Monthly Archives: July 2019

The secret of perfect hair!


As you can imagine, I’m regularly asked for beauty tips, but I have made a point of not endorsing any commercially available products. Admittedly nobody has ever asked me to, but I feel that is rather beside the point.

Still, I was going to mention Sal at this point. Again, to the best of my knowledge she isn’t sponsored by any of the major agencies, and indeed she’s far too busy for a career in that field. As it is she’s kept fully busy just doing the things that a respectable Border Collie Bitch has to do here.

Now we no longer have sheep, Sal has transferred her attentions to the maintenance of good order among the dairy herd. This looks like being a long drawn out process and it is undoubtedly going to be a cause of stress for everybody.

In simplistic terms you could regard a dairy herd as a collection of fifteen hundredweight toddlers. They have the same level of discipline, the same unthinking obedience, and the same curiosity. They also have a very similar level of bladder and bowel control. Into this world ventures Sal. With sheep she had it easy. She was their sort of size, and sheep are big on pattern recognition. As far as they’re concerned Sal is on page one of the beginner’s manual, where her silhouette is labelled, ‘Wolf, Dog, General high level threat.’

With dairy cows, even the smallest 500kg heifer looks down on the 15kg dog and says, ‘Oh how sweet.’ A cow is more likely to amble across to see what Sal is doing, rather than to move away in the direction we want them to go.
So the whole thing is a learning process. Sal is having to learn how to move cattle, and cattle are learning that they have to take notice of Sal. There are times when it is glaringly obvious that a lot of the cows have no more experience of dogs than Sal has of cows, but I’m sure with good will and a lot of imaginative swearing, we’ll all pull together in perfect harmony.

But anyway Sal wasn’t moving cows at the time. I suspect she was just generally sniffing her way around the yard checking that everything was going well. Whatever she was doing, she managed to end up in the slurry pit. I reached down and pulled her out and immediately dropped her in a tub of cold water and rinsed her off.

But next day everybody was commenting how amazingly soft and silky her hair was, and not a hair out of place.

Not only that but frankly she didn’t smell, or at least didn’t smell any worse than any other working Border Collie.

So there you have it. We’ve discovered the perfect hair care product, now all we have to do is to monetarise it. Frankly I think there’s too much packaging in the beauty industry anyway, so we really ought to go down the ‘spa route.’ So far we’re pondering the plunge bath model where the client drops into the ‘bath’ of slurry, and then when they’ve climbed out the client then stands in a cold shower and just rinses their hair clean. Obviously no cleaning products will be used as they obviously hinder the natural finish.


In case you want to get to know Sal better

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.”

Rural Homelessness


It said the number of people sleeping rough in barns, outhouses and parked cars in rural areas had risen by up to 32% between 2010 and 2016. It is a problem but it’s a relatively well hidden problem.

To a certain extent there has always been an issue. I have family and friends of my own age who started their married lives in a caravan tucked round the back of the family farm. The newlyweds had a bedroom and kitchen of their own and if they wanted to do anything so exotic as to wash or go to the toilet, then they’d have to go into the house.

It was just one of those things. Working in agriculture you were stuck in a low wage economy and because your home and workplace was in the countryside, you were stuck in a high house-price area. Eventually if the family owned the farm, you’d try to get permission to build a house. For a tenant farmer, that was never an option, no landlord could afford to build a house and not get a commercial rent for it. That, almost by definition put it out of reach of rural employee. I know of farms now where they have seriously big static caravans for employees. Full planning permission, mains electricity and plumbing, but still caravans. Fine if you’re young and single. It’s just that there is no accommodation at all in the area for the sort of money a farm worker could afford. I asked one farmer whether he had thought of building houses for staff. His comment was that if he could afford to build that many houses, he’d be better off abandoning farming and just live by running holiday lets.

Nowadays things are tougher than they were when I was in my teens and twenties. Agricultural incomes have not kept pace with inflation, whilst house prices have rocketed. Indeed in rural areas you get the double hit. Not only are the houses more expensive, there are fewer of them because so many are now second homes or holiday lets.

So the rural housing crisis is largely hidden. Some go through the expensive planning process to get permission for a ‘permanent’ caravan. Others just stick their cheap second-hand (or do we call them pre-loved now?) caravan in a barn and hope nobody notices.

In urban areas, family breakdown, unemployment and mental health problems are among the major causes of homelessness. In rural areas the same problems exist. To be honest, the offspring of farming families are comparatively well supported within the family unit. Indeed it has been estimated that over seventy percent of rural homeless people have been supported and accommodated almost entirely by their extended family. In urban areas this drops to about fifteen percent. But then not many council houses have the room to hide a caravan.

A lot of rural rough-sleeping consists of people sleeping in their car. Because of the impossibility of getting to anywhere rural by public transport, your car is perhaps more important than your home. If you have a home but no car, you’ll have no job and soon you’ll have no home. If you have a car, you can continue to hold down you job and then you have a hope of getting a home.

Then you have those who do sleep rough. Nobody really has any idea how many there are. In towns they do night-time surveys and make estimates. In rural areas this isn’t so easy. To quote one report, “It is harder for these services to operate in rural areas given the large distances between residential areas, absence of ‘street’ lighting, and tendency for rough sleepers to stay outside village centres. Remoteness can also create safety concerns for outreach staff. They may be required to go into badly lit environments with difficult terrain (for example, coastal areas, caves and woods), with limited mobile phone reception and far away from other homes and services.” This is from ‘Right to home? Rethinking homelessness in rural communities.’  It’s published by the Institute for Public Policy Research. The safety of staff is a genuine issue. The safety of rough-sleepers apparently less so.

Indeed the lack of transport is a serious problem in rural areas. Somebody with mental health (or even just health) issues is going to struggle to get to any of the centres where they can get help. Even just attending an interview with your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau can take an entire day. Before anybody talks about Skype interviews or similar, remember this is a rural area. If the person is homeless they haven’t got a computer, and as it’s rural their mobile reception could be distinctly iffy.

Rural public transport has broken down to a level where some CABs will pay for taxis to get those of their clients living in rural areas to court. That’s to stop them getting into serious trouble with the magistrates for turning up late and missing their hearing. I came across the case of one young man who had to attend a court hearing. He arrived at 11am for a 10am hearing. The magistrate had already put out a warrant for his arrest. To be fair to the police, when he arrived they just fitted him into the next gap in the schedule and the magistrate lambasted him for not being on time. He apologised but explained that he’d had to walk twenty-two miles to get there. He’d set off at four in the morning but had discovered the hard way that you cannot walk at four miles per hour indefinitely. The lady magistrate then pointed out that he was only been called in for a strong warning. She felt that he’d already had that. So she told the police to drive him home.


There again, what do I know? I recommend that you take it up with an expert

As a reviewer commented, “This is a selection of anecdotes about life as a farmer in Cumbria. The writer grew up on his farm, and generations of his family before him farmed the land. You develop a real feeling for the land you are hefted to and this comes across in these stories. We hear of the cattle, the sheep, his succession of working dogs, the weather and the neighbours, in an amusing and chatty style as the snippets of Jim Webster’s countryman’s wisdom fall gently. I love this collection.”


The price of everything

In this household we’re not big on chucking things out. Somehow all those TV programmes about decluttering have passed us by. Perhaps we ought to get a TV so we can watch them? There again, I’m not sure where we’d put it.

Still it can be fascinating what you find. We found a list of prices for food purchased back in 1971. It wasn’t a shopping list or anything, it was something somebody had cut out of a newspaper. They probably thought it would be interesting to read in a few years’ time and they were right.

So what I did was get some more prices, 2018 prices this time, because that’s when I did the exercise. I had a talk to give or something and thought it would be a useful illustration. But I didn’t just compare the prices, I looked at the rate of inflation in the intervening years and worked out the price the item should have been, if the price had ‘stayed the same allowing for inflation.’

So if we take a large wrapped loaf, it was £0.10 back in 1971. Allowing for inflation it should now be £1.47 but was only £1.05. So effectively it was only 71% of the price it ‘should be.’

After all, if the price has fallen relative to what it used to be you can be sure that somebody, almost certainly the producer, is getting a lower return for producing it.



You can immediately see the trends. Those sectors of farming which have ‘become more efficient,’ or who have ‘worked closely with their retain partners’ are the ones who have been comprehensively screwed over. The price of pork is between a third and a fifth of what it should be. When you look round, the small pig producers have long disappeared, the industry is now composed of a comparatively small number of very large (and efficient) concerns who are pushing the frontiers of automation.

One thing that did interest me was that frozen chicken has only dropped to 69% of its proper value. I thought it would be lower. But then I remembered that unlike pork producers who are trapped in a long cycle, chicken producers work on a very short cycle. All the birds in a shed will go, the shed with be sterilised and filled with new birds. Depending upon the weight the buyer (normally the retailer) wants, the birds can be ready in ten weeks. The problem for the retailers is that they overplayed their hand. They pushed the price down and down until the producers just didn’t put any more birds in the sheds. What’s the point of buying them to lose money on them? So now a lot will not buy birds until they have a contracted price to sell them at. And there are so few companies doing this, they’re big enough to be able to afford legal teams who can keep even major supermarkets reasonably honest.


The price of dairy products is interesting. Cheese and butter are manufactured products. Once you’ve made them you can sell them anywhere in the world. You are not dependent on the UK retailer. But with the liquid milk market, the supermarkets set out to dominate it. They’ve driven the price down so that in in 1974, 94% of milk was delivered to the doorstep, now it is less than 11 per cent.  The results are obvious, butter and cheese have held their prices, and the price of liquid milk has collapsed.

It’s the same with beef and lamb. It’s not that they’re expensive, it’s just that they haven’t suffered the price collapse of other meats. When you buy them, you spend the same proportion of your income on them as your parents did back in their day.


So there you have it. If you want to know why the environment has changed, or what farming isn’t the same as it used to be, just look at the figures.


Look on the bright side, now you can afford to buy a book for less than the price of a coffee to read with it!


As a reviewer commented, “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.”

Set your hand to the plough



I have to start this by stating that I’m not a ploughman. Like a lot of livestock farmers I can get nervous if I see the ground, ‘brown side up.’ But every so often a grass ley will been renewing. So every so often we’ll plough. At the age of sixteen I learned to plough on a tractor with no cab, pulling a three furrow plough. My father learned to plough walking behind a horse.

The black and white photo was taken during the war but frankly the technology hadn’t improved much at our level in the following twenty-five years.

Ploughing with horses was hard work. Not only did you have to walk all that distance, you also had to wrestle the plough as you did so. If the plough started biting too deeply, you had to press down and bring the front end up a little to keep it level. If on the other hand, the plough was starting to come out of the ground, you had to lift the back end up to get the point of the plough share back into the ground again. At the same time you’d be shifting your weight on the two handles to make sure that the share went straight, left or right, depending on what you wanted it to do. Whilst the horse might be pulling, you were steering. And at the same time, you’ve got to keep the horse going in the right direction! Luckily the horse probably knew what to do.

This is the advantage a horse has over a tractor. The tractor doesn’t care and hasn’t a clue. But in reality you set the plough up so that your right-hand-side front wheel drops into the bottom of the previous furrow. So gentle pressure on the steering wheel (often from your knee) should keep it there. The rest of the time you’re looking behind you. The old horseman’s technique of using his weight or muscle on the handles has been replaced by frantically twisting wheels and turning handles to make sure the plough keeps running straight and level.

Getting a plough set up properly involves a lot of skill. I know men round here who before they went ploughing would take the tractor and plough and drive down to the beach. There they would spend half an hour ploughing the sand. This had three advantages.

Firstly the sand polished your plough shares and mould boards so that when you ploughed ‘for real’ the soil would run smoothly over them.

Secondly it gave you a chance to get the plough set up properly on a piece of level ground.

And finally the tide would come in and eliminate all evidence of the total bog you made of it whilst you struggled to get everything set up properly.
But once a plough is set up properly for the ground and the tractor, it’s amazing how much easier it makes doing a good job. I remember hearing a chap talk who’d been on a visit to one of the big state run farms in the Soviet Union. There was a party of them and one of them was a ploughman. They watched this Russian ploughing, using a big nine furrow plough. The problem was he was making a mess of it, and didn’t seem to know how to do it. Eventually the ploughman snapped. He walked out in front of the tractor, flagged it down and started setting up the plough. Then he rode with him a couple of times up the field to show him what to do. When he got off the Russian did a couple more runs up and down the field, then he got off and hugged the ploughman, because nobody had ever shown him how to do it properly.

Still ploughing could be awfully cold work. A lot of ploughing was done during February, and you were effectively sitting, relatively motionless, exposed entirely to the elements. At least when you followed the horse you could stamp your feet to keep warm. Somewhere I still have my late father’s ploughing coat. It was a really good, high quality heavy coat which he’d picked up from a van salesmen for a few shillings because it had left the factory with no buttonholes. That didn’t matter, just throw it on over everything else and tie it round the middle with a piece of baler twine and you’re ready for everything February can throw at you. I can see why so many of them would smoke a pipe. It probably gave you a comforting illusion of warmth.

As a side issue, it’s obvious that Christ was a horse ploughman. As he said, “And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God”. The man ploughing with the horse doesn’t look back. All his concentration is on the job happening directly in front of him. The man ploughing by tractor on the other hand, is always looking back, concentrating on what’s happening immediately behind him.

But ploughing isn’t the end of it. Once you’ve got the ground ‘brown side up’ you then have to work up a tilth that a seed can grow in. Even in the 1980s and 1990s, when we would hire somebody with a four furrow reversible plough to do the ploughing (Because they were almost infinitely faster) I’d still do the next phase.

First you’d go over the field with a set of disc harrows.

disk-harrow-250x250These slice the ground up and break up the sods. Then you do the field again, but at ninety degrees to the direction you did it first time. Finally we’d do it a third time, at forty-five degrees to the way you did it last. Finally we’d follow that with a set of spike harrows. These would both create a fine tilth and also they’d help level things up a bit.

After that you’d sow the seed and then roll it.

Now you can follow the plough with a combination seed drill and power harrow. Instead of covering the field seven times, you now need do it three times. Plough, power harrow and drill, and roller. The amount of fuel and labour saved is genuinely impressive!


The saving in fuel means that you’re releasing less fossil fuel derived CO2 into the atmosphere, and the amount of labour saved means that somebody else can have a well-paid job where they commute into the city and work in an air-conditioned or centrally headed office where they can worry about climate change.


Never mind, I’ve got something to take your mind of things.

More of the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. Not only have we got Gentlemen behaving badly, we see Port Naain by starlight and meet ladies of wit and discernment. There are Philosophical societies, amateur dramatics, the modern woman, revenge, and the advantages of a good education. All human life is here, or at least such of it as Tallis will admit to.

We continue to explore the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. In this invaluable publication Tallis Steelyard discusses the ways in which a writer can bring their work to the attention of the masses and more importantly, sell the book to them. As well as this, we have the importance of getting home under your own steam, music and decorum, brass knuckles for a lady, and of course, a few simple spices.
Surely this is the one essential book that every aspiring novelist should both purchase and study.