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.”

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31 thoughts on “A Protestant virus and dancing cat food tins.

  1. Sue Vincent July 12, 2020 at 5:15 am Reply

    To be fair to the faceless ‘them’, if they don’t maintain the fear levels, we might start questioning common sense instead…

    • jwebster2 July 12, 2020 at 5:52 am Reply

      Sadly true
      It’s interesting that somebody did some polling data and claimed that those who were keenest to get out of lockdown were those who had also voted leave.
      As you can imagine this produced all sorts of comments but it does fit in with your comment in that they’re the least influenced by government campaigns

  2. rootsandroutes2012 July 12, 2020 at 5:15 am Reply

    Telephone Preference Service?

    • jwebster2 July 12, 2020 at 5:51 am Reply

      Oh we’ve had that for years
      When we did a 1471 to get the number that had phoned we were told the number was zero
      The only organisation that could track them is BT and BT and the other telephone suppliers cannot be bothered

  3. xantilor July 12, 2020 at 5:19 am Reply

    Excellent post, Jim. When the shops reopened I thought I might bike to Oxford Street to see if any nice maxi evening dresses were going cheap (in normal times I attend two livery dinners a year at the Goldsmiths’ Hall). But then I read that I couldn’t try them on, so what was the point? I might as well buy online with free returns, or like you with your trainers, go on wearing my old dresses.

    I thought Theresa May’s government took the biscuit for stupidity, but Boris seems to be trying to outdo her.

    • jwebster2 July 12, 2020 at 5:49 am Reply

      I suspect that the underlying problem is the civil service. The politicians have lost control of it. I’ve seen Defra or its predecessors ‘melt down’ three times during one crisis or another.
      And the politicians haven’t the bottle to stand up to them because they know there’ll be leaks to the media and then they’ll be crucified in the press for ‘ignoring advice’ or ‘ignoring science’

  4. Doug Jacquier July 12, 2020 at 6:55 am Reply

    Love the variation on the old trope that Methodists were against sex because it might lead to dancing. Re bureaucrats, can’t comment on the UK civil service but here in Oz the problem is exactly the reverse i.e. the public service (as we call it here) is now led by heads who can be fired at will, meaning the days of frank and fearless advice are as dead as the dodo.

    • jwebster2 July 12, 2020 at 7:52 am Reply

      As in all these things you need balance

      • rootsandroutes2012 July 12, 2020 at 8:24 am

        For the sex or the dancing? Of course, as a good Methodist I’d know nothing about either 😉

  5. jenanita01 July 12, 2020 at 8:56 am Reply

    The first six months of 2020 were a nightmare, but I have the feeling ‘we aint seen nothin’ yet!’

    • jwebster2 July 12, 2020 at 9:09 am Reply

      I suspect a lot of people still furloughed will never go back to the job they were furloughed from 😦
      Talking to one chap, their company is working at 90% productivity and they have only 50% of people in. Their design people and suchlike are in the 50% headcount as they were never furloughed but were all working from home, some still are.
      But the question being asked in the company is how many of the other 50% do we need?
      Apparently the names of individuals who are considered worth having are being canvassed.
      This is a company with some thousands of employees

      • jenanita01 July 12, 2020 at 5:51 pm

        Makes me glad to be retired!

      • jwebster2 July 12, 2020 at 5:54 pm

        I’m glad I’ve always been self employed

    • rootsandroutes2012 July 12, 2020 at 10:31 am Reply

      The unreported weekend uptick in confirmed cases would seem to confirm that view.

    • jwebster2 July 12, 2020 at 9:11 am Reply

      I can understand the temptation. I confess to regretting that many years ago I never bought ‘Gay Whales against Racism’ T shirt when I saw it.
      A friend claims to have seen a T shirt which read, “It ain’t woke so don’t fix it” 🙂

      • xantilor July 12, 2020 at 9:20 am

        Love it! Definitely want the ‘woke’ T shirt.

        Re the ‘NOT’ T shirt, being on a small and uncertain income I don’t part with £13.99 easily, but am currently talking myself into it…

      • jwebster2 July 12, 2020 at 9:25 am

        I know the feeling, agriculture has never been a reliable paymaster
        Perhaps you could regard it as an investment?

        I wonder if there might be a market for intricate silver brooches or similar bearing the same sort of slogan.
        The advantage would be that with a suitably beautiful script you could wear them and people you meet might like them without being entirely sure what they were approving of? 🙂

      • xantilor July 12, 2020 at 9:36 am

        I think that market would be more likely to be costume jewellery, though it’s an interesting idea. I wear my Free Speech Union badge (rather a nice one) with pride.

        One gets used to the ups and downs in income, I find. I kept going as normal during the lockdown and May and June were well up on last year.

        (Darn, just seen the T shirt is £19.99. It’s the mug that’s £13.99.)

      • jwebster2 July 12, 2020 at 10:34 am

        Hope it keeps going well

  6. Widdershins July 14, 2020 at 7:02 am Reply

    You’d think, that if those voice actors were in such high demand they could put on a different accent, or something.

    • jwebster2 July 14, 2020 at 7:51 am Reply

      Perhaps he’d got into the role, ‘Authoritarian individual sternly telling you what to do’ and felt that the accent was what the role demanded?
      I confess to a lack of thespian tendencies. 😦

  7. M T McGuire July 14, 2020 at 9:59 pm Reply

    Love this. Particularly liked the bit about it being Protestant, added dimension of humour to it because my dad would have loved it too.



    • jwebster2 July 15, 2020 at 4:23 am Reply

      A friend called it Schrodinger’s virus as well in that most people didn’t know whether they’d had it or not and nobody knew if you could get it again

      • M T McGuire July 15, 2020 at 6:28 am

        Love that. As far as I can tell they still don’t. Some friends of ours who are working on a vaccine said the medical view is that the biggest mistake we all made was calling it flu. Apparently it’s very different and the effect it has on people varies hugely. Some are becoming long term sick, more like Lymes or similar.

      • jwebster2 July 15, 2020 at 7:09 am

        Yes I was talking to a lady at a Zoom meeting yesterday
        She had actually gone down with it about the same time as Lady wife and I had.
        She’s still suffering side effects, lack of energy, cannot walk up stairs without getting out of breath
        But when they find people who are infected using random tests, 80% show no symptoms
        For the vast majority of people it probably isn’t an issue. It looks as if you’re in a small group (or are elderly) it’s more dangerous
        The problem is, we don’t really know the small group

      • xantilor July 15, 2020 at 7:18 am

        I think we do know the ‘small group’ – elderly with existing health problems, or obese; plus you’re a bit more likely to get it if you are male, non-white, or A blood type. For most people, the virus doesn’t pose a threat.

      • jwebster2 July 15, 2020 at 7:35 am

        I think that gives us most of the group but there seem to be some others, whether it’s genetic, or whether they had another virus or bacterial infection some years previously
        With regard to bloody type that does appear to come in, but as I don’t know mine I’m not sure where I fall in the risk groups 🙂

  8. Jack Eason August 16, 2020 at 6:31 am Reply

    Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
    More from young Jim…

    • jwebster2 August 28, 2020 at 4:35 am Reply

      I think the comment about avoiding information strain is especially pertinent. I think too many people drove themselves into panic though spending too much time just watching the news and sharing it on social media

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