Category Archives: Uncategorized

Rural Homelessness


It said the number of people sleeping rough in barns, outhouses and parked cars in rural areas had risen by up to 32% between 2010 and 2016. It is a problem but it’s a relatively well hidden problem.

To a certain extent there has always been an issue. I have family and friends of my own age who started their married lives in a caravan tucked round the back of the family farm. The newlyweds had a bedroom and kitchen of their own and if they wanted to do anything so exotic as to wash or go to the toilet, then they’d have to go into the house.

It was just one of those things. Working in agriculture you were stuck in a low wage economy and because your home and workplace was in the countryside, you were stuck in a high house-price area. Eventually if the family owned the farm, you’d try to get permission to build a house. For a tenant farmer, that was never an option, no landlord could afford to build a house and not get a commercial rent for it. That, almost by definition put it out of reach of rural employee. I know of farms now where they have seriously big static caravans for employees. Full planning permission, mains electricity and plumbing, but still caravans. Fine if you’re young and single. It’s just that there is no accommodation at all in the area for the sort of money a farm worker could afford. I asked one farmer whether he had thought of building houses for staff. His comment was that if he could afford to build that many houses, he’d be better off abandoning farming and just live by running holiday lets.

Nowadays things are tougher than they were when I was in my teens and twenties. Agricultural incomes have not kept pace with inflation, whilst house prices have rocketed. Indeed in rural areas you get the double hit. Not only are the houses more expensive, there are fewer of them because so many are now second homes or holiday lets.

So the rural housing crisis is largely hidden. Some go through the expensive planning process to get permission for a ‘permanent’ caravan. Others just stick their cheap second-hand (or do we call them pre-loved now?) caravan in a barn and hope nobody notices.

In urban areas, family breakdown, unemployment and mental health problems are among the major causes of homelessness. In rural areas the same problems exist. To be honest, the offspring of farming families are comparatively well supported within the family unit. Indeed it has been estimated that over seventy percent of rural homeless people have been supported and accommodated almost entirely by their extended family. In urban areas this drops to about fifteen percent. But then not many council houses have the room to hide a caravan.

A lot of rural rough-sleeping consists of people sleeping in their car. Because of the impossibility of getting to anywhere rural by public transport, your car is perhaps more important than your home. If you have a home but no car, you’ll have no job and soon you’ll have no home. If you have a car, you can continue to hold down you job and then you have a hope of getting a home.

Then you have those who do sleep rough. Nobody really has any idea how many there are. In towns they do night-time surveys and make estimates. In rural areas this isn’t so easy. To quote one report, “It is harder for these services to operate in rural areas given the large distances between residential areas, absence of ‘street’ lighting, and tendency for rough sleepers to stay outside village centres. Remoteness can also create safety concerns for outreach staff. They may be required to go into badly lit environments with difficult terrain (for example, coastal areas, caves and woods), with limited mobile phone reception and far away from other homes and services.” This is from ‘Right to home? Rethinking homelessness in rural communities.’  It’s published by the Institute for Public Policy Research. The safety of staff is a genuine issue. The safety of rough-sleepers apparently less so.

Indeed the lack of transport is a serious problem in rural areas. Somebody with mental health (or even just health) issues is going to struggle to get to any of the centres where they can get help. Even just attending an interview with your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau can take an entire day. Before anybody talks about Skype interviews or similar, remember this is a rural area. If the person is homeless they haven’t got a computer, and as it’s rural their mobile reception could be distinctly iffy.

Rural public transport has broken down to a level where some CABs will pay for taxis to get those of their clients living in rural areas to court. That’s to stop them getting into serious trouble with the magistrates for turning up late and missing their hearing. I came across the case of one young man who had to attend a court hearing. He arrived at 11am for a 10am hearing. The magistrate had already put out a warrant for his arrest. To be fair to the police, when he arrived they just fitted him into the next gap in the schedule and the magistrate lambasted him for not being on time. He apologised but explained that he’d had to walk twenty-two miles to get there. He’d set off at four in the morning but had discovered the hard way that you cannot walk at four miles per hour indefinitely. The lady magistrate then pointed out that he was only been called in for a strong warning. She felt that he’d already had that. So she told the police to drive him home.


There again, what do I know? I recommend that you take it up with an expert

As a reviewer commented, “This is a selection of anecdotes about life as a farmer in Cumbria. The writer grew up on his farm, and generations of his family before him farmed the land. You develop a real feeling for the land you are hefted to and this comes across in these stories. We hear of the cattle, the sheep, his succession of working dogs, the weather and the neighbours, in an amusing and chatty style as the snippets of Jim Webster’s countryman’s wisdom fall gently. I love this collection.”



The price of everything

In this household we’re not big on chucking things out. Somehow all those TV programmes about decluttering have passed us by. Perhaps we ought to get a TV so we can watch them? There again, I’m not sure where we’d put it.

Still it can be fascinating what you find. We found a list of prices for food purchased back in 1971. It wasn’t a shopping list or anything, it was something somebody had cut out of a newspaper. They probably thought it would be interesting to read in a few years’ time and they were right.

So what I did was get some more prices, 2018 prices this time, because that’s when I did the exercise. I had a talk to give or something and thought it would be a useful illustration. But I didn’t just compare the prices, I looked at the rate of inflation in the intervening years and worked out the price the item should have been, if the price had ‘stayed the same allowing for inflation.’

So if we take a large wrapped loaf, it was £0.10 back in 1971. Allowing for inflation it should now be £1.47 but was only £1.05. So effectively it was only 71% of the price it ‘should be.’

After all, if the price has fallen relative to what it used to be you can be sure that somebody, almost certainly the producer, is getting a lower return for producing it.



You can immediately see the trends. Those sectors of farming which have ‘become more efficient,’ or who have ‘worked closely with their retain partners’ are the ones who have been comprehensively screwed over. The price of pork is between a third and a fifth of what it should be. When you look round, the small pig producers have long disappeared, the industry is now composed of a comparatively small number of very large (and efficient) concerns who are pushing the frontiers of automation.

One thing that did interest me was that frozen chicken has only dropped to 69% of its proper value. I thought it would be lower. But then I remembered that unlike pork producers who are trapped in a long cycle, chicken producers work on a very short cycle. All the birds in a shed will go, the shed with be sterilised and filled with new birds. Depending upon the weight the buyer (normally the retailer) wants, the birds can be ready in ten weeks. The problem for the retailers is that they overplayed their hand. They pushed the price down and down until the producers just didn’t put any more birds in the sheds. What’s the point of buying them to lose money on them? So now a lot will not buy birds until they have a contracted price to sell them at. And there are so few companies doing this, they’re big enough to be able to afford legal teams who can keep even major supermarkets reasonably honest.


The price of dairy products is interesting. Cheese and butter are manufactured products. Once you’ve made them you can sell them anywhere in the world. You are not dependent on the UK retailer. But with the liquid milk market, the supermarkets set out to dominate it. They’ve driven the price down so that in in 1974, 94% of milk was delivered to the doorstep, now it is less than 11 per cent.  The results are obvious, butter and cheese have held their prices, and the price of liquid milk has collapsed.

It’s the same with beef and lamb. It’s not that they’re expensive, it’s just that they haven’t suffered the price collapse of other meats. When you buy them, you spend the same proportion of your income on them as your parents did back in their day.


So there you have it. If you want to know why the environment has changed, or what farming isn’t the same as it used to be, just look at the figures.


Look on the bright side, now you can afford to buy a book for less than the price of a coffee to read with it!


As a reviewer commented, “Webster is the best new fantasy writer in 20 years. His series has realistic characters, interesting and rapidly evolving plots and wit. He also displays an exceptional knowledge of ancient warfare, farming, sleazy lawyers, dodgy accountants, field and kitchen cookery and and even of high fashion houses! His female characters are the sort of girls both you and your wife would enjoy meeting.. I have all his books and will buy all his future books as soon as I hear they are out.”

Set your hand to the plough



I have to start this by stating that I’m not a ploughman. Like a lot of livestock farmers I can get nervous if I see the ground, ‘brown side up.’ But every so often a grass ley will been renewing. So every so often we’ll plough. At the age of sixteen I learned to plough on a tractor with no cab, pulling a three furrow plough. My father learned to plough walking behind a horse.

The black and white photo was taken during the war but frankly the technology hadn’t improved much at our level in the following twenty-five years.

Ploughing with horses was hard work. Not only did you have to walk all that distance, you also had to wrestle the plough as you did so. If the plough started biting too deeply, you had to press down and bring the front end up a little to keep it level. If on the other hand, the plough was starting to come out of the ground, you had to lift the back end up to get the point of the plough share back into the ground again. At the same time you’d be shifting your weight on the two handles to make sure that the share went straight, left or right, depending on what you wanted it to do. Whilst the horse might be pulling, you were steering. And at the same time, you’ve got to keep the horse going in the right direction! Luckily the horse probably knew what to do.

This is the advantage a horse has over a tractor. The tractor doesn’t care and hasn’t a clue. But in reality you set the plough up so that your right-hand-side front wheel drops into the bottom of the previous furrow. So gentle pressure on the steering wheel (often from your knee) should keep it there. The rest of the time you’re looking behind you. The old horseman’s technique of using his weight or muscle on the handles has been replaced by frantically twisting wheels and turning handles to make sure the plough keeps running straight and level.

Getting a plough set up properly involves a lot of skill. I know men round here who before they went ploughing would take the tractor and plough and drive down to the beach. There they would spend half an hour ploughing the sand. This had three advantages.

Firstly the sand polished your plough shares and mould boards so that when you ploughed ‘for real’ the soil would run smoothly over them.

Secondly it gave you a chance to get the plough set up properly on a piece of level ground.

And finally the tide would come in and eliminate all evidence of the total bog you made of it whilst you struggled to get everything set up properly.
But once a plough is set up properly for the ground and the tractor, it’s amazing how much easier it makes doing a good job. I remember hearing a chap talk who’d been on a visit to one of the big state run farms in the Soviet Union. There was a party of them and one of them was a ploughman. They watched this Russian ploughing, using a big nine furrow plough. The problem was he was making a mess of it, and didn’t seem to know how to do it. Eventually the ploughman snapped. He walked out in front of the tractor, flagged it down and started setting up the plough. Then he rode with him a couple of times up the field to show him what to do. When he got off the Russian did a couple more runs up and down the field, then he got off and hugged the ploughman, because nobody had ever shown him how to do it properly.

Still ploughing could be awfully cold work. A lot of ploughing was done during February, and you were effectively sitting, relatively motionless, exposed entirely to the elements. At least when you followed the horse you could stamp your feet to keep warm. Somewhere I still have my late father’s ploughing coat. It was a really good, high quality heavy coat which he’d picked up from a van salesmen for a few shillings because it had left the factory with no buttonholes. That didn’t matter, just throw it on over everything else and tie it round the middle with a piece of baler twine and you’re ready for everything February can throw at you. I can see why so many of them would smoke a pipe. It probably gave you a comforting illusion of warmth.

As a side issue, it’s obvious that Christ was a horse ploughman. As he said, “And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God”. The man ploughing with the horse doesn’t look back. All his concentration is on the job happening directly in front of him. The man ploughing by tractor on the other hand, is always looking back, concentrating on what’s happening immediately behind him.

But ploughing isn’t the end of it. Once you’ve got the ground ‘brown side up’ you then have to work up a tilth that a seed can grow in. Even in the 1980s and 1990s, when we would hire somebody with a four furrow reversible plough to do the ploughing (Because they were almost infinitely faster) I’d still do the next phase.

First you’d go over the field with a set of disc harrows.

disk-harrow-250x250These slice the ground up and break up the sods. Then you do the field again, but at ninety degrees to the direction you did it first time. Finally we’d do it a third time, at forty-five degrees to the way you did it last. Finally we’d follow that with a set of spike harrows. These would both create a fine tilth and also they’d help level things up a bit.

After that you’d sow the seed and then roll it.

Now you can follow the plough with a combination seed drill and power harrow. Instead of covering the field seven times, you now need do it three times. Plough, power harrow and drill, and roller. The amount of fuel and labour saved is genuinely impressive!


The saving in fuel means that you’re releasing less fossil fuel derived CO2 into the atmosphere, and the amount of labour saved means that somebody else can have a well-paid job where they commute into the city and work in an air-conditioned or centrally headed office where they can worry about climate change.


Never mind, I’ve got something to take your mind of things.

More of the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. Not only have we got Gentlemen behaving badly, we see Port Naain by starlight and meet ladies of wit and discernment. There are Philosophical societies, amateur dramatics, the modern woman, revenge, and the advantages of a good education. All human life is here, or at least such of it as Tallis will admit to.

We continue to explore the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. In this invaluable publication Tallis Steelyard discusses the ways in which a writer can bring their work to the attention of the masses and more importantly, sell the book to them. As well as this, we have the importance of getting home under your own steam, music and decorum, brass knuckles for a lady, and of course, a few simple spices.
Surely this is the one essential book that every aspiring novelist should both purchase and study.


Making tracks

military-tanks-plow-land-1914-footage-085893004_prevstill (1)

Not long ago, on the anniversary of D-Day, somebody drew my attention to a photo of one of the beaches. A couple of people were discussing it. I was brought into the conversation because in the photo was an armoured tractor, landed to help pull stuff up the beach, or just to get it out of the way.

As an aside, the mate who brought the picture to my attention and sort of provoked this blog was Will Macmillan Jones. If you enjoy space opera, then you’ll probably enjoy his Space Scout series.


Now I was born not all that long after the Second World War. Not only that but I’ve lived all my life on farms and farmers are notorious at not throwing anything out. I remember we used to have a British Steel Helmet, of First World War vintage, which was used to keep nails and bolts in.

On other farms they had a SMLE tucked behind a beam in a hay loft. The SMLE is the Short, Magazine Lee–Enfield, the standard military rifle for two world wars. Whether the home guard never got round to handing them back, or it ended up in the farmer’s hands through other, doubtless nefarious means, the rifle did sterling work shooting foxes; and occasionally rabbits for the pot. Eventually the small stockpile of ammunition was used up, or the rifle got put back in the wrong place and forgotten.

All sorts of stuff ended up on farms. Clothing for example. The army had a serge lined leather jerkin. It was probably developed for the trenches, keeping you as warm as a greatcoat without trailing in the mud. That sort of thing makes it equally valuable on farms and I can remember seeing men wearing them, some from their time in the army in the First World War.

WWI Arifacts


And of course there was the machinery. The war was when agriculture in the UK finally turned from the horse to the tractor. Driven by a shortage of men, (and probably horses) because the men had been taken into the army, the end of the war didn’t mean the process stopped. Few men who left the army on demobilisation wanted to go back to farm work. There were jobs in town which paid better, for fewer hours. So mechanisation continued apace.

One of the ironies was that it was the horsemen who were promoted to being tractor drivers. Given that horsemen were often the least mechanically minded people on a farm, this didn’t always work as well as it might have done. But the horse was replaced by the tractor and the horseman had to change. So they did. But I can remember my father’s generation reminiscing about horses they’d worked with thirty or more years ago.

Still tractors were in short supply. Industry had been switched over to tank production, and a lot of civilian tractors had to be imported from the USA. Where was the money to come from?
So farmers being farmers, we just used what was out there. Not just in the UK but all over the world, farmers picked up what was left lying about. And frankly there were an awful lot of tanks out there that nobody had a use for any more. This picture is of an American built M22 Locust light tank. I guess that the picture is taken in the US but I’m only guessing.

M22 locust

But in Australia they also needed the power of the tank. Here is a British build Matilda II tank, converted to be a bulldozer for clearing scrub, so they could bring land into cultivation.

converted Matilda 2 in Australia


From the UK I found this video. A Sherman tank, knocked out at El Alamein, was shipped back to Britain. The armour and armament was stripped off and it was put to work.


Apparently they did it with First World War tanks as well. Personally I have my doubts as to how effective they would be, they were notoriously mechanically unreliable. On the other hand they would be travelling across level ground and wouldn’t be overloaded with crew and ammunition so perhaps they were OK


I remember hearing a farmer who was doing up a Sherman tank. He was born well after the war, so didn’t see the tanks in action. But in one of their big arable fields there was a bit of a bump that was a nuisance when they were ploughing. So he went in with the digger to level it. He was doing it properly. Put the topsoil to one side first. Dig out the subsoil and put the topsoil back, so it’s level and you’ve still got topsoil on top.

Except he’d not got down to level when he hit something metal. At about that time his father wandered out to see what he was up to. Dad explained that it had always been a hole and a damned nuisance. After the war they’d bought two cheap Sherman tanks (with armour and armament still on them) and had used them to plough for a year or two until they couldn’t keep them running. So they drove them both into the hole and covered it up.

So the son dug them both out and looked at them as they sat there. But as his father pointed out, this left a hole that would be a damned nuisance. So they kept the one that was in best condition, pushed the other back into the hole, and it levelled up beautifully.


There again, there are still some jobs you get left with where armoured support might come in handy,


As a reviewer commented, “I always enjoy Jim’s farming stories, as he has a way of telling a tale that is entertaining but informative at the same time. I’ve learned a lot about sheep while reading this book, and always wondered how on earth a sheepdog learns to do what it does – but I know now that a new dog will learn from an old one. There were a few chuckles too, particularly at how Jim dealt with unwanted salespeople. There were a couple of shocks regarding how the price of cattle has decreased over the years, and also sadly how the number of UK dairy farms has dropped from 196,000 in 1950 to about 10,000 now.
Jim has spent his whole life farming and has acquired a wealth of knowledge, some of which he shares in this delightful book.”

Yeah well, I speak English


One of the problems I have is that I am a native English speaker. I unaffectedly speak the language like a native. This isn’t an entirely good thing. Many years ago I was youth hostelling around the Outer Hebrides and came across a German lad of my own age. In his penultimate school year, he and his parents had discussed the idea of him attending a summer school in England. The idea was that he would both learn English, and ideally learn some geology, because that was one of his interests.

So they looked for summer schools and discovered that Aberystwyth University had something very suitable. Now his mother was no fool. She knew that Aberystwyth (is it wrong that I’m inordinately proud of being able to spell that correctly without having to look it up.) was in Wales. So she phoned them to discuss the matter. The staff could understand her concerns and assured her that not only would the course be taught in English, but at the summer school most of the students would also be English.

So she booked her son on the course then and there, and that summer he travelled to Aberystwyth to learn geology and to brush up his English. Apparently the course was a good one, he had a whale of a time. One small fly in the ointment was that it seemed that virtually everybody else on the course was from Liverpool. So when I met him I could vouch for the fact he spoke perfect, colloquial English, with a broad scouse accent.

His accent was so bad, (or so good, depending on how you look at it) that when he sat his final exams and had to do the ‘spoken English’ section of his English exam, his German born examiners struggled to understand him. They appear to have wondered whether he was actually bluffing, and couldn’t speak English at all. So they called in an Englishman who was in the city teaching English as a foreign language. He did the verbal part of the exam. After the exam was finished the other masters asked the English chap whether their pupil could speak English. He answered, “Absolutely, he speaks it like a native. Poor sod.”

When I was in my mid-twenties I went with a couple of friends to our local auction mart. One of the friends was from the deep south of the UK, the other was from Leeds. I had a calf to sell and an older farmer from ‘further up,’ came across and asked me about it. To be fair he was a bit broad, and as I talked to him I dropped more and more into dialect. Eventually he’d learned everything he wanted to know and he wandered off. My mate from Leeds commented, “I couldn’t understand him and could just about understand you.” My mate from down south just muttered something about, “Sorry but what language was that.”

About ten years ago I was at a big celebratory church service held in Wales. One of the hymns they wanted to sing was Cwm Rhondda. (Yes technically that’s the name of the tune, the words, in English, are ‘Guide me oh thou Great Jehovah’.) Obviously because of the need to follow the tune and make sense, the English and Welsh versions aren’t entirely faithful translations of each other. That’s fair enough. Also fair enough was the fact that as the Church was in Wales, the organisers were Welsh and at least a proportion of those attending were Welsh, they wanted to sing this hymn in Welsh.

One minor problem is that not even all the Welsh spoke Welsh, but at least they could be relied upon to make a decent stab of the words when they had them written down in front of them. The main issue was what do you do for the English? Well somebody have come up with the bright idea of writing down the Welsh hymn in phonetic English. So if an English person just sang what was written, it would sound close to the Welsh. You know what they say, “Good enough for Government work anyway.”

This was explained to us by the preacher, and as the organ struck up, we psyched ourselves up to sing a string of gibberish syllables. It was as we sang that I noticed an unforeseen issue. What I, and other northerners around me, was singing didn’t sound an awful lot like what some of the other English people were singing, never mind what the Welsh were singing.

Still we’d tried.

On the other hand if I cannot tackle Welsh, how would I be with Zulu? There is a hymn which has come from Southern Africa, Siyahamba. In English the words are, “We are marching to the light of God.” I am assured that in the original Zulu this is “Siyahamb’ ekukhanyeni kwenkos.”

In a desperate attempt to do something with our pronunciation we were told to sing, “Sear a hamster in a white wine sauce.”

I don’t know whether there is a vegetarian option available or not.


There again what do I know? Read the man who knows what is what!


As a reviewer commented, “Jim Webster’s sly wit and broad understanding of human nature makes his work deliciously appealing. The adventures of Tallis Steelyard, and the characters who inhabit his world, are particularly delightful. Tallis and his creator both have a dry, wry and wonderfully playful perspective, and while the tales may seem like a bit-of-fluff entertainment initially, the aftertaste is that of rich wisdom shared with a wink.”




Can you see the woods?


Looking round, we’re not doing so badly. I’m comparing things to when I was fourteen or fifteen. I can remember seeing my first buzzard. I had to go up to the Inner Hebrides to do it, and we watched it for about twenty minutes. That was as long as it was in sight. Now we’ve got one which will perch on the telegraph pole at the top of the lane, and I see them most weeks.

It’s the same with owls. On Sunday night an owl hit the office window. I went out to rescue it. It was young, barely fledged. So wearing a heavy jacket and fencing gauntlets just in case it didn’t appreciate being rescued I picked it up and set it on a ledge as high up the wall as I could reach. It then proceeded to climb up the drainpipe using its wings like arms! I went back into the house, threw everything I was wearing into the washing machine and had a shower. Bird’s nests and young birds can be bad for fleas and this one was. But we see barn owls and little owls. We’ve got more herons that you can shake a stick at and there are even egrets as well. We’ve more foxes than we need. The other morning I was fetching cows in and heard this strange yowling. Sal had discovered a fox cub. She was circling it warily, dashing in to nip it if she thought its back was turned and she was pulling away if it turned to look at her. I think she was trying to work out what it actually was. It strutted through the meshes in the sheep netting and disappeared.

We’ve also got plenty of badgers. No hedgehogs, but then the more badgers you get, the smaller the number of hedgehogs. And of course we’ve got more deer that we’ve ever had as well.

With regard to birds, the sheer amount of birdsong you hear as you walk down to get cows indicates there’s plenty of them, although I’m not qualified to go into which species.

But all in all there’s far more wildlife than I remember. So one way and another I don’t think we’ve done too badly. Indeed looking around more generally, an increasing number of people are getting regular meals and we’re even managing to increase the wildlife in some places. Farmers are making a reasonable job if it.

But I have to say, the rest of the population haven’t really been pulling their weight. Wander through any city, or look at the litter people tip out of the cars as they drive through the countryside, and it’s obvious things are pretty bad. And then there’s global warming and carbon and whatever.

Actually the whole ‘carbon’ business is remarkably simple. When I was at school we were even taught about the carbon cycle. You breathe it out. Plants take it in, turn it into food, you eat it, and breathe carbon out again. Actually for the purposes of the exercise it doesn’t really matter if you are a person, a bullock or an endangered species.


CarbonCycle_Cr Joyce Farms


Now there’s the storm over methane. But methane is just part of the carbon cycle. It does back into plants which turn it into food and then it gets eaten. We’re just recycling the carbon or methane that we have in the environment at the moment. Feeding livestock or people won’t, in and of itself lead to an increase in carbon dioxide. The problem is that by burning coal, oil and whatever we’re taking carbon out of storage and are returning it back into the atmosphere.

At the moment the level of CO2 in the atmosphere is about 410 parts per million. Back between 600 and 400 million years ago the level of CO2 was over 6,000ppm. That carbon got locked up by geology. We’ve got the oil, gas and coal to prove it. So when you burn them, you’ll putting ancient carbon back in the atmosphere. It’s not for nothing that they’re known as fossil fuels.

So if you want to stop global warming the first thing you can do is stop flying. Then cut the central heating or aircon. If they’re not solar or wind, (or nuclear) just forget them. Actually you can probably burn wood because it’s just recycling atmospheric carbon as well. But then we need a sense of proportion as well.

In 2017 China produced 10,877.218 Mt CO2/year and their output is increasing. Perhaps by 3% a year.

In 2017 the UK produced 379.150  Mt CO2/year. Our output is falling, by about 2.4% per year.

Let us put this in perspective. If the UK spontaneously ceased to exist, we all just disappeared and the carbon emissions dropped to zero, one year’s increase in Chinese emissions would almost replace us. Rather than worrying about whether you should eat less meat (remember methane is an irrelevance so long as it’s not fossil fuel derived, as it’s a natural part of the carbon cycle) you’ll do more good boycotting Chinese goods until they start making major cuts in their emissions. The web site


makes for interesting reading.


Indeed it is entirely possible that if we organised protests outside Chinese embassies around the world it might do some good. Provided of course people travelled there by public transport.


There again, what do I know


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.”

Organic and artisan!


In all candour it was not me that spotted the potential market. My daughter pointed out to me that this country now imports Italian nettles. Obvious, post Brexit, the nettle market will collapse, and it was at this point I felt duty bound to step into the breach!
I did my market research and discovered that they are indeed available. For £22.95 you can get a kilo of nettles!


The problem is that there are ‘nettles’ and ‘nettles’. Take those growing in this picture.



Well, actually don’t take them, they’re a valuable crop. As you can see, here we have a mixed planting with stitchwort. Even if you don’t pick any of the stitchwort with the nettles, we believe that grown together it adds a number of subtle notes to the flavour of the nettles which you’ll find tickle the cultivated palate. I would recommend that you use these in a risotto which has hints of salmon.



Obviously some prefer a stronger nettle, with richer more pronounced flavours. I’d recommend these for fritters, ideally served with banana and pork.
Alternatively you might want a younger nettle, grown at a wider spacing, to ensure that each plant is aerated properly. This gives you far more subtle flavours. Also people have described them as ‘bubbly’, and ‘sparkling.’ Surely the perfect pizza topping.



But then how do you bring them into the kitchen? Obviously the sloppy and careless can just despatch some expendable minion with shears to clip a few plants. But the great Bartolomeo Scappi is said by some to have taken the greatest care. On nights of the full moon he would slip from the arms of his mistress, and wearing only thigh length boots and a dressing gown would forage for his nettles. He would cut them with silver scissors and would carry them home in a silken bag.

Alternatively, Marie-Antoine Carême is said to have insisted that nettles should only be picked in the rain. She shunned bladed implements and instead she would pluck the tips and carry them home in a glass bowl.


Anyway I’ve given a lot of thought to the whole business. Nettles are far more complicated than you might think, and it would be far too easy to fall short of the demands of a sophisticated clientele. Thus and so I have decided that the way forward is to bow to the experience of those who know.
Hence, by appointment, we allow ‘pick your own’. You can come and take as many of our organic and artisan nettles as you want. They are thus absolutely fresh, yours for a merely nominal £25 a kilo.


More uniquely helpful lifestyle advice is available.

As a reviewer wisely commented, “Another excellent compendium of observations from the back of Mr. Webster’s quad bike in which we learn a lot more about sheep, border collies and people. On the whole, I think the collies come out of it best. If you fancy being educated on the ways of the world, with a gentle humour and a nice line in well observed philosophy, you could do a lot worse than this.”