Monthly Archives: January 2020

The saga of Auldwick with Cowperthwaite village hall.Part seven, the start of an awfully big adventure.

Part 7 the start of an awfully big adventure.

Our steering committee was assembled in the conservatory at Ann Hodgson’s house. Normally our committee met in her kitchen but in honour of our greater numbers, she had put the conservatory at our disposal. Already I can see that the factions from Auldwick and from Cowperthwaite were coming together in unity. Rather than sit glaring at each other, Archie and Poppy sat side by side. Admittedly this was so they could glare at the younger new-comers, but still, I felt it was a positive move.
As well as the committee stalwarts, we had the vicar. She had a funeral visit but promised that she’d drop in if she could. We also had Young Geordie, but they had a cow calving so he too had promised to come when he could. Still we had Tess, his girlfriend, along with Joe Graham. Joe had a contented expression. Not only had two of the assembled company been reminded by his presence to book him for cleaning out their septic tanks; when he’d commented favourably on Ann Hodgson’s carrot cake, she’d cut him an extra slice ‘for your bait tin tomorrow.’ It sat in front of him in one of those universally useful plastic containers you get from Chinese takeaways. Joe’s girlfriend Kylie was also present, as was their three month old baby, Toby. Kylie had been ‘invited’ by Tess, as she felt the other young woman would be a stalwart ally in the discussion on affordable housing. Kylie and Joe weren’t homeless, but lived in a caravan carefully concealed behind an overgrown hawthorn hedge in the orchard on the smallholding owned by Kylie’s parents.

I started the meeting by blathering my way through the formalities. Wendy had volunteered to be treasurer.  It was universally agreed that Megan was the obvious person to be secretary, and she took the post with resigned good grace. She then passed round copies of the village hall constitution that she’d photocopied.

Archie fingered his copy a little nervously. “So what does the constitution tell us that we have to do?”

“In short, run a village hall, providing events to entertain and educate, oversee the maintenance, and provide training for those who have returned from the Great War.”

He lapsed into silence, and Poppy asked, “So we can build another one.”

“Yes, and as you’ll see, in with the constitution, we have the deeds to the land owned by the Village Hall. Not only is there the hall itself, plus the three acres, but we actually own a couple of small plots around the village. I’ve looked at them, people seem to have quietly incorporated them into their gardens.”

Poppy seemed shocked, “How dare they?”

“I don’t know. But one of them may be you.”

“But it was just wasteland.”

I smiled sweetly. “We can worry about this later. After all, the hall doesn’t need it and the sale could raise much needed cash for our project.”

Megan asked, “So how much cash?”

I’d talked to people at ACTion with Communities in Cumbria about this. “We have to think of a minimum of a quarter of a million pounds.”
Kylie asked, “Would that include proper facilities for a toddler group?”
“And would it be carbon neutral?” Poppy added.

“No, the figure is pretty much a minimum, apparently a third of a million is a more realistic figure.”

“And the way people keep adding things, it’ll be half a million,” Archie chuntered. “Who’s got that sort of money?”
“Just cock your clogs and leave your house to the village hall,” Poppy suggested sweetly. “That should do nicely.

Wendy stepped in to stop the bickering. “Raising money is going to be a very important part of our work. I assume we’re going to have to approach various funding bodies. We’re not going to raise the money we need from a cake stall.”
“Oh I don’t know,” Joe muttered loyally, staring fondly as his extra piece of carrot cake.

I decided to ignore them. “So at the moment we’ve got Tess, the vicar and Megan who were working on a questionnaire about what sort of housing we need.”
Megan chipped in. “We thought we might as well ask what sort of village hall people want as well.”
It seemed a wise move. I had a feeling that it was one of the things I was supposed to have suggested and had forgotten to.

“And we’ve got our constitution, we know our legal position.”
“And I can just see all those Great War veterans queuing up for the training opportunities we’re going to offer them,” Poppy muttered.

I turned to Tess. “So did you have a chance to talk to people in the Planning Office.”
“Yes, apparently something has come down from above that they have to provide a certain amount of housing, so they seemed reasonably positive.”
“Not necessarily a good sign,” Archie said, gloomily.

“He’s right, they try and lure you into a false sense of security and then they’ll insist you spend a million more than you need to, demanding that you build the walls of Lakeland stone, and a slate roof.” If anything Poppy seemed more gloomy than Archie.

I looked around the table. “Anybody else got any cheerful comments?”
It was Tess who got in first. “Yes, after talking to the planning officers, their suggestion was to keep the village hall and the housing projects running separately. In the long run the houses might contribute towards the hall, but until they’re built and lived in, they’ll also need a lot of money spending. So do we run it as a separate project or does this steering committee oversee them both?”

I looked around the table. “Suggestions please?”

I sat back and listened to the debate around the table. I must confess I felt quietly confident. By chance or good management I’d managed to assemble a group of remarkably competent people. With luck, at some point in the next two years they’d organise a coup and replace me as chairman.


You might not have realised but it’s now ‘Village Halls Week.’ As somebody who, one way or another, has spent a lot of time in village halls in various places, I’m a believer in their importance. So I thought I’d celebrate them a bit. So the story will continue.
Now if you’re lucky enough to live in Cumbria there is ACTion with Communities in Cumbria, our Rural Community Council, on hand to help.

If you’re in the rest of England you want ACRE, Action with Communities in Rural England.


Alternatively, when you just want a good book


Available in paperback or ebook,

As a 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.”

The saga of Auldwick with Cowperthwaite village hall Part six. The Indiana Jones experience.

Part 6 The Indiana Jones experience.

One of the questions the nice lady from ACTion with Communities in Cumbria had asked me was, “What is the charity status of your village hall?” In the face of my incomprehension she’d asked the follow-up question, “What does your constitution say.”
I was forced to confess that I had never actually seen the constitution, and to the best of my knowledge nobody had ever mentioned sending the accounts of our village hall to anybody. In fact I’ve always felt that the treasurer at a committee meeting is a bit like the corpse at a funeral. Everybody expects them to be present, but if they start speaking, people get distinctly nervous. Still, Wendy, our treasurer, had long mastered the art of appearing quietly competent. So I thought that it might be an idea to sound her out about our charity status.

Given it was a fine morning and I had to take some photographs of the hall, purely to prove to the world how much we needed a new one, I decided I’d drop in and see her after I’d got the photographs. I showed her the pictures and asked her to choose the ones she felt did full justice to the dilapidation and decrepitude.  As she was engrossed in studying them, I tentatively raised the question of our charity status.

“Oh yes,” she said, still looking at the pictures on my phone, “I sent our accounts off to the Charity Commission every year. Indeed I do them on-line.”

I experienced the warm glow that comes to any great leader when they realise they are leading a team of competent people who get on with the tasks delegated to them.
It struck me that I might have the answer to my problems. I asked, “So, do you have a copy of our constitution.”

“No, never seen it. Have you asked Megan? She is the secretary.”
“She’s also a teacher, she’ll be in work.”
“No problems, I’ll text her.”

We drank coffee and discussed the possibilities for fund-raising, until Wendy’s phone pinged. “Ah, Megan has texted back.”
“Oh good, what does she say?”
Wendy read the text. “Never seen it.”

“Indeed. Given that Megan took the job on when Gladys, her predecessor, died, we can hardly ask Gladys.” With forced casualness, Wendy asked, “You could always ask Archie Wilson.”

Now it’s true that Archie had been chairman for forty years, starting his period of misrule in the 1970s, but frankly he didn’t strike me as the sort of person who kept up to speed with the paperwork.
“You know Archie, ask him anything and he’d leap in and try and take control again. Not because he wants it, but out of pure habit. Could you ask the Charity Commission if they have a copy?”
“The problem with that is that it looks awfully unprofessional. And what happens if they say ‘no’. Not only do we not have a constitution, but the world of officialdom then knows we don’t have a constitution.”

I sighed, then had a moment of inspiration. “Who was secretary before Gladys?”

Wendy stared into her coffee. “I’m tempted to say ‘Adam’, but it might have been Noah.” She paused. “Was it Tucker Wainwright?”

“You’re right, it was old Tucker.”
“But he’s been dead forty years.”
“And the rest. But his daughter still lives in Cowperthwaite. She’s the sort of person who has never thrown anything out in her life. She might still have his papers.”
Wendy shrugged. “I suppose there’s always a chance.”


Molly Wainwright stared into space when I mentioned old Tucker’s papers. “I didn’t throw them out. It’s just a matter of where I put them.” She gestured to the kitchen table. “Sit down and have a cup of tea and I’ll try to remember.”

It took the best part of a teapot full of tea to loosen the gates of memory. Frankly there is only so much tea and coffee a chap can drink, and I was about to make my desperate excuses and leave when Molly said, “That’s it, I never had them. Dad got fed up of them cluttering up the cottage and stored them with Toby Graham. This was sometime before the war. You go and see the Grahams.”


The quest continued! I decided to drop in and see the Grahams after milking. Mark Graham was coming out of the milking parlour when I arrived. He’s Toby’s grandson. I explained my plight.

“Grandfather was a hoarder. He had all sorts of stuff squirrelled away in the old granary. I’ll get our Joseph to give you a hand looking.” He shouted across to his youngest son. “Joe, see if you can find some papers he’s looking for in Grandfather’s shed.”

Joe was the younger of the two sons. Not a bad cowman, but the farm couldn’t support him and his brother. So Joe had his own business. He had a tractor and a vacuum slurry tanker and emptied septic tanks locally. I’d had him round to do ours, he’s a steady lad and doesn’t make a mess. Also he has a digger which he’ll take round to jobs on a low loader pulled behind the tractor. And of course, when he’s not busy, he’ll help out at home.

Joe led me through a maze of old buildings, until eventually we came to a door that was blocked off by a pile of sheep feed-blocks. We moved enough of them to open the door, and Joe led the way in. “We don’t go in here much now. I’m sure there was a light switch. He reached out and clicked the switch. Somewhere up above us in the cobwebs, a light-bulb woke into dim life. Irritated spiders doubtless scuttled for cover, muttering about how the neighbourhood was going to the dogs.

As I looked round, it was obvious that the old granary was quite big, but was pretty much packed solid. The double doors at the front were barred from the inside, but you couldn’t have opened them anyway because an old Triumph Herald blocked the way. Judging by the tyres it hadn’t moved since the 1970s either. We picked our way down a narrow path between piles of buckets and drums filled with the sort of miscellaneous bolts and fittings that nobody in their right mind would ever throw out, ‘because they’ll always come in.’

Eventually we came to a set of shelves which filled the back wall. Joe glanced at the shelves and then pointed, “Look there, if we ever buy an old Fergie tractor, we’ve already for a set of wheel weights for it.”
With that he led me along the front of the shelves and at one end there was a gap. It was only when I passed through the gap that I realised there was another ‘room’ behind the shelving.

“This is where the old lad stored stuff for folk.”

Most of it was covered with old sheets, stiff with dust. Joe flicked a sheet aside. “Good grief I wondered where this had gone.” He picked up a rifle. I recognised it, Short Magazine Lee Enfield. “I remember Grandad telling me old Toby had a rifle when he was in the Home Guard and he’d not given it back because it was too useful for rabbiting.”
I looked at the rifle, I’d have said it was last cleaned at some point in the early 1950s, which was probably when Old Toby’s borrowed ammunition finally ran out.
Joe was delving deeper amongst the heaps. “Here you are, a chest of drawers.” He pointed to the top. Written across the top in yellow smit was a name. “Tucker Wainwright.”

Gingerly I pulled open one of the drawers. It was filled with manila folders full of yellowing correspondence, faded account books and finally, in a faded and only slightly damp envelope postmarked 3rd August 1920, was the document I’d been searching for, ‘The constitution of Auldwick with Cowperthwaite village hall.’


You might not have realised but it’s now ‘Village Halls Week.’ As somebody who, one way or another, has spent a lot of time in village halls in various places, I’m a believer in their importance. So I thought I’d celebrate them a bit. So the story will continue.
Now if you’re lucky enough to live in Cumbria there is ACTion with Communities in Cumbria, our Rural Community Council, on hand to help.

If you’re in the rest of England you want ACRE, Action with Communities in Rural England.


Alternatively, when you just want a good book

As a reviewer commented, “Yet another quiet, but highly entertaining, amble through Jim Webster’s farming life, accompanied by Sal, his collie extraordinarie.
Sheep, cattle, government eccentricities and wry observations are all included.”

The saga of Auldwick with Cowperthwaite village hall Part five, taking the crisis out of housing.

Part 5 Taking the crisis out of housing.

Jenny, our vicar, called round for coffee the following morning. We’d agreed to meet, to start putting together a steering committee. Now traditionally everybody holds meetings involving the vicar in the vicarage. The problem with this is that, with the vicarage being as it were, the natural haunt of clergy, that’s where people phone when they want the vicar for something. So if you hold your meeting there, it’s always interrupted by phone calls or even people dropping stuff off. So I’d invited her to drink coffee with my lady wife and me, and have the meeting then.

By way of celebration I broke open a packet of Jaffa Cakes and we got down to business.

I had also invited young Tess Wainwright. I’d been interested in her comments about affordable housing. Tess has what she describes as ‘a part time job with the council.’ I suppose that to a dairy farmer’s daughter, thirty hours a week can only be regarded as part-time. Especially when the council introduced flexitime and in the first week she’d got all her hours in by the time she clocked off on Wednesday evening. When her line manager asked her why she had done this, she merely explained that it allowed her to do four days a week relief milking.

When everybody was sitting comfortably and had mouths full of coffee and therefore couldn’t interrupt, I started the meeting. “I thought we ought to deal with the affordable housing side of things first.”

Well that got a smile from Tess, and Jenny nodded her agreement. So before either had a chance to spoil everything by saying something, I continued. “So I thought Tess here was the perfect person to take things forward.”

To be fair, Tess didn’t splurt coffee all over me. Jenny had some go down the wrong way and we had to wait for her to get over her coughing fit. When she had regained control I continued. “After all, Tess strikes me as the idea person. Firstly you’re committed to it. Secondly you work in the same building as the planning department.”
“Well it’s not as if they’ll speak to us in the back office.”
Jenny interrupted her, “Tess, you work on payroll. I suspect they consider you one of the more important people in the organisation.”

But Jenny turned to me. “I can see why you’d consider Tess, but, without being nasty, has she got the experience?”
“Tess,” I asked her. “How long have you been doing the farm accounts?”
“Since I was twelve. My mum had bad depression after our John was born, and there’s no point in leaving it to my dad. He always says that if he’d wanted a clerk’s job, he’d have worked harder at school.”

“And who deals with the Rural Payments Agency, filling in all the forms and chasing them up over errors in their paperwork?”
“Me, I suppose. And I have to deal with the inspectors when they turn up, unannounced. To be honest, that’s mainly because my dad struggles to be polite to them.”

“I also remember your dad telling me how well you coped with the VAT inspection a couple of years ago.” I turned to Jenny. “I rest my case. After dealing with the people she has had to deal with, a few planning officers should hold no fears.”

It was obvious that Jenny had been won over. “I hope you do take this on, Tess. And we’ll do everything we can to support you.”

My lady wife interrupted the conversation. “Before she talks to planning officers, she’ll need to know what you want to build. Affordable housing yes, but do you want starter homes, or retirement bungalows for people to retire to or what?”
“I had a quick google last night, Jenny commented. Apparently you can build twelve houses per acre, and you’ve three acres. You could have both.”

“We don’t want little boxes.” Tess was emphatic. “And some people will want a bit of garden.” She’d got the bit between her teeth now. “For a starter home, just look at the young people round here. For Geordie and me we’ll need enough space to park a Land Rover and trailer, as well as my car. Then he needs somewhere for his three working dogs to sleep. If you take his mate Alan, he does forestry work and dry stone walling. So he really wants a garage he can back a van and trailer under cover and lockable so he isn’t having to load and unload it every night when he comes home from work. We need houses that are the base for a small rural business.”

I listened to the discussion with interest. “Remember we probably do want some of the area as a village hall carpark as well. Also there may be other facilities we could put there.”

My lady wife smiled at me as if I was a not particularly gifted pupil who had suddenly excelled themselves. There are times when you can tell that you’re married to a retired teacher. “Yes dear. So basically, before Tess can have a chat with the nice people in planning, she will have to be able to show some sort of local need.”
“A survey?” I asked.

“Oh that won’t be a problem, work out the questions and I can get Young Farmers to go round door to door asking people, if that’s what it takes.”

I could just imagine Tess doing that. Dropping off a survey form with the comment that the Young Farmers Would come round, and Would expect a completed form. I did have a brief frisson of guilt. Had I created a monster? Certainly I had no doubt that in forty years’ time, Tess would be the sort of lady who holds the community together, quelling unruly meetings with a single steely glance, and reducing local government officials to nervous acquiescence. The one consolation was that by that time, I would be safely dead.

I left them discussing matters and went to make more coffee. Through the open door I heard them talk over whether Tess ought to make a casual informal approach to see what the planners were looking for. It was pointed out that it was at least theoretically possible that they wanted the same things as we did, and even if they didn’t, doubtless things could be fudged. A name was mentioned, apparently somebody senior in the planning office, and I heard my wife comment, “I’m sure I taught him.”

Somebody else mentioned the ‘Housing Hub,’ which is run by ACTion with Communities in Cumbria, as an obvious first port of call. When I walked back in with the refilled cafetiere it seemed everything had been decided. Then as she sat back with a refilled mug of coffee my lady wife commented, “Oh yes, and whenever possible, use the word ‘community’. It works wonders.”


You might not have realised but it’s now ‘Village Halls Week.’ As somebody who, one way or another, has spent a lot of time in village halls in various places, I’m a believer in their importance. So I thought I’d celebrate them a bit. So the story will continue.
Now if you’re lucky enough to live in Cumbria there is ACTion with Communities in Cumbria, our Rural Community Council, on hand to help.

If you’re in the rest of England you want ACRE, Action with Communities in Rural England.


Alternatively, when you just want a good book

Available in paperback and as an ebook

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!”

The saga of Auldwick with Cowperthwaite village hall. Part four, The public meeting!

Part 4 The public meeting!


Of course it had to be a wet night. I assumed that would mean we had fewer people. But obviously I had underestimated my fellow citizens. Driven by a sense of public duty, (or lured by carrot cake, but in all candour I was in no position to be judgemental) our meeting was attended by perhaps a score of people, as well as the Hall committee. We had set the hall up carefully, giving due consideration to health and safety. I had decided against having the committee sit together on the top table facing the assembled villagers. That sort of thing can easily lead to confrontation, with a defensive committee circling the wagons and defying all-comers from the safety of their redoubt. I would sit alone with somebody to take notes of the meeting. Everybody else would sit in chairs placed around the wall. I’d fenced the middle section of the floor off using four chairs and plenty of baler twine. So long as nobody forgot themselves and entered the cordoned off area I was reasonably confident the floor would hold.

I must admit I’d been worried that the electricity wouldn’t work, but when I threw the light switch I got that comforting tingle which tells you that the system is live. The ceiling heaters I left switched off, they kept tripping the system out. I managed to plug three fan heaters into the one wall socket that still worked and they succeeded in taking the chill off the room.

People filed in and took their seats, drank coffee or tea served out of flasks and ate their piece of carrot cake. I sat at the other side of the room, ensconced behind the table. It felt like nothing so much as a job interview where I was about to be interviewed by a large and belligerent panel, who didn’t want to come too close lest they caught something unpleasant from me. Still I opened the meeting by welcoming them, explained the problems and talked about possible solutions. I also pointed out that if we were to have a new hall, we had to decide what we wanted to do with it. With that I smiled sweetly and explained that I was hoping they all had ideas about what they needed the hall for. Whilst they muttered together I took the opportunity to ask Jenny our vicar to come forward and note down the suggestions.

Archie Wilson started by asking whether we needed a new hall at all. In his words, “This one seems to be perfectly watertight thanks to the sterling work done by Young Geordie.”

Geordie had barely had chance to bask in the gratitude of his peers when there was a bang and three of the lights went out. Water was running down the cable of one of them and was dripping off the bulb onto the floor.
Even Archie seemed somewhat put out at this, especially when some wag at the back commented it would probably be cheaper to build a new hall than to constantly replace the lightbulbs in this one.
So I asked for suggestions as to what we could use a new hall for.

Some other wit suggested that we keep this one and use it as a morgue.

But after the chuckles had died down we got more reasonable suggestions.

“We want somewhere for coffee mornings, so it’ll need a good kitchen.”

“We want somewhere for a toddler group, so it’ll need somewhere convenient or storing toys.”
“It will need some small rooms so we can have the practice nurse or chiropodist visit.”
“We could do somewhere for a pop-up shop a couple of times a week.”
“And a post office could call.”
“And what about a pop-up pub. A mate of mine is part of a group that runs one. They take over the village hall one Saturday night every other month. It makes a mint and makes a big contribution to the running costs.”

Poppy Atkinson said firmly, “And it has to be carbon neutral.”

Another wit commented, “Well it will struggle to have a smaller carbon footprint than this place.”

As the rain drummed audibly on the improvised silage sheet roof, Poppy added severely, “And no single-use plastics.”

“But it wasn’t single use.” Geordie was obvious hurt by the inference. “It had done three seasons as a silage sheet before we used it here.”

I had been growing more and more aware of the smell of melting insulation, so I used the sudden enthusiasm for green issues to switch the fan heaters off. The adapter was hot to the touch and I suspected that the three plugs had welded themselves into it.

Geordie decided to change the subject. “And what about a room we can hire to play 40K in? Somewhere we can leave the table set up overnight.”

A lot of people looked blank, including me. The vicar said, “It’s a sort of science fiction wargame. When I was at theological college we modified the rules to refight the campaigns of Abimelech, son of Gideon, against other Canaanite warlords.”
“That sounds cool.” Geordie sounded genuinely impressed.

Jenny added, “I’m sure my husband still has the figures.”

I could see Geordie’s opinion of theology was rising. Mind you, Tess Wainwright, who considers herself to be his steady girlfriend, was looking rather worried, as if she’d discovered a whole new side of her boyfriend’s character and wasn’t entirely sure she approved. Still she is a gallant young woman and rallied swiftly.

“We need more affordable housing.” She turned and glared at Geordie. “Then young couples can afford to get married.”

Now it was Geordie’s turn to look nonplussed. Tess continued, “After all the village hall has three acres of land next to it.”
Poppy sprang to the land’s defence. “That’s the wilderness area!”

Archie Wilson saw an opportunity to discomfort his old antagonist. “Well actually it’s the old Plague Pits. When they demolished old brickworks in Much Lindeth they tipped the rubble there. It was supposed to be levelled to make a carpark but somehow it never got done.”
“A three acre carpark!” Poppy’s tone suggested that she wasn’t entirely sure he was telling the truth.
“Well the village hall was much more popular back then.” Even to himself Archie sounded defensive. So he continued, “And to be honest, I think somebody had ideas of building executive housing, but they were caught up in a nasty corruption scandal and retired to Spain in a hurry.”

Jenny, our vicar, looked up from her page of notes, “You’ll probably need a steering committee to oversee this project. You’ll need people with a wider range of skills and experience than you have on the village hall committee.”
I agreed with this completely. Given our village hall committee hadn’t even been able to run the village hall, I had never seen them as entirely the right body to organise the creation of a new one. It’s just that I’d never really had the courage to say it. Still Jenny had given me an opening, I nodded sagely as if this had only just occurred to me. “So apart from you as secretary, who else do you have in mind?”
“I’m sure with you as chair, we shall not lack for members of the highest calibre,” she purred, pulling the knife out of her back and sticking it into me with more enthusiasm than I felt the occasion called for. There was a ripple of applause from around the room as people showed their appreciation of her low blow. Penny continued, “I suggest that you and I meet and we’ll put a list of names together and then run them past the village hall committee.”
This was met with silence as people pondered whether they were likely to be on the list of names. I noticed one or two look distinctly worried when they remembered that Jenny had taken the names of all who attended. They had shown interest. Indeed it might almost be called enthusiasm. A couple of people were starting to shuffle uncomfortably, as if they’d just thought of an excellent excuse to not being drafted, but wanted to get their excuse in first lest somebody else had thought of it.

I decided to draw the meeting to a close. This would reduce the chances of anybody getting their excuse out in public. Not only that but two more bulbs had popped, the fumes from the adaptor that the fan heaters had been plugged into made my eyes sting, and I felt that we might be pushing our luck staying here any longer.
So I thanked everybody for their ideas and hastened them back out into the night before anybody caught pneumonia.

As they left I noticed Geordie walked between Jenny the vicar and Tess Wainwright. He had the harassed expression of a gentleman who really wants to talk to both ladies, but not necessarily in the presence of the other one.


You might not have realised but it’s now ‘Village Halls Week.’ As somebody who, one way or another, has spent a lot of time in village halls in various places, I’m a believer in their importance. So I thought I’d celebrate them a bit. So the story will continue.
Now if you’re lucky enough to live in Cumbria there is ACTion with Communities in Cumbria, our Rural Community Council, on hand to help.

If you’re in the rest of England you want ACRE, Action with Communities in Rural England.


Alternatively, when you just want a good book


Available in paperback and as an ebook

As a reviewer commented, “This book charts a year in the life of a Cumbrian sheep farmer. It’s sprinkled with anecdotes and memories of other years. Some parts (especially when featuring Sal, the Border Collie) were so funny as to cause me to have to read them out loud to my husband. It’s very interesting to read these things from the pen of the man who is actually out there doing it – usually in the rain! A very good read.”

The saga of Auldwick with Cowperthwaite village hall. Part three, involving the community.

Part 3 Involving the community.


Next morning, fortified by a decent breakfast, and with the trauma of the previous evening’s village hall committee meeting fading under the assault of the second mug of strong coffee, I gave some thought to the decision taken. The committee had chosen me to approach ACTion with Communities in Cumbria (from now on known as ACT) to ask for advice about filling the paperwork in to claim a grant.

Personally I felt that it was the sort of task that would most reasonably fall to the secretary or even the treasurer. But no, they both felt that it needed somebody with gravitas of a chairman to give this ACT body the right idea about us. At least they didn’t say I was the cheap and expendable one so I suppose I should mark it up as a plus.

So I phoned ACT, and according to my lady wife, I looked distinctly pale and haggard when I put the phone down. Oh the person I talked to was perfectly charming. We discussed matters and she explained to me that if we wished to get money from various sources, we would need a plan. Our conversation at one point had gone something like this.

“But we have a plan.”

“Oh good, what is it?”
“To get a new building.”
“Yes, but what will you do with it when you’ve got it?”

Now to be fair, this was something I hadn’t really thought about. But in a moment of real insight I realised that, ‘To do whatever it was we used to do with the old one,’ wasn’t the answer she was looking for.

She may have sensed my hesitation. She might even have been expecting it, because before I even got the third, “um ah” she added, “Because really one of the first steps is to get the community involved to decide the purpose of your new building. After all, if you don’t know what you’re going to do with it, how can you know what you want?”

I think the conversation petered out after that. ‘Get the community involved!’ We had committee members who’d spent decades ensuring the community had as little to do with the building as possible. You could see their point, if the community was involved it meant that the building got used, and things ended up getting worn out or even damaged. How was I going to break this news to them?
My lady wife passed me another mug of coffee and when she nipped out to talk to the postman, I poured a generous shot of brandy into it. Purely medicinal, I needed it for my nerves.

My coffee finished, I decided I would go and see the vicar. To be fair, she’s a lady with enough problems of her own. So many problems that she’s lucky to have me as a churchwarden. But seriously, if the Church of England gives her any more parishes to look after they’d probably have to make her a bishop. But St Herbert’s, Auldwick, was in some way her ‘home church’ in that it was the one next to the vicarage. Apparently during the reformation, Cowperthwaite had flaunted its loyalty to the Pope for a fortnight too long; and Auldwick, quicker to read the writing on the wall, was the one that kept the church and the vicar. Of course Cowperthwaite had never forgiven this slight and every incumbent since had laboured under the burden of ‘not being our vicar’ when in the Cowperthwaite part of the parish. She’s lucky she has churchwardens of my calibre to support her.

Jenny was in so I explained my plight. She sighed sympathetically. “Best of luck.”

“Well I was hoping we could perhaps borrow the church for the meeting.” There was a good reason for this, between them the two villages have neither shop nor pub, and the sole community spaces are the church and the village hall. Given the state of the village hall, I was hoping to use the church.”

“Is that wise?” Jenny asked, “After all, you want people to see how bad the village hall is, surely meeting there will drive the message home. After all I think most people assume the hall is in reasonable condition and this will let them down gently.”
“Not necessarily gently, given the state of the floor.”

“Well if you mark off the weak patches it should be alright.”

Stymied in that area, I asked, “Given it is to be a community meeting, I hoped you’d chair it. People should see you as neutral.”

“Remember the last PCC meeting. We agreed to approach the diocese for permission to rip out the pews and create a community space. A public meeting might see me as a competitor.”

I had to admit it, she was good. The quality of training in our theological colleges has improved. I could normally dump this sort of thing onto her predecessor. Still I was one of her churchwardens, so that had to be worth something. “Well could you at least make suggestions as to who should come?”

“You mean announce it at the Sunday service?”

“That would be good, but I was thinking of inviting people who could be useful. It struck me that a personal invitation was less easy to ignore.”

Thanks to her, I left the vicarage with a list, and by the time I added in my suggestions, it was quite a long one.


There is a lot to be said for democracy. With a well chaired meeting, and intelligent and diligent committee members, one can achieve an a great deal. But to be honest, with guile and duplicity there are times when you can achieve far more. I took my list, wrote out by hand a few invitations, and then went to knock on doors.
I approached my committee members first. By the simple expedient of explaining to each that all the others had agreed to have a public meeting on Monday week, I got them all to agree to attend with no more moaning that normal. Then I went door to door, talking to people and handing out invitations. A surprisingly large number said they would try and make it. How much of this enthusiasm was the fact I casually mentioned refreshments and commented that Ann Hodgson would have one of her celebrated carrot cakes, I’m not sure.


You might not have realised but it’s now ‘Village Halls Week.’ As somebody who, one way or another, has spent a lot of time in village halls in various places, I’m a believer in their importance. So I thought I’d celebrate them a bit. So the story will continue.
Now if you’re lucky enough to live in Cumbria there is ACTion with Communities in Cumbria, our Rural Community Council, on hand to help.

If you’re in the rest of England you want ACRE, Action with Communities in Rural England.


Alternatively, when you just want a good book

Available in paperback or ebook
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.”

The saga of Auldwick with Cowperthwaite village hall Part 2, ‘The Village Hall Meeting.’

Part 2, ‘The village hall meeting.’


It was obvious we were going to have to do something about the village hall. Wendy over-insuring it had put an ‘unfortunate’ fire out of our reach. Still, it did strike me that a five year sentence for arson, with time off for good behaviour, might still be less of an ordeal than a village hall committee meeting. Not only that, but subjectively the prison sentence might not last as long.

As always the committee members from Auldwick sat opposite those from Cowperthwaite with both sides glaring at each other. The hall is not quite in either village, thus both villages feel relieved of any obligation to contribute to the maintenance, but both seem equally happy to blame the other village for neglecting their duties.

At the opposite end of the table from me sat Wendy. Living as she does opposite the hall she is the obvious person to be treasurer and also to open up the hall on those occasions somebody is imprudent enough to hire it. By virtue of not living in either village, and also with being the only one who can understand the accounts, she is regarded with deep suspicion by the rest of the committee.

From Cowperthwaite we had Poppy Atkinson. Actually Poppy isn’t the name she was christened with, it’s just a nickname she acquired from the amount of recreational opiates she used back in the 1970s. Next to her was Denis her husband. He wore the ‘rabbit in the headlights’ expression you tend to see in people who spend too much time in Poppy’s company.

From Auldwick we had Archie Wilson. Archie was chairman for forty years; indeed it was his idea to patch the hall with pallet timber. It has to be said that this decision sums up Archie’s management style beautifully. He always gives the impression that he’s a man who has never spent twenty pounds in his whole life, and certainly not on clothes. There again, his father’s demob suit still fitted Archie beautifully.

Also from Auldwick we had Ann Hodgson. If a white slaver offered me a tenner cash for the entire committee, he could have them, with the exception of Ann. Anybody who can make lemon drizzle cake like she can has to be a jewel beyond price. A widowed lady, her carrot cake has enticed even life-long bachelors into briefly contemplating matrimony. The sole reason we had a village hall at all was because Ann ran a cake stall at our Christmas fete. It was our largest single source of income.

Finally, acting as secretary, was Megan. She is Wendy’s daughter, teaches in the local school and therefore is presumed to be literate.

The vicar was supposed to be there, but had given her apologies because she’d had to fit in an urgent funeral visit.

After the ritual reading of previous minutes I explained the current situation with regard to the hall, casting doubt on its structural integrity and life expectancy.

As I expected, Archie was livid. Had I cast doubt on the fidelity of his wife I would have got less reaction.

“There’s no reason to go daft with money. It’ll see us all out. Especially now that Young Geordie’s put a new roof on.”

Megan sighed loudly as she noted his comment but said nothing. Poppy laughed out loud. “Thinking of dying before Christmas Archie? I cannot see the hall surviving this autumn’s gales.” She turned to her husband, “Isn’t that right Denis?”

“Yes dear.”

Before Archie could come back with his own sally, Wendy hastily joined the conversation. “Megan and I were talking. Apparently you can get Lottery money for village hall projects.”

“Nonsense, there’s nothing wrong with the Hall.” Archie was well dug in and was preparing to defend his position.

“Then why,” asked Wendy sweetly, “are we not meeting there?” She gestured gracefully to Ann. “Why is it we are meeting in Ann’s kitchen rather than the hall.”

To be fair to Archie, it wasn’t just that the hall was colder than charity. Any meeting held in Ann’s kitchen was bound to be properly catered.

Megan dropped a pile of paper on the table in front of me. “I went on their website when I was in school and downloaded the application forms and guidance notes.”

I stared at the pile with horrified fascination. The school was the only place locally with a decent broadband connection. Mind you looking at the pile of documentation on the table, the school paper budget had taken a hammering.

I picked my words carefully. “Thank-you for that Megan.”
I pushed the pile tentatively but it was massive enough to resist my attempt to shove it off onto somebody else. “When you were on line, did you find anybody who can help us fill this lot in?”


You might not have realised but it’s now ‘Village Halls Week.’ As somebody who, one way or another, has spent a lot of time in village halls in various places, I’m a believer in their importance. So I thought I’d celebrate them a bit. So the story will continue.
Now if you’re lucky enough to live in Cumbria there is ACTion with Communities in Cumbria, our Rural Community Council, on hand to help.

If you’re in the rest of England you want ACRE, Action with Communities in Rural England.


Alternatively if you just want a good book

Available from Amazon in paperback or ebook

As a 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.”

The saga of Auldwick with Cowperthwaite village hall. Part 1, Sheep will safely graze.

Part 1 The saga of Auldwick with Cowperthwaite village hall

It was always going to be one of those days. It started with somebody hammering on the kitchen door. I put my coffee mug down and went to see who it was.

Young Geordie from Lower Daleside Farm stood there looking a bit embarrassed. “Tup’s broken out and got into t’village hall. But I fixed it.”

I put my Wellingtons on and walked down to the village hall to see what had been done. The tup glared at me sullenly from the quad trailer parked on the gravel by the hall door.

“See, I got him back out.”

I tried the door. It was still locked. “So how did you manage Geordie?”

“Oh, way he got in, round t’back.”

I accompanied the young man round the back of the hall, picking my way through a collection of old benches that had been thrown out by a previous generation and lingered on to remind us of the glory days when we’d had adequate seating.

“I fixed the hole he med.”

I looked at where Geordie was pointing. The tup had entered the village hall by the simple expedient of knocking a hole through the timber wall. Geordie had fixed it by putting an old corrugated iron sheet up against the hole and holding it in place by hammering a couple of old fence posts in.

“I did try nailing it to the main timbers but they’re so rotten I could push the nails in by hand.”

It was true. We’d long know that the back wall needed replacing. Perhaps patching it with pallet timber back in the Silver Jubilee year had been a bit short sighted.

I shrugged. “Well it’ll keep the draught out for now.”

We walked back to the quad and trailer. Geordie gestured towards the old benches. “Do you want them? I could come down with a tractor later and take them away, they’ll do for firewood.”

“Best end to them lad.”

“Tell you what; I’ll fix that leak on the roof while I’m here.”

The roof was corrugated iron and at least one of the sheets had rotted through.

“Be careful lad, I wouldn’t put any weight on the roof.”

“I’ll come down with the Loadall, I can work off that.”

“Be careful anyway.”




When I got back from town, I walked down to the village hall again. Geordie and his two younger brothers were there looking remarkably pleased with themselves.

“We fixed it Boss.”

“Good, did it take long?”

Geordie sighed. “When I saw the roof properly from the Loadall bucket, it was well knackered. Luckily we had some old black bitumen at home, so we painted the roof with that then threw an old silage sheet over it. Then we painted it again with bitumen. It’ll keep rain out grand. But me and our kid here have been here since before brew time doing it.”

I thanked them anyway. Because they’d also taken the benches away things did look a bit tidier.

I walked across the road to Wendy’s. She had obviously been watching because she opened the door before I knocked. Wendy is our Village Hall treasurer.

Before I said anything she said, “I saw what they did.”

“Well it might keep the rain out.”

She looked at me as if I were some sort of idiot. “Harry, it’s a fire risk!”

“The amount of rain we get?”

“It’s still a fire risk.”

“So what do we do about it then?”

She smiled triumphantly. “Don’t worry, I’ve already done it. I phoned the insurance company and increased the cover.”

“So what will we get if it burns down?”

Her smile faded. “Probably about five years. Seriously Harry, isn’t it time we got a new village hall?”


You might not have realised but it’s now ‘Village Halls Week.’ As somebody who, one way or another, has spent a lot of time in village halls in various places, I’m a believer in their importance. So I thought I’d celebrate them a bit. So the story will continue.
Now if you’re lucky enough to live in Cumbria there is ACTion with Communities in Cumbria, our Rural Community Council, on hand to help.

If you’re in the rest of England you want ACRE, Action with Communities in Rural England.


Alternatively if you just want a good book,

Available in paperback or as an ebook.
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 force is strong with this one


Every so often you read something in the paper which grabs your attention. For me this was a piece I saw about wolves. Apparently researchers, working with wolf cubs who’d had no contact with humans, tried throwing a ball for them so see what happened.

It seems that the cubs in two litters ignored it completely, but the cubs in a third litter chased it and brought it back to the human (a species they’d never met) so that the person could throw it again.

Now researchers have always assumed that this behaviour is something that wolves/dogs have learned since they were domesticated. But it seems not. It’s something innate in the species, at least at some level.
Now I wouldn’t claim to be the world’s finest trainer of working dogs, or even to be a good one. But my experience is that you do not teach the dog new skills. You merely get your dog to display the ones they have in a somewhat moderated form. Working with Border Collies, the breed I know best, they all seem to have the instinct to herd livestock. Your job, as their (hopefully) senior co-worker, is to ensure that this instinct works out to everybody’s mutual benefit.

So, for example, with Sal, the challenge has not been to get her to work sheep, but to stop her doing it at ridiculously high speed. Her ideal method of working sheep was initially to charge into the middle of them at high speed, much like a snooker player breaking up the reds. She’d then fetch the sheep to me one at a time, because it was more fun that way and she got to spend more time doing the job. From her point of view it was the best way to do it, and training her consisted (and to an extent still consists) of reminding her that a more traditional approach to the task is more efficient.

Indeed it often strikes me that a lot of Border Collies are not so much ‘domesticated’ as they’ve just learned to rub along with people for mutual support. Certainly I don’t remember ever having to house-train one, if only because they very rarely come into the house. Ours have always referred to have their own accommodation in the yard. The ideal position was somewhere where they can see what is going on and keep abreast of events.

It has to be said that if the weather is particularly cold or particularly wet, Sal is brought inside to a utility room. Old Jess, when she lost her leg and was recovering, was brought into the kitchen, and quietly took it over as hers. In winter she used to love lying down on the hearth rug in front of the fire. But when you’re sixteen, you’re entitled to pamper yourself a bit.

But looking back, I’ve never had dogs that were great ones for ‘playing’ with balls or sticks. One, old Lassie, did like to chase sticks. But only if you held it, and she’d then jump to try and catch it. If you threw it, she promptly lost interest in it. If she did catch it and wrestle if off you, then she quickly ran away with the stick and put it somewhere. There was no nonsense about giving you it back so the whole process could happen again.

Lassie was unusual in another way as well. She’s the only dog we’ve ever had who loved water. As far as I can make out, all Border Collies can swim, but they don’t particularly enjoy it. Yet if I went to look heifers, Lassie would accompany me, and she would jump into every water trough on the way. When I went to fetch the dairy cows home for milking and they were down in the bottom fields, Lassie would run round them, swim the beck to get behind them all, and fetch them back over the bridge. Every other dog we’ve ever had used the bridge.
Still it wouldn’t do if we were all alike.


Still, in case you’d missed it, I thought I’d mention that my collects of tales of dogs, quads, sheep and rural life are all now in paperback.

three dog book covers

Sometimes I sits and thinks

And sometimes I just sits?

Fancy meeting you here

Leotards, drumsticks and doughnuts


It has to be remembered that I live a comparatively quiet life. Or try to. But then every so often things get out of hand. This is normally because I’m in the right place at the wrong time. Like this evening. Our town has a foodbank. It’s really well run and the community support it to the hilt. Anyway it doesn’t just get donations from individuals, but local firms support it as well.

One company that supports a lot of charities is the company, Greggs. They’re a firm I’ve got a lot of time for. On two evenings a week, it’s the foodbank’s turn to go and collect the stuff they haven’t sold and is safe to share out. And this evening it was my turn to do the collection.
Actually the Greggs delivery is very useful for a foodbank. Some people come in who are genuinely hungry. Well you can give them a couple of sandwiches and a cuppa whilst they wait. Or if somebody seems a bit upset, one of our volunteers can sit down with them and have a coffee and a doughnut and a chat. A lot of the work of a foodbank isn’t just feeding people, it’s finding out why they need us in the first place and working out how we can help them. Sometimes it’s just a case of making sure they know the right department to contact, or putting them in touch with Citizens Advice. Just feeding somebody is never the entire answer. As Bishop Desmond Tutu said, “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.”


I parked in a handy carpark, walked to the first Greggs shop, gave them back the trays we took last time, collected the goodies and took them back to the car. Then, given it was chucking it down, I drove to the next Greggs. They shut half an hour later, so I took it their empty trays for them and sat in a loading bay behind the shop and waited. In due course the lady came out with a couple more trays. I loaded them, thanked her, got back in my car and it refused point blank to start.

So at this point I phoned home and my lady wife found my jump-leads and came out to rescue me.

Now I was supposed to be back home for my tea, so was ravenous. And I’m sitting in a car full of sandwiches, bakes, sausage rolls and doughnuts etc, and I didn’t want to eat anything and spoil my tea!
My rescuer arrived. Now her car is newer than mine and is ‘blessed’ with more ‘features’, none of which we wanted. One is obvious only when you try to get to the battery. One of the terminals is tucked away under a ledge of some sort. Now my jump-leads are heavy duty, agricultural, and you could use them for starting a tractor, a lorry, or even a tank. But anyway I got the crocodile clip squeezed through the gap and onto the terminal with only a purely nominal amount of cursing. The leads connected, she started her car. I turned the key and mine started beautifully. So we took both cars home, transferred all the Greggs trays into her car and I drove that back to deliver it to the foodbank.

Now obviously the foodbank is closed in the evening. To get in you have to press the buttons in the right order and this allows you to access the key. Except it’s as black as the ace of spades down there, and I’d have to have a torch and my reading glasses on to read the buttons. So if the church hall is open, I slip in through there, down to the foodbank and then leave by the foodbank door.

Now by this time I was an hour later than I would normally be, and the church hall was obviously in use. So carrying a tray of assorted goodies, I tiptoed in. Now let us not beat about the bush here, there was absolutely no need to tiptoe. The church hall was full of at least a score of young women in leotards, dancing, or exercising, to loud music with a driving beat. Each of them had a pair of drumsticks with which she would beat the floor in time to the music. They were following the example and were encouraged by the exhortations of the equally lithe and leotard clad lady on the stage. I made my way cautiously around the periphery of the group. I say cautiously because I was approaching them from behind and some of the dance moves involved wide arm movements, and I didn’t really feel the need to be beaten with drumsticks.

Not only that but I’ve got all this Greggs stuff that I’m carrying and I didn’t really want to go down under a mound of doughnuts.
Still I passed through without anybody missing a beat. Mind you I do wonder if any of them wondered what the dickens I was doing there.


And I’ve got some news for you. The first three ‘dog and quad’ books are now available from Amazon in paperback!

three dog book covers

Sometimes I sits and thinks

And sometimes I just sits?

Fancy meeting you here

The sartorial elegance of the labouring classes.


It has to be confessed that I am not a snappy dresser. One of my daughters once commented that she didn’t know anybody who could wear a suit and still give the impression he wasn’t wearing a suit. Admittedly I don’t wear a suit often. I was once working as a self-employed consultant for an organisation and somebody asked me, half-jokingly, if I had a suit.

I replied, “Of course, I get invited to weddings and funerals just like anybody else.”

“How could I get you to wear it?”

“Well you wouldn’t appreciate it if I wore it at your funeral, but if your parents ever get married, I promise you I’ll wear it at their wedding.”

Collar and tie is more common. When ‘church wardening’ a funeral, I might not wear my suit, (dark jacket instead) but I have one white shirt with a collar that I can wear a black tie with. Indeed I have two ties, one for funerals, one not for funerals. (Actually having checked, I discover a wealth of ties, I have three of them and two of them are black). There again, now I’m a churchwarden I might wear my tie six times a year. Given that previously I could get away with that many times in a decade, I’m a bit worried my ties might start to show wear and tear.

But looking back at the previous two generations of our family, when working the men often just wore the clothes that had previously been ‘best.’ I don’t think the idea of buying clothes just to work in occurred to them. I can remember my Grandfather working in a three piece suit, with jacket, trousers and waistcoat. Admittedly the lining of the waistcoat had pretty much come away, and the jacket was patched. Similarly working with livestock had stained the suit trousers a shade the original tailor had never had in mind.

An uncle of mine always worked in a sports jacket. To be fair one sleeve was a bit charred where it caught fire. He was using an angle grinder to cut a piece of metal, and hadn’t noticed the sparks were falling on his sleeve. It was the smell of burning that attracted his attention to the issue. But it matched the other sleeve which he’d torn on barbed wire when fencing.

My father, after a lifetime in farm service, never acquired much in the way of a wardrobe. After all, if you’re male and keep active, the suit you were married in should do you for another thirty or forty years, especially when you so rarely wear it. So he tended to go in for bib and brace overalls, worn with a kitel. Now I’m not sure where the term kitel came from. In Russia it’s the name of a loose fitting and practical jacket with three or four pockets. It was popular within the Russian army and survived the revolution and the Second World War. Apparently in Yiddish, a kittel was what married men wore in the synagogue on Yom Kippur. It could be used as a shroud. I’ve been told by Danes that they use the word for a polyester cotton warehouse coat/lab coat.  How it ended up as being used in South Cumbria to describe a short jacket, looking like a short warehouse coat, but with three pockets, I genuinely don’t know.

The other vital item of clothing is the hat. Preferably a flat cap. If you see old photos of farmworkers from before the war, all would be wearing caps and some of the caps were remarkably large! I confess that for many years I wore baseball caps. I suspect that there was a fashion for companies supplying agriculture to give them away. It may be because so many of these companies have connections with the USA. But I ran out of free baseball caps and splashed out a tenner on a flat cap. To be fair, they are superior. They stay on your head better, are almost as good at keeping the sun or rain out of your eyes (the latter is more important here in Cumbria) and are warmer. Also, if you need to grip a piece of hot iron, or pull the entangled briars out of a sheep’s fleece, the flat cap does the job better.

But fashion moves on. I never liked bib and brace overalls. I always felt constricted, with something pulling at my shoulders. So I wore jeans. The problem with jeans is that once I start using them for working, I destroyed a pair a year. I’d get them after hay-time, and by next hay-time they had worn so thin above the knees that they started coming apart. Indeed I was fashionably wearing torn jeans long before they were fashionable.

But with jackets, the problem with the kitel is that it isn’t waterproof. So over the years I’ve tried all sorts of things. Then one of the van salesmen sold me a high-vis jacket for £5. I initially used it for when I was out walking but it eventually got used for work. Looking at it hung on a door handle, it strikes me that this might be its last winter.


And an announcement, I’ve just published the fourth of my collection of dog, quad, sheep and cattle tales. May I present, for your delectation and delight, ‘Lambing, almost live.’

The fourth of these collections of anecdotes, rants, pious maunderings and general observations on life. Yes we have dogs, quads, sheep and cattle, but in this one we follow the ‘lambing year.’ It starts with ewes being put to the tup in late autumn and finishes in summer with the last of the laggards lambing.
But as well as this we have endless rain, as well as sleeping in a manger. Be brave and you’ll meet young ladies in high heeled cowboy boots, Sir John Moore of Corunna, brassieres for cows, and, incidentally, David Essex.

As a reviewer commented, “This book charts a year in the life of a Cumbrian sheep farmer. It’s sprinkled with anecdotes and memories of other years. Some parts (especially when featuring Sal, the Border Collie) were so funny as to cause me to have to read them out loud to my husband. It’s very interesting to read these things from the pen of the man who is actually out there doing it – usually in the rain! A very good read.”