Monthly Archives: February 2017

The milk of human kindness


With cattle, especially dairy cows, you tend to deal with them as individuals quite a lot of the time. As you get to know them, you learn their little idiosyncrasies. Some are brighter than others, some curious, some laid back and placid. With sheep for the vast majority of the time they manage to blend into the flock and you tend to deal with an ‘average’ intellect. Admittedly it’s not a very high average, but at least sheep can console themselves that, by and large, they’re smarter than horses.

But at lambing you start dealing with individual sheep, and at this point you realise that the average rather flatters a lot of them.

This afternoon I noticed a ewe had lambed. I could see the two lambs snuggled up under the hedge. So I got the quad and trailer out and went to collect them. They were in a different field to the rest of the flock so I shut the gate behind me to ensure that they didn’t come streaming in behind me looking for food and getting in the way.

I then parked the trailer handy for the lambs, picked up the lambs, and walking backwards so mum could see them at all times, carried them to the trailer. Mum followed briefly before setting off at speed to look for them somewhere else entirely. Indeed she had obviously decided they’d rejoined the flock because when she found the gate was shut she crashed through the fence instead.

So now I had to get all of them into the yard to sort out our doting mother. And as they entered the yard she knocked down a hurdle and led them onto the lane instead. Some of them followed a bucket back but the others had to be brought back by the simple expedient of overtaking them on the quad and driving them back.

All this has to be done tactfully because in spite of the fact they seem to have forgotten this small technical detail; they’re all heavily in lamb and ought to behave sensibly. As I overtook one of them, I was close enough to notice that her eye looked a bit milky. When they’re in the field sheep aren’t keen on you getting too close, and this was something you could only see when you were a couple of yards away at most. It struck me she might be having problems with that eye and I’d better treat her.

When they were running back I watched out for the one with eye problems. As it ran into the yard it careered full tilt into a gate stoop that it had obviously not seen. By the look of it, we definitely had a sheep with eye problems (and probable concussion.)

So I sorted mum out into a pen and put the others back into the field. By this time the rain had started. I then backed the trailer to the pen gate and got mum into it with the two lambs. She appeared vaguely pleased to see them. I drove the trailer round to the other pens where she’ll stay until we’re convinced she’s looking after them properly and there was this bumping sound from the trailer. Oh joy, a flat tyre.

I backed the trailer up to the other pens, got her into one, got her two lambs in with her and shut the gate before she thought of anything else stupid to do.

Then it was a case of putting the trailer handy for taking the wheel off tomorrow morning, put the quad away and then go and get some colostrum into our two newcomers.
Now they’re fed, snug and happy, mum is beaming at them, and I’m wet, cold and hungry. At times like this you have to ask yourself which is the intelligent species.


Oh and if you are feeling particularly intelligent you might or might not have noticed that I produced a slim volume of these blog posts, nicely tidied up and with grammar, punctuation and everything. It’s available in paperback or as an ebook


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.”

Cute animals frolic for your delectation and delight


The advantage of the lowest common denominator is that it is a common denominator. Admittedly some denominators are more common than others but still, who am I to cast the first stone when discussing the peccadilloes of  the unsophisticated? Similarly I am not going to direct aspersions at the Philistines. (A people whose grave goods prove it’s possible to be both a hard bunch of lads who would regularly knock seven bells out of their neighbours; whilst simultaneously being a sensitive and creative people with a deft touch with ceramics and colour.)

Still if common is what is demanded, then common is what we supply, the customer is always right.

Even when they’re not.


But setting aside this moment of doubt what am I waffling about and will I ever come to the point?
It’s as simple as this. You might have noticed I write a blog. If you haven’t noticed this then I suggest you stop reading briefly and take a good look at the screen, gaze in awe at all the gubbins that form a backdrop to my deathless prose.

But don’t stop for too long, some of us have work to do and I cannot spend all day explaining this.

Where was I? Oh yes, I write a blog. To cut a long story short I looked at this virtual heap of blog posts, shuffled through them and pulled out those which involved sheep, Border Collies, quad bikes and farming life generally. Then I put them into some sort of order and tidied it up. (You know the sort of thing, filed off any hanging electrons, gently tapped round the edges with a ball-pein hammer to make sure they all fit, and then just rub it all over with a bit of emery paper to ensure you don’t get splinters off it.)

Anyway, once it was ready I put it into a suitable electronic format and stuck it on Amazon where, for a mere £0.99 you can purchase it for (as we say in the title) your delectation and delight. It’s also available for £4.50 in paperback so that it can be an heirloom of your house forever. So what do you get for your money?

The horns of Elfland, faintly blowing

Four lesbians in a fast car

The third great lie

Ya bluidy auld witch

Sheep, a socket set and a dog that howls back at police cars


And so much more


Go on, treat yourself.



As a reviewer commented, “Jim Webster’s stories make me nostalgic for a world I’ve never known – and probably am not sturdy enough to survive. His affection for his charges, the ewes and the lambs, is evident when he points out they are smarter than horses (horses have better PR). His warm tales about his sheep dogs make me want to own a dog (I’m not a dog person, and these are intelligent farm worker dogs, not pets). It’s the straightforward and down home way he writes about the daily life of someone who’s been a farmer since a child, through all the wavering government support and lack thereof, through the plagues of the farm life, in a way that shows the depth of his love for his home and profession. Think ‘James Herriot, Farmer.’

I’m stopping to write this review at the end of the 8th entry, labeled, ‘Occasionally you get it right,’ because he does – and I want to savor the rest of them slowly.

Jim Webster is a writer – I can give no higher praise. Read him, and you may be a little closer to what it really means to be a sheep farmer, as close as you can get. You get all the good stuff. It’ll warm your cockles.”

After the ball was over



So what happens after UK agriculture when we leave the EU?
Perhaps a history lesson first; in the UK we’ve relied upon imported food to keep prices down since the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846.

Before the First World War we imported vast amounts of food, and there was a major effort to increase home production during the war. After the war land prices collapsed, imports flooded in and during the 20s and 30s we saw rural poverty what was on a par with what was seen in some of the industrial areas.

I talked to men whose fathers were allowed onto farms ‘rent free’ because the landlord was desperate for somebody to stop the land degenerating into scrub.

With the Second World War we saw the panic again, and government stepped in to bring land back into agriculture that hadn’t been ploughed in living memory.

After the Second World War, some farsighted people sold land, assuming they’d buy it back cheaper when the inevitable collapse came. Except the inevitable collapse never came because effectively the Second World War never ended, it morphed seamlessly into the Cold War.

From 1945 through to the collapse of communism and the opening of the Berlin Wall, UK and EU agricultural policy was fixed by Gross-Admiral Karl Dönitz whose U-boat campaign concentrated minds wonderfully. Mind you given that there were people in the EU commission at that time who’d eaten grass to stay alive in the winter of 1944/45, minds didn’t take a lot of concentrating.

After 9 November 1989 and the end of history, there was going to be no more war and the world was going to be a more peaceful and civilised place. So obviously the need to be self sufficient in food wasn’t as big an issue. On the continent, there are different political drivers to those in the UK. For example the Code Napoleon means that a lot of farmers rent their farms from a number of family members who all inherited a piece. Add this to regulations which in some places link rents to agricultural income and you can see why there are many people in urban France who care passionately about the profitability of farming.

Another factor is that we had our industrial revolution a number of generations before many of our European neighbours. Therefore they have a lot higher proportion of their population who understand agriculture.

In the UK under the Blair administration the mantra of MAFF/Defra was that we could always import food more cheaply.

In 2008 this changed with a vengeance because we had an international ‘weather event.’ UK wheat prices leapt from £90 a ton to over £200 a ton. Even more importantly we discovered that many countries that had previously been our sources of cheap food just stopped exporting because they barely had enough for their own populations. Their governments just blocked exports, no matter how much the buyer wanted to pay.

Defra produced a paper which stated, “We produce much of our own food, and because the UK is a developed economy, we are able to get the other food we need for a nutritious diet by buying from abroad. However, these recent increases in food prices have sparked a debate about self-sufficiency, food security and the resilience of our food supply network.”

As it is we’re in an interesting place. All predictions, including those made by Defra and other UK governmental organisations; say that we’re going to need to produce more food. In 2010, the UK produced 73% of ‘indigenous-type foods’.

Given our increase in population we’re going to have to increase output just to keep hitting the 73%. Obviously we can throw our economic weight about and import more, we’re a rich country. Morally that’s a very dubious argument, we’re exporting starvation, jacking up world prices and ensuring the poorest cannot afford to eat. Economically it’s also short-sighted, the rest of the world is growing wealthier, and the middle class in Asia is increasing rapidly. In a few years time it could be that it’s the poorer elements of our population who are being priced out of the world market. Obviously that’s the time when we feed the proles soma and kibble.

The other alternative is that we pay more for food. In 2010 the average UK household devoted about 9% of its expenditure on food, down from 16% in 1984. Obviously that money is going elsewhere in the economy; some families spend more on their Sky subscription than they do on meat or its vegetarian substitutes. Remember this is whilst we were in the EU which was supposed to be guaranteeing the future of agriculture.

So what will happen when we leave the EU? If we continue down the ‘feed the public cheap crap’ policy so they have plenty of money to spend on phone contracts and streaming TV content, then we’ll see agriculture in this country fall into fewer and fewer hands. Companies will be big enough to spread the fixed costs and with the lobbying power to ensure that ministers are ‘on side’.

They’re also the only ones who can afford the levels of investment now necessary. A decent dairy set-up now costs several million pounds and even at low interest rates, it’s difficult to put together a way of paying this off without having other businesses contributing to cash flow.


So where are we now? Basically we have a subsidy system which means that farmers can continue to provide supermarkets with produce at below the cost of production. Is the UK government willing and/or able to change this system? The last thing the government needs in our current situation is rapid food price inflation, it could destabilise a lot of things.
The idea that cheap food will flood in is somewhat idealised. Whilst countries outside the EU do have lower costs of production (some due to climate and geography, some due to the lower burden of regulation) it is naive to assume that they will sell into the UK at that low price. They’ll sell at the highest price they can get, because they want the margins. So they’ll sell just slightly cheaper than the UK product. There aren’t great surpluses to bring the price crashing down. Indeed if the Brazilians find the UK beef market price too low, they’ll just switch to selling it to Asia.

And underlying all this is that the world’s population is growing and yields aren’t keeping up with them. The rest of the world is switching technologies, and moving over to GM amongst other things. At some point in the future the EU will allow GM if only because its population can no longer afford to eat non-GM food.  All in all food security is becoming more, not less important.


Me, what do I know? Ask the dog

Now in paperback as well as ebook

As a reviewer said, “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.”

Out of the mouths of babes



Obviously with a title like this there is perhaps the thought that this blog is going to wander off into territory of the professional eroticist. With Santa there, dressed like that, who knows what sort of present you’re going to find yourself unwrapping?

But strangely enough, you might say that metaphorically I was interested not so much in the present as in the wrapping paper.

It was Pilate who asked, “What is truth?” But then he made damned sure he went out before anybody had time to answer his question.

You’ll see later that my title, ‘Out of the mouths of babes, is ‘truth’. Yet if I’d said ‘Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings,” it would have been ‘more true.’ Ironically that phrase comes from the chap who was asked by Pilate, “What is truth.”

So suddenly we’ve got relative truth; some truth is more true than other truths?
And the Father Christmas? Well he/she will appear later as well, in circumstances where I cannot be entirely sure of her/his gender (however self identified.)

My later mother loved teaching and she taught the little ones and liked them best before they were of an age to lie convincingly.

She told of one small boy who was given the task of ‘finishing off the well known proverb.’ Given “Where there’s a will…….” He supplied, “There’s an argument.” A well adjusted son of the Cumbrian farming industry if you ask me.

But there was the other side to it. My mother expected boys to be mischievous. For her that was normal. To be honest she didn’t mind girls being mischievous either, she regarded it as healthy. But at that age she could spot something darker and deeper within the child. I remember her coming home, putting her bag down and saying, “That child will hang.”

It was only a change in the law which meant that twenty years later ‘that child’ was imprisoned, not executed.

But still, she loved the honesty of small children. I think it’s something a lot of teachers treasure. A friend of mine told me about a colleague’s experience.


“She’s was having a language lesson with her class of 5/6 year olds, trying to elicit words beginning with ‘H’. She was hoping for the word ‘horrible’ which would then be a lead-in to shared reading of a book. So she said, “If we were playing together and I said I didn’t like you and didn’t want to be your friend, what would I be?”

Little voice from the back.



It’s not merely teachers who love these stories, it’s parents as well. Another friend of mine posted about his young daughter.


Young daughter: “He tried to steal one of my meatballs so I stabbed him with my fork”

Me: “Does he sit next to you at dinner time?”

Young daughter: “Not any more…”


What’s not to love and admire?


The truth, pure, unvarnished and clean, surely it has to be something to treasure.

But earlier we had some truths that were more true than other truths. Indeed can some truths not actually be true. But in spite of that are more important and more true than mere reality? For example many years ago, on Christmas Eve, we had a storm which blew slates off the barn roof. Next day our neighbours dropped round and their small daughter stood staring wide-eyed at the mess.

Sternly I asked. “Did you leave Father Christmas a glass of sherry last night?”

“Oh yes,” she said, delighted with the memory.

“And he drank the lot, couldn’t steer properly and side-swiped our roof with his sledge!”

Her eyes got even bigger and rounder.


But this tale leads on to another, because it was too good a story for somebody not to tell. So a farmer’s wife in the next village was asked by her young son what Father Christmas was like.

“You’ll have to ask Jim Webster. He’s met him!”

“He has!” You can just imagine small boy’s interest.

“Yes, Jim had a cow calving on Christmas Eve and was struggling to get the calf out. When Father Christmas came to call he stopped and gave Jim a hand getting the calf out.”


Now you might ask where the truth is in that! But even there, there’s a deeper truth than mere reality and the lad would have recognised it. We’ve had our postman walk into the yard pushing before him a week old calf who’d ventured forth on his own. One morning I was helping a cow who was having a difficult calving and when the milk tanker turned up to collect our milk, the driver stopped and gave me a hand. In a rural community, if, late on Christmas Eve, I was having problems calving a cow, then it’s entirely reasonable that Father Christmas should stop and help.


Obviously if truth is beauty and beauty is truth, one ought to take the word of a poet


As a reviewer commented, “Jim Webster’s sly wit and broad understanding of human nature makes his work deliciously appealing. The adventures of Tallis Steelyard, and the characters who inhabit his world, are particularly delightful. Tallis and his creator both have a dry, wry and wonderfully playful perspective, and while the tales may seem like a bit-of-fluff entertainment initially, the aftertaste is that of rich wisdom shared with a wink.”

Move along there citizen, nothing to see




Move along please, move along. No rubbernecking please, no stopping to gawp. Move along move along. Ain’t you people got homes to go to?


OK so it’s a blog. Never seen a blog before? Admittedly finding one sprawled on the pavement isn’t usual, but what did you expect? One minute the fast life, a hundred hits on a good day and then suddenly it’s lying in the gutter wearing somebody else’s underclothes and cordoned off by incident tape.


You see it was never meant to be like this. It all started off so innocently. I wrote a book. Nothing strange about that, everybody’s doing it now. Trust me in that one, everybody’s doing it. There’s so many folk out there trying to sell books I’m thinking of setting up as a professional reader. Not so much ‘Brother can you spare a Dime’, more ‘I will read your book for money. (Reviews extra, terms strictly cash in advance.)’

Anyroadup, I wrote a book see. It gets to be a habit to be honest, there are four out there in paperback, but that’s beside the point. Once you write a book you’ve got to sell it. This all means you have to ‘be’ on facebook and writing a blog and telling the world how good your book is.

So I’d write a blog. Do you have any idea how many people want to read a blog telling them how good my book is?

Given that my mother is no longer with us and the rest of the family are probably sick of me telling them, I suggest that the figure, in round numbers, is so close to zero as to make no difference.

So I write about other stuff. In a world degenerating into hysterical introspective madness as a chunk of the population discovers that it isn’t just nice people like us who have the vote, I’m supposed to write something light, frothy and incidentally, sell my book.


Oh yes, and ideally the selling the book would be done so subtly that people wouldn’t have to notice. It’s fair enough, you wouldn’t want your blog to degenerate to the level of the drug addled vagrant who stands too close to you and breathes the stench of cheap drink and rotting teeth into your face until you give him money to go away.


No, we’re looking for a certainly delicacy here, a certain tact and charm. I have come to suspect that the perfect blog is the equivalent of the expensive courtesan who will graciously condescend to reach out with an elegant and beautifully manicured hand to relieve you of your credit card.

Personally I think a more workable option is to pitch the blog as the perfect girlfriend. You know the sort, your mum is convinced she’s a nice girl, and you know better than that.


But anyway, cannot stand here chatting. Some of us have work to do, sheep to feed, a door handle to fix, books to sell.


Browsing? Or should I wait here while you make up your mind? Tell you what, just leave the money on the table and I’ll collect it when I get back.





Stereotypically me?


I was walking across town last night on my way to a friend’s house. Suddenly there’s a shout of ‘Hey you’ and a transit van pulls up next to me.

It turns out the driver is a lady from away. She’s going to start work at 5:30am tomorrow for one of the big building contractors and wisely has decided to try and find the site now. Anyway I wasn’t sure exactly where her site was but I knew where the main gates were for the company that the contractors were working for, so I tried to direct her to them.

After five minutes I gave up, got in the van to act as navigator, took her there and recommenced my walk to my friend’s house by a different route.

Now when you stop and look at this you can immediately see the gender stereotypes at work. Women cannot read maps but do at least ask for directions. In the reality she had a satnav, and whoever had given her the postcode got it wrong so her map got her to Barrow but no further. As for asking directions, she did that. I’ve done it in the past, but being male you only have to see the nervousness in the eyes of a woman you stop at random to become far more selective about whom you ask.

But what is it about stereotypes. Obviously we have gender stereotypes, but there’s a lot more out there. What are they for, why do we use them?

Some of it, at a crude level, is a ‘power’ thing. The stereotype is used to belittle, dehumanise and marginalise the group stereotyped; normally to the advantage of the group doing the stereotyping.

You know the sort of thing, “Men are all rapists.” “Women are all tarts.” “Brexit voters are all stupid.” “Trump voters are all billionaires or retards.”

It puts the speaker in the position of power, allows them to crush their enemies, to see them driven before them, and to hear the lamentations of their women. Actually it’s quite a popular technique at the moment. Admittedly a chap did suggest that you “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you.” But sheesh why do that when the current method of stereotyping them is working so well?


So who uses stereotyping? Well obviously the advertisers. They aren’t actually bothered about putting people in boxes, they’re merely interested in shifting however many fizzball combat monkeys as possible. So they’ll pull whatever levers are available and if the lever works then they’ll pull it. They don’t make the lever.

As an aside, putting some toys in pink or blue packaging is similar to the way publishers give different covers to romance, fantasy and thriller novels. It makes it easy for people looking for stuff to find it. They’ve effectively put their stereotypical view of their readers to work.

On the other hand there are others who use stereotyping. Those who want to retain influence over the group they regard as their client state. If you can stereotype a group as victims, then it makes your virtue signalling so much easier as you wade in heroically to defend them.

Rather more worrying you can use it to try and control the group. Create a stereotype which makes the group you seek to control fearful, and then they might listen to you more. “Fear the Jews, they’re taking our jobs.” This technique has the advantage of being easy on facts, in that you don’t need any. So it’s possible to stereotype young women as the victims of assaults, when actually young men of the same age are far more likely to be assaulted. (Have you seen what those young men wear? Dressed like that with that they’re just asking for it.)


So what can we do about it? Social engineering doesn’t seem particularly successful, sometimes because the would-be engineers are trapped by the stereotypes. A quote attributed to a number of people is, “Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man.” So a lot of the ‘engineers’ try and get to the children. Yet frankly, in the UK at least, most children up until the age of seven are exposed mainly to the influence of their mothers with fathers less of a presence, and in infant and junior schools, male teachers are rare. So if this social engineering works, we have the men a previous generation of women have given us.
The other way to look at it is that stereotyping is just pigeonholing people. You come across a large group of people, you don’t want to have to spend the time dealing with them as individuals so you just lump them all together for ease of contemptuously ignoring. Stereotyping can just be a way of saving yourself the effort of having to think. Even better it reduces the chances that you might be wrong and have to change your opinion. Stereotyping is ‘safe.’

So what do we do about it? Well as a man who never touched a motorbike between 14 and 56 (when work meant I spend a bit of time on a quad) I’ve got two daughters with motorbikes. I could care less about sport, but only by making an effort. So if I’m going somewhere where I might be asked, I always ask my lady wife first for details of Barrow’s latest games etc. Not only that but she’s the one who’s keen on railways. So when dealing with real people I’ve never taken stereotypes seriously. Perhaps the first step in overcoming them is realising that they’re all real people? One thing I’ve learned over the years is that there are no ordinary people.

Anyway what do I know, I’m just some guy who started a blog to try and sell books. Shows you what I know doesn’t it?

In his own well chosen words, Tallis Steelyard reveals to us the life of Maljie, a lady of his acquaintance. In no particular order we hear about her bathing with clog dancers, her time as a usurer, pirate, and the difficulties encountered when one tries to sell on a kidnapped orchestra. We enter a world of fish, pet pigs, steam launches, theological disputation, and the use of water under pressure to dispose of foul smelling birds. Oh yes, and we learn how the donkey ended up on the roof.

As a reviewer commented, “Where to start with this review? First of all a health warning. Do not read this book when drinking coffee/beer/WHY. Neither is it a great notion to read somewhere sudden bursts of laughter could be seen as inappropriate.
I must confess upfront to being a fan of Jim Webster’s writing as he has a talent for making the most wildly inconsequential of observations seem matter of fact and perfectly believable. Any of the tales he weaves around the imaginary but utterly believable city of a port Nain are going to be chuckle worthy at the very least.
Therefore I approached the chronicles of Maljie’s varied and exotic life with great expectation.
I wasn’t disappointed.
In fact there were places where I actually howled with laughter.
Our heroine veers from situation to situation – rarely finishing without a profit. And some of her jobs are so silly and improbable. But you still keep reading and chuckling.
The ease with which Jim, in the guise of Tallis Steelyard (poet, visionary and unreliable witness) pilots this rickety craft through the shoals of Maljie’s life is exemplary.
But don’t just take my word for it. Read for yourself. But don’t forget the health warning.”