So what are we going to do about it?


There’s a campaign in Barrow, we had two ‘rough sleepers’ die overnight and people felt that enough was enough. Given our facilities, we’ve got to the stage that if the council decide you’re not a priority they’ll give you a tent to sleep in. Funnily enough people are still moaning that the council hasn’t spent a fortune on Christmas lights this year.
We have a problem, what are we going to do about it? Well there’s no point in saying ‘they’ should do something. We’ve had the issue for a lot of years and seen all three major parties in power and we’ve still got the issue. Any solution they put forward might increase taxes but it would inevitably create jobs in the public sector and ten years down the line the problem would still be here.

So as far as I can see, if the problem is to be fixed, it’ll have to be fixed by the people of Barrow. As a friend of mine said, “We’re a damned long way from Carlisle, so they won’t be interested.” We’re a damned long way from Westminster as well, and even if they’re interested, they’ve got a lot of other troubles to deal with.


I suppose the problem is that the homeless are unfashionable. Often dirty and unwashed (hardly a surprise, tricky getting the laundry done when you’re homeless), often suffering from mental illness, they’re never going to come into the cute and huggable category. The difficulty is that homelessness is a dangerously easy condition to get into. Marital breakdown or mental illness can be a fast track on the way to homelessness. The two can even be combined; mental illness can make somebody impossible to live with.

One bitter fact is that it may well be easier to get somebody a home than get their mental illness treated. So perhaps that’s something else that needs looking at? But again, mental illness lacks the kudos of attempting to cure cancer, and again, lacks the cute and cuddly side when it comes to the various specialists shroud waving and trying to attract funding to their area.


So what are we going to do? Well St Mark’s Church has started their ‘Buried in Barrow’ Campaign.


The hope is that next winter we’ll have a night shelter any homeless person can go to, seven nights a week, at least through winter.


This strikes me as a good a place to start as any.

The wisdom of crowds


In 1906 Francis Galton visited a livestock fair. The organisers had an ox on display, and the peasantry attending were invited to guess what the animal would weigh after it had been slaughtered and dressed out. Apparently nearly 800 participated, and Galton as a statistician was allowed after the event to study the entry forms. Whilst nobody got the weight right, the average of all 800 guesses was within 0.8% of the weight measured by the judges. It’s funny the things you come across at cattle marts isn’t it.

But anyway, earlier today I was checking sheep and in the distance noticed what appeared to be a balloon tangled up in the hedge. I didn’t have time to do anything about it then, but this afternoon I went and collected it. I wouldn’t claim discarded balloons are a major problem but I’ll notice a couple a year and I quietly collect them and pop them in the bin just to keep things tidy.

As I pulled this one out of the hawthorn I noticed it had a note attached. I assumed it might be a balloon race and looked more closely just to see where it had come from. It was as I read the card that I discovered the concept of the ‘angelversary’. It’s not the sort of discovery you expect to make in a cold field in the middle of a December afternoon. In case you’ve not come across them, it’s a commemoration of the death or stillbirth of a child. By definition the whole thing is heart-achingly sad.

And for any family in this situation the whole thing can be overwhelming. Somehow people have to cope and if sending a balloon with a kiss on it so that they can somehow kiss the little star they’ve lost helps, then frankly I don’t mind quietly pulling the spent balloons out of hedges and dropping them sadly into the bin on a daily basis.

But in spite of the scepticism of the educated and the sneers of the wise, I don’t think hoi polloi have adjusted to the fact that apparently now all we are is DNA frantically attempting to replicate, and that any sense we have of free will is merely a delusion built into the system.

Because in spite of the lecturing, it seems that the ignorant still have a feeling that there is something out there which isn’t us but is somehow greater than us, and it’s when the pain is strongest that you come closest to it.

It’s still better to light a candle than curse the darkness.

Poets, beauty and truth



It has to be said that poets seem to regard spending time in the company of an editor with the same enthusiasm as a tom cat looks forward to a trip to the vets. Listen to the fuss they make about it and you’d begin to suspect it was for the same reason.

Still at last I have done it. The first short collection of Tallis Steelyard prose is now available for purchase by a discerning public. Given that they have, so I am assured, been clamouring for the opportunity for some time, I am not so much promoting this august work as merely broadcasting a public service announcement.

So what do you get if you purchase a copy of ‘Tallis Steelyard, shower me with gold and other stories?’ Well the obvious answer is that this slim volume presents the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard.

For those who wish to know more, then this slim novella contains over twenty chapters of varying lengths. They cover topics ranging from ‘One Truly Exceptional Bowel Movement’ through to the rather more erudite ‘The Ballard of Stagbold Keep.’  Then again which budding poetaster could turn down an opportunity to have the advice of the master permanently on hand? Thus and so ‘How to make a living as a Poet’ will be essential reading for many.


Available for purchase from Amazon around the world.




A load of Bull

Tallis Steelyard


People don’t realise what gifts they have, or what skills they possess. Sometimes they have the ability to do all sorts of things yet they never do them.

Obviously I am a person with many capabilities, able to turn my hand to a wide variety of work, a sonnet here, a bawdy ballad there, a saga or a dirge as the situation demands. But this is not the limit of my talents.

An example of how a poet’s talents are almost infinitely flexible could be when I was pressed into helping Uncle Jonkon. He’s the brother of Shena’s father, the nearest thing their family has to a person who is respectably successful. Contemplating the rest of the family, one can see that the respectable have found success elusive, whilst those who experience some transient flickers of success do so from beyond the bounds of respectability.

Uncle Jonkon is a dairyman…

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Not so Sloe Gin


Now then I confess that my reading might not be as wide as it should be. There are whole swathes of literature where I’ve barely skimmed the surface. So when my daughter appeared, waving a glossy Sunday Supplement at me, I confess I was about to venture into deep waters. Previously I had barely paddled around the edges of this literary abyss, now I was encouraged to plunge in, or at least read the advertisements.

And there, by my daughter’s quivering finger, was an advert for sloe gin. Apparently if I was to pay the advertiser the relatively princely sum of sixty pounds, they’d send me a bottle of sloe gin and a small blackthorn bush. All this came in a crate. My first thought, looking at the crate, was that ‘pallet timber is cheap enough.’

Obviously this is a venture I could take on, sloe gin I can make, apparently successfully. Blackthorn I’m familiar enough with, we’ve got a fair length of blackthorn hedge. Pallet timber I can acquire easily and cheaply enough. My main problem is finding somebody who would hand over sixty pounds for the combination. Not only do I live among folk who seem to be almost indecently thrifty in this regard, but my friends seem to share the same pragmatic attitude to such purchases. An attempt locally to combine the fruits of the garden centre with those of the saloon bar would meet little success.

That’s probably why you have to advertise in Sunday Supplements?

But anyway I’ve already got my marketing sorted


First my recipe for Sloe Gin

Note I’ve got to make it exotic if it’s going to be worth sixty quid.


First take your gin, bon marché et chimique

Then sugar, doux et blanc

Finally the sloes, noir, gele et juteux

Finally, a bottle, d’occasion avec nouvelle étiquette


Obviously the proportions are important, but equally obviously I cannot tell you them because I don’t want every Tom, Dick or Blodwen making it.
Blackthorn plants aren’t a problem, I can get them at £60 per hundred, but again I’ll have to do something to make them even more exotic


That’s it; we’ll call them Prunus spinosa et divites adultery


So who could resist this, Sloe Gin, bon marché et chimique with your own plant of Prunus spinosa et divites adultery so that you can produce your own gin in years to come.

As an aside, the use of French and Latin is as fraudulent as the rest of the project.

As a further aside, in case you hadn’t realised, for the fine Novella, “The Cartographer’s Apprentice” I am asking a mere £1.15. Four short stories from the Land of the Three Seas casting a light on the early career of Benor Dorfinngil. The trials and tribulations of a young cartographer; this book features duels, savage halfmen, gassy beer, blood feuds and most dangerous of all, beautiful women.

Something to read with your sloe gin perhaps?


Go on; treat yourself, cheap at twice the price


“If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.”


The immortal words of W. C. Fields, who also said, “Whilst travelling through Afghanistan, we lost our corkscrew. Had to live on food and water for several days.”

But when you look around the weight of bullshit has increased almost exponentially over recent years. What’s the purpose?

Some of it is professional. The last thing the members of a profession need is for those outside the profession to suddenly understand the system. After all, if we were all fluent in law or tax accountancy (to take two examples) then we’d not need to hire lawyers or accountants. But gaining professional fluency takes time, I’ve noted that lawyers tend to hire accountants, and in need, accountants hire lawyers. Life it probably too short to master too many jargons or argots.

On the other hand a good professional jargon can be a disguise, a distraction, to conceal from the people who fund the profession that the professionals haven’t got a clue and are desperately hoping we don’t notice. It’s a bit like the Emperor’s New Clothes, where the Emperor suspects we might have noticed and tries to keep his hands moving rapidly enough to avoid embarrassment.

On top of having a good incomprehensible professional jargon, you also need to move the goalposts occasionally. The last thing you want is to keep things measurable; otherwise some clown will measure things and show you’ve failed.

Hence governments constantly tinker with how they measure things like cost of living, which ensures that the new figures are not comparable with the old figures but strangely enough always show whatever it is government wishes to show.

Another example is teaching where at one point, when I was in the system, we had first years, second years etc.

Now we have year 1, year 2 etc, and on top of that, in case somebody worked out an easy way to compare one to the other, we now have ‘key stages’ where you have things like key stage 1 and key stage 2.

If you’re part of the system then of course you know what they mean and it’s so obvious. But if you’re just somebody listening to a radio report over breakfast but the time you’ve converted things in your head to work out what exactly they’re talking about, the conversation is over and you never did find out what was going wrong.

Thanks to the internet this sort of thing has proliferated even more. The level of what W. C. Fields might have described as bullshit has hit whole new levels. But now it isn’t merely camouflaging failure, it’s actively trying to deceive.

So a photo of Turkish football fans arriving at an unidentifiable European airport is described as an army of refugees and asks where their women and children are.

As a lad I was told, ‘Believe nowt you read and only half of what you see.’ It struck me as good advice then, and I’d recommend it to you.

On the other hand if you fancy a read I’ll recommend two books. If you can find it

Darrell Huff, ‘How to Lie with Statistics.’

A classic work, slim, easy to read, and great fun.

Also if I may, another classic work which is also slim, easy to read and great fun


Do bordellos even have pianists any more?

Young Woman Seated at a Virginal, about 1670-1672


Ever had that feeling that you were somehow getting out of touch with modern developments, and that contemporary culture was passing you by?

I’m not  merely talking about the endless plethora of sub-musical boy-bands which manage to fade seamlessly into each other as one after another they disappear back into the dark. There are times when I feel a sense of brotherhood with the High Court judge who legend insists hadn’t heard of the Beatles.
During the course of today I was talking to a young lady who wanted me to fill in a questionnaire. I suppose that could be misconstrued, but actually it was a competition where if I correctly graded four fat bullocks from their photographs, I’d win £200. Anyway as part of this questionnaire she rather shyly asked my age. When I told her, she said how much she wished that she to had been born in the 1950s and had lived to see the 1960s in the flesh rather than just hearing stories about them.

Actually I suppose the ‘60s might have been special somewhere, but frankly even those of us who were in our early teens at the end of them probably heard stories about the interesting bits rather more than we experienced them.

Personally I reckon the 70s had more interesting music, and as a tribute to the 70s I still dress now pretty much as I dressed then. No flairs obviously, no tie, and the hair isn’t as long as it was. Still, after chatting today one regret is that you cannot get the interestingly patterned shirts that we had back then.


I suppose that once you’ve found something worth having, you’re unlikely to abandon it for the next transient craze. Well not if you’ve got any sense. So currently I’m listening to ‘Shine on you crazy diamond’, from 1975  rather than some ‘emo music to cut your wrists by’.

I suppose it’s easy to fall in with sentiment so beautifully expressed as “Change and decay in all around I see,” and drift semi-detached to whatever is this week’s version of ‘modern culture.’

But this evening we had a discussion about comments one can make to telephone cold-callers. Here I mentioned my suggestion to one of them that they might wish to take up the post of honky-tonk pianist in a bordello as it brought with it a chance to work in a better ethical work environment than their current job.

But it was pointed out to me this evening that even this suggestion is based on cultural references that will doubtless mean nothing to somebody working in an Asian call-centre.

Did they put the phone down on me because I’d offended them or because they were simply bemused?

And do bordellos even have pianists any more?

(Note you may not want to answer that question even if you know the answer lest it in some way incriminate you.)