It’s my experience that after a while all sorts of people get to know of your existence. Frankly some times it can be a damned nuisance. Over the years I’ve ended up talking to all sorts of people, some of whom probably were certifiable. There again at other times it can be fascinating and can open doors into an entirely different world.
But anyway, more than a couple of decades ago now, I got this phone-call completely out of the blue from a group of farming activists.
“Is Jim Webster there?”
“Oh good. We wondered if you could find out who’s responsible for the Royal parks in London.”
“You see we’ve already got a freeman of the city who’ll help us drive sheep across London Bridge but we thought we could graze them in the park and talk to people about agriculture afterwards.”
Think about it, why wouldn’t I help them?
So I set to work. Who on earth did I know who might know the right people? Actually this is the secret. The secret is not merely knowing stuff, it’s knowing people who know the people who know stuff.
So I thought of Caroline. I felt she was the best person to ask. So that evening I phoned Caroline.
She listened as I explained and immediately told me to phone George. George wouldn’t know who controlled the Royal Parks, but he’d know who I ought to talk it. And I was to tell George that Caroline had told me to speak to him.
Well you don’t get better than that, so I phoned George. Remember I’m phoning him right out of the blue and he almost certainly doesn’t know me from Adam.
”Hi George, it’s Jim Webster here and Caroline told me to talk to you.”
George burst out laughing and merely commented that ‘To hear is to obey.’
So I explained to George, and he laughed again and then gave me the names of two ladies who were sure to be happy to help. And of course he told me to mention that George and Caroline were supporting me.
So I phone the first lady. She picks up the phone and as I’m talking to her there is another conversation in the background. Father is shouting upstairs to see if his daughter will sweet-talk her boyfriend into driving the mower tractor tomorrow when they’re silaging. The impression I got was that daughter had other plans for the day that didn’t involve grass.
But anyway the lady was very helpful, thought the sheep scheme was brilliant and gave me a name and phone number for the person who organised things in the Royal parks. But she told me to phone lady number two as well.
So I phoned lady number two. Half way through our conversation it got a bit chaotic because a weak lamb that had been in the warming oven of the aga had recovered enough to escape. So she continued to talk to me with phone in one hand, lamb in the other and two Border Collies watching her carefully to make sure everything sheep related was done properly. Lady Two gave me the same name and number as Lady One and we agreed it was a result.
So I phoned the group of activists and gave them the name and phone number so they could make their formal approach during office hours. Given I’d managed to get the information for them in less than five hours I thought it was pretty slick to be honest.
Anyway, it had meant I’d been on the phone talking to people for most of the evening. (Proper phones this, landlines, none of your mobile nonsense. Back then mobile phones were so big I couldn’t have held one up for that length of time!)
But as I wandered through to the other end of the house my mother asked why on earth I’d been on the phone so long. So I explained to her. I even mentioned the names of Lady One and Lady Two.
She burst out laughing. Apparently these two ladies had, in their youth, been the contemporaries and disreputable friends of Princess Margaret, ‘It Girls’ before the term was invented.
Me, I think they turned out all right.
And no, I cannot remember if they did end up putting sheep in the Royal parks.
But isn’t it great that so many apparently respectable people are perfectly happy to help with some bizarre and off the wall stunt to support the industry and way of life they love.
The anarchic streak runs deep in all the best people
There again, when you work with livestock, anything does happen.
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.”