Monthly Archives: May 2019

Organic and artisan!

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In all candour it was not me that spotted the potential market. My daughter pointed out to me that this country now imports Italian nettles. Obvious, post Brexit, the nettle market will collapse, and it was at this point I felt duty bound to step into the breach!
I did my market research and discovered that they are indeed available. For £22.95 you can get a kilo of nettles!
https://www.finefoodspecialist.co.uk/nettles-500g/

 

The problem is that there are ‘nettles’ and ‘nettles’. Take those growing in this picture.

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Well, actually don’t take them, they’re a valuable crop. As you can see, here we have a mixed planting with stitchwort. Even if you don’t pick any of the stitchwort with the nettles, we believe that grown together it adds a number of subtle notes to the flavour of the nettles which you’ll find tickle the cultivated palate. I would recommend that you use these in a risotto which has hints of salmon.

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Obviously some prefer a stronger nettle, with richer more pronounced flavours. I’d recommend these for fritters, ideally served with banana and pork.
Alternatively you might want a younger nettle, grown at a wider spacing, to ensure that each plant is aerated properly. This gives you far more subtle flavours. Also people have described them as ‘bubbly’, and ‘sparkling.’ Surely the perfect pizza topping.

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But then how do you bring them into the kitchen? Obviously the sloppy and careless can just despatch some expendable minion with shears to clip a few plants. But the great Bartolomeo Scappi is said by some to have taken the greatest care. On nights of the full moon he would slip from the arms of his mistress, and wearing only thigh length boots and a dressing gown would forage for his nettles. He would cut them with silver scissors and would carry them home in a silken bag.

Alternatively, Marie-Antoine Carême is said to have insisted that nettles should only be picked in the rain. She shunned bladed implements and instead she would pluck the tips and carry them home in a glass bowl.

 

Anyway I’ve given a lot of thought to the whole business. Nettles are far more complicated than you might think, and it would be far too easy to fall short of the demands of a sophisticated clientele. Thus and so I have decided that the way forward is to bow to the experience of those who know.
Hence, by appointment, we allow ‘pick your own’. You can come and take as many of our organic and artisan nettles as you want. They are thus absolutely fresh, yours for a merely nominal £25 a kilo.

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More uniquely helpful lifestyle advice is available.

As a reviewer wisely 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.”

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Every so often they let me travel

You know what it is, every so often somebody leaves the door unbolted, and before they know it, I’m away.

Actually with me it’s more a case of every so often people remember me and ask me to come down to London for a meeting. Therefore my aim is to ensure that I attend the meetings and then get to view the finest sight in London. This is a Virgin Pendolino destined for Glasgow. Best viewed from the inside of Coach B as it pulls out of Euston.

Still I got to London and had to stay overnight, so got to mooch about and discover various things. One was Golden Turmeric Latte. Who ever knew it was even a thing? I confess to not actually trying it, the sign was outside a coffee shop rather more exclusive than I am. Still, it’s good to know that London, apparently the one place in the country which is qualified to tell the rest of us how to live, has got its priorities right. Everybody, apparently, needs their golden turmeric latte.

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But anyway I was walking back across Lincoln’s Inn Fields. I remember walking that way about five years ago (might be a little longer) and there was somebody from Pret a Manger giving out free sandwiches etc. The company has a proud tradition of not throwing food away but instead give it to the homeless etc. As an aside I’d mention Greggs as another company who are stalwart supporters of foodbanks and others. But anyway back then this chap from Pret was feeding about a score of people.

As I walked across Lincoln’s Inn Fields there were a lot of obviously homeless or destitute people. There was a stall already set up with sandwiches and suchlike, and I stopped to talk to the person in charge. Apparently now they can feed 240 people a night.

Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ”Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you?”

Indeed as I walked round the city, just keeping my eyes open you’d see the tents.

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Now I suppose we can blame austerity, or the wicked tories, or whoever you like. But fifty yards from the feeding station at Lincoln’s Inn I noted a bar with an awful lot of well-dressed people spilling out onto the pavement, very few of them clubbing together to buy a half pint of shandy with four straws. Indeed walking along the South Bank I noticed one bar advertising beer and lager at £5.90 a pint. Admittedly I cannot comment on the quality because I never bought any, but enough people were doing.

When did we ever see you thirsty and give you a drink? 

Once you’ve had anything to do with the Homeless or foodbanks, you’ll recognise the tents, even the occasional encampments. They’re the sort of tent handed out to the homeless by local authorities with no other housing options. Normally only to single males.

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Should you talk to any of these people, the first thing you’ll notice is the high proportion of mental illness, sometimes diagnosed, sometimes perhaps not. Some have done time, some are ex-servicemen. Has it been decided that spending plenty of time out in the fresh air is the best way to help these people?

And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ 

Still, it must be awful when nobody has any money to help, because of austerity and the wickedness and greed of ‘them.’ (Never us, always ‘them’.)
And as I crossed the Millennium Bridge there were people working on it. They’re going to have the ‘Illuminated River’ as an art project. They’re starting on the first four London bridges but they hope to extend it to fifteen. Apparently it’s going to cost £3 million pounds a bridge.

https://londonist.com/london/news/illuminated-river-thames-london-bridges-where-when-which

I wonder how many cheap one man tents and Pret sandwiches London could buy for the homeless and destitute of their city, for that sort of money? How about an art project which produced a city where you didn’t have people forced to camp under bridges and actually got treatment for their mental health problems?

Then the King will say, “I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.”

But then for that to happen, I suppose people would have to actually care enough to do something. Obviously some people do, but it strikes me that you’ll find them handing out food at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and not in City Hall or Westminster. It’s enough to make you weep into your overpriced Golden Turmeric Latte.

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What do I know?
You might as well ask the dog

As a reviewer commented, “This is a delightful collection of gentle rants and witty reminiscences about life in a quiet corner of South Cumbria. Lots of sheep, cattle and collie dogs, but also wisdom, poetic insight, and humour. It was James Herriot who told us that ‘It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet’ but Jim Webster beautifully demonstrates that it usually happened to the farmer too, but far less money changed hands.

I, for one, am hoping that this short collection of blogs finds a wide and generous audience – not least because I’m sure there’s more where this came from. And at 99p you can’t go wrong!”

On the road

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Today was one of those days when I just escaped. I put a couple of butties and a bottle of water in a bag and just set off. The weather, which has been pretty cold and grim for the last week or so, finally broke, and it was glorious sunshine.

It was one of those days when I set off, not entirely sure where I intended to go. But I knew I did have to call in at a shop in town to drop something off. So that was the first part of the journey, the hour walk into town. Once there I decided I’d hit the path that runs up the side of the channel, and then perhaps swing in a wide circle east around the north of the town, and perhaps down through the Abbey. Instead as I walked along the channelside path, I noticed that the tide was right out. So then and there I decided I was going to cross the ford to the island of Walney. For those who don’t know it, Walney is eleven miles long, a mile wide and has a population of about 10,700. They’re connected to the mainland by one bridge, and there are a couple of places you can cross at low tide.

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I’d always intended to try the ford and today was the day. Once on the island, the north end has an airport and a nature reserve. The airport is an old wartime aerodrome, bits of which have been modernised and kept in use. So I walked north around the island, avoiding the airport. Even on the beach the scent of the gorse was almost overwhelming. It’s not a long walk to cross the island and looking north you can see Black Combe, Millom, and the Lake District.

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One thing the airfield does is launch gliders. I was there when the ‘tug’ took off, pulling a glider behind it. The tug is a single-engined plane which literally pulls the glider up into the sky, then at the appropriate height releases it. The plane goes back down and the glider frolics a bit, until gravity eventually loses patience and the glider has to come down as well.

Nearly forty years ago my father and I were laying concrete and my mother came out to pass on a message. She was struggling to stop laughing. Apparently there she had just taken a phone call.

“Hello, is Jim there.”

“Yes.”
“Could I speak to him please.”
“I’m sorry, he’s laying concrete, could he phone you back later?” (This is the sort of thing we did in civilised times before mobile phones)
“Well we were wondering when he’ll get here, we need him to fly the tug.”

At this point the conversation apparently got surreal, as to my Mother a tug (as a noun rather than an action) is a boat, and I’m not nautical. Not only that but the person at the other end was insistent that I was the pilot and I was going to fly a single-engined aircraft and pull a glider. My mother begged leave to doubt this. Eventually she realised it wasn’t somebody who knew me and who was trying to wind her up, but a genuine wrong number and matters were resolved. But I never did get to fly the tug.
But anyway the beach was quiet, a handful of people walking dogs and small children, and the kite surfers had the water to themselves.

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Finally, because the tide was in, I left the island over the bridge. Looking north towards the Lakeland hills you can see the channel where I walked dry shod, now full.

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And from the bridge, looking south, the reason for Barrow’s existence. The channel heading south past the various buildings of the shipyard

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If you like travel, exploring strange places and meeting strange people, but want to do it with your feet up as you relax, you might enjoy this 🙂

 

As a reviewer said, “When a story starts with the words ‘There are safe ways to kill an Urlan. No, let me rephrase that, there are ways to kill an Urlan that do not lead to their kindred hunting you down like a rabid dog’, you KNOW it’s going to be a classic Jim Webster tale.
True to form, this is indeed a great yarn, worthy of being sung about at feasts in Medieval, or, Valhalla-like, halls.”

Child minding?

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It has to be said that Sal, for all her many excellent points, is not the dog that old Jess was. For those of you who know your Terry Pratchett, Jess worked on the Granny Weatherwax principle of, ‘If you haven’t got respect, you’ve got nothing.’ Thus I’d go so far as to say that every animal on the farm knew that Jess was in charge. Indeed I suspect that there’s another Granny Weatherwax quote that suited her. “She’d never mastered the talent for apologizing, but she appreciated it in other people.”

Sal on the other hand is a dog who is distinctly less dominant. In fact there are times when she seems noticeably nervous. She has no problem with sheep in the normal run of things. She has the sort of canine profile which every sheep recognises. Indeed judging from their attitude to her, she fits somewhere into the wolf category. So they treat her with a reserved respect.

When it comes to ewes with young lambs, all bets are off and the ewes regard her as a serious threat. Thus they treat her with a truculence that Sal seems to find somewhat hurtful. It’s one thing when the ewe stamps her foot at you and glares; when you are merely going about your business attempting to move sheep. But it’s a very low blow when you are just bimbling about minding your own business and a ewe comes thundering in from stage left with her head lowered.

Then there is the cattle problem. Sal was introduced to cattle after several years of working with sheep. She wasn’t actually called upon to work with cattle, it was winter and they were just in pens around the yard. So she would just go into the pens as part of her normal ‘making sure everything is as it should be’ patrols. The cattle would regard her with interest, I’ve seen her standing there with heifers clustered round her, sniffing her.

This is excellent for community relations, but it isn’t good for discipline. So on the occasions when Sal has been called upon to work with cattle, they often ignore her. Or alternatively they walk across to renew the acquaintanceship. Still provided she doesn’t get in the way they’re perfectly happy to walk quietly home and let her drift along behind them giving the impression that she’s in charge.

Except that the other day, one cow, wandering along at the back, suddenly looked up, saw Sal and for some reason this irritated her. So she put her head down and lumbered towards Sal who decided that discretion was the better part of valour and swiftly left. Had the shade of old Jess been watching at that point, she would be shaking her head in disbelief! In Jess’s day the cow wouldn’t even have considered that course of action. Strange cattle who didn’t know her were given a brisk lesson in courtesy.

But yesterday Sal met her first toddler. The toddler was utterly smitten with Sal, and Sal seemed entirely delighted by the toddler. The toddler wanted to play with Sal, and Sal seemed entirely happy to play with the toddler.

Now obviously I was a little nervous. Even when playing, a dog could give to the child a painful nip, even if it didn’t draw blood. Hence I was watching this like a hawk. The toddler would creep up behind Sal, shout boo, and run off shouting nerr nerr nerr nerr. Sal would dance after him, and overtake him. They played together happily for nearly an hour as mum, grandma and I walked round the estate. At one point the toddler was referring to Sal as ‘my dog’.

I wonder if it’s worth registering Sal as a child minder?

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Then what do I know? Ask the dog…..

As a reviewer commented, “I always enjoy Jim’s farming stories, as he has a way of telling a tale that is entertaining but informative at the same time. I’ve learned a lot about sheep while reading this book, and always wondered how on earth a sheepdog learns to do what it does – but I know now that a new dog will learn from an old one. There were a few chuckles too, particularly at how Jim dealt with unwanted salespeople. There were a couple of shocks regarding how the price of cattle has decreased over the years, and also sadly how the number of UK dairy farms has dropped from 196,000 in 1950 to about 10,000 now.
Jim has spent his whole life farming and has acquired a wealth of knowledge, some of which he shares in this delightful book.”

The Mimosa in Spring and a cat called Basil

More from the life of a small business 🙂

Joy Lennick

Further memoirs of a hotelier…

mimosa-1798388_640After the typical uncertainty of the British winter, the first sighting of the golden Mimosa tree growing by the gate, always created a great upsurge of spirits. My favourite season was upon us: Spring, tra-la, with all its inherent delights. Our hotel bookings were steadily growing; recent paying guests, already ensnared by our seemingly good care and cooking…had re-booked for their summer holidays (hurray!) and several travelling salesmen, who regularly chanced Bournemouth’s way, had re-booked for their business trips. So, we must have been doing something right! It was a good feeling.

The good feeling was further nurtured by the sight of a beautiful, half-Persian cat – just out of the kitten stage – offered to us by Mrs. Solomon’s niece: ‘I can’t cope with any more felines…’ she admitted. Vis a vis “Faulty Towers” (of TV fame) – while our establishment was nicknamed “Faulty…

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