Building communities.


That’s what the meeting was about, although that wasn’t the title, that’s what it did and that was what drove people to attend.

And I drove up from the south, through St John’s in the Vale on a gorgeous September morning; the sort that you never get many of. The photo shows winter, still beautiful, but today the two crags at the front were bathed in bright sunlight. Blencathra behind was almost lost in a golden haze as the early morning sun burned off the last of the mist. It looked like nothing as much as a Chinese landscape painting.

And later in the day, travelling home, the good folk of the Vale were hard at work. Travelling up I’d seen one field that looked as if it might just bale today, and yes, they were hard at it. A tractor that was older than me pulling a baler which had once had paint on it but was now uniformly rust. New equipment and old, boys barely out of school driving tractors that cost more a month on lease than a terraced house in Barrow, old men with rakes, cleaning up the corners for the baler.

And in a field that men were mowing before Christianity came to these islands, a young man is loading bales onto a trailer. His surname and his accent are Cumbrian but his eyes are the grey as the waters of the Vistula and at least one of his daughters will have the high cheekbones of his mother and the smile that captured his father’s heart. And his grandfather is buried in the churchyard a world away from the Polish home he left to fly a Hurricane. Communities absorb, they take the good and they make it their own.

And if the world keeps turning and we don’t let the political pygmies screw up too badly, in half a century’s time a chap in his sixties will turn and say to his son who has eyes as grey as his own, “Stop fretting, we’ve made good hay in September before.”

In some parts of the county we’re not building communities, we’re trying to make it possible for them to survive, help them negotiate the minefield of tick-boxes and departmental objectives. Someone has to temper the wind to the shorn lamb.

And the communities roll on, season following season, year following year. I saw a chap at a funeral one day and at an agricultural show the next. Our conversation drifted to the funeral and he commented that he’s got to the stage when he wonders whether he ought to start leaving a few notes as to what he wants for his funeral.

And he is right. On a wet Mothering Sunday the old lad will go to church with his daughter-in-law because his grandchildren are singing. He’s walked from a steading that was old when the Normans finally came to the valley and the church isn’t all that much younger. He feels the place in his bones, and when the Grandchildren put a posy on his late wife’s grave he turns to his daughter and says, “And when my time comes, put me in there with her.”

And on a glorious day a month later, when his son takes him up onto the fell on the quad (one of the dogs being forced to run alongside to make room for the old man) and the ewes are looking well and the grass is growing and the lambs are bright, inquisitive and without fear; he breathes deeply and the world he loves floods over him. And when his son stops the quad and they look round, the old man says, “You know, when my time comes, cremate me and have my ashes scattered up here.”

And may the Lord have mercy on the clergyman who has to untangle that little lot!
But the cycle continues; the funeral with its grief and shared memories and meeting with old friends on the edge of an open grave. Then there’s the Baptism, bedlam in a small church, with those who know how to behave in church and those who’ve never darkened the doorstep before.

And if the vicar knows his job a young couple looking a bit serious because he’s explained just what’s going on and what they’re swearing to do, and asked them whether they really want to make that sort of commitment.

It’s funny really, at baptisms and funerals they sit in their cars, or they cluster outside the porch in the drizzle, waiting for enough of them to arrive so they can screw up enough courage to enter the church. A dangerous place where you might have to be silent, or even think.

And the wedding, which shouldn’t be sombre but sometimes is as women who were once girls and men who were once lads look down the aisle and the years fall away and they wonder. And the bride, wearing white as she marries the lad she has lived with for three years. But she’s right because today is a day where commitment means more than the technicalities of biology and the first time down the aisle is not a road you can walk twice, however often you marry.

And in spite of ourselves, we keep the show on the road somehow, knitting together somehow the threads that make the community and hold it together.


There again, what do I know? Check with somebody who does

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.”

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42 thoughts on “Building communities.

  1. The Story Reading Ape September 11, 2015 at 8:39 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog and commented:
    Can you see why I’ve reblogged this article by Author Jim Webster? 🐵

  2. The Story Reading Ape September 11, 2015 at 8:44 pm Reply

    Jim, I want to tell you that this is the best piece of scene setting, world building and descriptive writing I have read in many years – Thank you 👍🐵

    • jwebster2 September 11, 2015 at 9:00 pm Reply

      Aw thanks Chris. I’m genuine touched by that. That sort of praise from somebody who has read so much means a lot

  3. M T McGuire September 11, 2015 at 9:25 pm Reply

    I loved this too. 🙂 you got the timeless thing spot on.



  4. Patrick Jones September 12, 2015 at 11:18 am Reply

    Agree with Chris…I immediately felt the scene and the beauty of your thoughts. Great writing!

    • jwebster2 September 12, 2015 at 11:32 am Reply

      Thanks Patrick, one tries 🙂

  5. Patrick Jones September 12, 2015 at 11:51 am Reply

    You did succeed!

  6. Rosemary Oberlander September 13, 2015 at 4:41 am Reply

    Beautiful Jim, just beautiful

    • jwebster2 September 13, 2015 at 6:21 am Reply

      every so often you just sort of get it right

  7. […] Source: Building communities. […]

  8. Smorgasbord - Variety is the Spice of Life. September 11, 2018 at 8:02 am Reply

    Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    Being back in my home town has brought back reminders of my teen years and it is still a community that I feel comfortable in, despite being absent from it for over 50 years on a permanent basis. Jim Webster talks about community in his post and all the wonderful elements, buildings and most importantly the people that bring it colour and solidarity. As a nomad most of my life, community is very important and we have been welcomed into many. They are an extended support system we all need as humans.. On and offline. #recommended.

  9. tidalscribe September 11, 2018 at 10:50 am Reply

    What a beautiful piece, encompassing all of life and linking our long past to inevitable changes without being over sentimental. I love the description of those gathering outside church waiting for the safety of numbers.

    • jwebster2 September 11, 2018 at 3:22 pm Reply

      I have seen that so very often 🙂

  10. tidalscribe September 11, 2018 at 10:58 am Reply

    Reblogged this on Times and Tides of a Beachwriter and commented:
    I’m glad I took time to read this instead of bookmarking for later. Many of us may not have a community or be bound to the land, but we all were originally. Jim manages to encompass our long past and our ever changing present poetically and humorously.

    • jwebster2 September 11, 2018 at 3:22 pm Reply

      Glad you enjoyed it 🙂

  11. dgkaye September 11, 2018 at 8:22 pm Reply

    Fantastic Jim! 🙂

    • jwebster2 September 11, 2018 at 8:37 pm Reply

      thanks 🙂

      • dgkaye September 12, 2018 at 12:07 am

        Welcome Jim 🙂

  12. robbiesinspiration September 12, 2018 at 4:44 am Reply

    Lovely thoughts on community, Jim.

  13. Widdershins September 13, 2018 at 4:05 am Reply

    Well, bugger! That made me cry! 😀

  14. Jennie September 14, 2018 at 12:09 am Reply

    This is one of your best, Jim. Really. Thank you!

  15. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt May 30, 2021 at 5:46 pm Reply

    Thanks for reposting! New thoughts on making community occurred because the ONLY bad thing about our retirement community is that we’re all old, and we lose 35-40 people a year – after many of them have become friends.

    That’s a real shocker, however much we need to be here. On the other hand, many of my new friends have been here twenty years, since it opened.

    It doesn’t take much to be part of a place which has welcomed us – and we are blessed to be here in many ways.

    It is sad that so many people have eschewed the good parts of organized religion as they rightly take umbrage with the bad parts.

    • jwebster2 May 30, 2021 at 7:02 pm Reply

      One thing I’ve noticed is that even living in a ‘normal’ community I still get invited to far more funerals than I do weddings nowadays
      I suspect that where you live makes it seem a bit starker.
      Actually one of the things I see here is that a church, ‘doing it right’ can build the community and bridge between generations

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt May 30, 2021 at 7:52 pm

        I think the church does far better when humble – something that happens when it is not forced down people’s throats.

        But I fear a lot of our young, some of mine included, are missing the comfort as well as the rules. And, of course, the singing.

        It is easy to be all full of yourself when you’re young (and pretending things aren’t happening and you have it all under control) – older people sometimes know better because we can’t possibly pretend any more after a life with too many losses.

        It’s a weird thing, being alive, having children, losing your parents…

      • jwebster2 May 31, 2021 at 5:02 am

        Given that the church was founded by somebody who washed the feet of his disciples and instructed us to do the same, you’d wonder just how people managed to miss the lesson. 🙂
        But yes the whole thing can get strange at times. But when it came to burying my parents I remembered Herodotus, “In peace, sons bury their fathers. In war, fathers bury their sons”

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt May 31, 2021 at 7:45 am

        It is very sad when children are buried by their parents. We think it is not the natural order of things, but we forget history. Since vaccination, it is safer to name our children under five.

        I can’t help but think that judges should hand out sentences which educate those who do certain things – take the neo-Nazis to Auschwitz, the antivaxxers to the places the children are buried who died of diseases we now have control of, insist that those who harm old people live with and/or care for them (if it can be done safely)… Hate is learned; there are stories of it being UNlearned.

        People miss all kinds of lessons.

      • jwebster2 May 31, 2021 at 10:18 am

        They’ve tried various forms of this sort of restorative justice in the UK but it’s not really caught on. The sort of person who shuts out the history will go round Auschwitz looking for clues that it’s a fake

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt May 31, 2021 at 3:25 pm

        It takes an enormous amount of energy to bring one person back from the dark side – and one gets resentful at having to spend that energy.

        But the punitive impulse doesn’t help anything, either, does it?

      • jwebster2 May 31, 2021 at 3:41 pm

        My daughter, who is in youth work, would point out that for the same spent in youth work, you could prevent a score of people going to the dark side in the first place! I can understand where she’s coming from with that.

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt May 31, 2021 at 4:07 pm

        Your daughter is wise. And right. Money is better spent on education than prisons, on health than policing. But the results take longer and are often taken for granted – until they don’t happen.

      • jwebster2 May 31, 2021 at 6:09 pm


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