Monthly Archives: November 2018




Instinct is a wonderful thing. Calves are born with the instinct to stand next to their mother with their head held down but tilted upwards. They will then grab hold of their mother’s teat and suckle.

Except that instinct isn’t too precise and you’ll often see a calf work it’s way round mum at least twice before it finally gets a hold. Indeed they’ll suck on anything whether it be mum or a gate. They’ll also suck the wrong bits of mum until finally they hit the jackpot.

To be fair they’re quite resilient for their age, some of them, at twenty-four hours old can show both a turn of speed and an acceleration that humans cannot manage until well into their teens.
Mum, if she knows what to do, will often move forwards so the calf suddenly finds its nose next to the teat. Some will use their foreheads to push the calf into the right place.

We do our bit; as soon as possible you’ll milk the cow and get milk into the calf so you know it’s got adequate colostrum, which will give it immunity until its own immune system has chance to get up and running.

But yes, resilience is great in calves and people, but is it good in charities and government departments? I was talking to somebody with vastly more experience than me and they commented, by all means strive to achieve resilience but don’t ever let anybody know you’ve got it. If you’re known to be resilient all it means is that government will cut your funding to give to somebody else who is screaming that they’re about to collapse in a public and embarrassing fashion.

Rural communities suffer a lot from this. They’re known to be resilient, whereas London always screams out. So we find that London gets twenty-four times as much spent on infrastructure per resident as north-east England.


But it’s much the same across the board. Wise charities and government departments get their shroud waving in early and do it often. Ensure that there’s plenty of good memes and horror stories circulating on social media showing why it’s absolutely essential for your charity/service to be given the bulk of the next tranch of government spending.

Hence small, lean charities, light on their feet, which don’t pay chief executives six figure sums or have large publicity budgets, and who have made the mistake of admitting to being resilient, miss out. The squealing wheel gets the grease.



But anyway, short of Christmas Present ideas? Buy them a book

Swords for a Dead Lady


If Amazon say it’s out of print, ignore them, I’ve just had the audacity to have it printed by somebody other than them. Order it and it will come.

And a review!
“Webster is the best new fantasy writer in 20 years. His series has realistic characters, interesting and rapidly evolving plots and wit. He also displays an exceptional knowledge of ancient warfare, farming, sleazy lawyers, dodgy accountants, field and kitchen cookery and and even of high fashion houses! His female characters are the sort of girls both you and your wife would enjoy meeting.. I have all his books and will buy all his future books as soon as I hear they are out.”

Emulating the graceful swan.



It’s always said that when you see the swan, swimming serenely across the water, you never see the feet paddling frantically to keep it moving. And life is a bit like that.

Today there have been times when I could have passed for a gentleman of leisure. This morning I couldn’t fill cake bins because there was no dairy cake and a delivery is awaited. So I could get on with something else. I wrote up a Tallis Steelyard story because somebody had sent me a picture for inspiration. It’s across at


But after that I was helping sort through lambs to see if any of these fifty kilo thugs was anywhere near ready for going.
Yes, we still call them lambs; even through they left the cute stage behind them six months ago. At this stage it’s not unknown for them to try and slip past you by jumping; after all it worked quite well when they were little. But at this stage in their life, the technique means that 50kg of sheep moving at speed is coming directly towards you at above waist height.

Still some have been tagged up to go, and I went in and got a bit of dinner.


During the morning somebody had mentioned that a neighbour’s cattle had got into one of our fields. So Sal and I went to check this out. Yes, the cattle had got in, but they were in no longer. There wasn’t anything I could do to keep them out, our wire was up so I just tightened our wire a bit more in the vague hope it would act as a deterrent.
On my way home I walked past the house of another neighbour, stopped to say hi. He’d just finished mowing the lawn, which reminded me that I’d meant to do ours yesterday. Given the forecast, our lawn was as dry as it was going to get, so I quickly drove the lawn mower over it when I got back, then talked to a chap about milking parlour fittings, disposed of a spam phone call, had a brew and wondered if the cake wagon would ever come.

Along the way I checked the other sheep and made sure a couple of dry cows who’d been put out to grass for a couple of weeks were all right.

Then I got caught up in a different sort of work. Have you ever contemplated the institution that is the village hall? Have you ever wondered how they survive?
On one level they survive because a small cadre of local people are willing to put in the effort to keep them going. They form the committee, organise fund raising, make sure the place is warm and watertight and generally put in an awful lot of hours.

Then in a good village community there is a rather wider cadre of local people who don’t get involved in the running of the place, but they support the project. They turn up at all sorts of events, sometimes on rotten winter’s nights when frankly they’d rather stay at home. They’ll go and hear concerts of music they’ve never been all that keen on, watch plays that they wouldn’t watch if they were on telly, and smile grimly as somebody else’s ‘delightful’ child struts and frets their hour upon the stage. Yes, they’ll admit that they enjoy a lot of the stuff rather more than they expected, but still, they make the effort.

Then to cap it all, there is the sheer weight of regulation that can weigh down on your entirely amateur village hall committee. Health and Safety, environmental health, building regs, fire regs, forms from local authorities doing surveys of diversity; you name it, these people have to cope with it.

There are people who can help, ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England) is one of them, working through thirty eight rural community councils (sometimes known by other names) to provide support to rural communities in all sorts of ways. Perpetually strapped for cash, these community councils do what they can.

Once you lift the lid on this world you discover an amazing amount of work done to provide support to rural people who are struggling to help their community catch up with the rest of the country. These community councils cannot do things for communities, but they can give communities the support they need so they can do things for themselves.

Many rural communities are still struggling to get decent broadband; most are struggling to get accessible medical services. What’s the point of having a brilliant hospital thirty miles away when there’s no public transport and your medical condition means you cannot drive?
It’s not just me who’s keeping busy. Rural communities are full of people trying to ensure that their communities aren’t just abandoned, as banks, retailers and the post office pull back into the towns.

So I look at the paperwork I’ll need to be on top of at the next meeting, and suddenly it’s dark and looking like night. I really ought to have a shower and have a quiet hour or so with a good book, but it has gone 8pm, I’m still wondering it the cake wagon will turn up to blow in a load of cattle cake (the latest one appeared was 9pm) and, almost inevitably, there is a cow who will almost certainly calve tonight.


(Edited to add the feed arrived at 9:30pm and I’ve just landed in at 10:40pm, time for another shower and bed)


Did I mention a quiet hour with a good book? Hot of the press, metaphorically speaking, we have

Tallis Steelyard: Six men in a boat.

It even has a review!

“Runaway Poet, Flat Boat Sailor, Master Gunner, Flower Arranging Judge, Adventurer and Escort of a beautiful young Lady, are only a few of the skills exhibited by Tallis Steelyard in this extraordinary story.
In my opinion, the world and characters from Jim Webster’s mind would make a wonderful TV series, starting with this one.”

Leading TV companies, take note, you heard it here first!

Pontifications on a road less travelled. The bots are alive and well

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One of the problems with the internet is that there is just too much information and a high proportion of it is rubbish. And people deluge you with more.

In fact they’ve even got bots to do it now.

I wrote a blog post on my Tallis Steelyard blog called Garrat Drane and the case of the petty cash.


A few days later I got this message attached to that particular blog post.


“Hello good day am Franklin by name.

Am an crypto exchanger we also mine wallet to start earn every 9.6hrs,

I exchange TBC, ETH to BITCOIN then I exchange BITCOIN to CASH (money) if you have any to cashout or exchange contact me on my Gmail  we are ready to supply all your needs

Remain bless”


The deathless prose tugs at the heart strings doesn’t it?


But it isn’t just rubbish like this; the great propagandists still walk among us. Or at least pour their filth into the web pages we might access.

What people forget is that Propaganda has two purposes. So when Paul Joseph Goebbels put out his propaganda it had two purposes. One was to attract the waverers and bind them more closely to the party. But the other purpose was to ensure the party faithful remained faithful. This was done by demonising the opposition. They were Untermensch or even worse. The purpose of the propaganda was to ensure that it became impossible for somebody to even contemplate leaving the party to join ‘them’.

It was the same with the communist parties and those on the old hard left. The party propaganda mixed some good things to attract those who might join, with a big dose of vilification which was aimed at the lackeys of the Imperialist Yankee running dogs. Plutocrats, kulaks, enemies of the people, counter revolutionary elements, the bourgeoisie, were all to be destroyed so don’t even think of joining them.

We see it now. Hillary Clinton, probably ill advisedly, described Trump supporters as a ‘basket of deplorables.’ The message is obvious, be ‘nice’ people like us, not scum like them.
Stop a minute; these deplorables are your fellow citizens. Unless you live in a bubble of privilege they’re your neighbours, people you actually know and get on with. What she proves is that society needs a good stirring up. In the UK the conscription for two world wars had that sort of effect, but America missed out during the Vietnam War, with the wealthy skipping the draft due to ‘bone spurs’ or moving to Scandinavia for a few years. I remember being at an AGM of the Youth Hostel Association in England. The year after the President granted an amnesty to those who’d dodged the draft, the number of Americans staying in Youth Hostels in the UK fell markedly. The Vietnam War may actually have hardened the stratification of society.

The purpose of propaganda is to control your thinking; it allows politicians to manipulate you. Being the willing victim of propaganda is to succumb to their blandishments, switch off your critical faculties and just allow yourself to be carried along, unthinking and compliant, in the surge.

That, I suspect, is one reason why the remain campaign has held together. Normally in this country, if a political party won 52% of the popular vote, nobody would have any doubt about its legitimacy. It’s a feat that’s rarely achieved. Faced with these numbers, the opposition and the electorate nod wisely and accept the will of the people.




But by painting the opponents of the remain campaign as a bunch of subsentient racist thugs barely incapable of higher thought, whilst the supporters are an educated, cosmopolitan elite, the propagandists have managed to hold the remain campaign largely together. OK so they’ve split the country, but it’s doubtless all for ‘the greater good’, so that’s all right then.

But there have been other waves of vilification as well. Look at the current standing of our PM, Theresa May. I think she’s achieved the impossible by unifying pretty well everybody in opposition to her policy.

But let’s assume she’s not a weak willed spineless moron. Let’s assume that as a woman who has managed to get to the top of the greasy pole, she is cunning, shrewd, and to some extent competent.

Now personally I dislike the plan she put forward and would rather just leave the EU on WTO terms than accept it. But I accept many will not agree with me on that point even if they dislike her plan. So as I’m accepting your little foibles, at this point, for the purposes of the exercise, I’d ask you to do me the courtesy of accepting my little foibles.

Let’s go back to our PM. Assuming she is cunning, shrewd etc (which is every bit as probable as assuming she’s a spineless moron) why is she doing what she is doing?
Let us assume that she is betting that she’ll survive as PM, and that the plan will not get through parliament. Both pretty reasonable bets to be honest, but you’d need metaphorical balls of steel to take that course.

So she’s setting up a plan that she knows will fail, why?
So let’s look at the EU. In today’s paper the Spanish are saying they’ll veto the plan over Gibraltar. Then you have the Italian situation, they’re already at daggers drawn with the Commission over their budget and unlike Greece they’ve called the Commission’s bluff and haven’t backed down.

In three or four month’s time who will be Chancellor of Germany?
Macron in France isn’t looking particularly strong at the moment, he struts on the European stage and at home the demonstrations are getting larger.

So at some point after Christmas, when we cannot get the plan through, the Commission find to their embarrassment that they cannot either.
At this point, with the clock ticking, the time pressure will be starting to impact of both sides. The old plan, the ‘backstop’ and suchlike will be discredited and they’ll have a couple of months to come up with something new. The pain will be spread more evenly. Suddenly the Spanish have to face up to the fact that if we go out on WTO terms (remember we trade successfully on WTO terms with our largest customer the USA) Spanish produce runs the risk of being priced out of the UK market. Over the last year there have been acrimonious discussions in the various EU agriculture forums, because they have to work out how to support EU agriculture without UK money. Things have been patched up because under ‘the plan’ we were going to keep paying some money in, and that’s sort of filled the gap. But if we leave under WTO, that gap opens up again and member states who have been net recipients since they joined will have to become net contributors.
At that point Theresa might come back with the deal she wanted in the first place.


But there again, what the hell do I know?

Only that I got a rather nice review of a book


Excellent follow up to his first collection of bloggage – Sometimes I Sits and Thinks – this is another collection of gentle reflections on life on a small sheep farm in Cumbria. This could so easily be a rant about inconsiderate drivers on country lanes and an incessant moaning about the financial uncertainties of life on a farm. Instead, despite the rain, this is full of wise asides on modern living that will leave you feeling better about the world. Think Zen and the Art of Sheep Management (except he’s clearly CofE…) Highly recommended, and worth several times the asking price!

Spot the difference


One of the insults people hand out to builders is “He’s a cowboy.” But in my profession, cowboy is a job specification rather than an insult. Over the years I’ve worked with sheep, pigs, and a very long time ago, poultry. Indeed I’m probably one of the few people living who’s worked in a Second World War gas mask. I got the job of fumigating our old wooden hen house. Not long before, digging around in the attic, I found two old gas masks. So when fumigating, I wore one of them. Admittedly it was a full adult one and I’m not sure I was even in my teens at the time, it was probably heavier and more cumbersome than intended, but still it was useable.

But back to the point, as well as sheep, pigs and poultry, I’ve worked with cattle. Indeed some of my earliest memories are working with cattle. In the course of an awful lot of years I’ve been attacked by bulls, trodden on by cows and generally messed about by generations of young stock. But in spite of this, I am by nature a cowman.

Indeed when somebody presents me some mechanism they hope I might be able to fix, I’ve been known to glance at it, mutter, “I’m a cowman not a tractor driver, and direct them to somebody else who might hope to understand this stuff.

But anyway there are cows about again.

Comparing them with sheep, there isn’t really a lot of comparison. Sheep struggle to cope with the concept of being an individual. Place them in a situation when they cannot just copy what everybody else is doing they tend to panic. Dairy cows on the other hand seem to revel in it. Give them half a chance and they will even go to the extent of developing eccentricities.
Years ago when I was milking, cows used to come into the abreast parlour and because we’d all being doing this for so long, I never bothered with the chains that hook behind them to stop them stepping back. I was at one end of the parlour dealing with one cow and I noticed a cow at the far end step back. She’d probably eaten up the feed placed in front of her and was idly wandering round to see if there was any more lying about unattended. I was putting the milking machine on another cow so couldn’t actually do anything about her, and didn’t want to shout and upset the others. So I just caught her eye and coughed meaningfully. Something like, “Ahem.” Without any fuss she went back to where she should be and waited for me to let her out.
Just to show you the difference between working with cattle and sheep, when I feed sheep in troughs, they will approach, keeping a wary eye on Sal, and suddenly mob the trough. Provided I keep moving they’ll part in front of me and surge back to the trough after I’ve passed. Occasionally one of them will get caught underfoot, panic as the metaphorical spotlight falls on it and it’ll dash back to hide in among the others.

With dairy cows I’ll appear with a bag of cake. Sal, should she be present, is treated with good humoured amusement. “Oh look, how cute, a dog.” As I approach the trough cows will spot this and will move to the trough, and if I’m unlucky, there’ll be a solid wall of them waiting for me. Somehow I then have to move along the trough, pouring the feed in, and at the same time try to push my way through. Given they weigh an average of at least 600kg each and aren’t particularly worried about my presence; it’s a process which involves considerable tact.
Strangely enough walking backwards pouring the cake into the trough and just bumping into them seems to work far better than trying to walk forward.

Oh any you may have noticed that when I mentioned animals I’d worked with, (Cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry), I didn’t mention dogs. When I go to meetings and people moan about their co-workers I merely comment that my co-worker is a bitch. It has got some strange looks in these political correct times but it does have the advantage of being true. Dogs are colleagues.


Oh, and you might or might not have noticed. I’ve got another book out.



Instead of his usual collection of anecdotes, this time Tallis presents us with a gripping adventure. Why is Tallis ‘run out of town’ by hired ruffians? Why does a very sensible young woman want his company when plunging into unknown danger? Who or what was buried in the catacombs? And why has there been so much interest in making sure they stay dead? Also featuring flower arranging, life on the river, and a mule of notable erudition.


It’s £0.99, go on, treat yourself

Still travelling hopefully


I had to go and see somebody on  business. Not a pleasure trip, just part of local people earning a living. The problem is, the person I went to see lives in the National Park. They’re only 28 miles away but that trip took over an hour. To be fair, the 10 miles within the Park took up half of the journey time.

Also to be fair, I wasn’t bothered by tourists or even locals blocking the road and slowing me down. It was just the road. It was a road that was designed for use by driven sheep, people riding ponies and the occasional cart. At some point they gave it a coat of tarmac and you never know, they might one day repeat the experience.

One problem the Lake District faces is that it has an infrastructure that would be a bit old and creaking for the forty thousand people who live within the park. But when faced with the twenty million visitors a year the park now gets, it’s totally inadequate.

The photo shows the road over the Hardknott pass, looking west.

As an aside, there is very little public transport within the Park, which means the locals, along with everybody else, are forced into their cars. But for much of the area public transport in the form of a bus service probably isn’t the answer.

Take Coniston as an example. Even if it was the centre of a decent bus service, there is the problem that there are parts of the road where the bus struggles to get past a lorry, a biggish van, or in some cases even the tourist in a Chelsea tractor!
Can you imagine trying to keep to timetable on a Broughton to Coniston bus? Sections of A593 are virtually single track with tall stone walls on both sides.
But the infrastructure problem runs deeper than that. The X112 bus, which runs from Barrow to Coniston through Ulverston, has enough problems on the A590, never mind on the Coniston road. At irregular intervals somebody puts traffic light up in Ulverston near the Booths roundabout and suddenly Ulverston becomes a car park. On Monday I drove to meet a friend in Grizedale and the traffic into Ulverston from the Kendal side was backed up almost to Arrad Foot. That’s about two miles.
On Tuesday I took the ‘Ulverston avoiding route’ to get to Coniston, I went via Broughton. It’s not too bad if you want to get to Coniston or even Ambleside, but a bit of a beggar if you want to go to Lancaster.
But back to the X112, there have been times when they’ve just had to abandon their timetable, and with it any attempt to cover the complete route. So really the problem lies with Cumbrian infrastructure not just Park infrastructure. To an extent the Park is part of that problem. Various environmental and countryside lobby groups put up a bitter fight to stop improvements of the A66 and the A590. These are the two arterial routes which allow people in the West of Cumbria to get to enjoy such frivolities as hospital services and the motorway.
But we then have another problem, even if you fix the roads, where on earth are people going to park? Finding parking in Coniston or any other of the small tourist towns can be a nightmare, they’re full.
Just to add to the pressure, visitor numbers seem to have been growing faster than anticipated, we weren’t supposed to have 20 million visitors until about 2025. At the current rate of growth we’ll pass the thirty million visitors mark in less than a decade.

Anyway it looks that if you’ve got a journey through Cumbria to contemplate, you’d be wise to take a good book with you.

Coincidentally, I’ve just published one

Tallis Steelyard: Six men in a boat

Instead of his usual collection of anecdotes, this time Tallis presents us with a gripping adventure. Why is Tallis ‘run out of town’ by hired ruffians? Why does a very sensible young woman want his company when plunging into unknown danger? Who or what was buried in the catacombs? And why has there been so much interest in making sure they stay dead? Also featuring flower arranging, life on the river, and a mule of notable erudition.

Sally’s Cafe and Bookstore – New on the Shelves for Christmas – Tallis Steelyard – Six Men in a Boat by Jim Webster

Travelling hopefully


A mate of mine commented, “I didn’t realize how bad of a driver I was until my sat nav said, ‘In 400 feet, do a slight right, stop, and let me out.’”

I must admit we don’t have a sat nav, we’re map people. I don’t just want to know where I’m going, I want to know what’s around me and how the land lies.

But anyway, I had to go into Wales. Llandrindod Wells to be exact. So I looked at the various options for getting there and finally decided to just take the train. In theory the car was quicker but there was too much M6 in the car journey for me to take that prediction seriously.

On the down side the rail journey involved me waiting for over two hours in Shrewsbury because there aren’t many trains on the Heart of Wales line which would take me to Llandrindod Wells. But actually Shrewsbury is worth a look round and it was a couple of hours well spent. The first time we as a family went to Shrewsbury, my Lady Wife was quite impressed with my ability to orientate myself and tell her which way to go. What she didn’t realise was I was navigating from the map of Shrewsbury in the front of the Cadfael stories. The place has changed a little since 1140. There again, the Monastery and the Castle are still in the same place.

I quite like rail travel. Always carry a good book, but always be ready to chat because you meet all sorts of people and it’s amazing what you can learn. Then there’s the scenery. Admittedly I once took the line out of London to Shenfield. That too has scenery. I stared out of the carriage window like Dante visualising his journey to hell.

But the Heart of Wales line doesn’t have that problem, and anyway I was chatting to two locals on the way there. On the way back I got to concentrate on the scenery. The train doesn’t go particularly fast, but I wasn’t driving, flogging along narrow roads and unable to do more than drive with the scenery going past unheeded.

Whilst I did get my book read once I got onto the West Coast Main Line, I did notice that there were still dairy cows grazing, even though it was November. I suspect that there was no real alternative; the dry summer meant that they probably didn’t have enough conserved feed to get them through the winter, so a late autumn bite is going to be a real bonus. It was also good to see people had been able to get a last cut of grass as we were passing, so hopefully it won’t be as bad a winter as people feared. If we have an early spring it’ll ease things for a lot of people. Admittedly if it’s a late spring it’s going to screw things badly for a lot of people, but at the moment there’s nothing you can do about it anyway, ‘sufficient unto the day is the trouble therein.’

If you get the chance, I’d say that Llandrindod Wells is worth a visit. It’s bonny, and friendly enough. It’s not got the stark grandeur of Snowdonia or the Welsh Mountains but it’s none the worse for that.

Oh yes, and whether you go into the heart of Wales, or are just pottering about at home, you’ll still need a good book.

Funnily enough I’ve just released a new Novella.

Instead of his usual collection of anecdotes, this time Tallis presents us with a gripping adventure. Why is Tallis ‘run out of town’ by hired ruffians? Why does a very sensible young woman want his company when plunging into unknown danger? Who or what was buried in the catacombs? And why has there been so much interest in making sure they stay dead? Also featuring flower arranging, life on the river, and a mule of notable erudition.



Yours for a mere 99p, go on, treat yourself.