Monthly Archives: September 2021

Keep on trucking?

Why would anybody be a lorry driver? The pay dropped because companies employed cheap labour from abroad. To an extent that is still happening with delivery drivers. We’ve had a charming Bulgarian man come into our yard looking for somebody else (we’re just the postcode.) His only sentence in English was ‘I am from Bulgaria and don’t speak English.’ To show us where he wanted to be, he showed us the name on the list. We then drew a map to show him where he should be (rural postcodes are quite big in the UK, a lot of the places in the post code aren’t in sight of each other.)

But back to Long Distance Lorry drivers. Where are the transport cafes where they used to have the chance of a decent meal cheap? Places where there was room to park the lorry and free overnight because they knew you’d have a breakfast before you left

I saw this, posted by an ex-driver who goes by the name of Jim Titheridge

“So, you are running out of food on the shelves, fuel in the garages, you can’t buy things you need, because the shops can’t get their supplies.

Why is that? 

A shortage of goods?  No

A shortage of money?  No

A shortage of drivers to deliver the goods?  Well, sort of.

There isn’t actually a shortage of drivers, what we have, is a shortage of people who can drive, that are willing to drive any more.  You might wonder why that is.  I can’t answer for all drivers, but I can give you the reason I no longer drive.  Driving was something I always yearned to do as a young boy, and as soon as I could, I managed to get my driving licence, I even joined the army to get my HGV licence faster, I held my licence at the age of 17.  It was all I ever wanted to do, drive trucks, I had that vision of being a knight of the roads, bringing the goods to everyone, providing a service everyone needed.  What I didn’t take into account was the absolute abuse my profession would get over the years.

I have seen a massive decline in the respect this trade has, first, it was the erosion of truck parking and transport café’s, then it was the massive increase in restricting where I could stop, timed weight limits in just about every city and town, but not all the time, you can get there to do your delivery, but you can’t stay there, nobody wants an empty truck, nobody wants you there once they have what they did want.

Compare France to the UK.  I can park in nearly every town or village, they have marked truck parking bays, and somewhere nearby, will be a small routier, where I can get a meal and a shower, the locals respect me, and have no problems with me or my truck being there for the night.

Go out onto the motorway services, and I can park for no cost, go into the service area, and get a shower for a minimal cost, and have freshly cooked food, I even get to jump the queues, because others know that my time is limited, and respect I am there because it is my job.  Add to that, I even get a 20% discount of all I purchase.  Compare that to the UK £25-£40 just to park overnight, dirty showers, and expensive, dried (under heat lamps) food that is overpriced, and I have no choice but to park there, because you don’t want me in your towns and cities.

Ask yourself how you would feel, if doing your job actually cost you money at the end of the day, just so you could rest.

But that isn’t the half of it.  Not only have we been rejected from our towns and cities, but we have also suffered massive pay cuts, because of the influx of foreign drivers willing to work for a wage that is high where they come from, companies eagerly recruited from the eastern bloc, who can blame them, why pay good money when you can get cheap labour, and a never ending supply of it as well.  Never mind that their own countries would suffer from a shortage themselves, that was never our problem, they could always get people from further afield if they needed drivers.

We were once seen as knights of the road, now we are seen as the lepers of society.  Why would anyone want to go back to that?

If you are worried about not getting supplies on your supermarket shelves, ask your local council just how well they cater for trucks in your district.

I know Canterbury has the grand total of zero truck parking facilities, but does have a lot of restrictions, making it difficult for trucks to stop anywhere.

Do you want me to go back to driving trucks?  Give me a good reason to do so.  Give anyone a good reason to take it up as a profession.

Perhaps once you work out why you can’t, you will understand why your shelves are not as full as they could be.

I tried it for over 30 years, but will never go back, you just couldn’t pay me enough.

Thank you to all those people who have shared this post.  I never expected such a massive response, but am glad that this message is getting out there.  I really hope that some people who are in a position to change just how bad it is for some drivers, can influence the powers that be to make changes for the better.  Perhaps some city and town councillors have seen this, and are willing to bring up these issues at their council meetings.  It surely cannot be too much to ask of a town/city to provide facilities for those who are doing so much to make sure their economies run and their shops and businesses are stocked with supplies.  I never wanted any luxuries, just somewhere safe to park, and some basic ablutions that are maintained to a reasonable standard.  I spent my nights away from my home and family for you, how much is it to ask that you at least give me access to some basic services.

There are tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of licence holders just like me, who will no longer tolerate the conditions.  So the ball is firmly in the court of the councils to solve this problem.”

But people have always looked down on nasty dirty working class lorries and their drivers, clogging up the road, holding up traffic.

People seem to think that we’ll just hire more cheap drivers from abroad. Well there’s a problem with that. Apparently the Continent has a shortage of 400,000 qualified lorry drivers. According to the International Road Transport Union a quarter of all driving jobs cannot be filled. Poland has apparently got a bigger shortage of drivers than we have! Spain has cut the minimum age for getting your HGV licence down to 18 to try and get more people in. In Germany you can pass your driving test using Arabic.

But, tough though it may seem, people are going to have to pay more for delivery. Too often ‘free delivery’ means that we’ll underpay the driver to keep costs down.

Apparently the government is going to give 5000 temporary visas so companies can hire in foreign drivers. I would suggest that these visas cost £5,000 and the money is used to put somebody through their HGV test.

We’ll know when the problem is solved. When there are lorry parks handy for major towns, with safe parking, decent cafes and clean showers and toilets. After all, how many people want a job where they have to sleep in a wagon cab every night and use whatever toilet they can find? And when motorists slow down and flash their lights to let a lorry pull onto the road in front of them.

And when hell freezes over we’ll use sledges to transport stuff across the ice.


There again, what do I know, speak to the experts.

As a reviewer commented, “

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.”

The priorities of rural areas?

The basic numbers tell the tale, 16% of the English population live in London. Yet 17% of the English population live in rural areas. Yet when it comes to transport, “Local authorities in rural areas have far less funding available to them to support bus services. In 2017/18 expenditure in predominantly rural areas was £6.72 per resident to subsidise services, compared with £31.93 in predominantly urban areas. Expenditure to cover concessionary bus fares was £13.48 (rural) and £25.54 (urban) respectively.”

Now I don’t know about you but I was always told that rural bus services and similar couldn’t be run because there weren’t enough people. Urban bus services survived because of the sheer number of people who wanted to travel. Urban bus services benefited from a ‘critical mass’ that rural services would never equal.

But frankly urban bus services survive because governments over the years have hosed them with money to support their urban electorate.

Then there’s housing. ‘Nice houses in the country’ have always cost more. Follow the A592 into the Lake District from the south and play ‘spot the multi-million pound houses. The problem is that two bedroom ground floor flats are £185,000 if you can find them. Whilst to rent two bedroom flats are £650 per month if they’re not out on Airbnb. Try renting in summer. In Barrow (where a lot of people live who work in Windermere, a two bedroomed terraced house is under £500 a month and you can buy a modernised three bedroomed terraced house for the £185,000.

Because of the drive for ‘working from home,’ or at least ‘flexible working’ prices for houses outside major cities have risen by 10.8% over the pandemic, as opposed to a rise of 8.9% in the major cities.

In a county like Cumbria, a lot of houses in rural villages are now second homes, or are lived in by people who have retired to the county. As it is, Cumbria is a largely self-contained functional economic area, with 96 per cent of Cumbria’s residents working in Cumbria, and with 94 per cent of all jobs based in Cumbria filled by Cumbrian residents. The problem is that the residents are being forced to the periphery of the county where house prices are lower because it isn’t as pretty.
Before the pandemic I was talking to one big hotelier, he used almost entirely British staff and spent (from memory,) over £100,000 a year busing them in from the periphery of the county using hired coaches. It was costing so much he was looking at plans to build accommodation to house over a hundred staff ‘on-site’ in their own rooms. This was because the cost of borrowing the money to build to Lake District National Park standards was still lower than the cost of transporting staff. Obviously there were no staff to be had locally because you cannot afford to work in hospitality and live in the area.

I was talking to a chap who used to manage holiday cottages for an agency. They didn’t own the cottages, but managed them for the owners. My contact was the one who got phoned at 2am to be told that the microwave wasn’t working. When it came to cleaning the cottages between guests, there was a set sum in the budget. Initially there had been the hope that he could get local people to come in and do it, but there weren’t any local people available. He ended up with the mobile phone number for a lady from a rundown industrial town twenty miles away. He’d phone and give the lady the addresses of the house that wanted cleaning. She knew the rate per house. He turned up to meet them on one occasion, and out of a rather small car stepped the lady, her sister, her daughter, and two toddlers. The houses were cleaned and left immaculate and he would get a hand written invoice at the end of the week. He made a point of paying promptly. He knew they needed the money and he didn’t want to lose a team so competent.

I was talking to another chap who worked as an agricultural contractor. Thirty years ago farms would have employed local lads, but given the drop in food prices and the increase in house prices, you struggle to find local lad. Farmers just hire contractors instead. This particular chap was working with a round baler. He set off at some ridiculously early hour to get to the first farm. He then sat for an hour waiting for the hay to dry out ready to bale, watching the traffic on the road by the field grow steadily heavier.

When he finished working on that farm his next job was at another farm about fifteen miles down the road. After an hour winding his way through traffic he finally got there and managed to get that baled before the weather broke.

But for local people stuck in traffic I think it takes a lot to beat a knacker wagon driver I know. His round, collecting animals that have died on farm and smallholdings, takes him throughout most of Cumbria. He inches his way through the snow, makes his careful way through floodwater, and tries to avoid tourists, all on roads little wider that his wagon.

One day at the height of summer he ended up coming into Ambleside in the early afternoon. Because of the one way system, coming in from Coniston, he had to go the long way through Ambleside. Unfortunately the village is snarled solid and he’s stuck in traffic. It was a hot day and you can imagine the smell.

After half an hour of going nowhere a policeman approached his wagon and taps on the window. The knacker wound the window down and the policeman just said, “You, we are getting out of the village as soon as we can.”
To be fair to the police they cleared a one way street so he could go up it the wrong way. Once through the street he could turn right and they’d make sure the traffic was flowing well enough to get him out into open country.

Gratefully he made his way up the street to be met by a tourist travelling in the opposite direction. She got out of her car, berated him, swore at him, demanded he back and when he didn’t she squeezed her car past him, into the waiting arms of a policeman who’d come up to see what was going on. Apparently she’d ignored the road closed sign his colleague had put at the top of the street and as the knacker drove off, a stern faced policeman was taking down her details.

But yes, the way things are going, we’re going to struggle to have village communities and local culture. We already have communities in the Lake District where nobody lives any more. Even in places like Keswick nearly half the properties are holiday lets or second homes. Then there’s the explosion in Airbnb.

If you’re not careful you’ll end having a holiday home in the same village as your next door neighbours.

There again, what do I know? Speak to the experts

Available from Amazon as paperback or kindle

and from everybody else as an ebook at

As a reviewer commented, “Jim Webster’s recollections, reflections and comments, about life as a Farmer, are always worth reading, not only for information, but also for entertainment and shrewd comments about UK government agencies (and politicians).
One of the many observations that demonstrate his wryness, is as follows:
There was a comment in the paper the other day. Here in the UK, clowns are starting to complain that politicians are being called clowns. The clowns point out that being a clown is damned hard work, demands considerable fitness, great timing and the ability to work closely with others as part of a well drilled team!”

Coping with young ladies of uncertain temperament

I used to boast at one time that in our dairy herd we had every colour of cow, other than green. Green would be far too difficult to spot when out at grass. (Actually Black and White cows, in the early morning, can be damned difficult to spot when they’re standing against a hedge line. They’re woodland animals wearing woodland camo). But when you work with different breeds you soon begin to spot that some breeds have their own traits. So Simis were tended towards the quieter end of the spectrum. Indeed when we let cows into the parlour, the first eight in would always be Simis. You’d not see a black and white until the second tranche.

Ayrshires were fine but somehow ‘independent.’ We dried off a couple of old Ayrshire milk cows and walked them down to spend a couple of months with some heifers. The idea was that it would be a rest for them. They arrived home before we did. They obviously wanted to stay with the main herd, no matter what we thought.

Friesians, or at least ‘Black and White’ are the default. They’re the standard domesticated dairy cow. But I remember talking to a vet who had had to TB test a small suckler herd. This herd was a mixture of older dairy cows the farmer hadn’t sold, and younger Angus, Hereford and similar suckler cows he’d purchased. To TB test them they tied them up by the neck in a shippon and tested them that way. There might have been ten or a dozen of them.

The first time they tested them, the old dairy cows were easy to tie up, after all they’d been tied up twice a day, every day, for years. The others were a little more exciting! But the following year when they came to test them, the suckler cows were easy enough, whereas the old dairy cows were distinctly skittish, having almost forgotten how these things were done. I suspect that perhaps Black and Whites have to be constantly handled to keep them properly domesticated.

We did have some Black and White cows that had been bought out of a dispersal sale. They’d been housed inside all year round and had milked through a big rotary parlour. Until they calved we turned them out with some heifers. The first day it rained the cows ran, en masse to the tallest hedge and huddled under it. The heifers stood there in the rain, grazing happily, wondering what the fuss was about. When I went out to give everybody a handful of cake, the cows glared at me, it was obviously my fault, and standards had obviously fallen in recent years.

Jersey cattle are something else. I always found them good to work with, but if anything went wrong it was ‘Your’ fault and ‘You’ were going to suffer. They could be flighty, and Jersey bulls are notorious in some circles for being bad to work with.
Anyway we had to load about fourteen heifers out of a field. They were Jersey cross Black and White. We made a pen of gates and quietly walked them into it. Backed the trailer up to the gate and loaded five. By that time three had already jumped out (one without touching the gate, which is impressive.) We took the five to the other field and went back for the next load.
We got them all back into the pen and loaded another four before the others left.
The problem is that the five now left in the field had self-selected as excitable. So something had to be done. I deployed the plastic dog.

Every day I went into the field with a bucket of cake. On the first day I had to go to them. On the second day we met half way. On the third day they followed me. They wouldn’t go into the pen, and there was a pony looking over the hedge at them which didn’t help. But still they ate the cake near the pen. After a week I got them eating in the pen, and by the end of the second week some of them were waiting in the pen for me.

Finally I got them used to the pen being smaller, and even to having the gate shut whilst they ate.

It is said that timing is the secret of good comedy. It’s certainly the secret of moving livestock. If the landrover and trailer had appeared before the heifers got into the pen they’d have suspected something was going on. So we had to time things very carefully. I had the heifers in the pen, eating with the gate shut, as the landrover drove into the field. Then, with three of us making sure that they couldn’t jump out, we quietly moved them in the direction of the trailer. Eventually one of them virtually ran up the ramp, and with that, the other four followed meekly after her.

Somebody once commented to my lady wife that she’d seen this shirt or jumper or something with pigs and sheep on and wondered if it was the sort of thing I’d like.
My lady wife just said, “Not really, Jim’s a cowman.”


Anyway, something to keep you out of trouble. There’s never anything on the telly anyway.

When Storth arrives home after a long absence, there’s are a few things that need sorting out. Sometimes they can be more complicated than you initially thought.
But at least there are opportunities for an honest man to make money, with maidens to be rescued and tyrants slain, or was it the other way about.
And who uses energy carbines any more? Military fashions have moved on.


“You are Storth, ex-pilot and thief.”

“I have done rather more than that.” Storth sounded genuinely aggrieved.

“Yes but this is meant to be an identity check, not a charge sheet. We also felt mercenary, smuggler and thief verged on the tautological.”

“Oh, well I’m Storth.”

“And you are Hutton, wife of Storth, just a thief.”

“You could call me ‘Hutton, wife of Storth, housewife and thief’ if it makes it any better for your records.”

A change in the tide, cheap food?

Well, are food prices going to rise? After all, governments have successfully held prices down for decades. Milk is cheaper in the shops in cash terms than it was back in the 1990s. Is the tide changing?
One advantage of living on the side of Morecambe Bay is that you get used to the tides. I once spent some time in Scarborough and yes the tide goes out, but frankly it’s not what I’d call spectacular. Here in Morecambe Bay when it goes out, it literally goes miles. Over seven miles at times. So when the tide changes, things obviously change. And I’m wondering whether we’re about to see another turn of the tide. The combination of carbon zero, Brexit, and Covid has been a perfect storm.

Now since Peter Mandelson and New Labour announced they were “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich so long as they pay their taxes,” the economy has shifted. I don’t get upset about the ‘gig economy’ because for most self-employed people that’s what self-employment is. But we’ve had industries growing up as parasites on others. So Airbnb can become what is effectively the world’s biggest hotel chain but dumps all the capital, maintenance and staffing costs onto its ‘partners.’ Similarly Uber managed to become one the biggest taxi companies without owning a single car or employing drivers, but instead pushed all those costs down the supply chain onto the shoulders of its ‘partners.’ It has taken court cases and old fashioned trade unions to get Uber to start to change its ways.

Then we’ve had over a decade of Quantitative easing. To quote from the Guardian (and in turn from the Bank of England) “QE enriches those who have already accumulated enough assets such that they generate sufficient income without the need to liquidate their accumulated capital base. As the Bank itself determined in a 2012 paper analysing, among other things, the distributional effects of QE, “the top 5% of households own 40% of the assets,” and hence they have been the primary beneficiaries of the rampant asset price inflation following the financial crisis of 2008 and large devaluation in sterling.”

But all these attempts to ‘drive cost out of the system’ are starting to run into the sand. So now haulage has started to be a serious cost, at two levels. Shipping costs have gone through the roof. I was talking to an old chap who used to go round farms and sell tools from a van. His business model, twenty years or so ago, was to fill a forty foot container from suppliers in China and over the next couple of years, he’d sell the contents and that’s how he made a living. He retired about four years ago, and after three years he discovered he was going out of his mind with boredom. So he started up again and aged seventy he’s back on the road. But when he tried to get his container, the Chinese suppliers were still there, but the cost of a container for somebody just hiring one occasionally, had gone up from £2,000 to over £20,000. As he said, suddenly there was no money in it.

Then we have the shortage of wagon drivers. Plus a shortage of people to do field work, and the shortage of labour has crept into other industries as well. The problem is, a lot of these people are working for the ‘living wage,’ if they are lucky. I saw one care firm boasting it paid £9 an hour, but then you discover that this doesn’t include travelling time between the homes of your clients, and for that time you’re not paid but will get your petrol or bus fare. So the laws of supply and demand should lead to wages going up.

Now a lot of well-paid people are demanding that we import cheap labour from abroad. Keep prices down. Heaven forfend that they have to pay more for a skinny latte.

Admittedly with the end of furlough, we could see people coming back onto the job market. Apparently a lot of those on furlough work in aviation, foreign travel and suchlike. Frankly are there jobs for them to come back to or are they facing redundancy? It might be as good a time to become redundant as any, especially if you’re willing to splash out on your HGV.

But the other parts of the perfect storm are hitting at the same time. Even if you do keep people on minimum wage, that’s going to have to rise to cover the increasing prices. I’ve already mentioned haulage, the increase in the cost of a container alone could add about 20p to a kilo of oranges. But then, just as UK government advisers are telling the government we can import food, just like Singapore does, the Singapore government are stressing they’re increasing the proportion of food produced at home. For small city state this is tricky, but their current plan is to go from 10% self-sufficiency to 30% self-sufficiency by 2030.

Even wealthy Singapore states ““Although import source diversification has served us well, COVID-19 underscores the importance of having a buffer in case of global supply disruptions.”

So if Singapore worries that food might not be out there to import, why on earth should we assume it will be out there to import cheaply?

And then we’ve got carbon neutrality. This is pretty well going to jack the price up of a lot of things. If you’ve got gas central heating, when your boiler gives out, you probably won’t have gas central heating any more, you’ll have to buy a heat pump. Similarly have you considered how you’ll charge up your next ‘electric’ car? A neighbour of ours has had Three Phase electricity brought to his premises because it makes charging a car faster and cheaper.  How many people can do that? I know people who cannot even park their car within sight of their flat, never mind dangle a cable out of their fifth floor window to charge it. As a country we will need a lot more infrastructure to cope with the shift to charging cars, and a lot more generating capacity. None of it is cheap and somebody will have to pay for it. Don’t expect cheap electric at any time soon.

But if you get wages rising because of a shortage of workers, followed by costs rising because of increased haulage, energy costs, and rising wages, you then have the circle complete itself because workers will want more money because they’re struggling due to the increased cost of living. Will we see inflation back?
Personally, if I had a lot of money borrowed, I’d be keen to lock it in for as long as possible at as low a rate as possible. After all, I’ve farmed with an overdraught rate of 23%. It makes your eyes water.


There again, what do I know? Speak to the experts

Available in paperback or on kindle from Amazon

or from everybody else as an ebook from

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”