Monthly Archives: February 2020

Not everybody likes the wet


When I let Sal out this morning, she showed no real signs of enthusiasm. She followed me, picking her way fastidiously around the water. She abandoned this when she discovered that, in reality, the water, be it slush or rainwater, was everywhere.
When I woke up this morning, there was snow cover of a sort, but the rain had already started. Apparently for a while Barrow was cut off. This isn’t because our highway authority is incompetent, it’s just that there’s effectively just one road and if an artic skids on the wrong roundabout, we’re cut off. Yes there is another way out, but that goes up through the lakes and in summer it’s effectively blocked by tourists, and in bad weather it’s not what I’d call a pleasant drive.

But Sal and I went to feed round a few heifers, who to be fair were glad to see us. Certainly they seemed happier that Sal was. Although even she perked up when she discovered that there was still snow, of a sort, on the lawn. She genuinely frolicked at that point and rolled in it enthusiastically.

As you can see, the day has made an effort. First it genuinely attempted to snow, but as you can see, it’s hardly overwhelming.


Then it’s made a half-hearted attempt to get light as well. To be honest I think today is going to be one of those days where we work in the gloom.

The other problem with snow and slush is that it has to be moved. So scraping out the yards takes twice as long because you aren’t merely shifting the muck, you’re shifting the slush as well.
Remember that we’re an area that is geared up to handle water. There are places in the UK which aren’t used to it. About thirty years ago I remember travelling with a family friend in the south and it threw a really heavy shower. So heavy they were wondering about pulling off the road, they’d never really seen anything like it. This rather surprised me as we’ll get showers like that most months, especially in winter.

But what really staggered me was suddenly everything was flooded. Here in Cumbria, our highway engineers know that you have to have drains along the sides of roads. Not only that, but whilst our local authorities do get caught out at times, they do know the importance of keeping the drains clean.

And me? I’ve got one waterproof drying, and am wearing my previous pair of working trousers. This is because my current working trousers are sodden and are hopefully drying in from of the Rayburn.

Working trousers have to be really bad before they get thrown out, they’ll always come in for an hour or two during wet weather. If, when I go back out, this pair get soaked and the ‘good’ ones still aren’t dry, there’s another pair that I can put on. Admittedly they’re not the sort of garment you could wear in company but still they’ll keep the wind off when worn with a long waterproof.


Sal does keep having difficult days

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.”




Beware of the little people


It’s obvious that the great and the good are sadly disappointed in us. In spite of the bounty they pour upon us, the wise guidance they offer and the tender way they gently lead us into the golden future they have mapped out, we’re not to be trusted.


I noticed in the paper today that “Ofsted fears schools will squander extra cash.”

Apparently Ananda Spielman, the chief inspector of schools in England, said that “There was clearly room for improvement when it came to school budgeting and that bad financial decisions would be harmful to children’s education.”

Apparently she also hinted that there could be an expanded role for the inspectorate in analysing schools’ financial records to ensure budgets were properly spent. Given that nobody has seen any evidence that Ofsted actually has any competence in the financial field, one assumes that this expansion of their duties will, inevitably, lead to a considerable increase in their staff numbers. Equally inevitably this will lead to senior people being raised to higher grades, in recognition of their ‘greater responsibility’ with, of course, a corresponding increase in the level of their remuneration.

Strangely enough, the comments, “Were put online yesterday by accident before being quickly removed.”


At the same time, on a webpage from the Government Digital Service, small boat fishermen were described as ‘poor, less intelligent and depressed,’ categorising some of them as ‘rule beaters consistently seek to evade regulation’ who ‘are often unpopular with the rest of the fishing community.’

“The regulator said that the phrasing came from external research when developing the Catch Recording App, a new tool that small-scale English fishermen are being forced to use to record catches. To justify the need for submissions in the app before fish are landed, the paper claimed fishermen in the under-10 metre fleet (which makes up 80% of the catching industry) could not be trusted to unload their haul without ‘colluding’ with black-market sellers.”

Strangely enough, the fishing regulator has apologised for being ‘massively disrespectful’ about trawler-men, and the comments have been quickly removed from the website.


In agriculture we’ve had it for a while. One Defra run database told staff some years ago (in the last millennium, so the attitude is not new) that they were to assume that farmers were lying unless it was proven otherwise. This was a verbal briefing to staff (back then managers were either too wise, or not tech-savvy enough to inadvertently put stuff on the website by accident) but unfortunately due to the nature of the staff, it leaked out.
What senior people in Defra hadn’t realised is that a proportion of the staff recruited to work on the database were the wives or daughters of farmers. They were ideal employees because they actually understood what the data was supposed to show. Unfortunately, when they got home after work, they were also the ones who would gather up and submit the data that their farming family had to put on the database. As you can imagine, the warning they were given didn’t go down well.


I confess to being reminded of the words of Bertolt Brecht


After the uprising of the 17th of June

The Secretary of the Writers’ Union

Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee

Stating that the people

Had forfeited the confidence of the government

And could win it back only

By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier

In that case for the government

To dissolve the people

And elect another?

Sadly, we the little people, have forfeited the confidence of our masters in the bureaucracy. Perhaps they should show their displeasure by abandoning us and going off to administer somebody else? I’m sure that would teach us a strong lesson.


There again, what do I know? I recommend you discuss the matter with somebody who knows.

Available as paperback or ebook

As a reviewer commented, “If I were younger, I would love to spend a year following Jim and Sal around and listening to the stories and adding the special effects, but I sure get a lot of the picture from his well-chosen words.

Can’t wait for the next book! Beautifully done.”

Cobwebs and superglue


I remember, many years ago, watching the vet treat a cow which was tied in a stall in the building next to the milking parlour. Because it was easy to separate a cow from her mates there, after she’d been milked, this was the stall we used for cows the vet needed to see. It was light and easily pressure-hosed off so was always clean.

The vet looked up at the ceiling. To be fair we’d been wary of pressure hosing that, if only because the roof was a fair age and we didn’t fancy taking the risk of loosening the slates. The vet surveyed the thick cobwebs with some enthusiasm. “Always handy to have some of them about if you have a bad cut to treat.”
It’s actually a very old technique. Wash the wound with honey and vinegar, than gently pat it dry with a clean cloth, put a thick pad of cobweb over it, and then put a bandage round to hold the pad in place. Apparently, not only is there the physical effect of the fine mesh of spider silk, but also cobwebs contain vitamin K which helps clotting.

Obviously mindless bureaucracy has to impinge on these things and the advent of the dairy inspectorate with clipboards and boxes to tick meant that eventually the cobwebs disappeared.

But I suppose we’ve moved on. Step forward and take a bow, Superglue or ethyl-cyanoacrylate. Apparently in the US, midwives had been using it to “suture” perineal tears after birth. In their experience it was better and less invasive than stitches. Apparently for larger wounds it’s not flexible enough and science stepped forward with Butyl-cyanoacrylate which was used in Vietnam by battlefield medics who didn’t have time or the facilities to stitch wounds in the field. Vets and others who work in similar conditions use it. Indeed it is often used in A&E departments where patients have cuts, especially in ‘non-fleshy’ places, like eyebrows or foreheads.

But now if you have an animal with a bit of a cut you can sent a photo of it on your phone to the vet who’ll look at it and decide whether it’s one that needs stitching, or whether you can just treat it with a little superglue.

Certainly it has to be admitted that it’s a lot easier to apply superglue than to stitch a wound. Especially on dairy cows who’re used to being handled, I saw a cow with a cut in the side of her nose just stand there when superglue was used to seal the cut. She just stood there and let it happen without so much as shaking her head. If we’d tried to stitch her, even using local anaesthetic there’d have been two of us trying to hold her head still enough to give the vet a chance to work.

Given that Poundland sold eight tubes for a pound, that’s £0.12p. Not only that but the vet can cast an eye over the before and after without leaving his fireside by casting an eye over the pictures on his phone.

I must admit I’ve never used the cobwebs, but I’d vouch for the efficacy of honey smeared on a cut. Not only that but it doesn’t have to be the highly expensive Manuka. Supermarket ‘produce of more than one continent’ works perfectly adequately for me.


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


A small tornado a long way from London, nobody noticed.



Last month, during evening milking, the electric went off. This is a damned nuisance, especially given that at this time of year, it’s pretty much pitch dark. Even darker because it was a wet and windy evening. However before we managed to phone the electricity people to query gently when they expected service to return, it came back on again. So we promptly got on with life and put it down as ‘just one of those things.’ After all, we’re rural, electricity can come and go at times. It’s better than it used to be. You just make sure you know where the torches are. In the longer term we have an oil-fired Rayburn cooker that doesn’t depend on an electrical pump to work. In winter, we have an open fire, which uses a lot of logs and a little bit of coal. After all, the longest power cut I’ve experienced was six and a half days, which is an awful long time to be without warm food and heat.

But next day news began to filter in to us as to what had actually happened. A small tornado (there may well be a proper meteorological term for a bijou tornado-ette) had hit the island of Walney, cut across the south of the island and had headed for us. The first damage I could find was where it had run the length of one dike, tipping over hawthorn trees as it went. It then passed across a field and somehow missed one neighbour’s house. Instead it seems to have passed over another of our hedges, doing no damage. It then crossed a pretty large open area of the mosses where it may have gained speed and power, because it swung left and hit the front of another neighbour’s house. It put in two house windows and made a mess of a workshop before heading up through Furness. Finally it burnt itself out in the cemetery in Ulverston where it took down a lot of trees.

Looking at our toppled trees, my cunning plan is just to pull them back into the line of the hedge. This I’ll do gently so that I don’t put any more strain on the roots. Then I’ll hammer a fence post of two between the branches so it helps pin them in place. With any luck they’ll all survive.


And now we have Storm Ciara, which looks to be a bit rougher than the usual winter storm, but frankly not that much rougher round here. I think that the sheer weight of rain that came with it made it worse. That and the fact that it came in from the south and west just after the full moon so we had a higher tide than usual. This photo somebody took is the main road not far from our lane end.


At high tide it came over the wall and kept going.


A friend was travelling down one of the lanes and took a photo through the rain towards the sea. Even at two or more miles away you can see the waves breaking on the sea wall. Also note that there isn’t supposed to be a lake between the camera and the sea. Somewhere on the horizon there is supposed to be England. I suppose it’s still there.


But we’re lucky. When they decided to build a farm here, they picked a spot which was sheltered from the west (which is our main source of gales) and high enough up not to flood. There again, they were ignorant peasants, not wise and properly trained people like the members of planning committees. Still, eight hundred or so years ago we were too wise to have planning committees.


Still whatever the weather you can still snuggle up with a good book! Available in paperback or ebook

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.”