About this lockdown thing everybody’s talking about

Six days shall you labour and on the seventh rest. Except when I took this photo it was Sunday morning, and we were pretty much guaranteed showers tomorrow and heavy rain on Wednesday. So the reseeding has to be done now. And time off in lieu? That’s not an agricultural term.

After they’d finished ploughing, just out of interest I walked the field. If you plough the fields adjacent on the west of this one, the sheer amount of pottery fragments you find is impressive. In one field, there’s never more than a foot between one fragment and the next. Basically these fields were fertilised from the contents of the dry closets of Barrow. People used to drop ashes from the fire and broken crockery into the privy to help ‘soak up’ any liquid. They would be emptied onto carts and the carts would be emptied on farm land handy for town. I would say, from the sort of pottery that comes up, Dundee Marmalade was very popular back then. We find a lot of bits of broken jars.

But in the field just ploughed, there’s virtually no pottery. So obviously it wasn’t ploughed much before the First World War.
Whilst steep, it isn’t ridiculously steep. I ploughed it many years ago on an old David Brown 900 pulling a two furrow plough. Given the tractor was rated at forty horsepower, and peak output from a horse is about 15 horsepower, it isn’t all that much more powerful than two horses pulling a single furrow plough. It would be faster, but probably a damned sight colder working.

One problem with the field is that the soil doesn’t bind like you’d expect. The turf somehow is never all that well attached. Given I’ve seen it reseeded two or three times over the years, it isn’t just a phenomena of one particularly unfortunate seed mix. What happens is that when you brake on the slope, the piece of turf your wheel is on just sheers off from the ground and slides across the surface.

This has happened to me during hay time when everything is bone dry and it’s happened in winter. Indeed I’ve seen it happen to cows who tried to stop too rapidly and discovered they were still moving even though they were standing still. 

One year when we were silaging my father was coming down one side of the field with the tractor pulling chopper and trailer. On the last bit of the slope he must have touched the brakes and the whole outfit jack-knifed. We had to go in with another tractor and pull the jack-knifed outfit forward to untangle everything.
My father fired the chopper up again and there was apparently no damage done so he dropped that almost full trailer off, picked up an empty trailer and carried on around the field. At the top of the field, fortunately as he was going across the level bit, the chopper drawbar just fell into two parts. My father with tractor and six feet of chopper drawbar continued forward, the rest of the chopper plus the trailer stood obdurately immobile and we had to call out the agricultural engineer to get things clagged together again.

But looking back over the last year, as far as I can see, agriculture has worked normally through the pandemic. Yes there’ve been restrictions on who can and cannot loiter around the ring at the auction mart, but you cannot plough by zoom. Vets and agricultural engineers have continued to appear on farms, as have our usual contractors, delivery drivers etc etc. We’ve probably been a lot less isolated than many other people, but I know that we’re getting worn down by it eventually. So how it’s been for people trapped in flats and small houses I shudder to think. I’ve family caught in that situation so my heart goes out to everybody in these circumstance.

On the other hand there are times when I do get a bit irritated by all these BBC programmes which start with ‘And now that we’re all stuck working from home’, and then sharing their discovery that out there are people who are buying themselves ‘fashion pyjamas,’ because that’s pretty much all they’re wearing nowadays.

Whilst in some regions anywhere up to 60% might be working from home, in other regions it’s less than 40%.

Then we have the various demands that our heroes be recognised. Actually I’m really in favour of this


Farmers don’t feature in this list, (unless we’re tucked in among the food, drink and tobacco process operatives) and frankly I don’t think we’ve regarded ourselves as heroes, we’ve just go on with it, and the year as gone round much as years do. I found it interesting to look at the trades that have kept going. Catering had to keep going for those who still worked, but of course, also for those working from home who fancied not cooking tonight. Metal working etc. is just keeping things going. Taxi drivers are a group I feel have been unsung. Round here I would put them high on the list of key workers. I remember following a taxi down a Barrow street and he just stopped. I wasn’t sure why and then I saw the driver helping an elderly lady into her house. When he’d got her safely inside, he then carried her shopping in. Both sides of the street were parked solid, so he just had to block the road and we just let him get on with his job. For a lot of people it’s cheaper to walk or get the bus to the supermarket, then when you’ve got your shopping, just get a taxi home. The taxi might be a little dearer than the delivery charge, but you’ve got exactly what you wanted and managed to get the cheap offers as well.

So when they talk about heroes, let’s just remember the taxi drivers.

Deaths from covid 19 for men

  • restaurant and catering establishment managers and proprietors (119.3 deaths per 100,000 males)
  • metal working and machine operatives (106.1 deaths per 100,000 males)
  • food, drink and tobacco process operatives (103.7 deaths per 100,000 males)
  • chefs (103.1 deaths per 100,000 males)
  • taxi and cab drivers and chauffeurs (101.4 deaths per 100,000 males)
  • nursing auxiliaries and assistants (87.2 deaths per 100,000 males)
  • elementary construction occupations (82.1 deaths per 100,000 males)
  • nurses (79.1 deaths per 100,000 males)
  • local government administrative occupations (72.1 deaths per 100,000 males)
  • bus and coach drivers (70.3 deaths per 100,000 males)

Deaths from covid 19 for women

  • social workers (32.4 deaths per 100,000 females)
  • national government administrative occupations (27.9 deaths per 100,000 females)
  • sales and retail assistants (26.9 deaths per 100,000 females)
  • managers and directors in retail and wholesale (26.7 deaths per 100,000 females)
  • nursing auxiliaries and assistants (25.3 deaths per 100,000 females)
  • nurses (24.5 deaths per 100,000 females)

The sad thing is, they’re not heroes, they’re just ordinary people just doing their ordinary job in an extraordinary time.

There again, perhaps that’s what being a hero is?


There again, what do I know? I’d leave thinking to them as can.

A collection of anecdotes, it’s the distillation of a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England. I’d like to say ‘All human life is here,’ but frankly there’s more about Border Collies, Cattle and Sheep.

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28 thoughts on “About this lockdown thing everybody’s talking about

  1. Doug Jacquier March 13, 2021 at 5:55 am Reply

    Excellent piece, Jim. All of these deaths are tragic but as a former social worker, I am both proud and deeply saddened to see social workers top the list of women, presumably because they chose not to abandon their clients in their hour of need. And presumably women dominate the category of national government administrative occupations as well.

    • jwebster2 March 13, 2021 at 6:12 am Reply

      It has struck me that the social workers have been entirely unsung. I have family who are youth workers in school and because the children they look after are vulnerable they have been working face to face when everybody has been talking about schools being ‘closed’
      It did strike me that the death rate often matches salary levels with those who were lowest paid more likely to end up dying 😦

      • rootsandroutes2012 March 13, 2021 at 6:26 am

        I think the stats would probably show even more marked inverse proportionality between income and death rate if examined internationally.

      • jwebster2 March 13, 2021 at 9:45 am

        Yes I think so

      • Doug Jacquier March 13, 2021 at 9:52 am

        Twas ever thus 😦

      • jwebster2 March 13, 2021 at 10:00 am


  2. rootsandroutes2012 March 13, 2021 at 5:59 am Reply

    ‘…peak output from a horse is about 15 horsepower’

    Really? So how should we be defining 1 horsepower, if it’s not the power put out by 1 horse?

    • jwebster2 March 13, 2021 at 6:12 am Reply

      Apparently a horse produces one horsepower over a working day, but can produce up to fifteen at peak. It surprised me as well

  3. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt March 13, 2021 at 7:54 am Reply

    I was always amused by the clapping – in lieu of an increase in salary.

    • rootsandroutes2012 March 13, 2021 at 8:25 am Reply

      So you had it in America as well?

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt March 13, 2021 at 4:11 pm

        I believe in some big cities like New York. It was in the news for a while, then seemed to disappear.

      • jwebster2 March 13, 2021 at 6:15 pm

        I think they had a ‘last night’ here but being rural it didn’t really figure

    • jwebster2 March 13, 2021 at 9:45 am Reply

      It’s cheaper for the people doing the clapping than paying more tax

      • Doug Jacquier March 13, 2021 at 9:54 am

        I think it’s well time to give Boris and his apparatchiks the clap they so thoroughly deserve 😉

      • jwebster2 March 13, 2021 at 10:03 am

        I’ve always felt that MPs salaries should be linked to the National Minimum wage
        And expenses capped at student type accommodation provided free when they’re in London, and second class rail travel

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt March 13, 2021 at 4:13 pm

        Ah. Taxes. But what I’m suggesting is not spending the tax money already collected the ways it’s being spent, and collecting more from the very rich – the income disparity, at least here, is worse every year.

      • jwebster2 March 13, 2021 at 6:14 pm

        In this country the attention is being drawn towards companies like google and Amazon who are working the system and playing damn all tax

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt March 13, 2021 at 9:07 pm

        Amazon pays every tax it has to. Look to your rich people.

      • jwebster2 March 13, 2021 at 9:33 pm

        Not in Europe it doesn’t
        In simple terms, It basically sets up the operation in a low tax country (Luxembourg) and then the other branches are effectively franchise operations paying a serious franchise fee to the low tax base. This means they make very little profit because, poor lambs, all their profits are eaten up by the franchise fee they pay. So Amazon paid just £6.3 million in corporation tax in the UK in 2019, despite raking in more than £13 billion in sales.

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt March 13, 2021 at 10:33 pm

        And providing jobs everywhere, which your typical rich person does not. And if the tax structure changes, so it is fair and applies to all companies, they pay – and prices go up. Which is fine, it’s just shifting the money around.

        If Europe has tax havens, it needs to deal with those – all companies that can will take advantage of them. The problem is that they’ve let those countries continue to operate that way – Switzerland, Luxembourg are not even the only ones.

        The rich people do NOT want transparency – so they buy politicians. As long as they can. Companies have rules; wealthy people pay loophole-finders a tiny fraction.

      • jwebster2 March 14, 2021 at 5:58 am

        The problem we have is that we don’t have all that many very rich people, in the UK we have 54 billionaires as opposed to nearly 800 in the US and most of ours aren’t actually British. They live here because it’s safe but do most of their business abroad.
        On the other hand Companies like Amazon actually destroy more jobs in the UK than they create. Because in the UK shops and anybody with commercial land pays businesses rates which can be very high for high street shops.
        So one supermarket chain, Sainsbury’s has sales of £28.4 billion and pays £567 millions in business rates
        They also paid corporation tax etc on their profits. Sainsbury’s is not an expensive place to shop.
        Compare this with Amazon who had sales of £13 billion in the UK and paid total tax of £6.3 million
        Given that Amazon isn’t that much cheaper that it’s competitors it’s basically using it’s tax advantage to undercut them, but still make massive profits. European countries aren’t going to put up with it any more.

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt March 13, 2021 at 10:37 pm

        Note: I’m not saying it can be fixed or that individuals like us can do anything about it, but it really helps to put the focus where it belongs, not where you can jiggle the numbers a bit, blame a convenient scapegoat, and allow the deep corruption that supports it to continue.

        The income disparity between the super-rich and even the lowest paying job is obscene – and doesn’t take care of basic needs.

  4. Patsy Collins March 13, 2021 at 12:37 pm Reply

    I was brought up on a farm and worked there for a while – it was hard, dirty, very poorly paid and I constantly smelled of cows and silage. I don’t miss it all the time.

    • jwebster2 March 13, 2021 at 12:54 pm Reply

      Much to everybody’s surprise, I still have an excellent sense of smell, it’s just that things don’t bother me 🙂
      But I can smell wicks in sheep as they walk past me in the lane and obviously ketosis in a dairy cow
      But yes, it’s hard, dirty, and what is this pay of which you speak 🙂
      But then if I’d wanted a proper job I’d have worked at school 😉

  5. M T McGuire March 14, 2021 at 7:49 am Reply

    ‘Then again perhaps that’s what being a hero is.’ Exactly my view. I do envy you a normal lock down. The first one gave me a much needed break, which was lovely, but the others Mum struggled with, which made it more worrying. Also, were in lockdown but at the same time, were not so it just means the day to day, pissy admin of life takes longer and is much harder. After the break of lock down one it was really hard to get back on the horse, so to speak.

    • jwebster2 March 14, 2021 at 8:04 am Reply

      I do worry about those who’ve never really come out of lockdown and have spent the last year pretty much on their own.
      Their ‘getting back on the horse’ and going out and just mixing with people is going to be hard.
      I read somebody yesterday commenting that after watching football games on TV with no crowds and where you could hear the sound of boot on ball, the clips played of old games with the full crowd noise came as a shock
      The new normal is not going to be normal as we saw normal in 2019

      • M T McGuire March 14, 2021 at 9:04 am

        Yeh. will we go back to that sense of having to be everywhere doing everything and always being in a rush or will we have learnt the wisdom of doing things differently? There are many things we could learn to the good from lock down, whether we will is another matter.

      • jwebster2 March 14, 2021 at 6:27 pm

        If I was in the airline industry or depended on letting out commercial property in London I’d be rapidly rethinking my business plan.
        I wonder if we’ll see a bigger gap between ‘the zoom classes’ and the lesser breeds without the law? We already have a large population of people who are below average intelligence (and half the population is average or below) for whom there is no real chance of meaningful work. I suspect the bar is going to drift upwards and we have to find these people a reason for living

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