Category Archives: Uncategorized

Which side is your bread buttered

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It’s amazing how rapidly moral principle can be overcome with simple greed. In a morning I go to feed sheep. I drive into the field on a quad bike towing a trailer and accompanied by Sal. Sal, as a border collie, has the silhouette of a small wolf and dentition any of the Canidae would be happy with. If sheep have in instinctive photofit of the apex predator to beware of, it’s got Sal’s paw prints all over it.

So the first time I do this we see sheep moving off at speed surrounded by their lambs. The second time I do it, some of the smarter ones have realised what I’m there for. By the end of the week they’ll tread Sal (and me) underfoot to get to the feed first.

It’s the same with the lambs. When you drive into the field, there’ll be a ewe grazing quietly. She’ll look up and bleat and her lambs will slowly disengage themselves from whatever they’re doing and make their way to join her. All except for the lambs of Number 39.

Number 39 had triplets. Now normally we take one lamb off and give it to a ewe who just had a single. This is because a ewe only has two teats, and even without this issue, frankly struggles to produce enough milk to feed three lambs. In the case of Number 39 there was a run of triplets and she was the one giving the most milk so she was left with hers.

So whereas other lambs wander off to do strange and interesting things, Number 39’s lambs stick with her, so they’re first at the teat should they feel a tad peckish.

Mind you it’s not something that is limited to sheep. My late mother and her two younger sisters would be invited to parties (we’re talking before the war here.) And hostesses were always touched and delighted by the way the two younger sisters wanted to sit next to their big sister. This was always pointed out as a charming example of sisterly love.

In reality the reason was that my mother never liked marzipan or almond paste. So whenever we had fruitcake with icing on it, she (even in her seventies) would quietly slip her icing and marzipan to her neighbour. Her two little sisters were just making damned sure that when that happened, they were going to be the recipients.

The fast that I have chosen:

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I’ve spent the last forty-eight hours pondering social media. To be honest all I’d achieved is a growing level of despair, until I had a moment of revelation.

Instead of giving up stuff and fasting for Lent, I’d say the way forward is to give up stuff and fast for the election campaign!
So it struck me that I’d give up political discussions on social media. If a real person raises the topic when we are met together over a drink then that is fair enough, but no political discussions on social media. There are several reasons for this. Firstly they’re a total waste of time, effort and electrons. (The latter could be better used elsewhere.)

Secondly the whole reason I started this social media stuff was because, sadly, I have books to sell. Screaming at somebody that they’re the spawn of Satan because they’re going to vote for the ‘wrong’ party doesn’t strike me as one of the better sales techniques. Well at least I’ve not had a lot of success with it so far.

Finally, life is too short to get wound up over arguments with people you’ll never meet and care little for.

So far, and it’s early days, things are going well. I’ve just avoided stuff. Indeed I have been a little cunning. I’ve not had to block anybody yet. But where they’ve merely shared a post by ‘Sad politically obsessed loonies.com’ I’ve blocked that page.

After all I don’t mind people I know having opinions, but be damned if I’m wasting my time over websites created by political parties and their HQ black propaganda teams in an attempt to sway people to their way of thinking.

Now obviously I’m not going to be hard hearted about this. If ‘Sad politically obsessed loonies.com’ ever showed any signs of trying to relate to me, engage me in discussions about matters of importance in the real world, then I’d be more open to them.

Obviously this demands a change of track from them. Their normal output tends to be ‘Our glorious party is composed entirely of persons who give their income to the poor, kiss the sores of lepers clean, and help infirm persons of all ages, genders and ethnicities across the road; while the other lot eat babies, sacrifice kittens to the dark gods of their ideology and if they win, then this is the last election you’ll ever have.’

If instead they were to post something along the lines of, “We believe that it is vitally important for the economy that people support our creative industries; thus we both urge and exhort you to purchase Jim Webster’s fine story, ‘Keeping Body and Soul Together’.

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Keeping-Body-Together-Naain-Intelligence-ebook/dp/B06XRKQBLQ/

 

Should they do this I would certainly re-evaluate my approach. Not perhaps enough to vote for them, but certainly I’d give serious consideration to unblocking them on facebook.

Indeed if they were to go so far as to promise that in their efforts to improve literacy they would purchase a paperback copy of ‘Swords for a Dead Lady’ for every household,

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Swords-Dead-Lady-Jim-Webster/dp/184989809X/

 

then I’d not merely no longer block them, I might even be prevailed upon to share their posts.

 

Still when I stop to think about it, there may indeed unforeseen advantages to my policy. By eschewing politics my facebook wall will become a place of peace and joy. Let others turn their social media shop window into a battleground for crazed warring factions, with barely literate political nonentities spluttering marginally coherent insults at each other.

My wall will be a tranquil oasis, tempting the war-weary traveller to rest awhile, allow the bitter anxiety to drain from them, and perhaps even relax into a good book that takes them away for the insanity that rages in less salubrious areas.

Ride a white swan

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The maiden wasn’t in distress as such, and she was probably a fair bit older than the girl in the picture. (But perhaps not old enough to remember Marc Bolan and T Rex?) But she obviously cared, which means a lot. Not only that, she didn’t just care in the “click ‘like’ on facebook with crying face emoji” sort of way. So she got on and did the job. But I suppose I’d better tell the tale in some sort of order.

I was just walking on my way from somewhere heading for somewhere else. I was just getting from one part of town to another to be honest. Time wasn’t particularly pressing, but it was probably going to rain so I wasn’t dawdling. Anyway, for no particular reason I took the path along the side of the reservoir.

Said “Hi” to the fishermen who were a bit fed up from the noise coming from a bunch of kids gathered round the back of a bar on the other side of the reservoir, picked my way along the muddy bits of the path and then came upon a lady with a dog who was feeding the swans.

So I said ‘hi’ to the dog as I normally do when they bound across to say ‘hi’ to me. It seems rude not to and once they’ve been acknowledged they’ll often bound off to look at something more interesting. But this led to saying ‘hi’ to the owner.

Now this conversation was taking place against a background of swans, one of whom wasn’t walking right. The maiden not actually in distress gestured to it and explained it had had some fishing line caught round its leg. She’d cut the fishing weight off with nail scissors but the line was still caught.

I asked, “Have you contacted the RSPCA.”

“Yes, a fortnight ago. They said they couldn’t do anything.”

So she’d taken to feeding the swans, and after two weeks she’d plucked up the courage to go near enough to cut the trailing fishing weight off.

But it was obvious the rest of the line was still entangled. Now given she’d cut the weight off, it struck me that she was obviously used to handling them, so I suggested that, because it knew her, the swan would let her catch it, and then we could get the line off its leg.

At this point I might interrupt myself to rant about health and safety. People talk about how dangerous swans are. Trust me; they’re smaller, lighter and less dangerous than cattle. Not only that but at the time I was standing three feet from several of them and they didn’t seem to regard me as a problem. End of rant.

So together we caught it, which was as simple as her putting her hand down and gently enfolding it in her arms whilst ensuring she held the top of its neck. I looked at the line, couldn’t untangle it but luckily cut it with a door key. Three minutes later we’d got rid of all traces of the line and the swan was back in the water and swimming off.
At this point a young couple with four children, a dog, and a bag of bread arrived. Husband asks if it was the swan with the tangled foot. Maiden no longer in distress explained it was and a discussion ensues.

At which point Maiden comments, “Until he asked me to, I’d never so much as touched a swan in my life.” (Apparently when cutting off the weight she’d crawled up to it on hands and knees.)
Anyway, all I can say to that is ‘The lass done good.’ Anyway I made my farewells and left them all chatting happily, watching the swan swim away in the distance.

But it’s nice to know that there are people who care, and not only who care, but care enough to crawl through the dirt on their hands and knees, equipped only with a pair of nail scissors, to do what they feel has to be done.

And still have the self belief necessary to blithely pick up an adult swan when some wandering idiot asks you to, because it needs doing.

And as for the swan? Well it’s got two chances, same as the rest of us. It’ll either live or it’ll die. Mind you, it would have a better chance of living if somebody had done the job a fortnight ago.

Oh Lord, not again

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Another election. Whoopee, be still my beating heart! Bring it on, let’s be having it. Six more weeks of endless social media bickering as people who hardly know each other slag each off because they believe in the wrong shade of pink.

A bit back somebody posted quite proudly that he’d been to the Britain First facebook page, discovered how many of his facebook friends had liked the page, and unfriended them.

Out of interest I went to the page and looked to see how many of my facebook friends had liked it. I then commented on his wall that I was struck by how young they were.

He asked if I’d unfriended them. I replied that he hadn’t.

Rather huffily he asked why not. I merely replied they were real people and I knew them in real life.

I don’t think that one had occurred to him.

 

But it’s strange. Writers tend to get a lot of writers as facebook friends, because that’s what writers do, because it’s exposure and getting your name out there.

But other than that, most of the people who I’m linked to on facebook are people I know, and some of them I even meet occasionally. In some cases the discussions on my facebook wall are continuations of discussions that happened the previous evening. Similarly facebook posts can be commented on in real life.

So when I see a friend of mine has ‘liked’ something like Britain First I don’t see a knuckle dragging moron. I see someone who’s probably sick of being talked down to and slagged off by people who had opportunities he hasn’t had.

 

And now we’ve got an election. Social media will doubtless become horrible and I’ve already started blocking stuff. Not people yet, just the mindless sources they keep trying to share. Life is too short for beaming smugly at yet another toddler proudly displaying the contents of their potty.

 

One worry is that people are going to try and ramp up the stakes. I’ve already seen people saying that this is the last chance we’ll have to save democracy. Please, stop assuming we’re stupid.

 

But even more worrying is that each election or referendum since the advent of social media has been more divisive than the last. We’re engaged in a dangerous experiment with our social cohesion. I suspect our problem is we haven’t got enough grown-ups left.

Can June come quickly enough?

Retail therapy

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One question I’ve been asked from time to time is sensible enough, “How on earth can anybody make a living from food production?”

I suppose the answer is simple, “Send the wife out to work.”

But looking ahead, the world is changing. Whatever you think of Brexit and the EU, we’re leaving. Nobody has a clue what sort of deal we’ll get; nobody really knows how important government considers agriculture. Will farming get traded away to ensure a good deal for our car exporters? Will we be sold down the river to ensure financial services get the deal they want? Certainly UK governments over the last forty years haven’t got a good record of taking a long term view of agriculture.

But I want to look at the scruffy end, what you might call the ‘peasant farmer’ end of the business. The bigger operations have more options, they have economies of scale. If the worst comes to the worst and the whole job goes belly up, then so long as they’re not over-borrowed they can get rid of staff and just ranch it.

But what about the bottom end? Here where you get the small farmers, the smallholders and the family operations; we’ve always had the situation where, to put it bluntly, the farm has made a contribution to the family income but was never the whole story. The show was kept on the road by sons and daughters working off-farm for at least part of the time, the spouse going out to work and everybody pitching in and working far too many hours when they were at home. That was how many got by.

Now these smaller operations may have an advantage that the bigger operations don’t have. They’ve got that web of connections, friends, neighbours, workmates etc.

Whatever happens in 2020, I think one thing we’ll see is volatility. This is because, in reality, we’re seeing it already. The EU has pulled back from trying to provide stability anyway so there is not going to be as big a change as people think. The EU isn’t big enough to dampen down the swings in world grain prices, and over the last couple of years they’ve abandoned attempts to provide stability for dairy producers. I know people who were getting 27p a litre for their milk a couple of years ago, 17p a litre for their milk last year, and hopefully will be back up at 27p a litre at some point this year. To put this in perspective, we got 30p a litre back in 1996 and we got 17p a litre back in the 1970s.

I was once at a meeting where somebody from Defra was saying that Farmers had to be more resilient. I suggested that he spend a year on his 1970 salary and then came back and lecture us on resilience.

But what it means is that when we leave the EU, retail food prices will go up. They’ll have to, the cost of transport, processing, the effect of minimum wage on supermarket employees, the increasing costs incurred when running major advertising campaigns, all will conspire to drive prices up. The farm-gate price of food will be largely irrelevant. When it goes up, it’ll be seized upon as a reason why ‘hard pressed retailers’ have to increase prices. When farm-gate prices fall, retailers will just hold prices and bank the extra margin. I suppose there might be more promotions, but as these are often paid for by the supplier, it’ll not have an impact on the retailer’s annual profits.

But looking at the small producer, how can they cope? If we assume that the price you’ll get for your product is going to be volatile and could well drop a lot, then you really want to stop being just a producer and start being a retailer as well. After all, all you have to compete with is the supermarkets and they’re aiming at keeping their margin.

This is where the small producer’s network of friends, workmates, and neighbours comes in. Start thinking of them as potential customers or potential sales staff and contemplate what you’re growing. The plethora of veg-box schemes shows what is possible, the growth of farmers’ markets shows that there is a demand. Even for livestock producers, there are still enough abattoirs left who’ll slaughter animals for you, and a lot of them will even cut the animal up for you as well. With livestock I’d go down the route of selling the whole lamb, or half a pig, rather than selling individual joints. It does limit your customers to people with freezers, but on the other hand it means you do not have to worry about unpopular cuts.

Not only will you be able to undercut the major retailers, (without having to go to the lengths of mixing horsemeat into the burgers or pumping the chicken full of water to get the weight up,) but you’ll be ‘local.’ People know you.

And what about the consumer, how can they take advantage of it? Here it depends where you live. If you’re in the city centre, or even in the heart of the suburbs you’re going to struggle to find anything locally. But there again I’ve got friends in London who make it their business to drive out every few months to collect meat for the freezer, a few chickens or whatever.

Farmers markets in cities tend to be expensive, if only because of the costs associated with them. Rents are high, there’s a lot of time and travelling involved and all this has to be covered somehow.

If food matters to you and you’re willing to do some research, you’ll probably be surprised at what you find. A friend of mine went into a butcher’s shop in the suburb where he lives and discovered to his shock that the butcher was cheaper than the supermarket my friend normally shopped at, (it’s surprising how often butchers are,) and what is more had better meat. In this case the butcher was buying very carefully from producers he had built up a relationship with over the years.

It’s surprising what can be done.

 

The right tool for the job

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I know a lot of people sigh about ‘boys and their toys’ but frankly jobs are so much easier with the right equipment. This was driven home to me today. We had a lamb that was walking stiffly, didn’t look ‘right.’ I noticed this when I was feeding the batch of relatively newly lambed ewes and their lambs out in the field.

So I tried to catch it. How difficult can it be; there was me and Sal? I would provide the brains, and Sal could do the Border Collie bit. Except that Sal knows fine well that when lambs are this young, mothers are awfully protective. So whilst she did run around a lot, she made damned sure she never got close enough to offend anybody.

And the lamb, whilst stiff and slow, seemed to loosen up the more it moved. The same might be true of me, but we’re working from different base-lines and it was always going to be faster than me.

So I went back with no dog, the quad and a leg crook. (There’s a picture of one of them at the top of the page.) I followed the lamb and when it stopped to work out which way to run next, I hooked the crook around its leg and before it could work out what had happened I had slipped off the quad, grabbed it and put it in the trailer.

Anyway examined at home we could see the ‘wrists’ were thicker than you’d expect, probably picked up an infection from somewhere, so we treated it and I took it back to mum so she didn’t forget it.

Then in the early afternoon I had to help at an interment of ashes. (I’m the one that digs the hole. I know my place.) People talk about ‘scattering ashes.’ Really you shouldn’t, they can contain far too high a proportion of phosphates and heavy metals. So you inter them, or bury them. Over the time I’ve been doing this, I’ve learned the hard way what I need. A spade, (obviously) but ideally it’s a decent square ended spade that is about eight inches wide. Not too flimsy, you might have to go through the smaller tree roots you get at this sort of depth.

You need a long bar, like a crowbar because some churchyard soils are stony and compacted, so the bar makes things so much easier. Then you want a plastic bag to put the sod on and two decent sized plastic buckets to put the soil into. If you have the right tackle to hand the job is easier and, especially important when you’re working in a graveyard, it’s easy to keep it tidy as well.

Finally I took advantage of the fine weather and walked to the village craft fair. I was talking to the lass who was organising it and it must be said I was entirely impressed with the apron she’d made herself. Take a pair of men’s jeans, (Because they’ve got pockets at the back.) Then you cut away the legs so you’ve got just the bit from crotch to belt left. Now I suppose you could have it as a skirt, but what she did was cut away the crotch at the front and then wore it ‘back to front’ as an apron but with all these useful pockets handy where she could see them.

I suppose one thing that you’d have to be careful about was getting the discarded jeans from an active male, not the sort that just wears out the seat of his pants first.

 

Jim Webster and Tallis Steelyard out on tour!

Annette Rochelle Aben

Well, I must say, this is quite the honor to have two, count ‘em, TWO remarkable men guesting here on my blog today.  Fellow blogger, author and all around cool dude, who raises the bar of conscious thought every chance he gets, Jim Webster AND the ever poetic, always charming, Tallis Steelyard!  They are here so share Jim’s new book:

Keeping Body and Soul Together.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B06XRKQBLQ

Book Blurb:  “Rescuing random strangers on a whim may be the good deed for the day, but will Ben or survive the blood feud he has unwittingly become part of. More importantly can he buy back the victim’s soul?”

I’m ready to know MORE, so…

Take it away, Jim…

Yes, Annette was kind enough to host my blog tour. This is where I try and
lure the innocent and unsuspecting readers to purchase a copy of my book
Keeping Body and…

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