a little proposition to make.
And so it begins…”

Cross your legs and wait until Spring.  


Now personally I don’t believe in letting sheep have Facebook accounts and a presence on social media, but there are times when you read some posts and you being to suspect that others are not of this opinion and have set up the accounts for their domesticated animals.

But it has to be said that we’ve half a dozen ladies who, at the moment might as well be spending their time on Facebook.

Part way through pregnancy, all the ewes were scanned, and then split up into groups depending on how many lambs they were carrying. Those carrying three need especially pampering and so pampering they got.

When they were eventually brought in to lamb they were put in one shed with plenty of bedding and ‘left to get on with it.’

Most did. So much so that the individual pens in the shed are now used to house other ewes who’ve lambed elsewhere and can take time to properly bond with their lambs and come to their full milk production.

The last six due to give birth to triplets watch this process with benign contempt and slouch about in comfort, looking heavier and heavier.

Now once they lamb, they’ll have a couple of days in an individual pen and then they’ll be out into a field with their lambs to get on with life. After all, outside is their environment and they’re supposed to be happier there.

But what with all this global warming and climate change and whatever, this March has been as miserable as any we’ve had recently. The death of Terry Pratchett merely added to the gloom.  And these six ladies have peered through the bars of the gate, weighed the job in the balance, and have obviously decided that, do you know what? Inside, on straw, with someone bringing a lunch tray round a couple of times a day, and silage there should you fancy a nibble between meals; seems a better option.

So far it’s been well over a week since anybody lambed in that building. In the others, mothers are popping lambs out and leading them out heroically into the bright new world.

But these six, legs firmly crossed, seem to be hanging on for better weather, warm spring breezes and the promise of new grass.

Staring into the gap  

You’ll have heard. Sir Terry Pratchett is dead. He’s the man who said “The ideal death, I think, is what was the ideal Victorian death, you know, with your grandchildren around you, a bit of sobbing. And you say goodbye to your loved ones, making certain that one of them has been left behind to look after the shop.”

What has struck me is the wide variety of people who’ve been hit by his death. People who I had assumed were illiterate (or at least where I assumed the last book they read was composed mainly of pictures of puppies and kittens) have grown tearful on hearing the news.

Looking back at my life since he started writing, I can tell the stressful times because they were when I just sat and re-read his books, one after another.

When things got really, unbelievably bad (like the foot and mouth outbreak) I fell back on reading Asterix, and then progressed onto Pratchett. His was the ladder out, the line of white stones, the long and winding stair.

Everybody has their favourite character, their favourite quote, their favourite book.

For me, I liked his description of a character, “He was the sort of person who stood on mountaintops during thunderstorms in wet copper armour shouting ‘All the Gods are bastards.’”

I’ll miss the excitement of ‘the next Pratchett.’ There’s a gap, something has gone. There are few people who are irreplaceable. If we were to lose three party leaders overnight, in a week their successors would be in post and who knows, the world might even be a better place. But Sir Terry is one of the few who cannot be replaced.

But he can be remembered, and I honour his memory.


We are not the men our Grandfathers were

They say that behind every good software writer there is a man with a mallet to tell him when to stop.

Fixing fences is a bit like that. It’s normally comparatively easy to know where to start, but working out when you’ve got the fence ‘good enough’ as opposed to ‘good’ is a more subjective decision.

The problem is I remember what it was like in my Grandfather’s day. I was only a kid, but I saw, and worked, under the old regime. On a weekend when I wasn’t at school, I’ve thinned turnips by hand and planted potatoes by hand as well. By the time I was a senior school my Grandfather had retired and we’d given up on turnips and potatoes and gone over to livestock.

In the way that these things can happen, for a number of years I farmed exactly the same land as my Grandfather did. He had thirty-two dairy cows, plus ‘followers’. That probably means he had another forty or fifty younger cattle. He also had sixty sheep. Then he’d grow a few acres of barley for feed, a few acres of turnips or kale, and a couple of acres of potatoes.

He worked himself, employed two or three full time men and a ‘lad’. Financially he ‘did alright’, had holidays most years and a prosperous retirement.

On the same land, at one point I had seventy dairy cows plus thirty sucklers and over a hundred young stock. This I farmed with one full time man. We got to the stage that we realised the full time man was the only person getting a living out of the place and we re-jigged the business so I was working on my own rearing up to 240 young stock a year, buying them as calves and selling them at between a year and two years old.

But during this time I also had to work as a freelance journalist/writer to ensure we did have an income every year.

For the next generation, those who’re doing most of the work now, the job is even harder. On the same land there are over 400 ewes and an indeterminate number of cattle (their number depends on price and cash flow.)

But as well as this, you’ve got to work six or seven hours a day somewhere else to make a living.

So there’s me, fixing a fence. It was fine when I started, but eventually it started to drizzle. Not enough to be worth going back home for a coat, so I just kept going.

Now remember my idea of what a hedge and fence should look like was determined when this farm had four adult men and a lad working full time. That’s the sort of workforce that created and maintained the countryside people claim to love.

I finally decided that the fence was ‘good enough’ at about the same time that it stopped being drizzle and became torrential rain with added sleet for seasonal variety.

And what will happen to the countryside? Who knows? Government claims to put money into it with environmental payments. The amounts are derisory. Certainly they’re not enough to employ the three extra men that this farm used to have and it’s the labour of these men that kept everything maintained properly. Last time I checked, even if we could get the environmental payments, we’d get the princely sum of about £3,000 a year. I’d struggle to employ two men and a lad on that.

But money has been bled out of the industry. As a general rule of thumb you can reckon that each generation can live entirely on organic food and only spend the same proportion of their income on food as their parents did, buying conventional food.

So where’s the money gone? Think what you spend money on now that you didn’t spend it on before. I saw one comment that most families in the UK spend more a week on their Sky subscription than they do on meat. Similarly, the money for the mobile phone contract, thirty years ago there wasn’t even the concept of one of them, what has society stopped spending on to pay for that? Or TV boxed sets? Is money being spent on them rather than books, or beer in pubs or on buying decent food or what?

My guess is that we’ll get more and more posturing. People might even vote ‘Green’. But what has gone has gone. The countryside is changing and will continue to change; we’ll lose stuff because people don’t really want it as much as they want the other stuff.

And me, I’ll keep plodding on, remembering how it should be done because I’m old enough to have seen it done properly.

And I’ll do what I can and continue to write to try and ensure we have an income every year.

So buy the book and get all this thrown in free.




Still what do I know?

Available in paperback or as an ebook

As a reviewer commented, “This is the third collection of farmer Jim Webster’s anecdotes about his sheep, cattle and dogs. This one had added information on the Lake District’s World Heritage status. This largely depends upon the work of around 200 small family farms. Small may not always be beautiful but it can be jolly important. If you want to know the different skills needed by a sheep dog and a cow dog, or to hear tales of some of the old time travelling sales persons – read on! This is real life, Jim, but not as I know it.”



Giant Lamb shocks farmer

What is shocking?

For me it was reading reports in the local and national papers about our local hospital. Now then I know the hospital and many of the people who work in it. It’s ‘Our’ hospital. Like other people, when I go there I meet people I know amongst both staff and patients. It’s not some alien place staffed with people I’ve never seen before and will never see again.It’s a good hospital. Like a lot of other people round here, I’ve literally staked my life on that fact.

Yet to quote from the Guardian, “The investigation into deaths at Furness general hospital in Barrow between 2004 and 2013 found maternity services were beset by a culture of denial, collusion and incompetence.


Work inside the unit was found to be “seriously dysfunctional”, with poor levels of clinical competence, extremely poor working relationships and a determination among midwives to pursue normal childbirth “at any cost”.


The midwives at Furness general were so cavalier they became known as “the musketeers”.”


And this is where the problem arises. People start to believe in things. But they don’t believe in big things, they get fixated on details. So rather than midwives being determined to ensure that mother and child both come out of it alive after having the best possible experience, they get hung up on ‘normal childbirth.’

Look, I’m lambing at the moment; I know what ‘normal birth’ is. After over thirty years milking cows I’ve lost count of just how many calves I’ve helped bring into the world. I’m not a romantic.

If a woman wants to have her baby at home, and there are no sensible medical reasons why not, then fair enough. Both my grandmothers had five home births. But there will be cases where women could safely have a baby at home but would prefer not to, and there will be cases where they want to have the baby at home and it might not be wise. Pick your way through that one without offending anybody if you can.

A chap I know who’s in London married a lass who is Hong Kong Chinese. Their first baby was expected and the system sprang into life. First her mother (who is mainland Chinese) came to stay for several months. Next there was the first meeting with midwives and suchlike.

So the mother-to-be went, because she’d been invited. Her husband went because he felt he ought to, and her mother went because she’d done this however many times herself and wanted to know how other people tackled it.

The meeting was not a meeting of minds. Firstly the two ladies were not entirely sold on the idea of a father being present during the birth, in spite of the assumption by the medical staff that this is what would happen.

The other medical bits and pieces didn’t seem to upset either mother or daughter, until the midwife asked, “Would you like the baby to be born at home.”

It was at this point things went downhill. The grandmother-to-be obvious felt her English was failing her at this point. So she asked her daughter what had been said. But obviously she asked in Chinese. Her daughter replied, also in Chinese. From the point of view of the husband the Chinese was faster than he could cope with, but he did sense it was getting more and more vitriolic. At last the grandmother-to-be couldn’t cope any more, lost whatever English she had and a stream of angry Chinese poured out of her. Her daughter managed to retain her mastery of her husband’s language.

“Born at home! Are we peasant women? Do you think we are poor? Do you think we don’t know how to behave in hospital?”

At this point the midwife was obviously contemplating flight.

You see, it’s cultural. To these two ladies the idea of a perfect birth is that you go into hospital where competent people look after you, perhaps even fuss over you a bit and see that everything goes right.

Then after a few days you come home in a taxi. You’re smart, radiant even, with your hair done, wearing nice clothes, with a beautiful baby perfectly displayed in a robe handed down for the purpose.

As far as they were concerned, this is the first time your husband sees you or the baby.

But people get caught up with the cultural trimmings, stuff that doesn’t really matter. Just tiptoe tactfully through the cultural jungle, find out what those involved want, and see how far you can go in making sure they get it.

Making exciting mistakes and unexpected sartorial advice

Some people make really exciting mistakes, have you noticed that? Whereas some of us might fall asleep on the train, miss our stop and end up spending the night on the platform at Lancaster, (A station I’m fond of, the staff really do care) others somehow get entangled with dangerous and beautiful women, ridiculously large amounts of money, and a story they can dine out on for years.

This morning I was feeding sheep as normal. I kept glancing west (from where our weather comes, howling in across the Irish Sea) because it wasn’t looking good. I got the ewes who are inside fed, and then I had to go and check those outside. As I drove the quad across the field the sleet is blasting into my face, it’s chuffing cold and you know with absolute certainty that you’re going to end up soaked to the skin.

As an aside at this point, might I recommend to our American cousins that they contemplate the purchase of a flat cap instead of the usual baseball cap? I agree that the baseball cap is excellent for keeping the sun out of your eyes; the long peak is perfect for that. But the wind gets under the peak and can just whip the hat off your head and away. Whereas the flat cap, whilst less good where there is intense sun, does at least stay on your head when it’s windy.

But sartorial considerations aside, I managed to get home, get inside and warm up a bit. I downloaded my email, looked at the tasks that needed doing and decided to write my blog instead.

Because in ten minutes I’ll have to be out to check through the housed ewes to make sure they’re OK and that none of them have lambed or are lambing and are in need of assistance.

Four hundred ewes to lamb, they’re supposed to start in the middle of February, so by the last week in February the first tranche would have been well underway and the second tranche (whose romantic liaison with the tup was timed so as they’d start about the 8th March) will start lambing as the first group were finishing.

Except that the first group have dawdled, a couple a day at most through February and they’ve finally decided to start lambing properly now.

But anyway, after I’ve checked them, provided nothing goes wrong, I’ll have another brief window of opportunity to get all those things done that I promised people I would do as part of the launch for War 2.2


Yep, I did. It’s one of those unexciting mistakes you make because it seems such a good idea at the time.