Spreading clean water and still getting complaints.

I came across this almost certainly apocryphal story. Apparently a town gets its first 5G phone mast. Almost immediately all sorts of people develop medical conditions. A protest group against the mast is formed. The local council arrange a public meeting and bring in the representatives of the company that erected the mast. In it everybody is waving their doctors notes and going on about all the ailments they are now suffering.

At this point the company representative says gravely, “This does sound bad. If it’s this bad now, what will it be like when we get round to switching the mast on.”

The reason the story strikes home for me was I knew a couple of brothers who were farming on the edge of town. They had one field where, whenever they spread slurry, there were complaints. Official letters arrived, plus phone calls and talk of court cases. Then somebody from the local environmental health department turned up.

He looked at what they were doing, and from what they said, he obviously knew how the job should be done, and as far as he was concerned they were being sensible. So he asked them if they would try something to help them and make his job easier. As he watched they washed out the slurry tanker until it was clean, and then filled it with clean water. He watched them spread the load of clean water over the field, went back to his office and took a note of all the complaints that came flooding in. He then went round all those who had complained and pointed out that they were complaining about a clean tanker spreading clean water, water that came from the water main.

Complaints dried up for a year or two after that. But the Environmental Health officer’s advice was always keep your tanker clean. Just wash it off after using it. He’d noticed that the public weren’t all that discerning and if the tanker looked clean they didn’t appear to get as excited about what it was doing.

There again I was once at a meeting with Animal Health officials in the North of the country. They were discussing the number of complaints they got about farmers and their estimate was perhaps fifty percent of complaints were basically malicious, or at the very least the person making the complaint had to be very ignorant. They gave as an example one farm which was close to town and had quite a few people walking past it. Sometimes on footpaths, sometimes not.

The Animal Health officers got a constant stream of complaints about this farm. The policy at the time was that a complaint had to be investigated. It didn’t take the officers long to come to the conclusion that the complaints were basically spiteful. Occasionally there was substance to the complaint. Somebody complained about a lame cow. There was a lame cow, the farm’s vet was currently overseeing a course of treatment.

The officers were faced with something of a dilemma in that they’re not allowed to shoot members of public out of hand for being a damned nuisance. They also couldn’t tell the farmer who the individuals were who were trying to cause him and his family a lot of trouble. Yet not only was it giving the farming family a lot of grief, it was causing the Animal Health office a lot of unnecessary work as well. Then somebody came up with a brainwave. Every Tuesday morning, one of the officers would drop round and have coffee with the farmer and his wife. On his way to the kitchen he’d see cattle in the sheds and over coffee there was always the opportunity for an informal discussion about how things were going. The officers, who were all vets, found it useful because it kept them in touch with ordinary farms and their problems, and I suspect the farmer managed to get some veterinary advice for the cost of a coffee and biscuit. The upshot of it all was that when the malicious caller phoned, the person who answered didn’t even need to write anything down, they merely said, “Yes, our officer will be making an unannounced inspection.”

To be fair, it was unannounced, they never once phoned up and said, “We’ll be round for coffee on Tuesday.”

That case went well. Indeed so long as you can get sensible grown-ups involved who understand the world, things can rub along not so badly. But sensible grown-ups are perhaps less common than they ought to be.

Way back, I remember reading a piece in the Farmer and Stockbreeder. I guess it would be towards the end of the 1960s or very early 1970s. From what I remember a family had been running a small pig farm. They were tenants and were just sort of getting by. Their troubles started when a couple bought the house nearest their farm and started a stream of complaints. I cannot now remember how long this went on for, but there were court cases and lawyers bills. At one point the farmer and his wife offered to buy the house off the couple at the couple’s valuation. This was because they could get a mortgage for the house but as farm tenants couldn’t raise money to do any sort of works on the farm, and because of lawyers bills etc, hadn’t the money to do them anyway.
The couple refused and at some point not long after that, the farm went bust. From what I remember of the article, the day the pigs were sold and farm sale was advertised, the couple ostentatiously went out that evening to celebrate.

Apparently at that point the farmer snapped. He noticed that they’d left a bedroom window open and spent the evening pumping pig slurry into their house.
Genuinely I don’t know whether he technically filled it, but apparently he made a gallant attempt. When the couple arrived home there were threats of criminal proceedings. But the village policeman (some areas still had them back then) apparently pointed out that the window had been left open. The farmer had not had to force an entry, therefore as far as he was concerned it was purely a civil matter. As the farmer commented, “It’s awfully tricky to sue a bankrupt.”


There again, what do I know. Ask an expert


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.”

Tagged: , , ,

30 thoughts on “Spreading clean water and still getting complaints.

  1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt February 12, 2021 at 5:18 am Reply

    It’s like people who are warned not to buy houses near airports. They want the airport removed or closed!

    • jwebster2 February 12, 2021 at 6:08 am Reply

      We get a lot of it because we’ve a small and densely populated country 😦

      Apparently in the US there’s only New Jersey and Rhode Island with a higher population density than England

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt February 12, 2021 at 8:06 am

        Huh. Used to live in New Jersey. The Garden State. The center is average, the south almost unpopulated, and the north next to New York City.

      • jwebster2 February 12, 2021 at 8:36 am

        I live in Cumbria which is probably the least populace county in England, there’s fewer than half a million of us, 190 per square mile.
        Except the National Park which is the centre of the county gets 20,000,000 visitors a year

  2. Doug Jacquier February 12, 2021 at 5:54 am Reply

    Of course that first story is not apocraphyl, Jim! The only reason they’re waiting to turn that 5G tower on is that people are still waiting for their vaccinations. Then Bill Gates’ army of shape-shifting lizards will be in total control and will be coming round for more than coffee. Believe me, I know. It’s all over the internet. 😉

  3. rootsandroutes2012 February 12, 2021 at 6:44 am Reply

    There’s also a ministerial version of this story – people who object to the ringing of church bells. I’m always in full sympathy with those who lived in the area before the church installed the bells 🙂

    • jwebster2 February 12, 2021 at 7:22 am Reply

      I’m still chuckling at that comment 🙂

  4. Books & Bonsai February 12, 2021 at 9:17 am Reply

    I hate it when our local farmer slurries his fields, the whole town stinks for days and going outside is vomit making… I wish it didn’t smell so bad!

    • jwebster2 February 12, 2021 at 10:29 am Reply

      One problem is that the EU restricted the dates you can spread slurry on, rather than farmers picking when the ground looked best. So it means that you can get everything spread all at once when you get good weather in the EU window
      At one point a few years ago there was so much slurry being spread in the few fit days that there were in France, Belgium and the Netherlands that people could smell it on our side of the Channel

      • Books & Bonsai February 12, 2021 at 6:49 pm

        Why can’t it be deodorised?

      • jwebster2 February 12, 2021 at 9:34 pm

        You have to do it in store which involves using a lot of peroxides. You can use horseradish root which is £4 a kilo and you need one kilo per 10 kilos of slurry but apparently you can use it several times, so that’s 1 kilo per 50 kilos of slurry. A pig will produce perhaps 2tons a year (very dependent on systems ) which means you’d need 40kg of horse radish root per pig which would be £640
        Obviously you could build efficiencies into the system but I think the reason it isn’t done is that they cannot find a system which isn’t more expensive that the cost of the pig.

      • Books & Bonsai February 13, 2021 at 9:25 am

        Nasty business altogether, really…

      • jwebster2 February 13, 2021 at 9:41 am

        It is
        The price of pork has been driven down, the retailers have worked to concentrate the industry as an industry rather than a lot of small, often mixed, farms. So you have lots of pigs in one place which means you get a lot of slurry.
        The industry is terrifyingly efficient, their margins are so slim and the retailers have them over a barrel
        People wanted cheap food, they got cheap food 😦

      • Books & Bonsai February 13, 2021 at 6:25 pm

        Never mind the quality, eh?

      • jwebster2 February 13, 2021 at 8:41 pm

        If you’re only willing to spend £4k on a car, do you go to the Jaguar garage?
        People are getting the food and the environment they’re willing to pay for

        Now there is a strong and genuine argument for food prices to be supported by the state. The poor always spend a higher proportion of their income on food. Therefore high food prices hit the poor harder. So having the tax payer (because tax comes from those who generally better off than the poor) subsidise food prices is arguably fair.
        The problem is that Government, encouraged by the electorate has driven up costs by insisting on higher standards, and driven subsidies down because they want to spend the money on something else.
        But government I’m bracketing them all together since the early 1990s

      • Books & Bonsai February 14, 2021 at 7:58 am

        None of them know what is best for the country…

      • jwebster2 February 14, 2021 at 8:03 am

        No votes in higher food prices 😦
        The problem is that across the economy we’re spending far less on food and the rest of the money has gone into things that we never had thirty or forty years ago. Netflix, spotify, sky subscriptions etc
        But people also have more IT, and there’s a huge industry and a lot of jobs dependent on that industry. But forty years ago where was it.
        The problem with putting more money into food and environment (which I agree with entirely) is where you take it from 😦
        Who sacrifices their job?

      • Books & Bonsai February 14, 2021 at 6:53 pm

        Not easy, whichever way you look at it!

      • jwebster2 February 14, 2021 at 7:12 pm

        If it was easy, we’d have fixed it
        But people have to be aware of the decisions they’re making and implications of their decisions

      • Books & Bonsai February 15, 2021 at 9:04 am

        Now that would require some forward thinking and a ton of commonsense, wouldn’t it?

      • jwebster2 February 15, 2021 at 9:18 am

        Never catch on 😦

      • Books & Bonsai February 15, 2021 at 7:12 pm


      • jwebster2 February 15, 2021 at 7:41 pm


  5. Eddy Winko February 12, 2021 at 10:15 am Reply

    Thanks for the laugh this morning 🙂

  6. Sarah Foord February 12, 2021 at 6:42 pm Reply

    Personally I love watching the farming year unfold from spreading slurry to harvesting. It’s because of farmers we have such well maintained farmland .

    • jwebster2 February 12, 2021 at 9:34 pm Reply

      It’s all part of the cycle and the less bureaucratic interference the better the cycle can work 😦

  7. M T McGuire February 15, 2021 at 6:16 pm Reply

    Schools are another one. If you don’t want the street you live in to be full of cars for 20 minutes at half eight and half three don’t buy a house in the same road as a school. I remember one woman having a go at me for parking outside her house when I went to pick up my lad, who’d been ill. She said it was disgusting the amount of traffic and that the school should be closed down. I told her the school had been there for 150 years, that she knew it was there when she bought the house and that if she didn’t like it, perhaps she should have bought a house on a different street. I think she was somewhat miffed.



    • jwebster2 February 15, 2021 at 6:25 pm Reply

      Yes, people expect the universe to be replanned for their pleasure 😦

  8. […] Spreading clean water and still getting complaints. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: