Monthly Archives: March 2020

The Rabid Readers Review ‘Maljie, the episodic memoirs of a lady’ by Jim Webster

Always nice to get a review

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The Rabid Readers Review Maljie, the episodic memoirs of a lady by Jim Webster

Where to start with this review? First of all a health warning. Do not read this book when drinking coffee/beer/WHY.  Neither is it a great notion to read somewhere sudden bursts of laughter could be seen as inappropriate.

I must confess upfront to being a fan of Jim Webster’s writing as he has a talent for making the most wildly inconsequential of observations seem matter of fact and perfectly believable. Any of the tales he weaves around the imaginary but utterly believable city of a port Nain are going to be chuckle worthy at the very least.

Therefore I approached the chronicles of Maljie’s varied and exotic life with great expectation.

I wasn’t disappointed.

In fact, there were places where I actually howled with laughter.

Our heroine veers from situation to situation – rarely finishing…

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Which virus?

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Sorry and all that but for me there’s only one virus. Having farmed in Cumbria all my life, and that includes 2001 it has to be FMD. Now I’m not going to get all excitable and claim that I wake up in the night screaming that, ‘Charlie’s on the wire’. But FMD is burned all the way through me like it is for a lot of other people.

What brought this on was an email exchange with a mate in which I was trying to compare the current unpleasantness with 2001. To me, I was seeing it as a mirror image. Back then it crucified rural areas but had comparatively few effects on the urban, save they might not be allowed to walk on footpaths. Now the current virus has brought towns grinding to a halt but here on the farms we’re still working.

But actually when prodded by somebody who was more distanced but still involved, I can remember others.

For example, chap I sort of knew (But knew others in his family better) who had sunk his savings into a business selling homemade fudge and sweets at agricultural shows and other outdoor events. He’d invested the money, even paid out for pitches and then everything just collapsed and he lost the lot.

Or an accountant with a lot of rural clients who nearly went bankrupt waiting for them to have some money to pay him.

Somehow farmers survived. Remember those who were shot out received compensation for the business capital the government had destroyed. But they got nothing for loss of income. Suddenly they had no income and if they lived out of their capital they’d have nothing to restock with after the disaster. Not only that but they were trapped on the farm and couldn’t leave for so many weeks. Actually we were lucky with ‘disinfection.’

Somebody (and I haven’t a clue which genius it was) convinced government that the only way to defeat FMD was to launch a massive programme of disinfection on the farms where livestock had been destroyed. It wasn’t just stuff had to be clean, if there was cracked concrete it had to be broken out and replaced. All this was paid as part of the disinfection. It was supervised largely by people who had only started working for MAFF at the start of the outbreak and a lot of them hadn’t a clue. I remember talking to one farmer who had had six weeks ‘working for the ministry’ doing the disinfection. The problem is, the work had finished and with it the money. When the inspector (from memory he’d been somebody in the post office or something) came to inspect and to sign the job off he was very complementary about the standard of work done. But then the farmer pointed out that all their cubicles were bolted to the wall. They hadn’t been able to disinfect the interface between the cement render of the wall and the steel of the cubicle. Ought that to be done?

So you have a petty bureaucrat who doesn’t know what is going on being asked to take a decision. So obviously he leaps for the safest option. Of course they ought to do that. This produced another two or three weeks work for the entire family, all at ministry level wages.

Did it do any good, from a purely epidemiological point of view? Who knows, they did infinitely more disinfection than they did in the previous major outbreak. But the main advantage was it actually provided a lifeline to farming families who would have been trapped, unable to earn.

Then there was the chaos in government. A mate of mine who worked for MAFF in London witnessed the complete bedlam. All sorts of people were being told to set up offices in all sorts of distant settings. People were ordering computers and then having them delivered by taxi to private houses. This was so the ministry employee could leave home for his new office and take his new computer with him. My mate reckoned a fair proportion were just people taking the opportunity to upgrade their home computer.

And frankly at the time the government got off on the wrong foot and MAFF pretty well melted down. If you think that the NHS is understaffed, in Cumbria there were at the start of the outbreak apparently three MAFF vets and within two days all three were ‘dirty’ and could no longer go onto farms. Nobody had a clue what was going on.
Blair was more interested in declaring everything fixed so he could have a general election. He travelled to Stockholm for a European summit in March 2001 and as he had the plane and Cumbria was ‘sort of on the way’ he stopped over in Cumbria and talked to farmers and others at the Shepherds Inn. Then he flew on to Stockholm and was shocked to discover that the Swedes expected everybody on the plane to walk through disinfectant on their way across the tarmac. Then they went into the plane, seized all the food there and incinerated it. Some people have commented that it was at that point Blair realised that he was dealing with a genuine emergency the world took seriously, not merely an irritant that was delaying his general election plans.

 

Looking at the current outbreak, we’re in a lot better position. Government have taken it seriously from the start and are leaning heavily on the medical/epidemiological advice. Also the NHS is dealing with it and whatever people say the NHS funding has continued to grow in real terms. No the NHS hasn’t got everything it wanted. It’s a department of government, it has to shroud-wave when the chancellor is planning spending. But the figures largely speak for themselves. They’re really good at guarding their budgets.

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Certainly compared to Agriculture which the government of the day regarded as an obsolete irrelevance, the NHS is well placed to cope.

But looking at the people impacted, obviously we see the obvious, and a lot of money is being thrown at them. But there are still people not covered. It was considered utterly iniquitous that people had to wait for five weeks for Universal Credit to kick in, but it could be five months before the self-employed get any money.

Then all those people who claim it’s gross exploitation when companies hire staff on zero-hours contacts. Well what about those hired by schools as supply teachers and supply teaching assistants? The minute the school shuts, they get no money so when teachers are furloughed on 80%, the supply staff just have nothing.

Looking towards the farming industry, sadly it’s those who are doing what they were advised to do that are potentially suffering most. Those who diversified into tourism (all shut), selling niche market premium produce to restaurants and top of the range caterers, their market disappeared at the stroke of a pen. Those who went into box schemes will probably survive if they can physically cope with the issues of picking and packing veg and sticking with social distancing. And of course, they better not actually get the illness or their business could just shut with no income at all whilst they’re all in quarantine.

The more traditional side of the industry is at the moment less impacted. Provided the rest of the supply chain can keep running, getting stuff to us and taking produce away, we can probably keep going. There is going to be an issue with picking fruit and vegetables. Is an urban population, stir crazy in isolation, going to be stir crazy enough to want to do fruit picking just to get out of the house? And would they do it for the sort of money it normally commands? Or are the supermarkets going to actually pay a price for fresh produce which allows the people picking it to earn a fair wage? Indeed if they do, will you buy it or instead will the great British consumer look round for cheap imported stuff which is picked by the massively exploited and oppressed somewhere overseas?

z

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We live in interesting times. But there again, what do I know?

Oh and the mate of mine whose email started me off on this rant? Well you might be interested in buying a book of his.

 

As a reviewer commented, ”

The Showing starts out with an estate agent showing a house for sale, but the potential customer already knows the house well and his thoughts reflect on a childhood with many Christmases spent there. Hints of unusual activity pepper the first chapter and set up what appears to be a very well-written ghost story.

The mystery deepens as the story progresses and typical ghostly happenings are hinted at and begin to manifest. I was thrown just a little when a chapter change moved from third person to first person, but otherwise the writing is engaging and I found myself wondering what had happened to the missing people and exactly what the nature of this ghost might be. The characters were nicely developed and the story held interest.

The mystery of the house unfolds very slowly, keeping the reader on edge and wondering the exact nature of the ghost. Hints begin to seep in slowly and there is an odd twist about halfway through that I didn’t see coming. I love it when an author can surprise me.

The creep factor also escalates around halfway. I started finding it difficult to stop between chapters at this point as events started moving more quickly and the story earned its place in the Horror genre with some nasty happenings that veered into less typical ghostly events. There was a certain amount of comedy to break up the tension and that might have stolen some of the suspense, but the big climax was imaginative and could rival Dennis Wheatley for pure fantasy ritual and demonic activity.

A little of the creep factor remained as the story finished and I can imagine it all flooding back next time I look at a potential new house.”

Spring and turning heifers out

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It’s amazing the difference a few nice days can make. Because we’ve no sheep any more we aren’t lambing and at the same time we have grass. So a few dry cows were turned out. They frolicked briefly and then proceeded to sit on the grass basking in the warmth.

Heifers are a different matter. Rather than risk an over-enthusiastic simulation of the Pamplona Bull Run, we put them in a trailer and took them to the field that way. To be fair, after something of a token frolic they too have taken to spending much of their time just soaking up the sun. I do wonder if, like us, they’ve just been utterly hacked off by this winter. Endless rain and driving wind does start to undermine the morale.

The next job was to fix a bit of a gap before the basking dry cows bestirred themselves and discovered it. Next door has wintered some bullocks in the field next to us. It’s perfect for that, large parts of it are effectively sand (burns off pretty much every summer) so it stays dry underfoot and doesn’t get trodden up. Also there is shelter for cattle who want it.

The gap was about thirty yards from the blackthorn in the photo. On our side for some reason there was a section with sheep netting but no breast wire above it. I think a sheep had got its head caught in the netting and in pulling and pushing to (successfully) get its head out, it managed to break a fence post which means the whole lot was now sagging.

Next door’s fence had also suffered, a tree had gone down in the winter winds. As it had been acting as an informal straining post, it left a gap on their side. I was surprised that next door’s cattle hadn’t wandered into our field through it until one of them came across to see what I was doing. At this point it discovered the mud in this hollow was still belly deep and floundered off back to join its mates. I suspect we are going to forget how wet things actually have been and I can see people getting vehicles stuck where they’ve never got stuck before. It might be nice now and a lot of ground might have dried, but there’s still a lot of water about.

I suspect we’ve had new springs appear because I’ve got one gateway standing water than never stood water before. It’s at the foot of a steep bank and I think the water has started seeping down through the bank from the field above.

Anyway I got the fence fixed, two posts and a bit of spare wire. I even managed to patch up a breast wire on the other side to cover the gap the tree had left, just in case the mud gets shallower and the bullocks get more adventurous.

 

Looking about at the larger world, one phenomena I’ve noticed, social media seems to be full of older people ranking about the stupid thirty-somethings who have keep going out and seeing their mates. Up here it’s the thirty-somethings who are trying to talk sense into the older folk.

Another thing I’ve noticed is all sorts of self-righteous people ranting about the list of companies they’re going to boycott after it’s all over because of the way they’ve not looked after their staff. I wonder when people will start ranting about education authorities? I’ve got family and friends who work as supply teachers or supply teaching assistants. Once the schools shut, those working on supply contracts have just got no money. Indeed the 80% doesn’t help them, because they’re only paid for the hours they have in their contact and they’re all effectively on zero hours contracts. Perhaps the self-righteous should get on with naming and shaming these authorities as well.

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There again, what to I know. Speak to the expert. Now available in paperback and ebook

As a reviewer commented, “his 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!”

If you think it’s bad now, always remember that it can be worse

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It was facebook that reminded me, back in 2013 this was the weather we were coping with. At least we’re spared that.

I’ve been trying to get my head round what is happening with beef and lamb trade at the moment. As far as I can make out ‘cock-up’ is more likely that conspiracy.

With the sheep trade it’s obvious that the buyers just stopped buying yesterday. It wasn’t just that prices plummeted, they weren’t even interesting in buying at low prices.

Given the amount of lamb we export, even the rumour that our ‘trading partners’ were closing borders because of corvid 19 was going to cause chaos. Who wants to be left with wagons of expensive lambs? Especially when there is no certainty as to whether you can sell them on, or even if you’ll have enough staff to man the line in the abattoir or how you’ll get the carcasses into France.

With beef there is less uncertainty but things are still going to change. First the restaurants closed, then places like McDonalds. All these take a lot of meat, especially beef, from various ends of the market. But talking to people in the trade they’ve noticed a lot of butchers are taking more beef. Butchers who perhaps took two or three full carcasses a week are having to take four or five to keep up demand. Talking to a local butcher, they are starting to see a lot of supermarket customers in their shop. Not only are they strange faces they don’t recognise, but apparently a butcher can tell from the questions they ask that they’ve only ever bought meat from supermarkets.

Then for those people doing box schemes, apparently it can be difficult to keep up with demand. Makes sense from a customer’s point of view. You get quality produce delivered to the door, and of course you’ll be in to take delivery. It’s not as if you were going anywhere.

To be honest it looks as if the supply chain is frantically trying to keep pace with a fast changing world. A lot of big decisions are being made and they’re being made for serious epidemiological reasons, not for the convenience of any particular industry.

My guess is that over the next week or two it’ll shake down to whatever becomes the new ‘normal.’ On the understanding that this whole situation is going to last at least a year, one way or another, how bedded in is the new normal going to get?
After all with FMD, whilst it screwed up the industry at our end, it didn’t make an awful lot of difference to the consumer. But this time it’s the consumer who is finding their lives changing.

When we come out of this, are people who have finally discovered how to work from homes going to want to continue? Does anybody in their right mind want an hour and a half commute either end of the day? Will their employers who realise they can get away with a third of the office space ensure they do stay working from home? Will government start demanding that strategic industries be located in this country? You know, things like vaccine and drug production, the manufacture of medical technology, perhaps even (Heaven forfend) agriculture? Similarly when the figures come out for the fall in the amount of carbon produced/pollution caused will people be happy for airlines to just go back to what they were. I’ve got a bet on with a mate that they’ll build houses on Heathrow runways 1 and 2 before they ever build a third runway.

 

Meanwhile back in the real world, isn’t it nice to have fine weather day after day. It’s nice to be able to tidy up after winter. I was cleaning up some branches that had blown down into a silage field and I could watch the pair of swans on the pond at the same time. It’s obvious that they’re settling down to breed. They’ve built the nest and the male obviously has serious territorial issues. He’s spent the last few days trying to drive a pair of Canada Geese off ‘his’ pond. So far the Canadians are hanging on in there, courteous to the last. Still they must be getting sick of him.

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Still, what do I know?

Available as ebook or paperback.

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.”

The cleanest one round here is the cat

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Talking to a mate of mine who works at our local agricultural engineers. His comment was that any virus that can survive on his hands when he’s at work is too tough for alcohol hand-sanitisers to cope with. I know how he feels, there are industries where you have to wash your hands before you visit the bathroom.

The other day I was talking to a butcher I know. He is seeing far more customers, they’re people he can tell were supermarket customers because of the questions they now ask. Apparently some are coming to him because of the panic-buying in supermarkets. His comment was if anybody tries panic-buying with him, he’ll just offer them a full side of beef to carry away.

But it does look as if some of the supermarkets are trying to ensure their food chains. One farmer who bottles his own organic milk for Booths was asked if he could increase production by quite a respectable amount. He could because he had previously been forced to sell some of his milk into the non-organic market. Another farmer had some Belgian Blue bulls ready for killing. The butcher he sells a lot of stuff to wasn’t keen because, as he commented, “They’re harder to sell, the grain is a bit coarse.’ He got a phone call a couple of days later. “Send them in, we’re getting short of stuff.”

Spring is obviously coming, it’s getting warmer. The other day I walked out to feed heifers without bothering to put on the battered hi-vis jacket I’ve been wearing all winter. Our feral farm cat was trotting across the yard on errands of his own and when I appeared he jumped sideways and set off at a run. It was only when I said ‘Hi’ to him that he stopped, realised it was me and came back to get his ears tickled. I don’t think he’s ever seen me without that jacket on.

He is settling nicely to work, taking both rats and crows. In spite of him being entirely feral with us offering him just a little food as a backup, he is a genuinely friendly cat who will actually climb up your leg to get his ears scratched.
We had a cow calve the other night and I went to give her a couple of buckets of warm water to drink. As I did so the cat appeared on a wall next to me, and ran down my arm and perched on my shoulder. Then when I bent down to pick up the bucket he much have decided this was closer to the cow than he felt it was wise to go. So he jumped onto her back and then back onto the wall.
The cow spun round to see what the threat was to her calf and chased him as he ran along the wall then dropped down the other side onto a round bale of silage. It has to be said he isn’t a fan of cows.

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Anyway there’s always this, in paperback and 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 smell of foot-trimming in the morning

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Whatever humanity is up to, the seasons continue to roll forward. The contractor arrived to put on the nitrogen. He made far less mark than I thought he would, the last few days have dried out our higher land nicely. Sal supervised him from a safe distance. Mind you that is as close as I got to him because the foot-trimmer was coming to give a few dairy cows a quick pedicure. So the rest of the morning was spent help putting the ladies down the race. It’s probably a similar process to convincing some patients that they really need to get into the MRI scanner, but doubtless with less shouting. Other than that it’s been fine and things are starting to look up a bit.

Mind you I had to nip into town yesterday and as I was there I’d go into Tesco. All I had been told to get was a tub of mixed herbs. Easily done, I walked breezily through the chaos and empty shelves. (All the pasta shelf had on was a notice which could be briefly paraphrased as, ‘Come on, just grow up.’)
Anyway after paying I would nip into the gents if only to wash my hands. As I was about to go in there was this wild electronic beeping and of course I spun round to see what I’d set off. Behind me there was a lass who works at Tesco who apologised and explained it was her fault. She was putting a new soap dispenser in the Ladies’ and they now have to have the electronic sales tags on them to deter people from stealing them!
I said something appropriate and she explained that they’d had the police in twice that day. Once when people were fighting over the biscuits, and a second time when somebody wanted to buy far more baked beans than he was allowed and he threatened the cashier with assault.

I suggested they just nail offenders upside-down at the front of the store as a warning to others. She thought it was an excellent idea and promised to raise it with the manager who she felt would look favourably upon it.

One thing that has struck me, this emergency is at times the exact opposite of FMD. Back then we were utterly screwed and struggling to cope, whilst the urban population merely had a few restrictions on things like footpath use that most of them never noticed. This time, we’re self-isolated because that’s what agriculture is like anyway, and in some urban settings civilisation is collapsing even as I write. The barbarians aren’t at the gates, they’re in Tesco pillaging the shelves for toilet paper.

Ah well, keep well.

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There again, what do I know? Speak to the expert (now in paperback and ebook)

As a reviewer commented, “A collection of stories about, among other things, sheep and English farming, that made me sit and laugh. Jim Webster has a steady hand at the plow, an observing eye, and a gentle take on the hard life of a farmer. Even though he feared a twitter-storm, The High Intellectual Standards of the White Faced Breed is extremely visual and very funny. You can SEE the sheep – and the thoughts racketing around in their brains. Well worth reading. And amuse yourself by following his recommendation about the Unrest Cure story. Again reminds me of James Herriott – but from the farmer’s side. And do read his wry commentary on the intersection between customers, farmers, and government.”

Picking our way through a strange world.

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Well it’s not raining at the moment. I mean it was, and doubtless will be soon, but just at the moment it’s fine and mild. True the ground hasn’t dried out yet but at least there isn’t as much standing water as there was. One neighbour has even managed to plough something. They always used to say a peck of March dust was worth a king’s ransom. It would be nice to have the ground dry enough to drive across without nervousness.

Still, it’s not bad out, Sal was mooching about whilst I was checking heifers. I thought I might get a photo of her starring at the swans but she never stops still long enough to even look cute.

It’s difficult trying to work out what’s going to happen next. I saw where somebody was getting a poorer price for quality beef because the restaurant market had suddenly dried up. Another issue is those people who depend upon labour who come in from outside this country. Ignore totally the aspect of what scheme they have available to come in on, that is barely relevant at the moment. Far more importantly will their own country let them leave and will our border authorities let them enter?

Indeed I was talking to somebody in hospitality who depends on a lot of staff who came in from Spain. They will struggle to get here and he is very doubtful as to whether he’ll need them if they do arrive. Will there be a tourist season this year? There again, I can quite seriously see there being a market for remote self-catering cottages. Stir crazy over-seventies could be desperate for somewhere they can go and still feel somewhat isolated. Might be a useful marketing angle for those on farms who have just a cottage or so.

I also read the latest modelling work which has accelerated the government’s shift of policy. It’s at

 

https://www.imperial.ac.uk/media/imperial-college/medicine/sph/ide/gida-fellowships/Imperial-College-COVID19-NPI-modelling-16-03-2020.pdf?

 

It looks as if the policy of slowing the spread of the virus so that we build up herd immunity (supported by the old data) has been abandoned because new data showed that it was going to be far too costly in lives. So we’re now in a policy of shut everything down to suppress it. The problem with this is that we can do it, but the minute we relax, the virus is still there and will just burst out again because the population is still relatively naive. The best option they can find is to relax the restrictions when the number of people we have in intensive care units drops to fifty a week, and slam the restrictions back on when numbers go up to one hundred a week. It produces this sort of graph.

 

Capture

 

The problem is that this has to be in place for about two years to get the level of herd immunity up to a level at which the population is largely safe. It is probably going to take about that length of time to produce a vaccine, check that it works and is safe, then get it manufactured and distributed throughout the community.

So personally, looking ahead for farmers I think that we have to assume that things are going to be pretty sticky for the next year or so.

On the positive side, a lot of the contractors we use can ‘self-isolate’ whilst working from a tractor cab. At the moment I think the big issues will be at either end of the chain. Here in dairy farming we’re very dependent on those working in the feed mills and those working in the dairies. But we’re also reliant on people in warehouses loading the teat dip into a van to send round.

So basically, stay well out there and look after yourselves.

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There again, what do I know? You could always ask an expert

Now in paperback and ebook. Perfect if you’ve not managed to stockpile enough toilet paper

 

As a reviewer commented, “Once in a while a book really gets to you. Jim Webster’s book Sometimes I just Sits and Thinks has done just that to me. Jim is a farmer in the English county of Cumbria. His sense of humour shines throughout each episode. If you come from farming stock as I do, this is the book for you. In my mind’s eye I was out there with Jim and his faithful Border Collies Jess and Sal. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book…”

They wouldn’t let me use the first title I had in mind for this

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Obviously I’m an expert epidemiologist, I’ve read three facebook posts on the topic. To be fair I did farm through foot and mouth so I’ve learned one thing. Matters go better when the politicians shut up, back off, and let the epidemiologists run it. One of the big problems back in 2001 was that the Prime Minister wasn’t listening to his epidemiologists, he wanted his general election and was trying to say the outbreak was beaten so he could hold it on his preferred date.

But one thing I learned, unfortunately the hard way, was that back in 2001 social media was full of people who knew infinitely more about virology and similar sciences than those who’d merely spent their entire careers in these fields. Every political nutcase and every single issue pressure group was sure that everything was a conspiracy and that it could all be sorted in an afternoon if we adopted their policies.
One thing I will never forget is the 9p vaccine. Apparently farmers were too evil, stupid, wilful, and mean to protect their livestock, even though there was a perfectly good vaccine and it only cost 9p. I was phoned by our vet who was working for MAFF at the sharp end. Word had come down from the Cabinet Office, the PM had been told about this vaccine and why wasn’t it being used. The obvious answer was ‘what vaccine.’
But for the next week or so the message boards of usenet as well as other parts of nascent social media as well as some of the papers were going on and on about this vaccine that farmers were too stupid and stuck in their ways to use.
I finally found the vaccine. It was produced in India, was a live vaccine (so couldn’t be used in Europe) and was to cope with a strain of FMD endemic in India but which had never been seen in Europe. It would have been less use than a chocolate fireguard. But the ‘well-meaning’ muppets had caused all sorts of chaos and upset and genuinely screwed peoples’ lives with their silly advocacy of an utterly inappropriate vaccine. I know farmers who contacted me, desperate to know if the vaccine existed and how they could get it.

And now the muppets are at it again. Just to give an example, our great army of arm chair experts is demanding that the schools be closed. Now I’m involved with our local foodbank. We had a query from a school, “If they had to close, could we feed the pupils they have who are entitled to free school meals. They would give us the money that the government gets to pay for them.” I suspect this is a conversation going on all over the country.
Now it struck me that this is an entirely sensible question. Somebody at the school is taking their duties seriously. After all they have over two hundred children who have to be fed. Whilst armchair epidemiologists are happy for them to go hungry, we see here a teacher taking their responsibilities seriously.

We have a problem. There is no way we can just add them to our normal foodbank clients. The assumption is we’re going to get more clients anyway because we’ll have people who find themselves with no income. Not only that but there is a fear we’ll see a drop in the amount of food donated. (I know one person who discovered that the collection point they have set up for us had been pillaged).

Even if we got enough money to buy the food, we don’t have the volunteers to cope with the extra work, especially as virtually all our volunteers are in the at risk age group and if those over seventy are told to self-isolate we’ll lose an awful lot of people.
Another problem is that for some children this is the only hot meal they get a day. There is no way we can provide hot food. Not only that but how would we physically feed them? The obvious way would be to use the school kitchens and feed them at the school which rather undermines the reason for shutting the school.

Then there is the problem of who looks after the children when we send them home. Even if there are grandparents available, by definition they are the most vulnerable group and the children are the ones who spread it fastest! So parents have to stay at home. Wonderful, the NHS suspects it might lose between a quarter and a third of its staff off sick at the height of the outbreak. It doesn’t want to lose another ten or so percent even before things kick off properly, because they’re off providing childcare.

And then somebody complained that they weren’t testing for coronavirus any more. But why would you divert trained medical personnel to testing? I mean, what are you going to do with the information? By the time you’ve got the data it’s out of date. Also the vast majority of the people you test are going to have a week of flu-like symptoms before they’re well again. Wouldn’t it be better to use trained people to look after those who’re really ill and who need help?
But what really hacked me off is a group called Reignite, who are emailing people to ask, “Will you be a Coronavirus strategy advisor?”

And what do you need to be a Reignite advisor? Why you have to answer five questions. Are you worried about the outbreak, do you think schools should shut, do you think the NHS is ready, are you happy with Boris’s handling of the situation. And the fifth is an open request to share your wisdom further.

Then after a page of blurb and pictures telling you how bad it is, you are asked
How can I protect my family?

Basics such as washing your hands frequently and covering your mouth and nose when you sneeze apply to Coronavirus.

 

However, keeping surfaces clean is the most crucial part of protecting yourself and your family. Whether you’re at home or out in public, Coronavirus particles may stay active on surfaces for several days. But how do we ensure that surfaces remain sanitised?

 

The answer comes in the form of a revolutionary new product called Mobile Klean.

 

Lucky you, you get a chance to buy this wonderful product for £43.94 including postage and packaging.

 

Has anybody got a sick bucket handy please.

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In case you’re completely out of toilet paper, purchase the following in paperback. Never run short of paper again, buy as many copies as you want.

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.”

Is your future as secure as his?

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The cat has won his spurs. In the last two mornings he has allowed himself to be witnessed killing two rats. He may be small but he is puissant. From being the newbie he is promoted to being ‘The Cat’ and is fully entitled to sprawl majestically in the straw waiting for evening to fall. He is now fully part of the team and is on pretty much the same terms as the rest of us, damn all salary but in his case he gets a bonus of all the rats he can eat.

But what about the rest of us? I was talking to a chap.  He’d been to a meeting about the new ELMS scheme. One of the speakers had talked about ‘carbon’ and the need to off-set it with regards to suckler cows. The speaker suggested that farmers could get a scheme where they planted some trees to go with their cows. Then from the floor of the meeting a land agent from a major local landowner and landlord stood up and pointed out that if their tenants planted trees, the land reverted immediately back to the landlord under their tenancy agreement.

The problem with environmental schemes is that, to be brutally honest, they don’t pay the bills. In our case if we put all our land into schemes (and effectively abandoned even attempting meaningful agriculture,) we’d get £12,360.

If I worked forty-eight weeks, 28hrs a week, at the minimum wage I’d earn £12,556.80.

To be fair I haven’t included in the schemes any hedgerow work. This is because basically I wouldn’t have time to do it, because I’d be too busy working off farm to earn a living.

Talking to somebody else, he’s hoping to take on another farm that’s coming up near him. The problem is, how much does he tender for the rent given that the BPS money is a declining income stream? Or does he just tender a lower rent and tell the landlord to keep the BPS? And if he does take the farm on, should he run it as a separate business? Because this would give him two businesses based around two farms. This would take both businesses down below the threshold for the higher rate of cutting BPS. It’s an important decision. This could make him (or save him losing) £20k a year, so perhaps £100k over the period.

But if he did this, experience has led him to be wary about going into environmental schemes during that period. This is because he would worry about the confusion caused if he then re-amalgamated his two businesses afterwards. (RPA is notoriously bad at coping with that sort of thing.)
Also he is starting a negotiation with his landlord. After all, in his eyes his BPS money largely goes to pay his rent. In his case there could be an increase in environmental payments, but over the next ten years, he’ll still see a decline in income from the government. He feels that misery loves company and pain like that is there to be shared. It seems a lot of landlords are beginning to get nervous.

It’s interesting, his gut feeling from his area (which is close to a National Park, some of his neighbours are in it) is that some farmers of a certain age are looking at walking away. They’ll just cash up and leave the industry.
Some landlords are contemplating having to take land in hand, and will probably just put it into trees if there’s a decent payment on it, especially if they are an estate with a decent forestry set-up. It would be interesting to hear if the NT has any thoughts on this. As a major agricultural landlord they could find themselves engaged in a lot of negotiations.
The general feeling he picked up at meetings in his area was that decent land will probably be worth renting, but the poorer stuff might go begging. It could be that larger farmers will just add a lot of acres. They can probably afford to ranch them for a decade or so, waiting for the upturn.

My thought is that it’s going to vary a lot from area to area. Round here I don’t think we’ll see land prices falling a lot, especially if you can sell it in small lots suitably for ‘horsey-culture’.

A mate of mine works in the local shipyard. To be fair, a lot of them are on decent money. He told me that one day the bloke working in the next desk to him took a phone call. When he put the phone down he looked distinctly shaken. My mate wondered if there was a round of redundancies in the offering.

No, it’s just that his wife has a couple of horses and she was sick of sharing grazing, or paying for livery. So when she saw a paddock come up for auction, she’d got clearance from the building society to add up to £40,000 onto their overdraft. She was going to buy that paddock.

Given she’s also working and is on reasonable money, it’s not an entirely unreasonable attitude on her part. Looked at long term, she is unlikely to lose her money and they might even see a better return on it than on any other savings they have.

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There again, what do I know? Talk to the expert
Available in paperback or ebook.

 

 

As a reviewer commented, “Once in a while a book really gets to you. Jim Webster’s book Sometimes I just Sits and Thinks has done just that to me. Jim is a farmer in the English county of Cumbria. His sense of humour shines throughout each episode. If you come from farming stock as I do, this is the book for you. In my mind’s eye I was out there with Jim and his faithful Border Collies Jess and Sal. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book….”

 

 

 

Even more cat pictures

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Here we are, pandering to the whims of the masses, people want cute cat pictures and so we provide cute cat pictures.

The reason for this is we have acquired a cat. Sometimes cats acquire us, but this one arrived as a result of a policy decision taken at a high level. It was decided that we ought to welcome a farm cat into our team. Sal was not actually involved in these discussions. Being a Border Collie it was felt that we already knew her opinion.
It’s just that some organisation that rescues cats had a kitten to place. So higher authorities discussed the matter, and a neutered tom, fully vaccinated, suddenly appeared.

Just to let him know this was home we fed him in his cage for a day or two, then when he twigged where lunch came from, the door of the cage was opened and he got the run of the place. But of course, we still put a little something out for him every evening.

It’s been interesting to watch him grow into the place. Within a week or two he was happy to watch us at work, and even though I’m never the one who feeds him, he’ll come up to me to get his ears stroked. He and Sal have an understanding. They have agreed not to like each other. If the cat sees Sal and he’s out in the open he’ll sit and stare at her before quietly slipping away to somewhere she cannot get. Sal will steal his food if he leaves it unattended.

Obviously he’s here to do a job. The idea is that the food we give him is just to keep him topped up, his job is to deal with rats, mice and other vermin. Certainly when I’ve had to go out into the milking parlour or the calving pens at night, I’ll see him quietly going about his business, watching rat runs. He sits like a statue ready to pounce.
He’s obviously found himself somewhere suitable to sleep. In spite of the weather he looks sleek, dry and happy. Also as we feed him we keep an eye on him. But so far he’s managed to look suitably fully fed and smug.
Whilst on about cats I thought I’d mention a book I just read. “Detective Daintypaws: A Squirrel In Bohemia.”

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Detective-Daintypaws-Squirrel-Andrew-Lawston/dp/B084Q94ZQG/

 

“Justice has a new… collar. All is not well on the mean streets of Barnes. A double homicide in trendy deli Bohemia is followed by a spate of mysterious thefts across Castelnau’s parade of shops. And there are rumours. Whispers of supernatural beings stirring, of dark forces from the dawn of time. Only one PI can solve this baffling mystery. Only one hero can crack the case. The terror of sparrows. The prodigal snoozer. The esteemed and revered Detective Buscemi Daintypaws Twinklefur.The crime-solving cat. With the reluctant help of a sassy streamwise mallard duck, a Lancastrian heron, and ‘Ard Ren the fox, Buscemi must reclaim her streets from the forces of darkness. Even at the cost of her soul.

 

I got to read this story as a beta-reader and frankly I loved it. At one point it had me looking at street view on google maps as I followed the action. There’s some great humour as the author observes London life and it is great fun.

It’s a story I’d recommend.

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Mind you this is one lady I’d never introduce a cat to.

Available in paperback or ebook
As a reviewer commented, “Once in a while a book really gets to you. Jim Webster’s book Sometimes I just Sits and Thinks has done just that to me. Jim is a farmer in the English county of Cumbria. His sense of humour shines throughout each episode. If you come from farming stock as I do, this is the book for you. In my mind’s eye I was out there with Jim and his faithful Border Collies Jess and Sal. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book…”