Tag Archives: teaching people to think

The tick-box fairy

'It's a 300 page government questionnaire about cutting back on bureaucracy!'

I was just reading a piece by Sir John Timpson. Somebody had written in saying that he was losing the will to live because of all the box ticking rubbish that came across his desk from compliance officers and others. The wise answer Sir John gave was hire a box ticking officer who did all that crap for the company and let everybody else get on with their real jobs.

To be fair, in agriculture, we get all sorts of utter rubbish poured down upon us from pretty well every inspectorate that can wrangle itself a rural arm. My ‘favourite’ example of this the dairy inspector who insisted that we had a separate ‘wash area’ in our dairy.
We’d never had one because frankly the back kitchen was more easily accessible from our milking parlour than the dairy was. But muppets are not to be denied, and even though he couldn’t actually show where the regulations said I had to do this, he was just going to ensure I failed the inspection until I installed one and would charge me £100 a time to do the re-inspection.

So we had our wash area. This consisted of a bucket, with a bar of soap in, and a towel. The bucket was covered in Clingfilm and was placed out of the way on top of the hot water boiler. There it stood, untouched, for ten years, until we gave up milking and it was disassembled and was used for something useful.
It’s the same as the instruction to wear a plastic apron whilst milking. We had a plastic apron hanging in the dairy. It had been left there by a relief milker who left one on every farm he milked at, so he didn’t forget it. I on the other hand never milked wearing a plastic apron in my life, but as the apron hung there in the dairy, another box was ticked.

Still in spite of sundry muppets and other time-wasters life goes on. I went to look sheep this morning. Because it was raining, Sal wasn’t sitting outside waiting for me. She appeared when I did, but saw no point in getting wet before it was necessary. We wandered down among the sheep and gave a little bit of cake to the small batch who’d lambed last.

Now yesterday we added to this small batch last year’s daughter of a ewe who was in the batch with this year’s two lambs. Because all four sheep are distinctively marked you could spot mother, daughter and this year’s lambs very easily.
Now if you keep your own replacements you’ll regularly stick a daughter back in the same flock as her mum, but in this case we could actually tell who was who. So I’ve been watching them to see if mum showed any signs of affection to older daughter. The answer is a resounding ‘no’. She is ‘last year’s lamb’ and is firmly kept at a distance because ‘this year’s lambs’ take priority. Motherly love is working, but is focussed on those who need it, not those who might feel entitled to exploit it.

Another interesting individual to watch was Sal. A couple of the older lambs tentatively play with her. Various ewes with young lambs disapprove of her entirely and shake their heads and stamp their feet. Generally they treat her with wary respect as becomes one with her dentition.

But, Sal quite likes the taste of the feed I’m putting out for these ewes and lambs. So when I put some on the floor, Sal will drift casually in and eat some. At this point, with noses in the feed, any wary respect goes out of the window and even the smallest and most timid lamb will cheerfully push her away as it tries to eat the nuts Sal is eating.

Oh and finally somebody pointed me to this article




Apparently St. John’s College in America, with two campuses in Annapolis and Santa Fe has turned its back on modern fashions in education and is merely doing what universities used to do which is teach students to think.

It’s an article worth reading, and reminded me of Cash Pickthall, who taught me history back in the Grammar School. He was a great one for using history to make us think.

I remember at the time thinking that if it caught on and everybody started thinking, that would be the end of civilisation as we know it.


A collection of anecdotes, it’s the distillation of a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England. I’d like to say ‘All human life is here,’ but frankly there’s more about Border Collies, Cattle and Sheep.