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The Dongle Saga

Rather than repeatedly explain my absence from the 21st Century I decided it would be easier just to write one blog and point people at that.

Our broadband is less than sparkling. We have a maximum speed of 4 mbps because we are at the end of a long piece of copper. This copper is not getting any younger. For much of the last year we have been working with the BT Escalation team because they seem to be the only ones with the clout to get Openreach properly motivated.

In all candour I cannot praise the Escalation team enough, it seems that I’m now on first name terms with them, and I get an update phone call from them most weeks. Currently they have been ringing rather more often.

Now about a month ago we had issues and the Escalation team got in touch with Openreach, and to be fair to Openreach, the engineer they sent out was a good one. She was, in the nicest meaning of the term, a real terrier. She started methodically by checking the first joint, even though it was testing OK to the online tests. As she moved some of the wires the entire joint dissolved into powder and she had to cut back to bare metal and reconnect it. With this done she proceeded to check every joint, with the wind and driving rain blasting across the area. She finally reported to Openreach (who in turn reported to the BT Escalation team) that they needed to replace 450m of copper cable.)
Now this work was assessed and agreed by Openreach, but it’s not entirely in their hands as they needed to approach Cumbria Highways and get road closure notices and similar. So we heard nothing more, and honestly didn’t expect to hear much as this process can, apparently, take six weeks. And to be fair, we had broadband. Admittedly it rarely got better than 2mbps but still, it was there.

Then at about 9:45am on the 14th December the broadband just disappeared. Our modem has shown a steady orange light ever since. Talking to neighbours since, nobody else has lost their (admittedly pathetic) broadband, just us. We got in contact with the Escalation team and they did tests and then got in touch with Openreach. ‘What was the problem, had somebody done something to a wire, perhaps with the re-cabling work starting early?’ Openreach has been strangely enigmatic. They eventually said that they had an engineer working on it, but that we wouldn’t see them because the fault wasn’t near us, the fault was nearer the exchange.

Anyway on Thursday 15th, when it looked like it could be a while before Openreach achieved anything (or even told us what was happening) the Escalation Team suggested a dongle. Now BT partner with EE, and normally they’d just post out an EE pay as you go dongle. But there is no EE signal. But in the last year or so O2 have got an improved signal here from a mast barely half a mile away. So the Escalation team said that they’d pay the first £30 of an O2 dongle and take things from there.

Armed with a notional £30 I wandered into the O2 shop in town. Now my phone, O2, pay as you go, had refused to connect earlier that day but I had managed to connect later. So I asked the chap at O2 whether there were any problems. There had been no notifiable outages so with a significant glance at my phone he suggested that it might be showing its age. Not an unreasonable suggestion to be honest.

So we discussed dongles and he called up our postcode on the screen and said, “Now I know why your phone was having problems.”
The mast half a mile from us had failed totally on the morning of the 15th and there was no hope of 4G signal for us from O2. We could still get enough signal to talk on the phone using the attenuated signal from more distant masts, but he frankly refused to sell us a dongle on the not unreasonable grounds that it wouldn’t work. Not only that but there was no date for an engineer being assigned to the mast and in the week before Christmas, he didn’t think it was going to happen.

I confess that I have been impressed with the honesty and realism of both BT Escalation team and O2 employees at this point.

Anyway the week went by. Because Openreach weren’t saying that the problem was one they would have to fix by installing 450m of new copper, there was an understandable reluctance to set up new systems that might not be in place when the old system suddenly snapped back into place and started working.
But still the Escalation team was getting nothing meaningful from Openreach. They were picking up hints from engineers reports that were copied to them, but these reports are by nature detailed. They’ll say we went to point x (which was a weblink the Escalation team didn’t have authority to open) and did this and this and it doesn’t appear to have worked.)

The Escalation team tried a new tack. ‘Why were they putting in copper? If you’re going to this sort of length why not just put in fibre? After all the cost of the copper you weren’t using would more than cover the cost of the fibre? Indeed I even pointed out that I had a friend who was interesting to doing a short documentary on the process of them laying copper. After all, nobody does that anymore and it was possibly the last chance to capture it for posterity. Alas all questions about putting in fibre have been met with silence from the Openreach end.

The Escalation team were getting imaginative, they pointed out that we are an elderly couple, running a broadband critical business. Given we had no broadband, no mobile connectivity, and the postal service was on strike, if our telephone wire went down as well, we would be reduced to using smoke signals or frantically training carrier pigeons.

This too met with a lofty silence.
Finally Christmas was bearing down on us. The Escalation team came to the conclusion that Openreach was not going to achieve anything before Christmas (even if they wanted to, could Cumbria Highways have the staff about to do the road closure orders before the holidays?) so they searched through other possibilities. Openreach finally said they couldn’t install an emergency wire. Then one of the Escalation team discovered that Vodafone seemed to have good coverage in our area. On Wednesday 21st December I walked into the Vodafone shop. All four staff were busy, but the store manager was obvious able to leave the two customers he was dealing with to ask me what I wanted. I explained. I told him the full story, including in it O2 and everything. He said he was delighted to help.

They had a pay as you go 90 day dongle. It was £50 but came with 12 gig.

Alas they didn’t have any in stock. He knew this because I was the second person who wanted one today.

Also, Argos who also carry them, didn’t have any in stock either, because he’d already asked for the previous potential customer.

But he could get one delivered by courier, next day, for under £7.

Except that even if I thought this was a wonderful deal and wanted it, he couldn’t take my order because their systems were down (which was why he could leave a customer to speak to me).

Had I considered that somebody, somewhere, really didn’t want me to have broadband?

Anyway I got the shop phone number. Next morning I talked to the Escalation team who checked with a supervisor and they said they would cover the £57.

So I phoned the shop to check their systems were back on line, went into the shop and ordered one. Now given that we are now 23rd December, there are postal strikes, courier firms are rushed off their feet and there is only so much people can do, I wasn’t entirely sanguine that I was going to see the dongle before Christmas.

Yet this morning I got a text from the courier company saying the dongle is on its way? Who knows what excitement this afternoon will bring?

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Well the excitement continued. A package arrived, I opened it and learned I had to assemble the beast. Remember I have never, in my life, put a sim card into anything, but I sort of worked it out. Plugged the beast into the computer and nothing happened.

So I read the instructions again and found the on switch. So some blue lights came on but still nothing happened.

So I phoned our Vodafone shop, and they gave me the number of tech support. It took ten minutes (literally, I timed it) to find the numbers etc that tech support needed to deal with me. After all I didn’t have the phone number of my dongle (and don’t have a Vodafone number).
But anyway, with the sound of the muezzin reciting the call to prayer across the road from the call centre in Egypt, a very well-spoken young woman (she speaks better English than I do) worked out that whilst there was money on my sim card, nobody had turned it to data.
So now we have broadband, after a fashion.

My machine tells me there is 9mbps, but my lady wife’s laptop can only sometimes connect, even when she sits not to it. So it’s OK but frankly if BT could get the landline back to 4mbps, it works better for both of us, as that travels better.

So there you are, as news goes this has to fall into the ‘small earthquake somewhere remote, nobody important hurt’ category.

♥♥♥♥

Now I’m back I ought to tempt you into splurging out on a good book or two!

As a reviewer commented, “As with all of Jim Webster’s writing, I took to the main characters straight away, and enjoyed the shenanigans that follow – already reaching for the next book, and hoping more will come!”

The world changed and nobody realised.

There is a saying, ‘To deny is to confirm.’ The minute a body puts out press releases saying that it had never considered a policy change, everybody assumes that policy is about to be changed and they’re just waiting for a good day to bury bad news before they tell us.

The problem is, that thanks to the Ukrainian War, an awful lot of people are suffering. Look on the bright side, at least we’re only spending money, not blood.

From March onwards I’ve been pointing out that there is a looming risk of food shortages. Suddenly, large parts of the world we bought food from are no longer reliable, secure, and in some cases, they’re not even friendly.

 Now if I’ve spotted this, I’m sure that there are other people who have also read the writing on the wall, and I have no doubt that even in Defra, their words have been heard.
When we left the EU, this was seen as an opportunity by both government and the environmental lobby groups to move money from farm support to putting money into environmental schemes. I’ve taken part in some of the trials and frankly the only way I could take advantage of the vast majority of them was by cutting production. Which is fine if you lot out there don’t mind going hungry. So when you read the Defra blog

(Search for “Government reiterates commitment to environmental protections”)

It starts with a ‘government spokesman’ making a strong statement, “Claims we intend to go back on our commitment to the environment are simply not right.”

It then goes on to say, “We’re not scrapping the schemes. In light of the pressures farmers are facing as a result of the current global economic situation, including spikes in input costs, it’s only right that we look at how best to deliver the schemes to see where and how improvements can be made. Boosting food production and strengthening resilience and sustainability come alongside, not instead of, protecting and enhancing our natural environment, and later this year we will set out more details of plans on how we will increase food security while strengthening the resilience and role of farmers as stewards of the British countryside.”

‘To deny is to confirm.’ I cannot claim to have read everything Defra has produced on these schemes but starting by talking about boosting food production and stressing the importance of increasing food security strikes me as new.

Now the fighting is going to start. All sorts of people working for various environmental lobby groups are going to pile in on this demanding that there be no U turns in government policy. The fighting will be bitter.

The public are starting to cut back on their spending, so money paid to environmental charities (indeed all charities) is going to fall. If government puts less in as well, the money available to pay the salaries of the laptop classes involved in the environment will diminish. These people, like everybody else, have mortgages to pay.

And mortgages are another issue. The minute Putin started squeezing the gas pipelines, prices were guaranteed to go up, and equally inevitably, interest rates were going to rise. A lot of people are going to be very squeezed, very squeezed indeed, as the increase in mortgage payments makes itself felt. The problem is that whilst it’s possible for government to put some sort of cap on how much you pay for gas (which provides some protection for those urban and suburban dwellers who have access to gas but damn all for those in rural areas who don’t) capping interest rates is tricky. All that would do is see the pound spiral down so quickly we’d be looking at parity with the Turkish lira.

But it’s not just people who have been hit. A lot of companies have been borrowing money at ridiculously low rates of interest and not so much investing it as splurging it on vanity projects. Some of these projects are unravelling. Apple has apparently decided to produce six million fewer of the new iPhone14. After all, how many people actually need a new iPhone?

Other ventures have also taken a kicking. In July 2021, the share price of Beyond Meat was $150 a share. Currently it’s trading at $14.63. At the same time, during the pandemic, people in the UK increased their consumption of real meat and apparently the amount of fresh meat sold retail is 12% higher than it was three years ago. To look abroad, to quote https://www.restaurantbusinessonline.com/food/mcdonalds-ends-its-plant-based-test-us-now-what

“McDonald’s has ended its expanded test of its meatless McPlant burger in the U.S., the company confirmed on Thursday, without a clear indication of whether the plant-based product will make a national debut.

The company’s confirmation followed continued speculation from Wall Street analysts indicating that the product underperformed those tests. An analyst with J.P. Morgan this week said that the product was pulled in many stores and low sales were cited as the primary reason.”

The problem is we had a lot of jobs which were only viable at very low interest rates because these jobs produce no return on the money spent on wages. The money for their wages comes from those employees who do actually produce something that earns the company money. As interest rates go up, the companies are going to still need those who earn the money, but frankly, I doubt they will be able to afford to keep the others. When you were paying 2% on the company overdraught you could probably afford to take on another three diversity coordinators to pad our your HR department and give you bragging rights at the next conference you were asked to address. When you’re paying 7% not only will the company not be able to afford the HR it has, it certainly won’t be able to afford to send somebody to a conference that isn’t production related and it may not be able to afford you.

In farming we’ve become steadily more efficient, if you look at

You’ll see this graph showing fertiliser use and how it drops off.

I suspect 2022 will see another large fall. In farming we’ve got to stay on our toes and stay efficient. We have to cherish the land we’ve got that can produce a crop. After all, would you like to try and plough this?

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

Not even a dairy heifer is that daft.

But anyway, Friday was a busy day, we sorted a lot of heifers out, moved them about, and had the vet check that those who’d been running with the bull were in calf.

So far so normal.

Then next morning I went round checking and feeding them, and put one back who had decided that a fence so low obviously wasn’t meant as a barrier. Again, so far, so normal.

Then on Sunday morning I found two different groups had tested the limits of their current boundaries and found them significantly more permeable than I had previously thought. Certainly the previous occupants of the fields hadn’t seen any opportunities.

Luckily we have domesticated cattle. One lot followed me back to their mates. The other lot (fourteen little ones of whom five had escaped) watched me feed those who hadn’t got out (the feed was placed in sight of the escapees but some distance away) and once I’d left the field they all came back through the gap to join their mates at the feed.

So Sunday morning was spent fixing fences. Where the fourteen were, I went further along the hedge and looked at another spot. I weighed it up and decided that not even a dairy heifer was going to be daft enough to try that. Climbing up a sheer slippery muddy bank with a decent fence of barbed wire and sheep netting at the top.  
Well I’ve been wrong before, and will doubtless be wrong again in the future, and I was wrong this time. Seven out of fourteen obviously decided this one was a challenge and went for it. When I fed their mates, again within visibility but a little way away, the bawling of the escapees was pathetic. Apparently they could jump the fence from below but when looked at from above it was some sort of terrifying obstacle.

So I had to flatten it down for them, and when they thought my back was turned (I’d gone home for more posts and wire) they all clambered down and joined their mates eating. So when I got back to fix it in the rain, they all innocently watched me, from the correct side of the fence.

But to be fair to dairy heifers, their understanding of the world is limited, and you have to expect them to cross the boundaries of common sense. On the other hand, I came across this.

What people in the UK may not realise is that there are teams of contractors who start the American harvest in the south, almost on the Mexican border, and as the year progresses they move steadily north, combining as they go. After all, the further north, the later the harvest. They finish somewhere in Canada playing chicken with winter.

Now some of these chaps work closely with the major machinery manufacturers. After all they might have several big combines and tractors and they will change them in every three years. Not surprisingly, because their machinery works hard. They can be combining, 24 hours a day, for days on end when harvest is ready. So some of these contractors will effectively have new machinery on standing order. It’s metaphorically got their name on it even as it proceeds along the production line.

One of these chaps was approached by a representative of the company he deals with. The company wanted him to go electric.

His response was simple. “How do I charge these combines when they are many miles from an electrical mains supply, in the middle of a cornfield, in the middle of nowhere?” “How do I run them 24 hours a day for 10 or 12 days straight when the harvest is ready, and the bad weather is coming in?” “How do I get a 50,000+ lb. combine that takes up the width of an entire road back to mains electricity 20 miles away when the battery goes dead?”

Apparently the answer is ‘we’re working on it’.

I’ve worked with silage contractors in this country where we filled the big self-propelled forage harvester direct from the fuel company’s tanker. We stopped for a full five minutes to achieve this and were back to work.

But back to the machinery company. How can somebody who is supposed to be working with farmers be so ignorant?
Of course there is a fetish that all vehicles have to go electric. Note that I use the term fetish in its traditional meaning. “An inanimate object worshipped for its supposed magical powers or because it is considered to be inhabited by a spirit.”

So why ban diesel vehicles?  Well apparently, and to quote the BBC, “A number of studies have shown that diesel cars, unlike petrol cars, spew out high levels of what are known as nitrogen oxides and dioxides, together called NOx. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is particularly nasty – recent studies have shown it can cause or exacerbate a number of health conditions, such as inflammation of the lungs, which can trigger asthma and bronchitis, and increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.”

Indeed, “In many European cities, NO2 levels are well above European Union legal limits – twice the limit in parts of London, Paris and Munich, according to the European Environment Agency (EEA).”
I tell you want, we’ll stop using combines and tractors in parts of London, Paris, and Munich.

Why are people wanting to stop the use of diesel in combines and tractors in the countryside? I’ve seen the figures for a local town near here, and it is already well below the level we are supposed to be trying to get down to.
So I would humbly venture to suggest that, in reality, the NO2 produced by agricultural machinery in rural areas is not a problem.
Indeed, great steps had been made in producing biodiesel from agricultural crops. Farms could produce their own diesel which would contain no fossil fuel, and might in point of fact have a lower carbon footprint than the electricity they want us to change to.
Now it may not seem a big deal but in reality all you’re doing is putting food prices up in an attempt to give prosperous middle class activists the feeling that they’re achieving something.
They are, they’re increasing the pain felt by the poor. Not even a dairy heifer is that daft.

♥♥♥♥

There again, what do I know, speak to the expert!

As a reviewer commented, “A collection of anecdotes and observations about farming in England in the 21st century. Written by an actual farmer, this book is based on real experience and touches on a variety of subjects in a witty and engaging style. Cats, cattle, bureaucrats, workers, and the working dog all make an appearance, as do reminiscences about the old days and speculation on a possible future. This book is both entertaining and informative, a perfect diversion for the busy reader.”

How many solar panels can you eat?

It’s interesting that both Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak have spoken out against covering farmland with solar panels. You do wonder if finally, people are beginning to wake up a little.

Personally I think that, whether he intended to or not, Putin has created a watershed in history, but not perhaps in the way he intended.

If we go back to the start of the century, Ed Miliband put the green levies on energy. But at the same time a lot of other things were put in place, all nicely set ten, twenty or even thirty years ahead. Politicians were kicking unexploded bombs into the long grass secure in the knowledge that by the time these things happened and the public started feeling the pain, they’d be long retired on a good pension and their successors could take the flak.

When they were announced, the ban on the installation of new gas boilers in homes (2025) and the ban on the sales of new petrol and diesel cars (2030) seemed a long time off.
But the aim was that energy was always going to become more expensive. Fewer people would be able to heat their homes to the level they were used to, people would learn to wear more clothes indoors and probably cut back gradually on non-essential spending. This was always on the cards, you cannot increase the proportion of somebody’s income they have to pay on one thing and expect them to keep spending as much on anything else. Over a period our economy would have evolved. Some people, perhaps those in hospitality, or perhaps in fast fashion, would take a kicking, but people would switch industries.

But from the politicians’ point of view, this was safely a long way off. But time has moved on. The next general election is 2025, and whoever wins that has to take all the flak for boilers and try and cope with the chaos as they frantically try to create enough charging points for electric cars. I do seriously wonder if the Labour party leader has been smart enough to work out that the next election is one you don’t want to win and feels for the good of the party it would be better to be out of office until the 2030 election.

And then we have Covid, which utterly screwed both work patterns, but also expectations. When we had lockdown a lot of people just sat at home and were paid damn near their full salary for doing nothing, whilst a lot more ‘worked from home’ and got full salary for doing, in some cases, not much more. When trouble hits, government will dance amongst us like some frenetic Easter bunny, bountifully casting largesse at random.

Finally stir Putin into the mix. With regard to energy, Putin has merely forced EU and other states to do what they were supposedly intending to do it, but in six months, not thirty years. The politicians who assumed all this stuff would hit when they were collecting their pensions are watching with horror as the political slurry washes around their beautiful patent leather shoes.

Let us get acknowledge this first. When the tanks crossed with Ukrainian border, the world changed.

Even if Putin falls, will anybody dare rely on Russian energy? Or will the continued rush into renewables and nuclear continue, leaving Russia a minor raw materials producer with an aging population and an embarrassing dearth of young men?

Also, from a farming point of view, Putin massively dislocated the production and distribution of basic foodstuffs. Even a UK politician cannot ignore that effect.

Indeed, it may be that one of the best things that happened to British farmers was a drought this summer. On top of a world food crisis, and world energy crisis, it was obvious that we cannot take our own food production for granted.

Suddenly bold schemes for rewilding and/or covering vast areas with solar panels and trees are starting to look a tad silly. Hopefully they’re obviously silly enough for even politicians to be embarrassed at being seen to promote them.  

So what will this winter be like?
I suspect we’ll be sick of seeing underdressed but photogenic people (probably in the Home Counties) complaining their houses are cold because they’ve had to turn the central heating down a couple of degrees. Elsewhere less photogenic people in poorer areas will be wearing every garment they have. But then this isn’t new, last year at our foodbank a company donated a heap of nice new fleece blankets which we handed out to people. They could sit under them in an evening and not spend so much on heating. They were much appreciated.

People will expect the government to revert to Easter bunny mode but the basket is pretty empty. Obviously we’ll hear the usual moans about taxing billionaires. I checked. We have 177 of them. If we cashed them in, sold them and their families onto the Chinese organ market, we’d probably raise £653bn. (Which we wouldn’t get because most of them are only resident here and most of their money will be working abroad.)
UK government spending was £1,092.4 billion in 2020-21 and out current debt is £2.59 trillion. So cashing in our billionaires would pay off about a quarter of our debt, or perhaps scrap income tax for twelve months.
Still, even without cashing in the billionaires, we’ll probably have enough food, but prices will go up. The foodbanks are gearing up for this, the writing has been on the wall since March. So if you’re in the supermarket and pass the basket that they have for the foodbank, don’t be embarrassed to drop something into it. Everything is appreciated.  

♥♥♥♥

There again, what do I know? Speak to the experts.
Available from Amazon as a paperback or on Kindle

And in every other electronic format

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As a reviewer commented “A collection of anecdotes and observations about farming in England in the 21st century. Written by an actual farmer, this book is based on real experience and touches on a variety of subjects in a witty and engaging style. Cats, cattle, bureaucrats, workers, and the working dog all make an appearance, as do reminiscences about the old days and speculation on a possible future. This book is both entertaining and informative, a perfect diversion for the busy reader.”

Digging for Victory

One of the joys of farming is that there often isn’t a right way to do it. Two farmers will do the same thing in entirely different ways and both of them seem to work well enough.
Somethings work on one farm, with its soil types and climates, but don’t work too well on another farm. I know hill sheep farmers in Cumbria, what works on one bit of a fell won’t work on the other bit of the same fell. But still, people who obviously know better tell us how we should do it, even if their experience is reading a blog post.
One recurring comment/plan/idea that I keep coming across is that what we ought to do is get rid of farming. I saw a tweet from George Monbiot. Apparently farming is the most destructive activity to ever have blighted earth. Actually he’s right, if it wasn’t for farming, George Monbiot (and many others) would have been a short lived hunter gatherer who died in his early teens, malnourished and eaten by worms while he was living and vultures when he finally died.
But the idea appears to be that people would have a plot of land on which to grow their own food. So let us take part of the UK as an example as to how this could be done. For the blessed who don’t know it, the South East England is the third largest region of England, with an area of 19,096 km2 (7,373 sq mi). It has a total farmed area of 1,137,000 hectares or 2,809,588.acres. Now we have to remember that more than 40% of the region is covered by protective designations. All sorts of things such as Green Belt, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, there’s one National Park with talk of a second, and there are areas designated as ‘Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.’ Now obviously some of this overlaps, but about a third of the region is recognised as having ‘national quality landscapes.’ There’s all sorts. There is chalk down land, woodland, heath and clay vales. Now remember virtually all this is currently farmed to keep it as we want it. Somebody will run a few sheep over it, or a few cattle to make sure there are still rides in the woodland, or whatever the environmental managers want. But they’re not going to want thousands of people digging it up to grow vegetables on, so I think we can discount 40% of the farm land from our calculation. So this leaves us with 1,685,752 acres.
Now back in the 1970s John Jeavons and the Ecology Action Organisation found that 4000 square feet of growing space was enough land to sustain one person on a vegetarian diet for a year, with about another 4000 square feet (370 square metres) was needed for access paths and storage.  
I read a description of the typical Jeavons garden. It is densely planted with maize, wheat and millet. These provide the carbohydrates and also a lot of bulk for the compost heap. Over half the garden is given over to these crops. This is fair enough, these are the crops which will feed you.
Another third of the garden is planted to high-calorie root crops like potatoes, parsnips and turnips. These are crops which store well over winter and will produce a lot of calories in a comparatively small area. Finally you have a few small beds of vegetables, things like tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, peppers, lettuce and broccoli. Note that John Jeavons did his work in the USA, in the UK it might be important to substitute some crops, perhaps more Brussels sprouts and suchlike which also can cope with our winters.
But let us return once more to the South East. Really we have to throw in half of London as well, as the other half can travel north to their allotments.  Apparently there are nine million people living in in south east to which we have to add 4.5 million Londoners.
How much land will they need? Well traditionally in the UK, with local authorities there were 16 allotments to the acre. They were supposed to be 302.5 square yards. But Jeavons needs 740 square meters per person. This is 885 square yards. So in simple terms the new allotment is going to be the same size as 2.93 of the traditional ones. So that will be about 5.5 to the acre.
So our 1,685,752 suitable acres will produce 9,271,636 allotments where we need 13.5 million. If we just give them to adults, assuming they will feed their children, (so on your 16th birthday you’ll be put on the list for an allotment,) then probably everybody in SE England and London can have their own allotment. Admittedly there’ll be no farmland (other than a bit of environmentally managed livestock grazing,) but everybody will have their land and be fed.
Obviously it could be difficult assigning allotments at the start of the programme. You’d probably just have to start with each village and then each town, assigning land around them, and using London to fill in the gaps. But once the system is settled, when you are 16, you will be assigned the next allotment to come free in your area. Obviously some areas could fill up more quickly, but you could be issued an allotment in another area if you don’t want to wait.
Whilst I see teething problems, it’ll work really well. Obviously there will be no need for food shops. But it doesn’t matter because those who worked in them previously have their own allotments so they’re just as well off as everybody else. Indeed there’s no unemployment, as if you’re cycling thirty miles to your allotment, balancing a tub of night soil and urine on your handlebars, and then thirty miles back every day, you won’t really have time for a job anyway. So the unemployed now have the dignity of labour.
It will hit the NHS, but there again will we need one? If everybody is vegetarian and travels everywhere by bike, people are going to be screaming fit and live forever anyway. It’ll hit the funeral trade but look on the bright side, the last contribution you make to your allotment is when they bury you in it.
Now it’s entirely possible that we will need people to do administration and to keep order and provide policing (as it’s inevitable that antisocial and counterrevolutionary elements will take the easy way out by stealing from the allotments of others). The people appointed to these positions won’t need paying, after all they have an allotment. But obviously their work will eat into the time they have for tending it. To allow these large hearted people to serve the state without going hungry, it would make sense to just legislate that other citizens will work for a day on the administrator’s allotment. It’s only fair. Indeed, if the citizen has to work for two days on the allotment of one of the Servants of the People, it’s still a lower rate of tax than we pay now.
When you think about it, it would make sense for the citizen to always work on the same administrator’s allotment. Otherwise the administrator is going to spend more time explaining how she wants the allotment tended than she is going to spend on her work. It would be reasonable for citizens to be assigned permanently to her service. It makes sense to give these assigned citizens a name, they’re cultivators, so perhaps we should use a Latin term derived from that root and call them Coloni?
After all, ‘serfs’ is so triggering.

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What do I know? As the expert.

As a reviewer commented, “

This is in the same league as Herrick, absorbing you into a different world, with its trials and tribulations making a background for the occasional moment of hilarity or joy. Hats off to Jim and his ilk, putting food on our tables despite our unwillingness to pay a decent price for it. I am frequently outraged that I live in a society which is prepared to pay more for bottled water than milk, and drowns the country in plastic in the process.

Jim manages to get this across without ranting and then uses his wry sense of humour to leave you howling with laughter at a series of events that a mere townie could never have imagined. Thanks for letting me into your world Jim – I am now committed to changing my behaviour and paying the extra for local, seasonal produce.”

What will be your next career?

It was back in the 1990s, and I knew several farmers who decided just to give up their agricultural tenancies and get out of the industry. At the time they were somewhat nervous as to how they were going to make a living. After all, this wasn’t retirement. I’m not sure if any of them got out of the industry with enough to buy a house. So getting a job wasn’t something they could put off until they were in the mood.
But a couple of years later I was talking to them and they were doing pretty well. One thing they discovered was that firms hiring delivery drivers, especially firms supplying agriculture or doing rural deliveries, were preferentially hiring farmers. There were several reasons. Firstly they were, to quote the jargon, ‘self-motivating.’ They didn’t need to be chased, give them the list and they’d deliver.

Secondly they weren’t too worried about hours. After all, given a lot had been self-employed, milking cows, twice a day for over 360 days a year for twenty or thirty years, a thirty-five hour week was barely a full time job, and a boss who paid for overtime was a novelty.

Thirdly, they did the job, but often brought in trade. Retailers discovered that their farmers would mention special offers to mates still farming.  

Now it looks as if a lot of other people could be looking for jobs. A lot of tech companies are shedding staff. Facebook could be cutting numbers by 10%. Apparently Amazon has 100,000 fewer employees around the world that it did have (although given the high staff turnover in some roles that probably didn’t take much doing). Apparently Tesla is getting rid of a lot of office jobs, but is hiring factory/production workers.

Then there is the whole Cryptocurrency industry. Apparently Blockchain.com is cutting 25% of its workforce (which to be fair is only 150 people) but the rest of that industry might be descending into a death spiral.

To an extent, the cryptocurrency collapse (or not) may not be bad news. Developers in West London have been told they face a potential decade-long moratorium on any new homes because there isn’t the electricity supply. Apparently the Greater London Authority told developers the volume of electricity used by data centres had effectively taken up excess capacity in the system. It said: “Data centres use large quantities of electricity – the equivalent of towns or small cities – to power servers and ensure resilience in service.” Disposing of cryptocurrencies could help with our energy problems, estimates I have seen indicate that Bitcoin consumes electricity at an annualized rate of 127 terawatt-hours (TWh). That usage exceeds the entire annual electricity consumption of Norway. With Germany and others contemplating rationing energy, do we even need to waste energy on cryptocurrencies that the vast majority of the population would never miss?

So as the year progresses, people are going to have to make serious decisions. What temperature to set your central heating? The Energy Saving Trust recommends heating your home to between 18 to 21 degrees Celsius during winter. And The World Health Organisation (WHO) suggests 18 degrees is the ideal temperature for healthy and well-dressed people. Never having lived in a house with central heating I’d suggest you set it to stop the house freezing and heat a couple rooms. Well it works for us.

People are voting with their wallets. Sky has seen sales fall in Europe as people are just abandoning the broadcaster. Netflix lost a lot of subscribers. Diageo, the world’s largest producer of spirits, has commented that households are starting to cut back on buying alcohol in supermarkets and pubs. Indeed I’ve talked to bar staff who reckon that whilst the early evening can be a reasonable trade, by 9pm, the bar is empty and everybody has gone home except for them. These are more jobs that will be going.

Now I don’t want to think it’s all bad news, there are jobs, indeed whole industries on the horizon. I looked up a firm called Highview Power. Basically they have a scheme where you take surplus electricity from windfarms (From when we’re actually paying them not to put energy into the grid) and solar, and use it to liquefy air by cooling it. Then when you need power, you slowly allow the air to ‘boil off’ and the pressure of the air will drive a turbine. It’s a clever use of old technology. Even the idea isn’t absolutely new. At Kendoon in Scotland they had a hydroelectric plant which was powered by water held back in a reservoir. When electricity was full, they pumped water back uphill into the reservoir, and then when there was peak demand, they just allowed water back down through the plant again.

These jobs aren’t there yet, but they’re a lot close than they were before Putin finally killed long term reliance on gas when he invaded the Ukraine. Perhaps, ironically, in thirty years, they’ll look back at Putin as the one who inadvertently saved the world from global warming?

But what about jobs now? Well I saw one company offering ‘all year round work’ has been posted online one company picking and packing vegetables. They were offering a salary of up to £30-an-hour. Obviously it was piecework but for those who were good enough, it would amount to £240 for an eight-hour-day. Cutting broccoli in the fresh air is bound to be better for you than being cramped up in a windowless office mining for cryptocurrencies.

♥♥♥♥

There again, what do I know? Speak to the experts
From Amazon as paperback or on Kindle.

Or from everybody else as an ebook from

https://books2read.com/u/bwooxP

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.”

Don’t try this at home

Sri Lanka has been the victim of a government organised experiment. In April 2021, the government imposed a nationwide ban on the importation and use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and ordering the country’s 2 million farmers to go organic. It may well be that this wasn’t so much ideological as a desperate attempt to keep money in the country. It backfired.

Sri Lanka is normally self-sufficient in rice, but production fell by between forty and fifty percent, which meant the country had to import 300,000 metric tonnes of rice in the first three months of 2021. This can be compared with the 14,000 metric tonnes Sir Lanka imported in 2020.

Other crops have also suffered, tea exports fell by half, which cut off a major source of national income, and the increase in pests and diseases has meant that a lot of farmers are no longer even trying to farm commercially. They’re just trying to produce enough to get their own families through from one harvest to the next. Look, these people are the professionals. They know how to farm. They farm on a knife edge anyway, so they won’t spend money on stuff they don’t need.

So they have food price inflation running at over thirty percent. Aljazeera quoted Jeewika Weerahewa, professor of agriculture at the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka. “Food availability is at a crossroads and food accessibility is at a crossroads. Describing Sri Lanka’s food crisis as “a man-made disaster,” she said the country will have “serious problems with respect to childhood malnourishment and malnutrition among pregnant women and lactating mothers”.

One major problem is that whilst government has apparently removed the ban, the farmers they rely on are small farmers who don’t have any savings. After all they’ve just tried to farm through a disastrous year where yields collapsed. Given the way world fertiliser prices have risen, they cannot afford to buy fertilisers now anyway and they’re struggling to keep up loan repayments and to pay for their children’s education.

In the UK, 2.8% of the land area is farmed organically. Depending on how you measure it (value, volume or whatever) about 1% of food sold in the UK is organic. (The figure is difficult to quantify because some food may effectively be produced organically but nobody wants the expense of registering, for no financial gain) Some things, like lamb produced on the hills, is probably as organic as certified organic lamb. After all, the organic and conventional producers will often use the same wormers and medicines, but the organic producer will have more paperwork and has to pay whoever certifies their produce.

But in the west, the whole organic food business is endlessly fascinating.

The value of all food sold in the UK in 2020 was £205 billion  

The value of all organic food sold in the UK in 2020 was £2.6 billion.

This fits nicely with our figure of 1% of food sold in the UK being organic.

Look at this graph from https://www.statista.com/statistics/1085286/organic-food-purchase-in-uk/

More than 18% of the population claim that over 50% of the food in their shopping basket is organic.
Somebody, somewhere is not being honest with themselves.

Look, it doesn’t matter. We can afford it. People are allowed their little foibles, their little luxuries. When it matters is when somebody’s little foibles become government policy and reduce a country of poverty and collapse.

♥♥♥♥

There again, what do I know? Put it to the expert.

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.”

I’m not sure people realise how bad it gets, the joys of rubbish rural broadband

It all started innocently enough. Suddenly I could not download my emails.

Now you might wonder why I should want to. Simple, rubbish broadband. If I use client like Outlook I can still read my emails when I have no broadband, (like now, when we have a power cut so of course the router doesn’t work.) Not only that but if somebody has sent me a particularly large email, Outlook goes out and collects my emails at ten minute intervals anyway. With our broadband, downloading an email with a lot of attachments is a bit like watching an python swallowing a goat. You can see the bulge inching its way along the wire down to my computer!

Well with Outlook this can happen in its own time, I’m not kicking my heels waiting for it to happen.

Anyway it stopped happening. I couldn’t download my email. Yes they were all there on the website, but they weren’t coming down the pipe to me. So what was going on? I switched my machine off and back on again. Still didn’t work. So I phoned BT. They diagnosed the problem, I was using Outlook 2013. Microsoft no longer supports it. This means the antivirus stuff is no longer up-to-date which means it doesn’t know the current correct funny handshake it needs to talk to my ISP.I would have to upgrade, download the next version.

Did I mention our rubbish broadband? In simple terms, when your broadband runs at 3 Mbps and drops out occasionally you do not try and download new software. When I got a new printer, I had to download printer drivers. The lass on the HP help didn’t believe her eyes when it said it would take 45 minutes to download. In reality it took longer but we were lucky and it did manage it.

So there was no way I could download a new version of Outlook, it would not only take so long, but if it broke off half way through I might not only have to start again, but sometimes you have to disentangle the now damaged half version that you’ve got.

So I had to take it to a shop where they’d download a version for me. While they got it, they’d clean it etc. (Old farm house, no central heating, open coal fire, not a computer friendly environment.)

But it is the same every time I get a computer. In the good old days I’d ask for it to be loaded with Microsoft office and a pdf reader. That did me, and the computer would arrive with everything installed ready to just switch on and go. Now, it comes with the operating system, useless apps I’ll never use, paint and notepad. (So I’m writing this in notepad on a borrowed laptop.)

So the computer had to go back to the shop whilst they found a way of installing office for me. The rule is simple, no office, no sale. (Yes, I know there are cheaper versions, doubtless equally good, and if you can tell me somewhere handy where I can take them in to get them installed, I’m happy to try, but don’t say, “But you can just download them free of the net.”)

People have suggested that I do it on my phone. The issue here is coverage. My phone is on pay as you go, and so far this year (end of June) has cost me about £2. The landline works fine for phone calls, just rubbish for broadband. When I’m out working I rarely want to phone anybody, anyway. And to be honest when I’m working I’m not all that keen on being disturbed by phone calls. Standing in the middle of a field, in the rain, surrounded by dairy heifers, isn’t a good time to talk on the phone. But I thought I’d try my phone using the house Wi-Fi.

Have you ever used a ‘smart phone’ working with 3 Mbps Wi-Fi? Continents drift gaily past you. Still I persevered. My daughter has given me a couple of those rubber ended pen things you can use to press the screen so I have a sporting chance of getting the letter I want. Armed with that and wearing my reading glasses I set to work. I decided to go to facebook first because a lot of people contact me via messenger. I remembered my password, logged (slowly, oh so slowly) onto facebook only for them to tell me that as I was logging in from a new device, they’d send me a pin to enter. They did, by text to my phone. The same phone that I was using at the time.

By the time I’d got out of the browser, opened the text, noted down the number, and opened the browser (all at 3 Mbps) the facebook page had gone and I had to start again. Which of course meant that the number they sent me was no longer current and I had to ask for a new number. At that point I abandoned the process.

I mentioned that I was on a borrowed laptop. During the day there was a Test Match. My lady wife has the BBC scrolling commentary on as she’s working. When I was using this laptop, our Wi-Fi, with two of us using it, dropped to 0.38 Mbps. At that speed, she could no longer watch the little video clips the BBC include, as they just never stopped buffering.

And now there is a risk that the Inland Revenue want us to submit tax online. Now we have no accounting software. I know, you can get accounting software, “Just download it from the Web,” but she prefers to work on paper and I also hate scrolling endlessly across spreadsheets.

But obviously we’d have to somehow acquire the software, at a cost, and pay for the inevitable updates. I’m looking to start a denomination that finds dealing with government electronically heretical and offensive, and we’ll revert to paying them in cash.

Oh yes, and just to put a tin hat on it all, I left my desktop machine at the shop. They cleaned it and then phoned me to come in to do passwords and stuff as software was upgraded. So they hooked my machine up to their Wi-Fi (I bet that made it dizzy!) and I opened Outlook to start the process.

When you open Outlook the first thing it does is to go can collect my emails. It did, right there in the shop and it downloaded them. I looked at the chap in the shop and he just shrugged. “Nothing wrong with Outlook, it’s just that your broadband is so rubbish there are times when it cannot even download your emails.”
Back in the day we used to get dialup. It was cheaper, slower, but could at least download email.

♥♥♥♥

There again, what do I know, talk to the expert !

As a reviewer commented, “

This is a delightful collection of gentle rants and witty reminiscences about life in a quiet corner of South Cumbria. Lots of sheep, cattle and collie dogs, but also wisdom, poetic insight, and humour. It was James Herriot who told us that ‘It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet’ but Jim Webster beautifully demonstrates that it usually happened to the farmer too, but far less money changed hands.

I, for one, am hoping that this short collection of blogs finds a wide and generous audience – not least because I’m sure there’s more where this came from. And at 99p you can’t go wrong!”

Never let a good crisis go to waste

Harvesting chickpeas in Myanmar

Apparently it was Machiavelli who said (almost certainly in Italian) “Never waste the opportunity offered by a good crisis.” Churchill followed him by saying “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” Obviously their advice is being followed.

I just read that the government will unveil a new food strategy ‘and tell farmers to produce more fruit and vegetables in the wake of record inflation.’

Not only that but government is going to call for changes to make it easier to turn land into farms, make poultry workers eligible for seasonal migrant jobs and propose that schools, prisons and hospitals offer vegan options.

Some people haven’t got a clue. If UK farmers could make money out of producing fruit and vegetables, they’d already be producing fruit and vegetables. But now, in the wake of record inflation, they’re not only expected to produce them, but produce them cheaply to keep prices down. Answers on a postcard please, why is this not going to happen?

But given that only weeks ago the policy was to turn farmland into forestry, perhaps the ‘oil tanker’ of government policy, which has regarded farming as expendable since the 1980s, is at last turning round?
But I do love the way the whole vegan experience has leapt onto the bandwagon.
I went on the BBC website for some vegan recipes for people in schools, prisons and hospitals.
Falafel burgers; – basic ingredients chickpeas, not grown in this country but most come from India, Australia, Myanmar, Pakistan, and Turkey. Strikes me as some of these countries would be better off eating their own produce rather than producing cash crops to export of the wealthy west.

Vegan chili; – containing sweet potatoes, (somebody did manage to produce a crop commercially in the UK, but effectively they’re all imported from the US, Egypt, Vietnam and Spain) a can of black beans (There are trials going on to see if there are varieties that can be grown in the UK but they’re largely exported by India, Myanmar, Brazil and the USA) and a can of red kidney beans. (Again the main exporters are Thailand, Brazil, South Africa, Ukraine, and Papua New Guinea. These beans probably like a warmer climate than we can manage.)

Finally (because I’m just doing the first three) Spiced aubergine bake.

Of course the aubergines are largely imported as commercial production in the UK is under plastic and may involve some heat, (so don’t look for an expansion of UK production any time soon) whilst I suspect that you will search for a long time to find the UK coconut plantations to provide you with the coconut milk.

So we have a war, a food and an energy crisis, and a vocal minority have convinced government this can be tackled by importing expensive food from abroad.

But to be fair they’re not the only ones taking advantage of a good crisis. I know somebody who had to take a family member to hospital. Of course they were not allowed in A&E with them. So an elderly, injured and vulnerable person was separated from anybody they knew. The person they most wanted with them was left outside in the carpark. At night. In the dark. But this lady left on her own in the carpark couldn’t just go home, she had to wait there so the hospital could tell her to come and take the elderly person home. Perhaps. In their own sweet time.

And at 3am, after six or seven hours, alone in her car on a dark carpark, she could finally take the person home.
Why?
Come on, why?
What on earth is the epidemiological reasoning behind this? I could see it if hospital staff led closeted lives, not mixing with anybody and keeping themselves in a bubble. But I know hospital staff. They go home to their families, they kiss their children good night even through the children mix with everybody else at school. For all I know they might even condescend to kiss their partners. They go into shops (unmasked and with no PPE) and they are even seen in public houses and other places of entertainment. So if doing these things is so dangerous, why on earth are they allowed into hospital? They’ve every bit as potentially infectious as the rest of us.
The sneaking suspicion is that it’s no longer epidemiological, it’s just we’re a damned nuisance and if they can discourage us from going in, it makes life easier for them. Especially if there’s nobody with sharp elbows asking why they haven’t done their job properly.

And we’ve seen other people using the crisis. I think that government has had a lot less trouble pushing forward nuclear than it would have had. In this case events have concentrated minds. Similarly others have grasped the opportunity to push forward with electric cars, which are starting to look more economic.

But I confess I do wonder. Electric cars will not work for a lot of people who currently run a car. They are fine if you have a nice house with a drive and even a garage. You can back your car into the garage overnight and charge it at the cheapest times in perfect security. If you live in a flat are you going to have to dangle your expensive and anonymous copper cable out of the window and across the carpark to your car?

Or perhaps that brief window of human existence when perfectly ordinary people had the opportunity to just go anywhere they wanted, at a whim, without worrying about timetables and suchlike, is drawing to a close?

And a final thought, people are trapped between high energy prices, high food prices and high housing costs. In all candour, government can do very little about food costs. They could cut fuel duty, but again, most of our energy is imported to they can do very little about energy costs. But housing costs is something they might be able to tackle. After all, we don’t ‘import it’.
There’s already talk about increasing taxes on second homes. I suspect that will go down well enough with voters.

But what about capping rents. Limiting them to a maximum of £x per square meter (or yard or whatever) so that, for example, a three bedroomed house was no more than £650 a month. Combined with regular inspections to make sure they were fit for habitation. Yes there would be howls from buy to let landlords but the answer to them need only be, “Well you can always sell up.” I suspect the releasing of housing onto the market would bring prices down with a bang. Electorally this could play well for the government that brought it in. Far too much money in this country goes into housing as it is. It’s warping the economy. Perhaps we shouldn’t let a good crisis go to waste?

♥♥♥♥

There again, what do I know. Ask an expert.

 

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.

Cognitive Dissonance and keeping people fed.

Don’t you know there is a war on? What does it take to get people to take things seriously? Do we need Chief Warden Hodges from Dad’s Army storming round Brussels shouting ‘Put that Light Out’?

There is a problem with people. They will continue to believe things even when they’re obviously not true. As an example of this, YouGov do a daily chat, they email it to tens of thousands of people. They will ask various questions on the subject chosen for today, but the fascinating part is that you see the number of people who have agreed with which answer.

So when they asked what precautions people were taking against covid, I took a screenshot of the answer. 47% of people said they were wearing a facemask. I have to ask where? In the comfort and safety of their own home? When they’re in bed? Because they’re certainly not wearing it outside. In the last fortnight I’ve travelled on mainline railways, the London under and over ground, I’ve been in shops and meetings all over the place. People wearing masks form, I would guess, no more than 1% of the population. So why on earth are people ticking the box saying they still wear a mask?

Is it they want the smug glow of being a caring and concerned person who thinks of others, without actually having to go to the effort of being a caring and concerned person who thinks about others? Note at this point I’m not saying do or don’t wear a mask. That is entirely up to the individual and I’m not going to point the finger or mock somebody’s decision on this topic whatever they decide. I just want to know why such a large proportion of the population who obviously don’t wear masks, claim they still do?

But this morning on the radio I heard an even more ridiculous example of an inability to accept the real world. Anybody who has been part of the EU will know that its bureaucracy can take years to catch up with reality. But the Ukrainian war has thrown this into high relief. Ignoring foot dragging by the leaders of wealthy countries who’re so in hock to Russian gas it’s an embarrassment to their citizens, just look at the borders.

In the UK we’re arguing about the Northern Ireland Protocol and the EU is threatening trade wars and all sorts of things. But on the Rumanian frontier with Ukraine, a country they’re trying to help, farmers are trying to get Ukrainian grain out of the Ukraine. This is vital, it is almost ridiculously important, people will starve without that grain. More power to their elbow. Yet the EU is doing the equivalent of standing outside your house and clapping ineffectually.

One farmer has taken four loads (at 25 tons a load) across the border. The queue to get out of the Ukraine with your grain is 20km, the queue to get back into the Ukraine is 15km. He could spend six days in the queue. On the fourth trip, Rumanian customs demanded paperwork that hadn’t been needed on the first three trips.

A picture taken by a Ukrainian farmer of the queue he was stuck in.

The Ukrainian farmers are running out of money, they’re running out of fuel. The EU is managing to do what even Putin couldn’t manage.

And anyway, what sort of utter muppet creates a 20km queue in a war zone where the Russians are targeting civilian infrastructure? How many dead do the EU want? Perhaps if senior bureaucrats were forced to ride in the wagon caps, things might move faster?

♥♥♥♥

What do I know, talk to an expert.

As a reviewer commented, “This is the third collection of farmer Jim Webster’s anecdotes about his sheep, cattle and dogs. This one had added information on the Lake District’s World Heritage status. This largely depends upon the work of around 200 small family farms. Small may not always be beautiful but it can be jolly important. If you want to know the different skills needed by a sheep dog and a cow dog, or to hear tales of some of the old time travelling sales persons – read on! This is real life, Jim, but not as I know it.”