Monthly Archives: February 2019

I’ve never watched Netflix

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This isn’t a statement that I’ve taken a moral stance on the topic. It’s merely that being rural our broadband speed sometimes hits a truly amazing 4 meg but it’s never faster. That’s with us being on BTinfinity superfast broadband with fibre to our nearest cabinet. Given the nearest cabinet is at least two miles away, it isn’t going to get any better.

Actually, if you’re rural, (and that can merely mean you live a couple of miles outside town) you don’t expect fripperies like good broadband or good mobile reception in your home. I have upgraded to a smart phone, but it’s still on pay as you go and still lives switched off for weeks at a time. I did try downloading data on it when we were on holiday and I got free wifi. I gave up in disgust. Using google or the web on your phone struck me as like using one of those kiddy pianos, when you’ve got a concert grand in the other room.

peanuts

 

It doesn’t matter too much because you don’t use data on a phone with pay as you go, the price is ridiculous, and as my phone costs me about £20 a year, I cannot imagine any company coming up with a contract that tempts me.

But it’s interesting to look at other issues there are for people living in rural areas.

Now you’d have thought that if you’re subsidising bus services, rural buses, with a more scattered population, would need more subsidies. But actually the opposite is true. In a paper by the Rural Services Network we read, “Local authorities in rural areas have far less funding available to support bus services. In 2017/18 such expenditure in predominantly rural areas was £6.72 per resident, compared with £31.93 in predominantly urban areas. Expenditure to cover concessionary bus fares was £13.48 (rural) and £25.54 (urban).

Now you have to ask why government thinks that the urban population needs nearly five times as much money per head spending on them as the rural population?
It’s much the same with social care. “Rural residents face an additional cost burden for adult social care provision. In 2017/18 they funded 76% of the cost of this through Council Tax. The urban comparator figure was 53%.”

It’s not as if rural residents earned more, “Average annual earnings in rural areas are £21,400, 10% lower than the England average of £23,700.”

Housing on the other hand is more expensive. “Average house prices are £44,000 higher in rural areas than urban areas.”
Don’t go hoping for a council house though. “Options for those on low-incomes seeking social rented housing are typically limited in small rural settlements. Only 8% of households in villages live in social housing compared to 19% in urban areas.”

Now I’m not going to say that it’s great in urban areas. I live near one. This country has an awful lot of towns that are run down and fighting to survive. Money has been bled out of them. Decent jobs have gone and have been replaced by poorly paid call centre work or other jobs where sixteen hours a week contracts seem to be regarded as almost acceptable.

I was thinking about this stuff when somebody directed me to the website

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Results_of_the_2016_United_Kingdom_European_Union_membership_referendum

When you look at the voting districts who voted to remain, in the areas I know best, those who wanted to remain were the major cities, and the more prosperous districts. Those who wanted to leave are the rural districts and those towns which feel abandoned. It strikes me that the country is indeed split. But it’s not North-South or anything crude like that.
It’s the major metropolitan areas versus the rest.
” In those 30 cities, votes to Remain outnumbered those to Leave by over 900,000 (4,872,810 to 3,955,595 or 55.2% to 44.8%), while in the other voting areas, the votes to Leave outnumbered those to Remain by nearly 2.2 million (13,455,147 to 11,268,431, or 54.4% to 45.6%).”

 

Ignoring whether you believe in ‘leave’ or ‘remain’ something has to be done to deal with the basic level of inequality in this country. Major conurbations cannot continue to grab all the money. Instead of ‘trickle down’ economics we’ve had ‘trickle out’ economics. Where money has been poured into cities (Manchester and Liverpool have both benefited from serious spending and redevelopment, and they’re the two areas that seemed keen on remaining in the EU.) it’s been great for the people in those areas but the population in surrounding areas don’t seem to have seen the benefits. When we rebuild this country, we’ll probably have to rebuild our political class as well. No more party protégés parachuted in to seats they have no connection with whatsoever. Let local parties find local candidates who’ll stand up for local people and bring local problems to the table.

Actually https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Results_of_the_2016_United_Kingdom_European_Union_membership_referendum_by_constituency

is interesting as well, looking at MPs, the way they voted, and the way their constituencies voted. I guess some are going to have to do some rapid talking to keep their seats.

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But then, what to I know? Ask the dog.

 

As a reviewer said, “Like the other two books in this series, Jim Webster gives us a perspective of farm life we may not have appreciated. Some of the facts given will come as a shock to non-farming readers, but they do need to be read. Having said that, there are plenty of humorous anecdotes to make the book an enjoyable read.”

 

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GET YOUR HEAD TO THE LEFT!

If you’ve ever wondered what Cumbrian auctioneers get up to in their spare time 🙂

The Lakeland Auctioneer

It is 1993. Aspatria RUFC have a mid- winter national league fixture at Sudbury way down south in Suffolk. As usual we leave Penrith at 3pm on Friday afternoon heading over the A66 and down the A1. The Redcrest luxury double decker coach is full, the atmosphere convivial. The playing squad sits on the top deck around numerous tables. Committee men and supporters are downstairs.

Immediately a Forwards V Backs game of Trivial Pursuits gets under way. George Doggart is over from Sweden and wants to bet on the pie questions. The Backs are full of educated, learned men like Jimmy “Jinky” Miller, Tom Borthwick, Dave Murray and Colin Campbell. The forwards however, have a secret weapon, a genuine mastermind within their ranks. Neil Wedgwood from Maryport who only just made the bus straight from the early shift at British Steel, is an unbelievable font of knowledge. His consistency in…

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Capital!

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It has to be admitted that living just south of the Lake District, I’m in a really beautiful part of the world. Furness itself with the fells, lowlands, beaches and sea takes a lot of beating, and what’s more the rather ostentatious charms of the Lake District make sure the tourists swarm round the honey pots to our north and don’t clutter up our area.
But yesterday I had to go into the Lake District and due to a road being open which was supposedly still closed; I arrived an hour early for a meeting so just headed straight up onto the fells.

Even in February they’re stunning. Personally I feel that they’re especially stunning in autumn and winter, when the mists and cloud hang heavy and the becks run silver and the whole place is so atmospheric. Not only that but there aren’t all that many visitors. Well not compared to summer anyway.

 

Now there’s a lot of discussion about how we support these areas. Leaving the EU means that, at last, we can have the debate. One of the strands of the debate that has come to the fore is ‘public payment for public goods.’ This is where support is actually to pay farmers for those things that they produce which the public don’t pay them for.

These can either be tangible, but difficult to assign to individuals, things like clean water, clean air. Or they can be things that are intangible, like the view, the community, and the way traditional practices keep the community together and continue to produce the view. The argument is that farmers are under constraints because of the fact that they’re producing these things, but the public doesn’t pay for them.

Then you have to consider social and cultural capital. These are not particularly well understood. Social capital is the glue that holds society together. It’s what stops a community flying apart and becoming a collection of isolated households who interact only with their phones and don’t know who their neighbour is.

Cultural capital is also tricky. It can be the architecture, (so some of the grand villas in the Lake District come into this category. Nobody would ever be allowed to build anything like that again, but they’re just fabulous and fit the landscape.) It can be the culture of the people, the knowledge and skills that the local people have which enable them to survive in their area. So the ability of a hill farmer in Cumbria to keep on farming is due to a mixture of cultural capital (the skills the family have, the buildings and walls that mark out their land, the work of the generations who have gone before) and social capital, which means communities almost automatically pull together when it’s time for gathering, or other occasions when every spare person and dog is needed.

But it’s not just the traditional skills. In Cumbria there are farmers who have a suitable tractor and they have a contract with the local authority highways. If it snows, they’ll go out on their tractor, with a snow plough mounted on it, and keep a particular length of road open. The council provides the snowplough and makes a small payment to ensure the farmer always has the fittings on his tractor so he can use it. Then when it does snow, they’ll pay him while he’s actually working for them. It’s a good system; it means that the council has snowploughs all over the place.
Similar things happen unofficially. During the last big floods I know one village where as the river was overflowing its banks, local farmers arrived with tractors, diggers etc and went straight into the river. There they cleaned out all the gravel that the appropriate government agency should have been cleaning out on a regular basis for years; but had somehow found excuses not to. The farmers left the river so that it wasn’t going to flood. In most cases they weren’t doing it to protect their property, they were really doing it to protect the houses of their neighbours, and even the properties of second home owners. They did it because it’s still a community and that’s what communities do.

 

Now, at last, it seems that even government is beginning to realise that cultural and social capital are important. So one of the public goods that they’re going to have to take into account is the need to help the community survive and thrive. They want a community that’s resilient enough to cope with whatever mess nature dumps on it. Basically, in Cumbria, there is too much county and not enough ‘infrastructure’ to allow the local authority or government agencies to ‘ride to the rescue.’ We have to do it ourselves. So we want communities with decent jobs available so that our children, when they start working, have a hope of buying a house nearby if they want to. That way we have communities with all ages, not just retirement ghettos.

Similarly we can cope with a poor or negligible bus service if there are enough people with cars who can run an elderly person the sixty mile round trip to the hospital for their appointment. Because you do that for neighbours you’ve known since you were a child.
And we need an agriculture that is prosperous enough to be able to farm using traditional methods to maintain the landscape, and still offer opportunities which encourage the next generation to go into the industry because they know that they can afford to marry, have a home, start a family.

And of course, an industry that is part of the community and can turn out to do what needs doing when the weather gets out of hand.

The alternative is that the government doesn’t provide the support for this sort of thing and ends up trying to manage it using rangers to move the grass, and communities dwindle to because collections of second homes which stand empty for much of the year. But it’s going to be awfully expensive to pay state employees to manage the countryside when the peasantry will do it for less than the minimum wage, no paid holidays and no pension scheme.

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There again, what do I know? Ask the dog.

As a reviewer so helpfully commented, “Another excellent compendium of observations from the back of Mr. Webster’s quad bike in which we learn a lot more about sheep, border collies and people. On the whole, I think the collies come out of it best. If you fancy being educated on the ways of the world, with a gentle humour and a nice line in well observed philosophy, you could do a lot worse than this.”

Condoms, Carols and a Crème Caramel

I’ve always had a lot of respect for those in the hotel trade. At least in farming I’ve never had to be nice to people 🙂
So when I read Joy’s blog I thought it well worth sharing

Joy Lennick

Back-tracking, I actually found a few minutes in my frantic day to recall the first day we ‘opened for business’ at the hotel, and giggled … I must explain here that my ‘Gordon Blue’ can – to use a favourite expression – “turn on a sixpence.” If he didn’t turn back as quickly, it could have proved a problem … He has a complex personality that quite intrigues me, as he is also kind, thoughtful, romantic and very funny at times. But … on that morning, he was understandably feeling both tired and maybe a little edgy. As I walked into the kitchen, I had to quickly duck as a slice of burnt toast sped in my direction like a frantic frisbee … ‘Seig Heil’ I said and goose-stepped as he barked out an order. ‘Count to ten … that helps sometimes!’ He did and sanity prevailed. We had worked…

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Just another form to fill in

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I suppose we’re all used to cookies and data being collected automatically as we go through life, but there’s still an awful lot of data that people want to collect about us. So they send us forms to fill in.

I can remember that every year in farming we had the June Census. This was a long form that farmers had to fill in and it asked all sorts of questions about the farm’s enterprises, number of people living on it, working on it, etc etc. I watched my mother filling it in when I was still at school, and then as soon as I started work, she dumped the job on me.
Now she was a teacher and, almost by definition, my father was a farmer. So their attitude to form filling was entirely different. My mother would spend an evening getting all the information for the form, going through the records to see how many dairy heifers we had in certain age groups etc.

Then there were questions which she had to ask my father to answer, because there weren’t records for her to consult. So he got to answer the questions like ‘how many tons of silage did we make last year?’

When faced with a question like this, what do you do? By definition you never weigh silage into a clamp. Even if for some unknown reason you counted the trailer loads of grass tipped, the combined weight of grass wouldn’t be the final weight of silage.
Not only that but when you take silage out of the clamp you don’t weigh it either. Especially as we used to ‘self-feed’ the silage, in that we had an electric fence across the front of the face of the pit and cows slowly ate their way back from one end to the other.

Now there are formulas which you can use, given the length, breadth and height of the clamp, and the estimated density of the silage. But it isn’t as if, in June, you can go out and measure how much silage there was in the clamp when you filled it last year, because it’s been emptied since then and is half full again. I suppose it’s entirely possible that you could remind oneself that at sometime in the future you’ll be asked this question so you could keep records. Or you could do what my father did, and say, with absolute confidence, ‘We made a thousand tons.’

Now never, in the history of man, has anybody made a thousand tons of silage on this farm. Even if we managed to get it into our clamp, we’d have the Civil Aviation people complaining to us and demanding we had it properly illuminated as a hazard to aircraft. What had happened is that my father, being busy, had plucked a figure out of the air and had said it with quiet conviction, secure in the knowledge that nobody was ever going to check.

So when I took over the task of doing the June return, it always took me the length of time it took to drink my morning coffee at about 10am. No matter how many questions, or what questions they asked, I could fit it into that twenty minute slot in my day. I answered the questions to the best of my ability without actually frittering my life away checking records.

Since then they’ve stopped sending every farmer this census form to fill in. Instead it’s now the June Survey and they send it out to a proportion of farmers and extrapolate the results from the replies these people give them. Is it any more or less accurate than the old system? Who knows?
But it’s not just governments. I remember reading about a Catholic priest; I think he was in Ireland. The story he told was that apparently somewhere within the Catholic Church used to send a census form to each parish every year. One of the things they asked was the size of the church. (By which I mean the physical dimensions of the building.)
That was easy; he just put in the figures his predecessor had used. Except after a year or two he realised his predecessor was using feet and the form was assuming metres. So the church was reported as three times the size that it actually was. So that year, he converted his feet into metres and submitted the form. He then waited a little nervously for the fall-out. He kept expecting irate phone calls from some office somewhere asking what on earth he’d done to his church building!

Of course nothing happened. So he increased the size of his church every year, until it was so large, you could fit St Peter’s Basilica in the nave. This elicited no response so over the years he shrank it again, until you could have put it in a shoebox and made off with it. Still no response. So a little dispirited he just went back to using the figures his predecessor had used.

And now, I was shown a form that the head office of a charity sends out to all its branches. The person who filled it in explained to me that they’d spend nearly a full working day hunting down all the figures needed.

I commented that they’d made the mistake of filling it in like a teacher. If they’d filled it in like a farmer, it would have taken them twenty minutes.
I do wonder what all these organisations hope to do with these figures. After all, they’re worth every penny they paid the people collecting the data and filling the forms in for them. And as any farmer will tell you, put muck into a muckspreader, you get muck out of a muckspreader.

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Perhaps I could introduce you to somebody with the correct attitude to paperwork?

 

 

As the reviewer so nicely commented, “Once in a while a book really gets to you. Jim Webster’s book Sometimes I just Sits and Thinks has done just that to me. Jim is a farmer in the English county of Cumbria. His sense of humour shines throughout each episode. If you come from farming stock as I do, this is the book for you. In my mind’s eye I was out there with Jim and his faithful Border Collies Jess and Sal. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book…”

 

New Release Announcement for Animals, Acrobatics, Attitude, and Amore by @LynnHallbrooks #cozy #fantasy #shortstory # SCCA4

I don’t often reblog stuff, but somebody pointed out that given the number of people who follow my blog and who love animals, they might enjoy this book.

Boho & Bookish

Have you ever wanted to know more when a short story ended? Sometimes a story is written to certain stipulations and when it’s finished it leaves more questions than answers. Lynn Hallbrooks has paired up some of her earlier short story works with companion pieces. She allowed her imagination to blend talented animals, mythical beings, and real-life happenings in a relative clean, cozy fantasy short story collection she named, Animals, Acrobatics, Attitude, and Amore. Come for the cat and stay for the attitude. There is something for everyone at all ages.
The publication date of February 11, 2019, allows readers time to enjoy it for Valentine’s Day (February 14th) or any other day they choose.
The eBook is available in various locations and these links should take you there.
Amazon US link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07N6C2FB3
Amazon global link: mybook.to/SCCA4
Multiple vendor link: https://books2read.com/SSCA4

Author biography:
Lynn Hallbrooks enjoyed writing poetry and short…

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Muck flies to the midden

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This phrase has always irritated me. The meaning is simple. Somebody with a bad character will always end up hanging round with a lot of other bad characters. Yet given that I’ve spent a large part of my life shovelling muck, I know that while the phrase might sum up people pretty well, but it shows a distressing lack of understanding of the dynamics of muck.

Nowadays we tend to use contractors to cart slurry. They’re the ones with the big tractors pulling the big kit. It may seem counter-intuitive but these big machines with their wide wheels and carefully designed tyres make a lot less mess when they travel across the field than the old, smaller tankers used to do, pulled by the lesser tractors I remember from my youth!
Not only that but if you want a lot of slurry spread quickly, these machines are the way to go. Indeed in our modern, environmentally conscious times, I’d hope that people keen on recycling would pull to the side of the road and applaud as a slurry tanker goes past.

Indeed we are seeing far more use of human sewage as well. When used properly it’s both safe and useful. It also means that our human population becomes so much more sustainable. But a plea here; don’t drop anything down the toilet that you wouldn’t want to see spread on your own vegetable patch.

This sort of leads me back to slurry tankers again. A long time ago now, before we ever had to deal with slurry, we used to have to call the local council in to empty our septic tank occasionally. This they did. They sent a wagon with a vacuum tank on it. Looking back it wouldn’t hold a thousand gallons, perhaps five or six hundred. This wagon would come, fill up from the septic tank and then drive down to the sewage farm two or three miles away to unload. It would then come back for another load. It used to take them two working days to empty the septic tank and we’d be billed for that.

Anyway my father realised that the way the farm was evolving we’d have to move to a slurry system so we would need a slurry tanker. Given the size of our tractors and what they could pull, he bought a second hand, four hundred gallon tanker. Nowadays you’d barely use it as a water bowser, but back then it was just on the small side of industry standard.

One of the points raised in the discussion as to whether to splash out the money for one, was that we could empty our own septic tank and the money saved by not paying the council to do it could go towards paying for the tanker.

Anyway we’d had the tanker a year or so before our septic tank needed emptying. My Dad reckoned that as his tanker was smaller than the council tanker, it might take him longer to empty the septic tank. Also he could only fit in three or four hours a day for the job because he had to milk, feed young stock, and do all sorts of other jobs, So his plan was that he’d  just take a couple of loads every morning for a week or so. If work got in the way and he didn’t have time to finish it, well we could always phone the council to get them to do it, and we might only need to pay for one day’s work rather than two.

What actually happened was that on the first morning he emptied our Septic tank in two full loads and one half load. It took him about an hour and a half. Needless to say, we have never used the council service since.

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As a special treat for you, I’ve got not one new novella for you, but two!

 

Benor learns a new craft, joins the second hand book trade, attempts to rescue a friend and awakens a terror from the deep. Meddling in the affairs of mages is unwise, even if they have been assumed to be dead for centuries.

 

No good deed goes unpunished. To help make ends meet, Benor takes on a few small jobs, to find a lost husband, to vet potential suitors for two young ladies, and to find a tenant for an empty house. He began to feel that things were getting out of hand when somebody attempted to drown him