Townhouse Desk Rules


There are times you have to ask where all the grown-ups have gone to. I won’t say that the lunatics are running the asylum but there are a lot of people setting out the rules who obviously haven’t a clue how the world works.

I know a chap who is going into hospital for an operation. He has to self-isolate first. For a fortnight. Apparently they expect him to sit at home for two weeks with no income because he’s self-employed.

He was chuntering about this and somebody he does some work for came up with a solution. He has a lot of slurry that needs carting. So this chap is going to self-isolate, carting and spreading slurry. As he said, he’ll be working on his own, in his own tractor, with his own slurry tanker. Nobody will stop to chat with him and he’ll spend much of his time in the middle of fields with nobody within several hundred yards of him. On the positive side, he is still earning money.

The interesting thing is that it’s pretty much his normal life anyway. Obviously if anybody asks, he is ‘self-isolating’. But given the utter lack of understanding he met from the pen-pushers, he’s decided to be vague as to details if it ever occurs to them to ask.

The other day I was talking to a chap who works for a ‘fallen stock’ company. In the good old days we just called them knackers. (English definition. “A person whose business is the disposal of dead or unwanted animals, especially those whose flesh is not fit for human consumption.”) Anyway, as he was filling in the form that accompanies the animal, he was quietly reading out the questions as he answered them. Now the form he was tackling isn’t a form I’d ever be called to fill out. The farmer doesn’t normally see this one. So he put in the date of death, which was the previous day. Then he came to ‘time of death’ and just put down 5:45pm.

You may have to be in the industry to understand how facile that question is. Unlike hospitals, we don’t have anybody sitting at the bedside of the animal. Indeed in many cases an animal that was a bit dodgy and the vet had seen, will just be found dead next morning. Not only that, but even if the farmer knows the time, there is no reason why he will see the chap from the knackers. The knacker will know where any carcass will be waiting, and will just collect it. So the form is usually filled in by somebody who has absolutely no information as to what happened. So animals normally die the day before they were collected and apparently, 5:45p.m is a common time to die. I’d love to see a statistical analysis of the figures.

You can see the seriousness with which the lads driving the wagons accord these figures, I’ve been dealing with knackers for I forget how many years. I only just discovered that recording time of death was actually a thing! None of them have ever thought to ask me. Their attitude seems to be ‘somebody asked a damn silly question, so just give them an answer to shut them up.’

But on the positive side, I have finally done a job that I hold qualifications for. I was helping to move some cattle. The easy way to do this was to walk the cattle to a loading pen which is on the side of the main road. Any cattle wagon can back into the pen access and we can load them. However since they built the pen, wagons have got bigger. The wagon can still fit in, they’ve grown longer, not wider. Some of them are a bit longer than others. So they stick out onto the main road a touch. It doesn’t quite block a lane but it would mean that the people travelling in one direction would have to go into the opposite lane. So my job was standing across the road from the wagon where everybody could see me, waving traffic past and occasionally stopping traffic coming one way to let the others through.  

It has to be said that the motorists were great. There was only one muppet who seemed to think that I’d just escaped from an aerobics class. Indeed the biggest issue was, counter-intuitively, the motorists who slowed down to be careful. When you’re directing traffic you factor in the speed of the two converging streams to try and work out whether south bound will be through before north bound get to you. So when people slow down, you have to hastily recalculate.

Somebody asked me afterwards about what I’d been doing. So I pointed out that, actually, the police had trained me, they’d shown me how to do it. The person seemed quite impressed until I added that it was back in 1968 when I did my Cycling Proficiency.

Jim Webster farms at the bottom end of South Cumbria. Jim was encouraged to collect together into a book some blog posts he’d written because of their insight into Cumbrian farming and rural life (rain, sheep, quad-bikes and dogs) It’s available here.