Monthly Archives: August 2019

Life’s little mysteries

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It has to be admitted that there are times when I stop and confess I don’t really understand the workings of the universe. Oh forget dark matter and quantum pairing, I want to know why we have a Guinness ashtray on the draining board in our kitchen?
Yes I understand that my lady wife found it when tidying up and decided to clean it, but still, that begs a more serious question. Given that nobody has smoked in this house since about 1962, why have we got an ashtray at all? I certainly don’t remember acquiring it (although I do have a beer towel from a long defunct brewery) and I’ve not got round to asking all three daughters whether they acquired it in their travels. But let’s be fair, it’s too damned big to slip into a handbag.

Still it sits, inscrutable on the draining board, proof that if I ever thought I knew what was going on, I’m kidding myself.

Then we have the fact I was apparently recommended on Amazon’s Daily Deal! The first thing I knew about this was when another author messaged me and asked how one earth I’d managed to pull of this marketing coup!

The embarrassing but truthful answer is that I genuinely haven’t a clue. Indeed until I got his message I knew nothing about it. (In fact because I made a point of not signing up to any of Amazon’s promo emails, I wasn’t even aware of the concept of the ‘Daily Deal.’)
As an aside, at this point, Amazon is comparatively honoured. They have my ‘real email’ or at least an email I check regularly. Given they occasionally send me money, I felt that they were probably entitled to that. Facebook has an email that goes to an account I don’t necessarily look at every day. One or two other of the internet giants still have an email address of mine that died some years ago. If their marketing people are reading this, don’t worry. If I ever want to hear from you, I’ll send you another email address.
But back to the point, my marketing genius and getting on the daily deal. Talking to people who know, it appears to be the algorithms frolicking away on their own with no human input. If somebody has looked at my books, and even better, bought one, Amazon remembers this. They then give them a period of time deemed appropriate by a superior algorithm and then more petty algorithms send them an email offering my books on the daily deal. Given that most of my work is priced at the princely sum of 99p, I’m not sure what they discounted them down to, so that they could call it a special offer. But I’m never going to find out, because there were no sales that week.

But whilst talking about selling and getting in touch with your readers, apparently now the thing to do is to have a newsletter. Basically the writer hoards email addresses and then every month (or some such suitable interval) and sends everybody an email of such scintillating wit and brilliance that it loosens their purse strings. Your readers then develop the spending habits of premier league football managers and dash out and buy everything you’ve ever written, in every format.

Now between ourselves I think I’ve spotted a flaw in this business model. Well actually I’ve spotted a number of flaws.
Firstly how many newsletters do readers want to read? Because it’s not just going to be me who sends them one, they could end up getting dozens of the damned things. They’ll get so many they’ll need a special dustbin on the desktop to put them in.

Not only that but those of us who leap on this bandwagon are going to be playing catch-up, struggling to compete with those who’re already up and running. There again I’m not really the person best qualified to discuss this. I must confess that I don’t think I’m signed up for a single author newsletter. Perhaps I’m missing out on the cutting edge of literature? Perhaps the best writers have given up on books and now pour their literary souls into their newsletters?
No, it struck me that the clever thing to do is to get ahead of the curve, to find a way of selling that nobody else is doing.
Anyway I’ve done it. I’ve found the key to infinite book sales and for just £500, cash down, I’ll have the name of your book chanted by massed monks in a hidden mountain monastery. This will imprint your book title on the very soul of the cosmos and people won’t be able to stop themselves buying it. Send the money now to avoid disappointment.

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On the off chance that you’ve not yet been drawn in by the chanting monks, you might still like to purchase some quality literature

As a reviewer commented, “50 year old Benor is back in his home city of Toelar, enjoying a quiet life of roof running, paramouring, etc, when one day his routine gets disturbed, making a fast getaway necessary.
However, his escape route is blocked by an Urlan Knight.
Fortunately, the said Knight saves Benor’s life, without even unsheathing his sword, by just being there.
Unfortunately, the said Knight has been looking for Benor and has a little proposition to make.
And so it begins…”

Goldsmiths saves the world with virtue signalling.

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Yes, you can all relax. Goldsmiths, the university college which flies in 36.8% of its students from around the world, is preventing global warming by banning beef burgers.

As exercises in applied hypocrisy go, you have to admit this one is impressive. But it does raise a point. In the church there is a phrase, somebody can be described as “Too heavenly minded to be any earthly use.”
Perhaps academia has an equivalent, I would suggest it was along the lines of, “So well educated they’re utterly ignorant.”

What brought this on, other than Goldsmith’s being ridiculous, was going for a walk yesterday. It was fine. The first fine day we’ve had for a while. I noticed as I walked round the back of one village that the barley that had not been combined was looking awfully grey and sorry for itself. Combining that isn’t going to be a harvest, it’s going to be a salvage operation. Any wheat that is still waiting harvest is assured of one thing. It’s never going to end up on your table.

Now listening to some, you’d think that farmers were either utterly stupid or utterly evil, rearing animals and growing grass. No, we just know the world, our climate, and our land and we know what will grow. In rough terms 60% of the UK is grassland. The amount of CO2 trapped by permanent grassland is huge and somebody wanting to plough to grow buckwheat for vegan protein is going to release far more CO2 than they can offset in a lifetime.

But the other thing people obvious don’t realise is just what livestock eat. They don’t merely turn grass into high quality protein a human can digest.

How about a glass of natural vegetarian orange juice, no added sugar, perfectly healthy. Have you ever wondered what happens to the rest of the orange? It’s there on the left of the photos. Citrus pulp, in this case, orange citrus pulp. You can either get it delivered ‘wet’ as it comes from the factory, or they’ll dry it a bit and put it through dies to make pellets. I’ve fed orange citrus pellets. Cows love them. You can get Lemon and Grapefruit citrus pulp as well. After all, the discerning consumer buys lemon and grapefruit juice. Somebody has to do something with the pulp. To be fair, they’re a bit sour for cattle to eat straight, but mixed in with other feeds cows enjoy them.

Now think of the sugar you eat. Most UK sugar is ‘beet sugar’ and is produced by extracting it from sugar beet, leaving sugar beet pulp. Again you can buy it wet by the artic tipper lorry load, or dried and pelleted. Again cows love it. Be wary feeding it to horses as it absorbs water and swells in the stomach. Cows being ruminants can cope with this, horses cannot. But again, a great food that is an unwanted by-product we get when producing food for humans.

The third picture in the line always amuses me. That’s soya hulls. When you’ve extracted the soya oil and soya meal which go for human nutrition, you’re left with the soya hulls that even the most enthusiastic vegan wanting roughage in their diet, doesn’t want. So they go to livestock feed. They’re rich in protein and minerals and balance a diet out nicely.

The last picture in the line is Brewers grains, normally delivered by artic tipper lorry, and fed to livestock wet. The product of our fine brewing industry, in theory they should be entirely barley, but it’s surprising how much maize you can find from some breweries. I’ve been told that’s a sign of a lager brewery but I don’t know if that’s true.

Obviously that isn’t the end of the list. There’s maize gluten, which is what’s left of the maize when you’ve extracted the Corn starch, Corn oil, and Corn syrup. An excellent cattle feed, I’ve fed tons of it over the years. Actually this product pushes the frontiers of hypocrisy even further than usual. A lot of the maize grown which ends up producing the products above is GM. But because Corn starch, oil and syrup don’t actually contain DNA, the supermarkets which have imported them, or the products produced from them, claim they’re not actually GM. But at one time they wanted to stop farmers feeding cattle maize gluten, because they decided it was GM, (and they were saying they wouldn’t sell anything that was GM) whilst still selling the oil, starch and syrup produced from the same maize as non-GM.
Can anybody explain to me how, when you take maize, produce corn syrup and make Coca-Cola from the corn syrup, that is GM free.
But if you take maize, produce maize gluten, feed that to an animal, how the meat from the animal isn’t GM free.
I think that’s one the major retailers backed away from on the grounds that even they struggled with that level of hypocrisy.
Obviously I haven’t finished with the list, but it’s not a bad one to be going on with. But I don’t actually expect anybody to take any notice.

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There again, what do I know, you’d better listen to the expert!

 

As one reviewer 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.”

Not just any old fence

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I’ve been working with electric fences for cattle pretty much all of my life. Ours are just the single strand of wire which is held up with insulated posts and has a battery supplying the power. Like everybody else I’ve looked at, and been tempted by, the fences which use solar panels to power them, but alas, the solar panels are too tempting for thieves. As it is, we use an old tractor or car battery and just recharge it occasionally.
People do ask if they’re dangerous. The answer is basically no. Apparently there is one death or serious injury world-wide per year, and that is a death involving an electric fence, not necessarily caused by one. Indeed to explain why, I’m going to quote one website, “the electric fencers used in agriculture put out high voltage (around 8,000 volts) this makes a very clear mental imprint that really gets the attention of the target. However they also reduce the deadly amps to a very low amperage of around 120 milliamps (It varies with manufacturers). This is 120 Thousands of an Amp (normal mains electricity is 13 Amps). It should not even kill a squirrel.”

It’s interesting watching cattle get to learn about the fence. I watched a young heifer with one the other day. She brushed up against it, got a shock, went “Muhhhhh” and jumped sideways. She then stopped, looked at the fence and cautiously sniffed it. So she got another shock, went “Muhhh” again, stepped back and ignored it from that point on.

But the interesting thing is, cattle don’t fear the fence. As you can see from the photo they’re perfectly happy to eat under it. In fact they’ll eat all the grass under it and the stuff they have to stretch to reach. They’ll eat it far shorter than the rest of the grass they have access to, and they’ll often eat it first. You can tell a field that has been strip grazed (where you give them enough grass for a day and move the fence every day) by the bands of really short cropped grass where the fence was. You can tell exactly how many times the fence was moved.
Some farmers used to have an electric fence across the back of the collecting yard. This is where cows would stand whilst waiting to go into the milking parlour. As always you get those who’re really keen who’ll be at the front and push others (and you) out of the way to get in. Then you get those who linger at the back. They know that they’re not going to miss out, and that you’ll come down the yard to get them when you’re ready.

So what some farmers would do was use the electric fence as a back fence, moving it up during the course of milking, so that these recalcitrant madams would at least be near the door by the time you had to go and get them. An uncle of mine had this in his yard and during milking he would occasionally unhook the wire and move it to a position further up the yard.
The problem came when one evening he discovered, half way through milking, the wire had been unhooked and had fallen down. So he just assumed he’d not hooked it on properly and hooked it up again. So it happened a second time. Eventually, as he kept an eye on things, he noticed one old cow, who still had horns, would hook her horn under the wire, lift it up and off the hook so it fell on the floor.

Now horns do not conduct electricity. So she could do this without fear of getting a shock. My uncle pondered the situation and drilled a very small hole through her horn, near the tip. Now most a horn is just keratin with no nerves and no blood vessels. Doing this no more hurts than getting your hair cut.  He then put a wire through the hole and connected it to the metal tag the law requires we fitted in an animal’s ear so she could be identified. So when the old lady tried her ‘lift the wire off trick’ she got a shock.

My uncle rather thought this would be the end of it, but a couple of weeks later the electric fence wire was on the floor again. The old madam had rubbed her horn on the wall to rub the wire off. So they adopted the obvious solution. Whether she wanted to or not, she went through the milking parlour first and never came into contact with the electric fence.

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If you want to know more about the peculiarities of livestock, obviously, ask the dog

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.”

Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but photographs.

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Which I suppose is a good enough motto, unless you’re working with wet concrete. Still, last night was interesting. I’d emailed somebody with the words, “I’ll be in all evening, (unless somebody does something stupid) so could you give a ring.” Even as I pressed ‘send’ I had the feeling I was giving hostages to fortune. Then we got a phone call, somebody had been seen bundling a sheep over the church yard wall.

What had happened was that we use sheep (not my sheep, I don’t own any sheep) to keep the grass down around our isolated church. They do a good job. Now a lady was walking her dog past the church yard and saw a bunch of scruffy young men with a green van and an orange capri attempting to bundle a sheep over the wall. Not being in the first flush of youth and being custodian of a rather small dog she wisely didn’t attempt to tackle them but made for home.

Once there she walked across the road to her neighbour Martin, who is a retired minister. He picked up the phone and called me, because I’m the churchwarden and pretty much everything that happens is the responsibility of the churchwarden. So we piled in the car, shot up to the churchyard and indeed a sheep was missing. Various other people gathered and it was decided that as these aforementioned young men were apparently sleeping rough on Roa Island, my lady wife and I would drive along there and see if we could see what was happening. When we got there we found the cars (with Belgian plates) in the carpark, plus a fair number of other cars with Belgian plates. But no sign of a sheep and there were no people hanging about the two vehicles.

We discussed the matter as we headed for home and decided we’d better phone the police. In various parts of the country, sheep have been stolen and butchered on the beach for an impromptu barbeque. But how to contact the police? I could ring 101 but the last twice I’ve tried it the number just rang out. And we potentially had an animal welfare incident here, so I phoned 999. (Because there’s no other way to get hold of them).

I explained what was going on to the chap on the other end of the phone and he agreed with me that it was borderline but as I was on the phone, he’d take the details. This he did, to bleating noises being made by his colleagues in the background. Cumbria Constabulary probably have sheep as a larger part of their workload than most police forces. Indeed when I described the sheep to him he knew the breed. He promised he’d get somebody out.

So twenty minutes later we got a call from the control room to say that police had gone to Roa Island. A quarter of an hour after that, two policemen turned up in our yard. They’d ‘pursued their inquires’ there, but hadn’t been able to talk to the gentlemen in question because these individuals had got the ferry out to Piel Island to camp. As the ferry is a small open boat I agreed with the police assessment that the ferryman was unlikely to have let them take a sheep with them. Even if they’d given it dark glasses and a wig.

But as result of their discussions with the transient population of Belgians on Roa Island the Police decided that, yes, the lady had obviously seen a bunch of man who was struggling with a sheep by the wall. But all was not as it seemed.

Apparently the Scotland Rally was passing through the area. One of their night stops was Roa Island. There was a strong Belgian contingent with a lot of classic cars as part of this rally. Now during the course of this rally, there are various challenges set for the participants to attempt.

https://scotlandrally.org/sr19

 

It appears that yesterday’s challenge, whether for the entire rally, or just set by the Belgian contingent, was to get a selfie photo of you and a sheep.

Eventually the sheep turned up, she’d obviously escaped the camera toting hordes and had got into a different field and had mingled with the other sheep. Actually that doesn’t surprise me, when it comes to escaping, sheep are true professionals.

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You’ve got to be careful tacking sheep, it’s a job for skilled professionals

As a reviewer commented, “This is the third collection of farmer Jim Webster’s anecdotes about his sheep, cattle and dogs. This one had added information on the Lake District’s World Heritage status. This largely depends upon the work of around 200 small family farms. Small may not always be beautiful but it can be jolly important. If you want to know the different skills needed by a sheep dog and a cow dog, or to hear tales of some of the old time travelling sales persons – read on! This is real life, Jim, but not as I know it.”

It’s like 1939 all over again

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I know there’s a lot of hysteria about at the moment, but I felt things had got a little silly when one person claimed that the current situation in this country was like 1939. I am afraid I pointed out, somewhat brusquely, that in 1939 they had a special census because it’s good to know how many young men you’ve got who are available to die for their country. Also they were frantically issuing gas masks and making plans to evacuate people. Somehow I seem to have missed these preparations.

But actually it started me remembering. I don’t remember 1939, but obviously my parents did. Indeed I must be one of the few people living who used a gas mask of wartime vintage.

Basically I’d be ten or eleven at the time and we had a few hens. Ours were technically free range, which is why we ended up not having them because back in the 1960s you just lost money on them because the price of eggs was so low. But between batches of laying hens you’d clean out the shed and fumigate it because hens, especially free range ones, picked up and spread all sorts of mites and similar.

And given my father had plenty to do anyway, and fumigation could wait for the weekend, I’d do it.
He mixed some stuff up in a stirrup pump bucket and I would set to and would spray the entire inside of the hut.

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It was not pleasant stuff, so I went into the house and dug out my mother’s old gas mask. This is the one she took to school with her every day between 1939 and 1945. If you didn’t have it with you, you were sent home to get it. Wearing the mask I happily sprayed away and got the job done. Fascinating would you learn. I just the other day saw a warning notice saying that on no account should you wear or go anywhere near wartime gas masks because some of them used blue asbestos. There again, some of them didn’t.

The hut I was spraying had a bit of a history as well. There were two hen huts. Both about fifteen feet by thirty. I cannot remember when they first appeared, they’d always been there. I think my Grandfather had picked them up for £2 a piece or something. Anyway I remember them being moved, and perhaps ten years later I remember them being moved again, but this time they were converted into calf accommodation. Basically the bottom three feet was sawn off and replaced with four feet concrete block walls. They worked really well. Not only that, but every summer one of my jobs was painting them with creosote to preserve the timber. Every few years I’d put more felt on the roof and paint that with bitumen.

Anyway about thirty years ago it was obvious that the rooves were completely knackered. It was probably time we just demolished the buildings and replaced them. But you know what it’s like. Money’s short and actually they were still useful buildings. So I fastened timber battens to the rooves and then put a corrugated iron roof on top of the wooden one. This worked really well for another thirty years.

Alas, now, after more than sixty years hard service, they are ‘no longer fit for purpose.’ They need so much replacing it would effectively be a rebuild and when you’d done it, you’d end up with a calf building that seemed like a good idea fifty years ago.

So finally they’ve been cleared out of the way, taken down before they fell down. You could say that what’s left looks like a bomb site, but only if you were given to serious exaggeration.

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In case you’re at a loose end and have nothing to read, did I mention that the following is newly available?

As a reviewer commented, “Another set of stories from Poet Tallis Steelyard. Amongst other short tales, he advises on selling your written word. The world, even the invented world of Tallis and friends, has much to say on this. As we know, people you’ve never heard of will offer you a book on how to sell your novel and get rich. Jim Webster has once again sorted the gold from the dross and presented it as stories. There’s a lot of truth in them!”