Monthly Archives: May 2015

To get there I wouldn’t start from here

All my life I’ve lived at a place accessible only by travelling down a narrow lane. But because our lane meets the main road at both ends, we do get passing traffic. Not a lot because intelligent people know that if you’re in a hurry, a single track road is not going to be a reliable short cut.

Over the years we’re had many interesting or even amusing moments because of it. Like, for example the time my mother was pretty seriously unwell. She was sitting in the front room, looking out over the road, and a couple of her sisters came to visit. They were sitting chatting and suddenly my mother went quiet and was staring at the road. They wondered if her meds had just kicked in. Indeed my mother wondered if her meds had just kicked in, because she could see a bus driving past our gate.

Fortunately her sisters turned in time, saw the bus, and she had witnesses to support her claim. But we reckon it’s the first bus in at least seventy years. We still haven’t a clue what it was doing them.

Another game we used to play when silaging was ‘how many cars did you get to reverse.’ The thing about carting silage is that you’re pulling a trailer that pretty well blocks visibility. Now being a competent tractor driver you can reverse it. You can see the hedges on both sides and with care and not rushing you can quietly back down the lane. What you cannot see is anything actually in the lane. So you don’t back a silage trailer in the lane without somebody acting as a ‘banksman’ to ensure that there isn’t a car, a motorbike, a mum with a pram or a lass on a pony, trapped in the lane behind you.

So when you’re carting silage down the lane and meet a car, the car driver has two options. They can reverse out of your way, or they can stop the car. Get out, help you reverse, walk back to their car and drive on.

So the person carting would normally get back to the pit and say to the person with the buckrake, ‘Two,’ or even ‘Three’. This was the number of cars that had had to reverse that trip.

Eventually I did the equivalent of getting a maximum break in Snooker. We used to get a lot of the ‘eleven car treasure hunts.’ From memory I think the rule was that if you had fewer than twelve cars involved in an event, you didn’t need to inform the police when you were organising it. The good ones were genuine treasure hunts, follow the clues, do some thinking, work out where to go next. The bad ones were just ad hoc rallies where you got the excuse to tear round narrow lanes at dangerously high speeds. On this occasion, as I drove along the lane, I found myself facing all eleven cars coming the other way. There was no way I could reverse so all eleven had to. But what really made my day was the lad in the eleventh car. He’d got this battered old banger; everybody else was driving reasonably smart cars. He backed his into a gate way, let the other ten back past him and as I drove past him I got a big grin and a thumbs up from him and his girl friend as they pulled back out into the lane and set off to exploit their unexpected lead.

The other ten were less enthused.


The other thing that can happen is that the main road gets blocked. At this point some clown almost inevitably diverts traffic down our lane. It might not matter too much if they only diverted them down in one direction, but when they send them down in two directions it’s madness. On one occasion the postman was caught in the chaos and it took him an hour and a half to get out.

It happened again last week. Somebody knocked on our door. They were local and knew me and asked if we could put cars in our yard to get them off the lane. We did, watched the queue snake past, and then unleashed the contents of the yard into the lane, only for them to meet the next queue forty yards further on.

We did what we normally do in these circumstances. Phone the police and ask them to block one end.

But even when they do this, it can still be stimulating. A few years back now we were fetching cows home to milk and oldest daughter stood in the lane to turn the cows down towards home as the dog and I brought them out of the field. As the dog and I were doing this a queue of cars was building up and I could hear somebody in the queue shouting and blowing their horn.

Anyway there wasn’t anything I could do about it, so we just quietly got all the cows out onto the lane and they walked placidly towards home, ignoring shouting and horn blowing idiots. I closed the gate after them, stepped out into the road and suddenly there was total silence.

Amazing the number of people who’ll insult a young lass but shut up when her Dad appears isn’t it.


What do I know? Just ask the dog.

As a reviewer commented, “This is a delightful collection of gentle rants and witty reminiscences about life in a quiet corner of South Cumbria. Lots of sheep, cattle and collie dogs, but also wisdom, poetic insight, and humour. It was James Herriot who told us that ‘It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet’ but Jim Webster beautifully demonstrates that it usually happened to the farmer too, but far less money changed hands.

I, for one, am hoping that this short collection of blogs finds a wide and generous audience – not least because I’m sure there’s more where this came from. And at 99p you can’t go wrong!”

Send for Lauderdale!

There are certain names that inspire confidence.

Imagine the scene. Into the midst of the well padded armchairs the news seeps like sewage into a reservoir.

Rumour, on winged feet, flits from chair to chair, and the room gradually becomes still.

Men who have kedged gunboats off the sandbanks in rivers we will not name, in total darkness and under the barrels of the enemy guns; sit weeping silently. Others who have stared down dust devils dancing over the killing fields of Afghanistan sit blank eyed, staring unseeing at the wall, suddenly broken.

Men who have drunk in squalid bars in Sihanoukville, or the Terminal Bar in New York, or even the Sandgate now drain their glasses, make their excuses and decamp to the gents.

And into the silence somebody drops a name, “Lauderdale.”

Immediately the cry goes up, “Send for Lauderdale. And suddenly there is laugher and shouting for waiters and a clinking of glasses and men rejoice and are glad again.

And Lauderdale appears, suddenly, as if by magic. Where has he been? Nobody knows. How did he enter? Nobody saw him arrive. He is here, it is enough.

In silence somebody hands him the letter. He reads it, his face indecipherable. Then with the letter in hand he leaves the room. He makes no preparations; he ignores the offer of ‘a bracer’ or ‘a stiff one’. He just goes as he is, that is our Lauderdale.

But when he leaves, silence falls, and with it doubt once more returns. “Can he do it?” So whispers one who can tell the Sarbani from the Ghurghakhti by the way they tape the magazines of their Kalashnikovs.

And the well padded armchairs are marinated in sotto voce conversation.

And Lauderdale, what of him?

He knocks on the door, waits briefly for the muffled response, and he enters. Swiftly, silently, gracefully; like a leopard he advances on the desk. The figure behind looks up at him.

“Ah Lauderdale, you wanted something?”

Like a regicide about to strike, Lauderdale raises the letter. “You are to be congratulated Minister. A bold decision if I may say so. None of your predecessors had the courage necessary to take on such deeply entrenched vested interests.”

The Minister’s voice quavers. “Bold, you say?”

“Undoubtedly Minister.”

“Perhaps a committee Lauderdale, just to round off any rough edges?”

“I shall arrange it at once sir.”

And now you too can play your part. You to can step forward into the breach and help sustain all we hold dear. But all civilisation asks of you, gentle reader, is that you buy the book.



You load sixteen tons, what do you get

Another day older and deeper in debt

Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go

I owe my soul to the company store

It’s a funny old world. You really have to be careful what you read. As it was I picked up a book on Dark Age and medieval agriculture. (‘Rural economy and Country Life in the Medieval West’ by Georges Duby)

His discusses the villeins, those workers tied to the soil and only semi-free. Often considered the real victims of feudalism they had to work up to three days a week unpaid for their lord.

Think about it, they had to work 156 days a year for somebody else.

But actually in the UK tax freedom day is 13th May so we work 134 days for our masters.

And at least if you were a villein the Lord you were working for had to feed you while you were working for him. And he provided you with land and a house so you could support yourself the rest of the year.

So that would be the same as the government giving you vouchers to eat at Pret or Costa every day up until tax freedom day (Looking at the rations Villeins got, the catering was definitely more Pret than McDonalds) as well as giving you a house to live in rent free and a paying job for the rest of the year.

When you stop and think about it, given the constraints of their society, villeins were probably better off than the traditional wage slave is now.

Oh yes, and ‘wage slave’; is it a bad description?

If you look at Greek Cities such as Athens in the 4th and 5th centuries BC, a citizen was expected to take part in the government of the city, if only to vote in the debates and act as a juror.

This wasn’t just some sort of vague obligation. Doing these things defined you as a citizen and a free man.

But of course you had to be able to take days off work to do this. This would tend to mean that democracy could become a hobby for the rich, but the Athenians got round this by providing a wage for those who attended. Not good money but the sort of money an ordinary working man would hope to earn in a day.

But of course if you had an employer, you had to go cap in hand to him for the day off.

So when we look at Greece of this era, it’s notable that very few free men had employers. Free men were almost entirely ‘self employed.’ Even if they didn’t have their own business or trade they’d be day labourers. And for the day labourer, the chance to go and sit on a jury and earn much the same money was probably considered a pretty good option.

The only people who worked every day at the instruction of another were slaves, and a man who was so beholden to another that he couldn’t just give the day to democratic duties without asking permission from somebody else was, in Greek eyes, as near as dammit as slave anyway.


There again, what do I know?

Now available as paperback or ebook


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.”

Something wicked this way comes?

Funny old world, just glad I’m not an opinion pollster. But there again, who tells them how they’re going to vote? The one time I was asked I just asked him if he believed in a secret ballot. When he said ‘Yes’ I replied, “And so do I.”

He must have been young because he’d never heard that line before.


But I’ve heard and seen a lot of stuff across the web from people who think that the end of days is coming and that we’ll soon be back to sending children down’t pit. (Not horses, obviously, the animal welfare regulations are far too strict.)

I think that a lot of people struggle to understand how our system works. You have a population which can be divided into three main groups.

  1. A) Those who actually believe in a political ideology (doesn’t really matter which.)
  2. B) Those who have a sort of vague but deep rooted tribal allegiance to one party or another.
  3. C) Those who come to each election almost as a blank slate and try and work out what’s best this time.

Now no one group is any better than any of the others. Group A probably add a bit of class to the discussion, Group B give stability to the system and Group C ensure that no one party stays too long in power.

There’s also a subgroup of people who feel they ought to vote but cannot bring themselves to vote for anyone who might sully themselves with power. There are times when I wondered whether a lot of them voted Lib-dem.

But anyway our system rubs along pretty well. We’ve got one party who, in crude terms, will eventually get the economy back on its feet so that it’ll start producing money and making us all that bit more prosperous. We’ve got another party that will spread the money about a bit. Obviously both parties make sure that their core backers do all right out of it but both the creating the wealth and the splashing it about a bit do combine to ensure that most of us get a bit.

So Group A sort of ensure that the two parties stick to what they do best. Group B provide the solidity of support which allows the parties to weather defeats.

Group C gradually get more and more disillusioned with one party and slowly drift across to the other. So perhaps they feel that the money has been spread faster than it’s been earned so they’ll drift away from the spreaders. Or perhaps they’ve decided that some people are getting too much and others not enough and they’ll drift back to the spreaders.

And if you look at our history since the war, we’ve oscillated nicely between the two parties.

Then we’ve got another advantage in our system. Within the parties we’ve got inbuilt checks and balances. Because, in a first past the post system, you only really do have two successful parties, these parties are in themselves coalitions.

Under PR where the seats are linked to the proportion of the vote, if a party splits, both halves could be viable and both might even prosper. With our system, if a party splits, the bunch that splits off will probably just disappear. (Think the gang of four or those who’ve left the Conservatives for UKIP).

So parties do tend to hold together, and there’s always a lot of discussion within the parties. Indeed the infighting can be more fractious than the fighting between parties.

So when the leader of a party wants to do something that isn’t within the core competency of the party, something that wasn’t in the manifesto, the leader has to effectively negotiate with the various clans than make up his party. This itself is a useful brake on extreme policies.

The next brake is the fact that we, the electors, vote for a candidate. And if that candidate is a good constituency MP, looks after his votes, goes the extra mile, even votes against the party for the good of the constituents, it is not uncommon for that MP to be untouchable by the party. They know that if they de-select him or her, then the person will still remain an MP, because the constituents are more loyal to the MP than to the party. All parties have had MPs who have managed to achieve this status. You tend to find that they’re widely respected by people who otherwise would regard them as a political opponent, and conservative voters will vote Labour (and vice versa) to ensure that MP stays as their MP. (Remember that most of the electorate aren’t all that political or committed to an ideology.)

So even if a Prime Minister has a majority, unless it’s a majority so large that they can afford to ignore some of their warring clans, they’ll have to negotiate. It’s interesting to note that both Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair had huge majorities and basically ‘lost it’. They lost contact with both electorate and party. Hence even large majorities contain the seeds of the party’s destruction. Those whom the gods wish to destroy, first they give landslide victories……..

With a small majority, such as we have now, the Prime Minister knows that it will be whittled away in by-elections (which governments tend to lose) and in minor revolts, and so for a lot of contentious issues, the PM may be forced to rely on opposition votes anyway.

So what’s going to happen in the next five years?

Obviously things will change. Vested interests will howl that this or that treasured national institution is being sold off when what they really mean is that they’re not getting as good a do out of it as they once did.

Hopefully in five years time we’ll be a bit less in debt, but don’t ask me to say whether we’ll be far enough out of the woods for group C to start drifting back.

But either at the next election or the one after the Conservative party will doubtless lose and the other lot will get into power.

There are possible changes. I think that the Labour party has been really fortunate that the Lib-dems collapsed when they did. Or with the SNP kicking Labour out of Scotland, the Lib-dems might have made a bid to be the ‘other’ party in England.

So what has the Labour party got to do? Well it would be a good start if they started choosing MPs from people who’ve actually held down a real job. They need people who can reach out and talk to their supporters. Miliband et al might well have been able to talk to the Labour voters in group A, but group A isn’t a big group. They need people who can reach out and talk to their tribal voters in group B and reassure them that they’re still members of the same tribe.

They also need people who seem sensible, practical and decent so that group C feel that they can put them into power and get the benefits of a bit of redistribution without the economy being trashed in short order.

In fact they really ought to do the things they never did in the last five years.


What do I know? Speak to the lady who is used to dealing with unforeseen situations!


Available in paperback or 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.”

Working for the Bank?  


Somehow bank holidays have always rather passed me by.

Being self employed all my life they were an irrelevance and when I employed people they were a damned nuisance.

I remember one morning getting into the house after finally finishing morning milking. Because of electrical problems I’d managed to finish milking by the simple expedient of running extension leads over the roof and plugging stuff into them. But before I finally got my breakfast I thought I’d phone the electrician.

The conversation went something like this.

“Hi Colin, Jim Webster here.”

A somewhat sleepy voice said, “Jim do you know what day it is?”
After a brief pause to check I replied with reasonable confidence, “Monday.”

“It’s a bank holiday.”

“Didn’t know you worked for a bank Colin.”

Actually Colin being Colin, he came out and after an hour he’d got whatever it was fixed and I wasn’t relying on extension leads in the rain.

As it is, because today’s been fine I’ve got quite a few jobs finished off. Two fences fixed where a couple of old ewes have managed to jump over or squeeze through, and another fence that I put up in the rain on Saturday, finished off in the dry today.

That and a quad trailer gate fixed and bits and bobs of other stuff and it’s not been a bad day.

But what is the point of going anywhere on a bank holiday? The roads are always busy, everywhere you might fancy going is busy, and a lot of stuff will be shut as well. Or if it isn’t they’re short handed because who in their right mind pays staff double for working bank holidays?

Effectively the great and the good have decided that the British Public WILL celebrate whatever it is (be it Labour Day, or New Years day.) Why not just add it to their days off so they can take it when they want?

Give everybody the right to certain days as holiday if they wanted, out of their holiday entitlement. So if for religious reasons you wanted to take off Good Friday, Christmas Day and Ascension Day (or the beginning and end of Ramadan or whatever) you could and your employer just had to put up with it.

Given that apparently the Banks are starting to open on ‘Bank Holidays’ at the very least they’re going to have to change the name.

Mind you, at one point it did irritate me. Having run a business when interest rates on overdrafts were over 20% I felt that actually I was working for the bank, because they were the only ones making any money. Yet I was the one who wasn’t getting the bank holidays

Ah, the good old days. One of the best days of my life was when I finally got clear of the bank and no longer owed them anything


Never mind, read something to cheer you up


Now in paperback and ebook

As a reviewer commented, “More charming stories and poems from the world of Tallis Steelyard. Port Naain is similar enough to “reality” (pre-industrial) to be familiar, but different enough to be interesting. Colourful characters and sticky situations abound. And there’s squid wrestling. This is only one of many collections of stories from Port Naain, so readers keen for more will not be disappointed.”