Monthly Archives: July 2020

A rotten wet day.


Well is it wet enough for you? It’s been interesting so far. I wandered out this morning to feed dry cows and heifers. Some of them are handy around the yard, some less so. As I fastened my current battered hi-viz jacket against the rain I looked across to where Sal lives. She peered out from under her cattle trailer (At times she prefers to sleep under it rather than in it) looking at me as if I was some sort of idiot. Anyway she crawled out and stood shaking herself ready to go to work.

This going to work in her case means scouring the yard for tasty and inadvertently discarded titbits whilst I feed round. Then we head down to the Mosses to see the dry cows and heifers. At this point the rain, which has merely been moderate, decides to start lashing it down.

Anyway we get down there. The heifers who are expecting to be fed come out from where they were sheltering and crowd around me. So they get fed. Then I go and find the dry cows. In the distance I can see something white under trees in the hedge. As I get closer I can see that the dry cows have pushed into the hedge to take advantage of the shelter. Your average black and white dairy cow is actually pretty well camouflaged when they’re among trees, the black disruptive pattern works really well. I wandered up to them and they looked impassively in my direction. After all, from their point of view, I was the idiot wandering about in the rain, each to his own. When I counted them they seemed to be all there so I didn’t disturb them. I’ll see them later today anyway.

By the time I got back home I was a trifle damp. So I put my shirt and trousers against the Rayburn to dry a bit and went to get the daily paper. Also as I’m the one who drives into the edge of town anyway, I get the job of shopping at our local tesco. Other stores exist but none without driving half way through town and adding half an hour to the job. My better half has never liked food shopping and has recentlt been happy to gift me with the task. Anyway I’m back home by 8:30am so it’s not something that breaks into a day.

Of course it’s the first time I’ve had to do the shopping (as opposed to just collecting the paper) since we had to wear masks. Rather than faff about with masks and screw the environment even more, I just use a tube scarf. Pull it up over my nose as I enter the shop, pull it down to breathe when I leave. Looking round tesco (at that time in the morning there are more staff working than customers) all the customers had their faces covered. One chap had a bandana rather than the usual mask.

Talking to the ladies on the tills as I was leaving, they commented that their customers had all been very good with them over it all. I pointed out that to me, it was more a question of courtesy. I’ve had the virus early before it was fashionable and I’ve spent the last four months playing other people’s games out of courtesy. (Before anybody says ‘yes but you can get it again,’ my answer is yes, undoubtedly. Given the number of people they’re testing, if it is possible to get it twice, then sooner or later they will find somebody who has done so. Therefore I’m not taking too much notice of panicky newspaper articles bewailing the lack of immunity and I am just watching the test results.).

Mind you this courtesy business can be hard work at times. There are times I am tempted to revert to cantankerous old beggar. It’s always easier to run a system on the default settings.

Anyway after all this excitement I get home and it’s time to fill the feed bins. So I change back into the clothes I’ve had by the Rayburn. They’re not actually dry but the wetness is comfortingly warm. By the time I’ve finished swilling out and filled bins, I’m back to wet again. So when I go in for my coffee everything bar socks and underpants goes straight into the washing machine and I put on dry stuff out of the tumble drier that was washed last night.
Anyway a nicely timed zoom meeting meant I didn’t have to go back out into the rain. But this morning I got two interesting emails.

The first claimed to be from BT. We get more spoof emails claiming to be from BT than you can shake a stick at, but this one was an obvious fail. It started,” Guten Tag, Jim Webster in der Anlage erhalten Sie unsere Antwort.”

(Google translate assures me that this means “Hello Jim Webster You will find our answer in the attachment.” Oh and as an aside, have you ever listened to the verbal translation? I was left wondering whether the young lady doing it had had a glass or two more of white wine with her lunch that the occasion really warranted.)

Oh and I got an email from the RPA (Rural Payments Agency.
The email said that there was a message for us on our account. That was it. Could have been about anything.

So first to find the sign-in page. I suppose I could have it saved as one of my favourites but I might visit it once a year. So when I found the appropriate webpage I then had to open my passwords notebook and find out what the password was. I’ve got fourteen different passwords written down and that doesn’t include the passwords for trivial sites where I have a simple password for. I hope nobody expects me to remember these damned things. Some of them, like the government issued ones, have a twelve digit ID number to put in, then a 12 letter and number combination. I’m not even going to try to remember them.
But anyway I finally get onto the right page, put in the appropriate ID and passwords, paint the metal of the pentagram with blood, and press the button. The message appears!
“We have recently updated the Rural Payments service and can now send messages to groups of customers, for example, to remind them to submit an application.

Make sure you regularly check your messages for important updates and information.”

Thank you for wasting ten minutes of my life faffing about to read a message you could just have put in the original flaming email!

Anyway I’ve got enough paperwork to do to keep me out of the rain this afternoon, but at some point I’ll be feeding heifers again. Given that it isn’t actually raining at the moment I might just sneak out now, feed those furthest away and see if the dry cows have come out from under the trees. Either way I can check to see that everybody down on the Mosses is all right before the heavens open again. Look on the bright side. I might not have to sling another lot of sodden clothes into the washing machine before dressing out of the tumble drier for a second time today.


It strikes me you might want to get away from it all for a while.

Hired to do a comparatively simple piece of mapping work Benor should perhaps have been suspicious when the pay seemed generous.
Will he ever get to the bottom of what is going on?
How rough is the rough justice of rural Partann?
How to clean out a privy with a crossbow. Welcome to the pastoral idyll.


As a reviewer commented, “Benor the cartographer is offered a job away from home with unusually generous pay. It all has to be done on the quiet, too. Something’s up. Benor has a murder to solve. I thought he had, but there’s more to come. This story is a murder mystery and a comedy of manners, set in a world of fantasy. If you like a genre mashup, this is brilliant. The characters and their relationships and banter would make it worth reading even if it didn’t have a plot – but it does. Another winner for me.”

Young ladies of uncertain temperament.


When you work your way down the list of jobs you have to do on a busy dairy farm, you’ll notice that one that somehow has to get fitted in is ‘looking dairy heifers.’ As soon as there is grass and the heifers are old enough, I always tried to get them outside onto it. I could still give them some supplementary feed but I always felt they did so much better outside, and also were far less work. Checking to see how they are is a job that I have always enjoyed, if only because it gave you an excuse to go for a walk with the dog in the countryside.

Also, I always felt that it was an important job. The dairy heifers are going to grow up to be the ladies who make up your milking herd. So it’s important that they know you and are comfortable with you wandering about. In their eyes, you ought to be ‘the nice guy.’ So appearing every morning with some supplementary feed is probably a good start down this road.

Given that dairy heifers are almost inevitably bucket reared as calves, they start off thinking that people are potentially a ‘good thing.’ You bring them their meals, how can they not approve of you?

Obviously, from their point of view, you blot your copybook by being the one who gives them any vaccinations, worms them and suchlike. But ideally we can keep it constructive by being the one who also appears with feed.

The idea is that by the time they join the dairy herd, they regard you in a positive manner and are pretty relaxed about it all when they go through the milking parlour for the first time. So I never felt time spent with them was wasted. Yes there were times I was really needed elsewhere but still.

As they grow older heifers will go through stages. When very young they can sometimes just run for the sheer joy of running. We once turned some young heifers out onto grass for the first time and one of them just ran across the field, turned round and hurtled back at speed. At some point it her mad career she realised she has heading for a very tall hedge. This did not deter her. In fact she accelerated and then leapt.

Between ourselves I feel she was more than a little optimistic. The hedge at this point was a core of sycamore but heavily infested with brambles. So I want you to visualise her hurtling herself at a nine foot high mat of brambles. Now she’s wearing a good leather jacket, brambles aren’t too much of a problem per se. It’s just the height. Having watched them moving I have no doubt a deer could have taken it. But for a small heifer who doesn’t stand waist height I feel it was a step to far. Still she tried. She hit the hedge about six feet up.

Biology had done its part, physics now took over. We are in the world of conservation of momentum. Her momentum was transferred, as you would expect, to the hedge. Now the bottom of the hedge is pretty solidly grounded. It isn’t going to move. But the top stands proud and free and under her impact the hedge (or vertical mat of brambles) swayed. It went over so far that at one point I thought it was going to tip her off into the next field before it swayed back. It teetered, but didn’t quite. Then it swayed back and dumped the heifer somewhat unceremoniously on the ground, back in the field she started from. She stood up, shook herself a bit, looked round to see if anybody was laughing at her, and wandered off at a more sedate speed to see if this green stuff she was surrounded by was worth a nibble.

As they grow older they become a little more sedate. But just as you’ll find small children go through a stage where they love being ‘scared’ and run about screaming excitedly, dairy heifers can also pass through this stage.

When I feed one batch, they’ll often cluster around Sal rather than following me with the bucket. To a certain extent, this is Sal’s fault. She is in the habit of wandering through the calf pens to see if there’s anything worth eating. So many a young calf’s first exposure to creatures other than Mum, is Sal wandering through to see if there’s any afterbirth lying about. As they get older she quite likes the flavour of the feed they get and she’ll often help herself to stuff they’ve dropped. So they’re used to seeing her and she’s used to being sniffed by them.

So I’ll walk into the field, the heifers will ignore me and cluster round Sal, and I’ll stand there with their feed wondering at what point they’ll notice me. So I whistle Sal who trots out from in the middle of the group. And at this point the heifers will all be excitedly scared, run away in different directions, sometimes bucking and kicking until they remember that I’ve got the bucket. Then, worried that one of the others will get there first and snaffle the lot, they all run towards me, sometimes close to treading Sal underfoot in their haste to be first.

There again, every so often Sal will intervene. This morning I was putting the feed out for them and one ignored it and walked across to sniff Sal. Sal turned and cut across it and made as if to snap her teeth at it. The heifer then jumped four feet sideways in mock alarm but before it could do anything even more exciting realised its nose was six inches from the feed I’d just put down. It immediately set lesser matters from mind and started eating.

I left them to it, but as I left I held the empty bucket in front of me. That was to ensure that they couldn’t see it. Because with heifers, if they cannot see it, it isn’t there. If you walk away holding the bucket so that they can see it, every so often one has the bright idea that there could be more feed left in the bucket. So that one will chase after you to get the extra feed it assumes you’re hiding. If you’re unlucky at this point the others, up until then happily eating, will set off after their colleague, assuming it knows something they don’t. So it’s easier just to make sure they cannot see the bucket.

I don’t know about you but I’ve met people like that as well.


There again you could discuss it with Sal

Another collection of anecdotes drawn from a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England. As usual Border Collies, Cattle and Sheep get fair coverage, but it’s mixed with family history and the joys of living along a single track road.


As a reviewer commented, “Excellent follow up to his first collection of bloggage – Sometimes I Sits and Thinks – this is another collection of gentle reflections on life on a small sheep farm in Cumbria. This could so easily be a rant about inconsiderate drivers on country lanes and an incessant moaning about the financial uncertainties of life on a farm. Instead, despite the rain, this is full of wise asides on modern living that will leave you feeling better about the world. Think Zen and the Art of Sheep Management (except he’s clearly CofE…) Highly recommended, and worth several times the asking price!”

Hunting for a way to make a living

Cheetah With Two Indian Servants And A Deer By George Stubbs, 1765

I never felt I had all that much in common with the Arab nobility who used to hunt with a hawk on their arm and a cheetah sitting in front of them on the saddle. But I too have moved into the big league. Admittedly I haven’t got a hawk or even the horse, but Billy is a suitable alternative to a cheetah. Having seen a rat running backwards and forwards between two locations, but only when I didn’t have an air rifle to hand, I summoned Billy.

So be fair, I picked him up and carried him to the first location. He sniffed disdainfully and then froze into a hunting pose and disappeared off into the second location. Based on his previous record I don’t really expect to see that particular rat again.

But Billy is sorted. A steady job in agriculture. Cannot beat it. But what about everybody else. A few days ago seventy seasonal workers out of two hundred working on a Herefordshire vegetable farm tested positive for the virus. All across social media was a storm of people asking, “Why are we bringing in Rumanians when there are people in this country looking for work.”

The problem is that whilst people in this country may be looking for work, they don’t want that sort of work. Apparently only 0.2% of those who expressed an interest ending up taking the jobs.


There are serious problems.


First, farms tend, strangely enough, to be rural. This means that those who want jobs often have to move to them because they cannot commute. Accommodation is often provided, but it tends to be the sort of accommodation you’d expect to be provided by a low margin industry. Working away from home isn’t necessarily an issue, the off shore industry is staffed by people who do it. But they’re that is a lot more profitable industry paying far higher wages.


The second problem is that it looks as if the retention of farm workers from the UK is low. So you pay them, spend time training them, and then they just leave. Amongst East Europeans retention runs at over 90%. Amongst workers from the UK there aren’t really comparable figures but it might be about 40%.


The third problem is that it is hard and skilled work. Firstly it’s physical, you’re on your feet all day lifting, bending, carrying etc. But also the hours can be long. If a supermarket demands fresh produce delivered to their depot at 7am, then those doing the picking could be working for as long as there is daylight enough to see. Just to make sure the produce is there when the customer wants it. Also it’s the old problem with harvesting agricultural crops. When the weather is fine, you work. As any farmer will tell you, eighteen hour days during harvest are not unusual. The problem is that the British workforce, even if they wanted to do the work, often aren’t physically capable, and even where they are, don’t have the skills needed. Obviously you can train people who are willing, and end up with a good workforce, but they have to be willing.


And the fourth issue is the fact that very few workers in the UK have experience in agriculture so they do need a lot of additional training. On the other hand, migrants often return to the similar work year after year lowering the time necessary for, and costs of recruitment, training and induction. Potential British recruits don’t know the job, they aren’t used to the industry culture, and the migrant worker who comes each year is already trained and knows how things work. Indeed some people have imported East Europeans to act as foremen and team leaders to help train the UK workers who do turn up. But when out of 36,000 applications, only 112 people actually take up a job offer, I suspect a lot of businesses have just given up on UK applicants.


Obviously things might improve. With growing genuine unemployment more people might look seriously at agriculture, but it’s obvious that there is no real enthusiasm for this and we will have to continue bringing in migrant workers for the foreseeable future.


Underlying all this is the problem of low margins. If you have Brussels sprouts sold to the customer for £1.12 per kilo leaving the farm at 29p a kilo, (figures from a couple of Christmases ago) there isn’t a lot of wiggle room for the agricultural industry. In this case, have consumers demanding cheap food shot themselves in the foot? Food has got so cheap the industry cannot afford to pay what the same customers would consider an adequate wage? Is food production caught in the same hypocritical trap that clothing is? People say how shocked they are at the wages paid by sweatshops, but then spend a couple of pounds on a garment they’ll wear once and throw away.


I suppose we could hope for a price increase, passed on to the producer so they could afford to pay higher wages. As somebody who has been in farming all my life I’m used to years when I make little or nothing, but I can quite understand those employed in the industry having a somewhat harsher attitude.

But without a price increase, what else is available? Now traditionally when the Government wants young men (and latterly young women) to serve it for low wages in poor conditions, it conscripts them. Frankly I cannot imagine this happening. I can see a lot of middle class and metropolitan commentators speaking favourably of the idea of conscripting the ‘gammons’, but should it be extended (as it always is) to the nice offspring of decent middle class families, there would be hell on.

Also, let’s be honest, what farm wants a bunch of conscripts who haven’t got a clue?


Still there is room for the state to move people into rural jobs that don’t exist yet. The government could create jobs picking litter and cleaning up after tourists. But seriously, if a young person asked me for job advice, I’d advise them to get into the civil service. I cannot imagine it getting smaller. Similarly those furloughed civil servants are unlikely to pass straight into redundancy. Guaranteed wage, guaranteed pension, and virtually no chance of losing your job, it could be the way to go.

Otherwise you might be stuck in agriculture, competing with Billy who is happy to work for all the vermin he can eat and having his ears tickled occasionally. But then it is the industry the consumer created.


There again, what do I know?

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.”

A Protestant virus and dancing cat food tins.


As somebody commented to me recently, Corvid 19 is a very Protestant virus. It’s perfectly safe to work but under no circumstances are you allowed to enjoy yourself. As another person said, “You know what, it’s been a pretty crap summer so far.”

To be fair, he was thinking in agricultural terms.

First the year started sodding wet. Then it dried out nicely. So nicely we had a drought and grass started burning off. Since then it’s been colder than charity and we’ve struggled to have three fine days in a row. Everything, but everything, has been harder work than it really needed to be.
The industry has coped, but then we’re used to coping with bluidy minded weather, mindless regulation, and politicians working from bizarre scientific advice. So the auction marts are open and various organisations are offering webinars and zoom meetings to teach us about the latest developments. Which is great, worthy, and boring. Because all human contact has stopped. It’s probable that some agricultural shows that don’t happen this year will fade away and not happen next year. Given farmers can be pretty isolated at the best of times, this isn’t an entirely good idea.

But this morning I was watching as Sal, ‘the Dog’ and Billy, ‘the Cat’ were strutting round the yard as if they were in charge and understood what was going on. I was irresistibly reminded of politicians. Now to be fair to both Sal and Billy, they have areas of competence. In these areas they are both far more proficient than I am and I accept that. But between ourselves, both these two animals struggle to grasp the bigger picture.

So it is on the political stage. We have politicians saying they want us to go out shopping and spending money, and now they’re saying that they’re thinking of making masks mandatory in shops. Sorry, did I really read that? I mean, I could go shopping in Tesco without a mask at the height of the pandemic and the number of deaths kept dropping. Why, when there is less virus about than ever and the number of ‘excess deaths’ is so low we’re below our normal baseline do we suddenly have to all start wearing masks?
The problem is the message it sends out. I was pondering going for a walk the other day and I could have dropped into town on my travels to get some stuff. I do need a new pair of trainers. (When you’ve feet as wide as mine, trainers are a lot easier and cheaper solution than shoes.) Then I thought to myself, “I just cannot be bothered.”
The masks, the queuing, the circling round people, it’s not worth the candle. After all, until normality returns, the old pair of trainers will cope. It’s not as if I’m going anywhere is it? I’m not somebody who goes in for retail therapy, although I enjoy a browse in a second hand bookshop (or even the book shelves in the charity shops) but at the moment there’s no joy in the job, so why bother?
But actually we want people to enjoy it again. We want people to spend an hour or two browsing, dropping into Costa for a coffee (or whatever) and generally spreading the money and the joy.

Things are starting to spiral down. I noticed that Pret A Manger have shut thirty outlets and is expected to cut at least 1,000 jobs. But they rely on commuters and lunchtime office workers. So their customers are either working from home or furloughed. Apparently sales are down 74% from this time last year and they’re thought to be losing about £20m a month.

I have no doubt there are going to be a lot of other businesses facing the same problem. Working from home is getting more popular. Even if, when working from home, you stroll down to a local café for a change of company and a coffee, you’re still not going to be using an inner city one. It has struck me that London could just ger a kicking.

In fact, when working from home, Prime Minister Mia Mottley is suggesting that those working from home consider moving to Barbados for a year under its new ‘Barbados Welcome Stamp’ scheme. It makes sense, I cannot imagine Barbados having worse broadband than a lot of rural areas in the UK.

One of the obstacles is now the civil service. We’re seeing a similar pattern of offending to that we saw back in 2001 with FMD. First you had the mad panic and the incoherent fumbling. Officials were travelling to strange places and doing dodgy deals with strangers in pub carparks in China to buy PPE.
Now we’re at the ‘back covering stage.’ We saw this with FMD as well. More and more regulation was brought in, and some of it we still have. Other countries in Europe brought it in briefly and then dropped it when the pandemic was over, but not the UK. So we still have a more bureaucratic system of moving livestock than anywhere else in the world.
Of course the idea was that it would mean we wouldn’t have another outbreak. Except that six years later we did. To quote the HSE report about the Pirbright laboratory site, “”Subject to the ongoing work detailed above, the indications are that there is a strong probability that the FMDV strain involved in the farm outbreak originated from the Institute of Animal Health or the Merial sites.” In the report on the epidemic it stated, “It reported that traces of the virus were found in a pipe at the Pirbright institute running from Merial to the government’s treatment plant. It is thought that tree roots damaged the pipe allowing the virus to the surface.” Pirbright was at one time more widely known as Porton Down. MPs of the select committee that dug into the matter commented that, “Two government departments – Defra and the department for innovation, universities and skills – had to “settle how they are going to share the cost” of its £121m redevelopment.” Ideally before it leaked again.

That’s probably why we need strict regulation of farmers, it protects the country from the incompetence of the bureaucracy.

What worries me about our current pandemic is that the bureaucracy is keen to pile more and more regulations on us. Stop and think about it. If masks are so important, then why not make them permanent, after all it’ll be flu season soon. Looking at the pattern of offending, I have no reason to doubt that there will still be regulations left over from the pandemic, still in place this time next year.

Oh yes and the dancing cat food tins. As I was feeding Sal this evening, my lady wife informed me we had just had a recorded phone call telling us that the HMRC were about to prosecute us for something or the other. So just another spam phone call. But she commented that the voice, well spoken, well-modulated, sounded very much like the one in yesterday’s spam phone call telling us our internet was about to be cut off.

I can just imagine the CV of the actor involved. “Yes, after a season as Lear at the Globe, I was in Waiting for Godot in the Arts Theatre in the West End. I was also the voice over for the well regarded dancing cat food tins advert, and was justly celebrated for my part in the ‘Your internet will be cut off’ and ‘The HMRC are taking legal action against you’, spam phone calls.”


There again, what do I know, meet the lady herself.

Another collection of anecdotes drawn from a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England. As usual Border Collies, Cattle and Sheep get fair coverage, but it’s mixed with family history and the joys of living along a single track road.


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.”

Farm sales


Here I’m not talking about selling farms, but the sale that occurs on the farm when ‘everything must go.’ This is normally because the last tenant or previous owner is retiring. Traditionally round here there were three components. They’d start off with the ‘small tools’. This was the miscellaneous rubbish out of the workshop and other buildings. Old biscuit tins full of mixed bolts, some with nuts. Half cans of spray, a drum of sheep dip with some still in it, a bolt action 9mm shotgun. If something didn’t get a bid, the next lot was just added to it until somebody bid fifty pence. I’ve picked up some interesting and useful tools like that.

I got a set of three foot long Stilsons (pipe dogs) for a pound. I just had to put a run of weld along a slight crack and they’re better than new. There aren’t many things that won’t come undone with a set of three foot Stilsons. I picked up a set of two acro jacks for a pound. They were seized solid, but a week of spraying them with WD40 and tapping gently with a hammer when I passed and they’re as good as new. I’ve had quite a bit of use out of them as well.

Mind you I’ve got any amount of galvanised three and a half inch by three-quarter bolts. They’re a bit specialised but it’s funny how often they do come in. Again, I got a bag of them thrown in when I bought half a packet of welding rods for 50p.

After the ‘small tools’ they’ll sell the proper tackle. This tends to be stuff which appears in the grandly named ‘catalogue.’ To be fair the catalogue may exist only as the advert in the paper, but still, the decent stuff is listed. This tends to be the working machinery, but you’ll get other stuff which the owner hopes will fetch a few quid. Gates, feed troughs, weighing scales for sheep, footbaths. This stuff is normally laid out in lines in the nearest field to the farm buildings and potential buyers will wander up and down the lines looking at stuff and weighing it up. When it’s being sold, the auctioneer will walk up and down the line, the crowd following him. The first rule I was taught is if you buy anything with a power-take off, remove the pto shaft and carry it around with you because otherwise somebody will probably make off with it.

Finally on a dairy farm there would be the sale of the dairy cows. This is less common now. Firstly, to be economically viable, dairy herds are so large that the sale could take all day. Not only that but setting up the ring, tiered seating so that potential buyers can see (straw bales come in useful here, and I’ve known them auctioned at the end of the sale) and getting in people to help move cattle about can be a serious cost. It can be cheaper just to hold the sale at a local auction mart where everything is ready and you could well get more buyers turning up.

There are people who follow these sales. There will normally be at least one scrappy with his wagon. Anything sold for less than scrap value will normally end up in that. At one point you used to get people who had businesses doing pub-fitting or similar. There was a fashion for old farm implements as pub décor at one point and a mate of mine who was in that trade cursed the day when everybody else got in on it. Initially he was competing against the scrappy and could pick up stuff for a song. Then it became fashionable and he was up against others in the trade or even worse, gardeners who wanted a ‘feature’ for their garden. Something that had once fetched pence might go for a couple of hundred pounds.
If the scrappy doesn’t want it, who knows what happens. When the stuff is sold it becomes the buyers’ responsibility, and a lot of people might have fetched tractors with or without trailers to remove stuff that night. But a lot of people who have arrived by car will come back next day for it. Or the day after. I remember a set of tyres for the back wheels of a tractor last manufactured thirty years previously sitting in a field all winter until somebody thought to do something about them.

One chap I remember from when I was a lot younger worked for one of the local machinery dealers. He would go through the catalogue (which is a rather grandiose way of saying he’d cut it out of the paper) and work out what price the firm that employed him could supply each piece of equipment for, but new. (Or good second hand.)

Then as the auctioneer worked his way up the machinery line selling off the machinery, this chap would take a note of the bidders. Once the hammer had dropped he’d quietly wander up to the ‘last loser’ and point out his firm could put that piece of machinery into the last loser’s yard. Only it would be new machinery for no more than a tenner more than he’d been willing to pay for second hand. This can be an issue at a ‘good sale’ in that people can get a bit carried away with the bidding. Not only that but whilst some kit is ridiculously expensive, some stuff isn’t perhaps as dear as people think. Given this chap was trying to sell the equipment to somebody who’d displayed a genuine enthusiasm to own it, he would normally make a sale.
I remember being there when he was chatting to my Dad, who’d known him from before the Second World War. Apparently at one farm sale there was a set of rollers for sale. There’d been a lot of interest and they’d made good money. So good that this chap could put a new set into your yard for less than the second hand ones fetched. He actually sold eleven sets of rollers that day. Not only was his boss somewhat surprised, but the firm his boss ordered them off phoned back to check they’d got the right order.

Apparently at the sales, farmers teased him because he was ‘having a day off’, just enjoying the sale and chatting to people. He rather went along with the teasing because he was one of the farming community and knew everybody. But he commented to my Dad that not only did the boss make sure he knew when there was a sale coming up, the boss gave him a couple of quid to get a brew and buy his dinner while he was there.


There again, it’s amazing who you can bump into in a good sale


More tales from a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England, with sheep, Border Collies, cattle, and many other interesting individuals. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is just one of those things.

As a reviewer commented, “Like the other two books in this series, Jim Webster gives us a perspective of farm life we may not have appreciated. Some of the facts given will come as a shock to non-farming readers, but they do need to be read. Having said that, there are plenty of humorous anecdotes to make the book an enjoyable read.”

‘Opening your village hall?’ Or ‘Any muppet can manage their multi-use community facilities’


It struck me that you might want to open your village hall or community centre so I thought I’d guide you through the new rules which are at

First there is a series of warnings.

Many community facilities are also workplaces and those responsible for the premises should therefore be aware of their responsibilities as employers. The government is clear that no one is obliged to work in an unsafe workplace.


Organisations also have a duty of care to volunteers to ensure as far as reasonably practicable they are not exposed to risks to their health and safety and are afforded the same level of protection as employees and the self-employed. [As an aside that came as a surprise to me, I didn’t realise the self-employed were entitled to any level of protection. Heigh-ho, live and learn.]


You should also consider the security implications of any changes you intend to make as a result of COVID -19. [Whose security? National Security, are we worried about terrorist threats here? Or just make sure the building is locked properly overnight?]


After telling us to be aware of “2 metres distancing (or 1 metre with risk mitigation)” we get to the nitty-gritty.


“From 4 July, users of community facilities should limit their social interactions to 2 households (including support bubbles) in any location; or, if outdoors, potentially up to 6 people from different households. It will be against the law for gatherings of more than 30 people to take place.”


So whilst you can have up to thirty people in your village hall, this is only possible if they come from no more than two households (plus their support bubbles. Between ourselves are bubbles all that structural? I for one wouldn’t want to be supported by one.)

Actually the ‘support bubble’ is “if you live by yourself or are a single parent with dependent children”. So each support bubble can add one adult and an unknown number of children.


Then you get to this bit.
“However, premises or locations which are COVID-19 secure will be able to hold more than 30 people, subject to their own capacity limits, although any individual groups should not interact with anyone outside of the group they are attending the venue with – so in a group no larger than 2 households or 6 people if outdoors.”


As far as I can make out, if your village hall has a several meeting rooms which don’t force people to mix with other groups, you can have people in these meeting rooms and as long as each group is no more than thirty strong you can have more than thirty in your village hall. But each room can only be used by people from two households (and one assumes support bubbles, but it doesn’t actually say.)


I will pass over the section on entrances, exits and queue management.


Then we get to your relationship with other ventures in the area.


“The Individual businesses or venues should consider the cumulative impact of many venues re-opening in a small area. This means working with local authorities, neighbouring businesses and travel operators to assess this risk and applying additional mitigations. These could include:


Further lowering capacity – even if it is possible to safely seat a number of people inside a venue, it may not be safe for them all to travel or enter that venue.

Staggering entry times with other venues and taking steps to avoid queues building up in surrounding areas.

Arranging one-way travel routes between transport hubs and venues.

Advising patrons to avoid particular forms of transport or routes and to avoid crowded areas when in transit to the venue.”

So according to this the manager of the community centre will talk to the manager of the cemetery on one side and the school on the other and they’ll work together to fix their opening times, and take control of the pavements outside marking lanes for people to walk. At the same time they’re making sure that they don’t all come on the same bus. (To be fair, with a village hall in a rural area, there won’t have been a bus since some time in the last century.)


Who wrote this? What planet are they living on?


So let us take our village hall booking secretary. He or she is probably at home as they’re likely to be over seventy and they’re taking telephone bookings. Let us call them Pat Smith


The phone rings

“Pat Smith here.”

“Hi Pat, I’ve heard the hall’s open so we want to book a room for history society meeting.”
“How many are coming?”

“Haven’t a clue Pat, you know how these things are.”
“Well how many households might come?”

“Well everybody is a member of a separate household.”

“Well you’ve got two households with their support bubbles. That probably means no more than four of you. But apparently six can meet outside to perhaps you could leave a window open and the others can stand outside?”

“Well I suppose if the speaker shouts everybody will be able to hear him.”
“No shouting, the guidance states, ‘All venues should ensure that steps are taken to avoid people needing to unduly raise their voices to each other’.”

“Right you are Pat. Will you collect the money?”
“No I cannot leave the house, just push the money through the door as usual.”

“We’ve got our key so we’ll let ourselves in.”

“Yes but how are you getting there?”

“Well I was just going to walk.”

“Could you walk via Biglands Farm. It means you avoid the school and the bus stop because we’ve got to avoid transport hubs.”
“But it’s an extra three miles.”

“Oh and can you delay your return until 11pm because the Flower circle is meeting and you know how long it’ll take for some of them to walk home.”

“How come the Flower circle is meeting in the village hall, there must be a dozen of them and they’re all in different households.”
“They’re not meeting in the village hall. They’re meeting in the queue outside the chippy. They can stand a meter apart and talk for as long as they like.”


The whole document runs to 3620 words. Christian charity demands that I spare you the rest of it. But trust me it doesn’t get any better. There’s even an enforcement section which promises poor Pat Smith, “serious fines and even imprisonment for up to 2 years”.


It has to be said that people who’ve seen this have commented on it. But actually when I read it I just thought, ‘same old same old.’

I have spent a lot of time working with Defra over the years, as part of the consultation process. In reality a lot of this means going through draft regulations and draft statutory instruments correcting them.

You see, left to their own devices, the civil service seem to produce stuff like that I’ve just critiqued. I may have been unlucky in dealing with Defra and the RPA but a lot of their stuff starts off just like this. If you work your way through a document and you don’t discover clauses that contradict each other, clauses that are impossible to obey and others that are impossible to police or even measure, then you’ve probably got a version that’s already been consulted on previously. I’ve seen clauses in draft regulations which were actually worded to be diametrically opposed to the regulation they were implementing. I’ve seen stuff that has just been copied and pasted out of a previous document and put into this one, even though it was agreed to drop it when the previous document was scrutinised.


I realise that there isn’t time for a full consultation process on these documents, but please, could we just have a grown-up with some experience of the real world go through them with a thick red pen crossing out bits and annotating it.


Let’s be sensible here. “The Individual businesses or venues should consider the cumulative impact of many venues re-opening in a small area”


So why are all the shops in the town centre open at the same time?
“Arranging one-way travel routes between transport hubs and venues.

Advising patrons to avoid particular forms of transport or routes and to avoid crowded areas when in transit to the venue.”


Well Tesco doesn’t do it. Walking down the main street in town to get to the bank, none of the shops or institutions I went into advised me, “to avoid particular forms of transport or routes and to avoid crowded areas when in transit to the venue.” So if HSBC or Tesco don’t have to do it, why does poor old Pat Smith?


We cannot have six standing in the village hall car park, but if you stand in the queue at a takeaway you can have any number of you meeting.


Frankly it’s no wonder people have lost patience with it all.


So if you do want to reopen your village hall, I recommend you read this first. It’ll be absolutely no help whatsoever but it has the advantage of being comprehensible, amusing and well written.


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


As one reviewer commented, “Tallis Steelyard: A Guide for Writers, and Other Stories by Jim Webster is as advertised, a collection of stories with different themes. I will look at only a few of the twenty-six tales. The School for Assassins under the title Tidying Up Loose Ends is remarkable in its tone. In some areas of Tallis Steelyard World, purposeful and planned killing is accepted; it is the casual acceptance portrayed in the story that I find worthy of attention. There are several sections on writing (per the title). Tallis will comment on the associated functions of publishing and promotion. If you are a writer, an avid reader, a reviewer, a publisher, or a person who attends events for the free food and drink, these sections are not to be missed. Readers may find themselves portrayed in one of the groups. The section on writers who write about writing for fun, profit, and financial independence will stick in my mind for a long time. Webster uses humor rather than a direct assault on the commission of scams by charlatans. I believe the author is holding back on “saying what he really thinks.”

The unsurpassed beauty of Tallis Steelyard creations is the elegant language used with precision to separate the occasional absurd from the daily mundane then remixing to produce entertaining stories. I like to select favorite quotes because there is no better way to illustrate what I find to be a unique writing style. This five-star collection reminds me of a quote from a film (possibly paraphrased). “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never quite know what you are going to get.” (Attributed to F. Gump). Readers will find literary candy of many varieties in this “guide.”

The importance of getting home under your own steam ***** Readers might guess by this story’s title that there is alcohol involved. True, but it was Bongo’s birthday. The passing of years brought Bongo to maudlin reflection on a boring life. Tallis and company decided that if Bongo could be transported home on a palanquin carried by a score of naked harlots, at least the birthday party would be a point of interest in Bongo’s otherwise humdrum life.

I will point out one feature of why Tallis Steelyard stories are great. Look at the word “naked;” it is OK to free associate. Then “By the time the wine was finished I was somehow surrounded by nearly three dozen young women dressed much as nature had intended.” (Kindle location 53). Further interesting imagery comes to mind. The narrator is not vulgar or offensive and does not employ “shock” terminology to describe weird situations. Bongo’s wife was not offended; readers should follow her example.

Not perhaps the best location ***** Sneal, a wandering merchant spent a day traveling on his way home through the unfamiliar countryside in the hope of discovering new markets for his goods. He ended the first day by spending the night at an inn located in a tree. After traveling the next day, the same thing happened. Same inn, same customers, same barmaid. The third day was a repeat of the earlier two. Finally, he arrived home. How did this happen? Cue the scary music. What happened when he recounted his adventure to Tallis?

The frantic scribblings of a novelist ***** This chapter is the first of several observations related to the lives of a novelist or a poet. Tallis offers contrasts as he pities the unfortunate novelist. Poets are superior in their social lives and sufficiency of income. Tallis said so. This section and the following five sections explore the world of writing. Quotes that stick in my mind follow.

There in Black and White ***** One of my pet peeves is discovering that after I download a Kindle book, 20% of it is devoted to promotion. Tallis points this out with “There is a feeling amongst publishers that the reader doesn’t really want the book they’ve purchased, but instead in point of fact wishes to peruse an assortment of other books that the publisher has available. Pictures of these and even sample chapters can in extreme cases double the size of the book.” (Kindle location 181).

Learning from others ***** Writing books from the comfort of home while in any state of dress and personal hygiene imaginable can bring instant and immense wealth. All one must do is follow the advice of proven authors. Tallis looks at the advisors as “a community of writers writing books about how to sell books that were bought largely by people who were interested in writing books about selling books.” (Kindle location 244).

Nobody does it like that anymore ***** Tallis does not dismiss time tested good advice. Departing from tongue-in-cheek humor, Tallis notes, “Writing is just another craft like joinery or metalwork, the more you do it, the better you get.” (Kindle location 271).

The uncompromising principles of the successful writer ***** Tallis consults a printer to find out the kind of literature that sells best. “This is what feeds the press Tallis my boy, cheap stories of forbidden vampire love, or demon love, or love with a score of fantastical, imaginary, or hopefully extinct creatures. (Kindle location 331).

A distinct shortage of assets ***** Many authors assure readers that reviews are vital to an author’s success. How can an author get reviews quickly? Tallis would “ instruct (the printer’s) domestic staff and secretary to write glowing reviews of his work under false names” (Kindle location 401).

Subsequent stories address other topics as Tallis leaves the subject of writing out of fear of appearing maudlin. Any would-be writers should continue reading the rest of this collection to pull themselves out of any depression caused by an examination of prospects for fame and riches in their chosen profession.

At the end of this Tallis Steelyard set of musings, I am left with only one question not addressed in this examination of the world of writers. Why does an author choose to sell a novel for USD 1.26?”