Tag Archives: Billy

Beware the wrath of an angry dog.

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It has to be admitted that Sal is not the most aggressive of dogs. Unusual for Border Collies, she rather likes people. In fact she has no concept of social distancing and no understanding of the fact that people might not appreciate muddy footprints on their trousers/shirt/jacket.

It’s the same with livestock. She is remarkably longsuffering. Cattle can sniff her, I’ve even seen calves licking her. Admittedly she does tend to move away if they start chewing her ears, but that is understandable. And all she does is move away. She metaphorically shrugs and gets out of range.

Even with sheep, if nothing particularly is happening and a lamb wants to play with her, Sal will play. I’ve seen her quietly sidestep wild charges and occasionally dance in front of one to tempt it into running at her.

Even with rats, I’ve only ever seen her attack two. I don’t know what one of them did but she killed it. The other was sitting on the grass six feet away from her quietly washing itself. She obviously felt that this was an insult that couldn’t be borne and pounced. The rat shot into a hedge and disappeared.

Obviously she dislikes foxes. She chases them enthusiastically but has never got so close that she had to worry about what you do next.

Then we have Billy. He’s a feral cat who likes people. So much so it seems to be trying to copy our greeting. When he approaches I’ve noticed that we all say, ‘Hello Billy.’ The noise he makes when he comes up to us does sound a bit like ‘Hello’ as produced by a cat. Not only that but he’s fascinated by Sal. I suspect it may have something to do with the fact that she’s the nearest to him in size. They do seem to have a working relationship. They mind their own business, don’t get in each other’s way and whilst when passing they might sniff the other’s nose, that’s about it.

Then last night I noticed a rat drinking out of Sal’s water bucket. Sal had obviously not seen this. So I did the obvious thing. I got Billy. I took him across and placed him where I’d seen the rat. As a hunting technique for getting rid of them goes, this one is pretty successful. He probably will not get the rat then and there but obviously he marks the spot and builds it into his daily round.

On this occasion he could obviously smell the rat, his tail started twitching and he started to hunt. Sal came across to me to get her ears tickled. Billy continued to hunt. This took him into Sal’s cattle trailer and it was then he saw Sal’s bowl. This still had some of her supper in it.

Billy hunted across to it, sniffed it and at this point I said, “Billy.”

He looked at me, drifted away from the bowl and then drifted back to get another mouthful.

It was at this point Sal flew at him. There was nothing playful happening here, Sal went from Border Collie to Angry Wolf and hurled herself in defence of her supper dish. Billy had the problem he was trapped, he couldn’t get out for the dog coming in. In the circumstances he did the sensible thing and apologised. His stance was defensive but without the spitting and suchlike you can see from a cat that is ready to attack.

Sal stopped, came back to me, and Billy, somewhat sheepishly, quietly made his way out of her cattle trailer and made his way across the yard to stare at her from a safe distance. Sal lay down across the door into her trailer with her head on her paws, and gave the impression of a dog who was dozing quietly without a care in the world.

Me, I just left them to it.

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If you want to meet Sal at her more emollient

 

Another collection of anecdotes drawn from a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England. As usual Border Collies, Cattle and Sheep get fair coverage, but it’s mixed with family history and the joys of living along a single track road.

As a reviewer 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.”

A Protestant virus and dancing cat food tins.

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As somebody commented to me recently, Corvid 19 is a very Protestant virus. It’s perfectly safe to work but under no circumstances are you allowed to enjoy yourself. As another person said, “You know what, it’s been a pretty crap summer so far.”

To be fair, he was thinking in agricultural terms.

First the year started sodding wet. Then it dried out nicely. So nicely we had a drought and grass started burning off. Since then it’s been colder than charity and we’ve struggled to have three fine days in a row. Everything, but everything, has been harder work than it really needed to be.
The industry has coped, but then we’re used to coping with bluidy minded weather, mindless regulation, and politicians working from bizarre scientific advice. So the auction marts are open and various organisations are offering webinars and zoom meetings to teach us about the latest developments. Which is great, worthy, and boring. Because all human contact has stopped. It’s probable that some agricultural shows that don’t happen this year will fade away and not happen next year. Given farmers can be pretty isolated at the best of times, this isn’t an entirely good idea.

But this morning I was watching as Sal, ‘the Dog’ and Billy, ‘the Cat’ were strutting round the yard as if they were in charge and understood what was going on. I was irresistibly reminded of politicians. Now to be fair to both Sal and Billy, they have areas of competence. In these areas they are both far more proficient than I am and I accept that. But between ourselves, both these two animals struggle to grasp the bigger picture.

So it is on the political stage. We have politicians saying they want us to go out shopping and spending money, and now they’re saying that they’re thinking of making masks mandatory in shops. Sorry, did I really read that? I mean, I could go shopping in Tesco without a mask at the height of the pandemic and the number of deaths kept dropping. Why, when there is less virus about than ever and the number of ‘excess deaths’ is so low we’re below our normal baseline do we suddenly have to all start wearing masks?
The problem is the message it sends out. I was pondering going for a walk the other day and I could have dropped into town on my travels to get some stuff. I do need a new pair of trainers. (When you’ve feet as wide as mine, trainers are a lot easier and cheaper solution than shoes.) Then I thought to myself, “I just cannot be bothered.”
The masks, the queuing, the circling round people, it’s not worth the candle. After all, until normality returns, the old pair of trainers will cope. It’s not as if I’m going anywhere is it? I’m not somebody who goes in for retail therapy, although I enjoy a browse in a second hand bookshop (or even the book shelves in the charity shops) but at the moment there’s no joy in the job, so why bother?
But actually we want people to enjoy it again. We want people to spend an hour or two browsing, dropping into Costa for a coffee (or whatever) and generally spreading the money and the joy.

Things are starting to spiral down. I noticed that Pret A Manger have shut thirty outlets and is expected to cut at least 1,000 jobs. But they rely on commuters and lunchtime office workers. So their customers are either working from home or furloughed. Apparently sales are down 74% from this time last year and they’re thought to be losing about £20m a month.

I have no doubt there are going to be a lot of other businesses facing the same problem. Working from home is getting more popular. Even if, when working from home, you stroll down to a local café for a change of company and a coffee, you’re still not going to be using an inner city one. It has struck me that London could just ger a kicking.

In fact, when working from home, Prime Minister Mia Mottley is suggesting that those working from home consider moving to Barbados for a year under its new ‘Barbados Welcome Stamp’ scheme. It makes sense, I cannot imagine Barbados having worse broadband than a lot of rural areas in the UK.

One of the obstacles is now the civil service. We’re seeing a similar pattern of offending to that we saw back in 2001 with FMD. First you had the mad panic and the incoherent fumbling. Officials were travelling to strange places and doing dodgy deals with strangers in pub carparks in China to buy PPE.
Now we’re at the ‘back covering stage.’ We saw this with FMD as well. More and more regulation was brought in, and some of it we still have. Other countries in Europe brought it in briefly and then dropped it when the pandemic was over, but not the UK. So we still have a more bureaucratic system of moving livestock than anywhere else in the world.
Of course the idea was that it would mean we wouldn’t have another outbreak. Except that six years later we did. To quote the HSE report about the Pirbright laboratory site, “”Subject to the ongoing work detailed above, the indications are that there is a strong probability that the FMDV strain involved in the farm outbreak originated from the Institute of Animal Health or the Merial sites.” In the report on the epidemic it stated, “It reported that traces of the virus were found in a pipe at the Pirbright institute running from Merial to the government’s treatment plant. It is thought that tree roots damaged the pipe allowing the virus to the surface.” Pirbright was at one time more widely known as Porton Down. MPs of the select committee that dug into the matter commented that, “Two government departments – Defra and the department for innovation, universities and skills – had to “settle how they are going to share the cost” of its £121m redevelopment.” Ideally before it leaked again.

That’s probably why we need strict regulation of farmers, it protects the country from the incompetence of the bureaucracy.

What worries me about our current pandemic is that the bureaucracy is keen to pile more and more regulations on us. Stop and think about it. If masks are so important, then why not make them permanent, after all it’ll be flu season soon. Looking at the pattern of offending, I have no reason to doubt that there will still be regulations left over from the pandemic, still in place this time next year.

Oh yes and the dancing cat food tins. As I was feeding Sal this evening, my lady wife informed me we had just had a recorded phone call telling us that the HMRC were about to prosecute us for something or the other. So just another spam phone call. But she commented that the voice, well spoken, well-modulated, sounded very much like the one in yesterday’s spam phone call telling us our internet was about to be cut off.

I can just imagine the CV of the actor involved. “Yes, after a season as Lear at the Globe, I was in Waiting for Godot in the Arts Theatre in the West End. I was also the voice over for the well regarded dancing cat food tins advert, and was justly celebrated for my part in the ‘Your internet will be cut off’ and ‘The HMRC are taking legal action against you’, spam phone calls.”

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There again, what do I know, meet the lady herself.

Another collection of anecdotes drawn from a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England. As usual Border Collies, Cattle and Sheep get fair coverage, but it’s mixed with family history and the joys of living along a single track road.

 

As a reviewer 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.”

So who is still working?

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There has been a lot of talk about going back to work. But personally I think this is standing things on their head. Obviously in agriculture a lot of us work from home and self-isolate compulsively because we’re a miserable lot of beggars. Indeed the only people who cannot manage social distancing instinctively are Sal and Billy.

It’s not just us. Not only has agriculture been working pretty normally, but so have the ‘support industries.’ Whenever we’ve picked up a phone to order feed, parts or whatever, it’s been answered and the stuff has been delivered into our yard just as it normally would.
When it comes to selling, apart from a ‘hiccup’ when all the catering venues shut, things have rumbled along. Some dairies took a hit, especially those who had a lot of the catering market. But whilst things aren’t ‘right’, milk is being picked up and apart from the usual suspects, most milk buyers seem to be trying hard to keep the show on the road.
When I talk about ‘usual suspects’, there was a comment in the farming press that Starbucks had said they would no longer deal with one dairy company after things settle down. Apparently they were shocked at how the company had treated their farmer suppliers. The cynic might ask why they were dealing with them in the first place, but there again, you know what they also say. “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine respectable people who do not need to repent.”

Beef and lamb are back in price. Beef has been pretty poor for a year or so, and was just picking up when coronavirus came and sent it back down again. (Again, the closing of catering did most of the damage.) With lamb, to be honest, it had been doing well. Leaving the EU and the fall in the value of the pound was really good for sheep farmers. When the virus hit, the price has dropped a bit but it’s still at a level that two or three years ago people would have thought was pretty good. At the moment it’s being held up by Ramadan, so hopefully we can organise another festival to follow.

 

But as I said, agriculture has been working flat out. In a two day period we had in our yard the Postman, the Vet, a six man silage team, a chap who came to empty the slurry pit, a contractor with a fertiliser spreader, the chap who helps control vermin and somebody who was spraying the potatoes.

Now most of them were in their own tractors so were probably socially distanced enough for even the most fanatical, although nobody wears masks. But are we alone in this?

 

And at the ‘downstream’ end, abattoirs, packing plants, warehouses, delivery drivers and check-out staff have all kept working. So I might just say ‘Thanks’ at this point because we’d have been screwed without them.

 

In the UK, in crude terms our workforce is about 32 million.

According to figures I’ve found, on the 11 May there were 7.5million people furloughed

On the 14 May there were 1.1m people on the self-employed income support scheme. Mind you some of them will still be working, just not making enough to live on. (They’re self-employed, they should be used to it.)

Then there are those on Universal Credit. In April there were at least an extra million people claiming universal credit. Let’s call it an extra two million and that might allow for people who cannot work and cannot claim.
Lord alone knows how many people are home working. Some of us always do it. But I’ve seen figures saying ‘40% of the population’ which has to be nonsense, and somebody else said there were 8 million. Who knows but at least they’re working.

 

What brought this on was when I went to collect the newspaper. The chap behind the counter was obviously having a bad day. He commented, “I’m getting sick of them coming in here and complaining that they’re having to go back to work.”

I made a vague sympathetic comment and he said, “I told them, ‘I’d love to have had seven weeks off, soaking up the sun and getting drunk every night (the thing about corner shop owners is that they know who comes in just before closing time because they’ve already drunk the stuff they bought from Tesco that morning).

So when people moan about the dangers of having to start working again, all that is actually happening is that they’re coming out to join the half to two thirds of us who’ve been working all the time.

So I’d also like to thank those who’ve kept our electricity working, those who I saw out fixing the broadband. Those who deal with gas leaks and unblock sewers, those who make our society work. Remember, if it wasn’t for these and the people in the foodchain, we wouldn’t have an NHS, we’d have a lot of hungry and frightened people huddled round the transistor radio, desperately hoping to conserve the batteries as they try and find out what is going on.

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What do I know? Speak to the expert, now available in paperback or ebook

As a reviewer commented, “Excellent follow up to his first collection of bloggage – Sometimes I Sits and Thinks – this is another collection of gentle reflections on life on a small sheep farm in Cumbria. This could so easily be a rant about inconsiderate drivers on country lanes and an incessant moaning about the financial uncertainties of life on a farm. Instead, despite the rain, this is full of wise asides on modern living that will leave you feeling better about the world. Think Zen and the Art of Sheep Management (except he’s clearly CofE…) Highly recommended, and worth several times the asking price!”