Monthly Archives: June 2015

Move on, there’s nothing to see

I remember seeing the figure a few years back that in the long term we have to maintain 1% growth just to stop unemployment growing.

Because of slow technological advance, in crude terms 1% of the workforce a year becomes unnecessary.

When you think about this, this is what we were told back in the 50’s and 60’s. The machines would do the work and we’d have more leisure. The dream has come true, just not in the way we were led to believe

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One problem is the sheer number of vested interests. Take pensioners. They vote and young people don’t, which might explain why we have guaranteed pensions and student loans.

Then we’ve got some seriously big companies who’ve paid money to all political parties over the years. They know that they can pay employees peanuts forever and the tax payer will make it up though tax credits or welfare or whatever. Again across the western world (US and EU) companies like the major retailers have been massively subsidised, indirectly, for years.

They can pay their staff less than the minimum wage because the tax payer will step in. They can pay those who supply food to them less than the cost of producing it because the tax payer steps in and provides a subsidy to enable the suppliers to continue.

So cheap food is more expensive than it needs to be because you not merely have to pay for the food, you have to pay the tax to the government which it will hand over in subsidy, AND you have to pay tax to the government to have expensive and well pensioned bureaucrats run the system.

Try and change the system then you will find that you have to cope with lobbying from major companies plus bureaucratic inertia and behind the scenes lobbying from the civil service explaining quietly to ministers why it won’t work.

But there again, food prices are regressive, the cost falls heavier on the poor, so is subsidising food and screwing the middle class for tax a good thing? Not only that but company profits go to shareholders eventually, and a lot of sensible middle class people have pensions and pension funds are major shareholders. So is the situation being run for the benefit of the prosperous middle class who’re using it to pad out their pensions nicely?

How about we contemplate something revolutionary, how about we scrap all subsidies on food and employment. We sack all the bureaucrats we don’t need any more, and we cut taxes because of all the money we do not have to spend. Then we bring in a basic safety net, not a benefit but a guaranteed job. Whatever happens you know that there’s a job for you at a living wage spending 35hrs a week cleaning hospitals.

Yet there’s a problem.

Let’s look at the reason we subsidise food production in the first place.

If you plant exactly the same area of land with a crop, in two consecutive years, with the perfect level of fertiliser and other things, the yield can vary by 10% just because of the weather.

The problem comes when we look at the market for food. It’s very inelastic. By which I mean that if you produce 5% more than is needed, the price collapses. After all, however cheap food is, do you really want to eat an extra meal?

On the other hand, if you under-produce by 5% the price rockets. Nobody wants to miss eating this week. You don’t need all that big a deficit before you have a serious breakdown in society and people start selling their children.

But in optimum conditions, you can get a 10% variation anyway. This is why it was always said that farmers went bankrupt in years with bumper harvests and made money in years of famine. It’s something we’ve known from before the birth of Christ.

So the EEC with the Common Agricultural Policy came up with a cunning plan. Aim for 5% surplus. This means that even if you get several bad years, you’ll still have enough in stock to get you through and your population is insulated from the natural swing of the seasons.

This worked beautifully; so beautifully that the population has lost all connection with the land, natural productivity, and the sense that our society stands always on the edge of the abyss of famine. We’re rich, if we run short we buy food in and export our famine.

Thus and so, the system was deemed too expensive and has been largely dismantled.

Economics eh? Frankly if an economist says ‘Good Morning,’ I look out of the window to check.


There again, what do I know? You might as well speak to 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!”

A sense of perspective


Long before Douglas Adams came up with the idea of the ‘Total Perspective Vortex’  people have shown a knack of insulating themselves from the harsher forms of reality.

A couple of things sort of came together over the last couple of days which just drove home to me how little of our history so many people actually know.

One example came when I read a comment on Facebook. Someone had posted something about free Tibet and that it’s so many years since the Chinese invaded etc.

Somebody else then commented that it was shocking we hadn’t done anything about it and it would doubtless have been different if Tibet had had oil.


I just sat there trying to work out how many different ways that was just wrong. I did wonder if perhaps the fact that oil wasn’t all that important back then might have been relevant. (As an aside I’ve got a book ‘Electro-war’ written during WW2 which talks about them experiencing ‘peak oil’ before the war ends. Why? Because the Americans were using mechanised divisions and this was vastly increasing the amount of fuel burned and there was no way production could keep up with this.)
Or perhaps it was the fact that when the Chinese invaded Tibet we were already fighting them in Korea, and if facing an army of over a million of them isn’t pulling our weight, what is?

There again, had they worked out just how we were going to get an army to Tibet to help the Tibetans? We’d already pulled out of India, and the idea of reinvading so that we could rush troops to the landlocked Tibetan Plateau probably didn’t appeal to thinking people at the time.

And then, later that day I saw a thread which blamed the growth of ISIS on George W Bush. This time I don’t think I had the heart to respond. Have these people no sense of time or knowledge of history?

How long do people think we’ve had sects within Islam who were violently opposed not merely Kuffars but also to other Moslems? Or do they think that prior to George W taking office in 2001 there wasn’t an issue? Do they seriously visualise a whole generation radicalised in eight years! (Or 13 years if we assumed he was also out there radicalising young Muslims whilst he was governor of Texas.)

I would recommend that if anybody is seriously interested in what might have had such an impact on some followers of Islam, they read up on Wahhabism (go on, treat yourself, a least read the wiki  )

If you want to blame a politician for Islamic Radicalisation, I’d recommend you read . There is a strong argument for linking the growth of Wahhabism to the flight of Islamic scholars from the Mughal court after the collapse of the Indian Mutiny. Indeed you can probably lay far more of the blame at the door of men like James George Smith Neill and William Stephen Raikes Hodson than you can at the feet of old Dubya.

I suppose it’s because it’s the easy way out. It simplifies things. You see a problem, blame it on your current hate figure, and that’s it. Job done.

Obviously this process is no help at all if you want to solve the problem, but I’ve come to the conclusion that for most people, the solution isn’t really something that interests them. So long as they can blame it on somebody they already hate for some reason, then it’s ‘job done’ as far as they’re concerned.


There again, what do I know?

As a reviewer commented, “This is a selection of anecdotes about life as a farmer in Cumbria. The writer grew up on his farm, and generations of his family before him farmed the land. You develop a real feeling for the land you are hefted to and this comes across in these stories. We hear of the cattle, the sheep, his succession of working dogs, the weather and the neighbours, in an amusing and chatty style as the snippets of Jim Webster’s countryman’s wisdom fall gently. I love this collection.”

It’s not what you do that counts; it’s what you’re offended by that matters

Funny old world isn’t it. Win a Nobel Prize for, “Discovering a key aspect of cell cycle control, the protein cyclin which is a component of cyclin dependent kinases, demonstrating his ability to grasp the significance of the result outside his immediate sphere of interest” and all anybody ever remembers is that you aren’t cutting edge cool and politically correct.

full of people

I’ll tell you a story. Back in 1972 they put on a special excursion train to take people from up here to see the Tutankhamen exhibition in the British Museum. It was a huge train, and it was the old style coaches with the six seat compartments and a corridor down one side.

My mother took my sister and I. I don’t remember much of the journey down, the exhibition itself I do remember something of. It was certainly spectacular enough to leave memories which have stuck with me.

But coming home I have another memory.

In ‘our’ compartment there was my mother, my sister and myself sitting on one seat, and facing us was a father and his two children. Both adults were similar age, both born in the 1920s. There was a little polite small talk, but frankly I think everybody was tired by then. Anyway it was summer, a hot day and the compartment was hot. So the gentleman opposite would do the sensible thing and take off his jacket and tie. But before he did so, he first asked my mother’s permission.

Because back then, that’s what you did. It was a sign of good manners.

Indeed I was brought up to stand up when a ‘lady’ entered the room, and I was also brought up to believe that ‘lady’ included school dinner ladies as much as it included teachers or friends of my mother.

Now Tim Hunt is older than me. In 1972 he’s have been 28. He’d have been the generation that was taught that you asked a lady present for permission before taking your jacket off.

Since then, he’s been working for a living, he’s had a life. He’s achieved stuff that most of us can barely understand. So perhaps he’s missed out on a few pointers as to current trending social etiquette.

I sympathise with him. Keep your mouth shut and those desperate to be offended will have to get their kicks out of attacking somebody else.

I suppose there’s always a chance they might be offended by this. If so then I suppose I ought to include a link to one of my books, that way they can show their offence by buying a copy and burning it publically.

Even better I could leave a link to one of the ebooks, so anyone offended can download a copy more cheaply, print if off at work so it costs them nothing in paper and ink, and then burn it. You cannot say I don’t try to be accommodating.

But one real consolation is that in forty years time, when fashions have changed at least twice, those doing the pillorying now are going to be so embarrassed by how out of touch they were back in the second decade of the twenty-first century.

The perfect body.



Ah, but the problems of body image. In spite of all the advertising by organisations like Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Loxottica, Versace, or Yves Saint Laurent, what sticks in mind is a comment made to me by an old farmer looking at a pen of bullocks. “If it’s got a backside like your mother and shoulders like your father, it’s doing alright.”

But we were shearing sheep the other day. Sheep have been wearing the same jacket since last June. Some of them are starting to look a bit ragged around the edges. Others still have a full firm fleece and look like a big solid sheep.
So buggerlugs here pushes them into the race. This leads up onto the shearing trailer where two lads, younger and fitter than me, are doing the actual shearing.

If you get it right, some nearly knock you out of the way in their haste to keep up with the rest of them, running up the ramp without me having anything to do with it. Others dig their feet in and have to be pushed up.

And then they meet the shearer. Up until this point they’re almost defined by their fleece, at least to a non-shepherd like me. The amount of wool, the way it hangs, the gaps, the smit marks, produce an image which might just mean I can recognise the animal.

Then, a short while later, sheared, the animal leaps down off the trailer, a lighter and somewhat different animal. Some of them are revealed to be big, thickset ewes, solid, even plump. Others are less well built, some are even scrawny. At this stage in the proceedings I suspect even the lambs are a bit nonplussed by it all and check first before making any assumptions as to just who is mum.

And as we’re taking them back out into the field, the scrawny one at the back stops to check that it still has two lambs. And the shepherd points to her and says, “Bluidy good ewe that. Two damned good lambs every year and she rears them well.”


Others obviously have their opinions as well

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.


As a reviewer commented “This book charts a year in the life of a Cumbrian sheep farmer. It’s sprinkled with anecdotes and memories of other years. Some parts (especially when featuring Sal, the Border Collie) were so funny as to cause me to have to read them out loud to my husband. It’s very interesting to read these things from the pen of the man who is actually out there doing it – usually in the rain! A very good read.”