The tick-box fairy

'It's a 300 page government questionnaire about cutting back on bureaucracy!'

I was just reading a piece by Sir John Timpson. Somebody had written in saying that he was losing the will to live because of all the box ticking rubbish that came across his desk from compliance officers and others. The wise answer Sir John gave was hire a box ticking officer who did all that crap for the company and let everybody else get on with their real jobs.

To be fair, in agriculture, we get all sorts of utter rubbish poured down upon us from pretty well every inspectorate that can wrangle itself a rural arm. My ‘favourite’ example of this the dairy inspector who insisted that we had a separate ‘wash area’ in our dairy.
We’d never had one because frankly the back kitchen was more easily accessible from our milking parlour than the dairy was. But muppets are not to be denied, and even though he couldn’t actually show where the regulations said I had to do this, he was just going to ensure I failed the inspection until I installed one and would charge me £100 a time to do the re-inspection.

So we had our wash area. This consisted of a bucket, with a bar of soap in, and a towel. The bucket was covered in Clingfilm and was placed out of the way on top of the hot water boiler. There it stood, untouched, for ten years, until we gave up milking and it was disassembled and was used for something useful.
It’s the same as the instruction to wear a plastic apron whilst milking. We had a plastic apron hanging in the dairy. It had been left there by a relief milker who left one on every farm he milked at, so he didn’t forget it. I on the other hand never milked wearing a plastic apron in my life, but as the apron hung there in the dairy, another box was ticked.

Still in spite of sundry muppets and other time-wasters life goes on. I went to look sheep this morning. Because it was raining, Sal wasn’t sitting outside waiting for me. She appeared when I did, but saw no point in getting wet before it was necessary. We wandered down among the sheep and gave a little bit of cake to the small batch who’d lambed last.

Now yesterday we added to this small batch last year’s daughter of a ewe who was in the batch with this year’s two lambs. Because all four sheep are distinctively marked you could spot mother, daughter and this year’s lambs very easily.
Now if you keep your own replacements you’ll regularly stick a daughter back in the same flock as her mum, but in this case we could actually tell who was who. So I’ve been watching them to see if mum showed any signs of affection to older daughter. The answer is a resounding ‘no’. She is ‘last year’s lamb’ and is firmly kept at a distance because ‘this year’s lambs’ take priority. Motherly love is working, but is focussed on those who need it, not those who might feel entitled to exploit it.

Another interesting individual to watch was Sal. A couple of the older lambs tentatively play with her. Various ewes with young lambs disapprove of her entirely and shake their heads and stamp their feet. Generally they treat her with wary respect as becomes one with her dentition.

But, Sal quite likes the taste of the feed I’m putting out for these ewes and lambs. So when I put some on the floor, Sal will drift casually in and eat some. At this point, with noses in the feed, any wary respect goes out of the window and even the smallest and most timid lamb will cheerfully push her away as it tries to eat the nuts Sal is eating.

Oh and finally somebody pointed me to this article


Apparently St. John’s College in America, with two campuses in Annapolis and Santa Fe has turned its back on modern fashions in education and is merely doing what universities used to do which is teach students to think.

It’s an article worth reading, and reminded me of Cash Pickthall, who taught me history back in the Grammar School. He was a great one for using history to make us think.

I remember at the time thinking that if it caught on and everybody started thinking, that would be the end of civilisation as we know it.


A collection of anecdotes, it’s the distillation of a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England. I’d like to say ‘All human life is here,’ but frankly there’s more about Border Collies, Cattle and Sheep.

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26 thoughts on “The tick-box fairy

  1. Sue Vincent June 27, 2017 at 12:58 pm Reply

    Teaching students how to learn… how to think for themselves…skills like discernment, debate and fluidity of thought? Is that not illegal yet?

    • jwebster2 June 27, 2017 at 1:43 pm Reply

      Apparently cheering a politician of your grandfather’s generation is considered to be an act of rebellion among the young 🙂
      Thus they’re spared the problems of original thought

      • Sue Vincent June 27, 2017 at 7:05 pm

        Well, as my grandfather was around in Churchill’s time, and both have gone to that great debate int he sky…that may not be so bad… 😉

      • jwebster2 June 27, 2017 at 9:32 pm

        I got one piece of political advice from my Grandfather, “Never vote Liberal, their last minister of agriculture was appalling.” 🙂

      • Sue Vincent June 27, 2017 at 10:40 pm

        My grandfather had his priorities right where I was concerned. He told me about trolls, boggarts and griffins instead 🙂
        Not a lot of difference, when I think about it…

      • jwebster2 June 28, 2017 at 6:37 am

        Mine was a farmer, and I used to go looking stock with him and he told me about cattle and sheep and started me down that road 🙂

      • Sue Vincent June 28, 2017 at 7:39 am

        Mine was a sculptor and writer… I got direction too 🙂

      • jwebster2 June 28, 2017 at 7:50 am

        Mine was the father of five daughters, I was the first grandson 🙂
        But he educated all his daughters and they all worked and had their own incomes before they married.

      • Sue Vincent June 28, 2017 at 8:22 am

        A grand achievement…and you must have been a true gift as a grandson 🙂

      • jwebster2 June 28, 2017 at 9:17 am

        I like to think so
        His daughters did him proud, five daughters and 11 grandchildren, five of them boys 🙂

      • Sue Vincent June 28, 2017 at 11:52 am

        That’s not a bad tally 🙂

      • jwebster2 June 28, 2017 at 12:07 pm

        brought up as a litter 🙂

      • Sue Vincent June 28, 2017 at 5:24 pm

        Best way 🙂

  2. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt June 27, 2017 at 1:48 pm Reply

    I think the point is to show them what has already been thought, to bring them up to speed so they can spend their time on the remaining problems of the world (standing on the shoulders of giants), rather than stand on the same footing as giants – and come up short.

    It’s a pretty Western Civilization background, but it won’t actually hurt them (unless they get swelled heads by being the offspring of such a tradition, and think they themselves are entitled to anything – always a problem).

  3. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt June 27, 2017 at 1:51 pm Reply

    Also, curious – does your daughter ewe actually NEED anything from her mum at this point? I would think the answer would be no. The lambs need a mother only until a certain point, which must be passed some time in the first year, or I imagine there would be no sheep left on the planet. Everything else comes built in. Or is my ignorance showing?

    Are there elder stateswomen among sheep?

    • jwebster2 June 27, 2017 at 1:57 pm Reply

      the daughter doesn’t actually need anything
      As for elder stateswomen, not as such
      There are muscular and dominant individuals but as they grow older they lose their teeth and grow weaker
      Wisdom counts for little amongst sheep 🙂

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt June 29, 2017 at 5:23 am

        Which is why Jesus used them for parables.

      • jwebster2 June 29, 2017 at 5:33 am

        That and the fact that pretty well everybody would have experience of them

  4. Mick Canning June 28, 2017 at 9:04 am Reply

    Well, not a chance of everyone starting to think, so civilisation is safe for now. Such as it is.

    • jwebster2 June 28, 2017 at 9:17 am Reply

      That is probably a relief 😉

  5. Liz Wright June 29, 2017 at 9:07 am Reply

    Wondering which of your amazing blogs to use for the next issue, any preferences and also still waiting for your bacs or do you want me to send you a camera?

    • jwebster2 June 29, 2017 at 3:26 pm Reply

      I emailed you my BACs, send me an email so I know I’ve sent it to the right one

  6. ellenbest24 July 1, 2017 at 7:10 am Reply

    Maybe parlimentary candidates should be taught thinking. A compulsory lesson undertaken before they are given access to the house. M P’s with the skills to think, could actually be useful and possibly cut down on the buarocracy.

    • jwebster2 July 1, 2017 at 8:05 am Reply

      That would be the end of civilisation as we know it 🙂

      • ellenbest24 July 1, 2017 at 8:06 am

        Or the begining.

      • jwebster2 July 1, 2017 at 11:42 am

        either way it would come as something of a shock 🙂

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