I suppose it’s probably summer



Whilst we’ve had a lot of hot dry weather up here, the ground was so wet that we’ve seen very little sign of grass burning off. Indeed everything still looked pretty green even before the last lot of rain. This is especially true of anything deep rooted. When you look at the photo above, I’ve got to get through there with a quad bike at times.

We aren’t a big farm but we have an interesting collection of soil types. Down on our bottom land we’re right on the clay, and as you can see by this photo, it’s cracked nicely. We really need a dry spell at some point in the year to crack the clay. It lets the air in and also improves the drainage. Indeed if it cracks like this, when it rains, the ground holds the water rather than having it just run off the surface and into the beck.



There are other signs that we’ve moved firmly from spring to summer. Even a quick glance at this field of barley will show that it’s starting to ‘turn.’ From now on it’s going to stop growing and start ripening. I suspect further south the combines will be working in a month.



One thing I’ve stopped doing is feeding sheep. The lambs are old enough to be able to get their nutrition out of grass. At the same time the ewes will be slowly cutting down the amount of milk they produce so they too can manage entirely on the grass they eat.

Now Sal and I walk round sheep, and their reaction to me is different. Whereas when I was on the quad they’d mob me looking for concentrates, now when I walk in they might drift across just to check. But all in all they’re starting to lose interest and a lot of them would rather sit in the shade and just watch me go past.
Still, it has to be said that on a fine morning, looking sheep isn’t a bad job. I worked out it took me about an hour and that means I must be walking nearly three miles.
Luckily my co-worker, who is faster than me, is happy enough to wait for me to catch up.



Anything else?
Well actually I was, as they say, proper chuffed recently. Somebody was writing about my books on one forum or another and made the comment

“but in all seriousness, they are great fun, intelligent, whimsical and a very easy read.

Ankh-Morpork meets the City State of the Invincible Overlord… or something.”


So what’s not to be chuffed about? If you’re interested I’ve got another one out.

A licence to print money: The Port Naain Intelligencer


An honest cartographer attempts to steer his way though grasping bureaucrats, bent bookmakers, magistrates who practice performance poetry and a young lady who wishes to end an ‘arrangement.’

Can Benor see justice done? Will Mutt finally meet his match? What do they teach aspiring temple dancers nowadays?


Oh and there’s another story coming out in installments as part of a blog tour

If you want to catch it, it’ll be on these blogs

A licence to print money tour, addresses
Wednesday 20th June Annette Rochelle Aben Episode 1 https://annetterochelleaben.wordpress.com/


Thursday 21st June Suzanne Joshi Episode 2 https://patriciaruthsusan.wordpress.com/


Friday 22nd June Chris Graham Episode 3 http://thestoryreadingapeblog.com/2018/06/22/tales-from-the-port-naain-intelligencer-collection-blog-tour-episode-3/


Saturday 23rd June Robbie Cheadle Episode 4 https://robbiesinspiration.wordpress.com/


Sunday 24th June Craig Boyack Episode 5 https://coldhandboyack.wordpress.com/2018/06/24/a-license-to-print-money/


Monday 25th June Sue Vincent Episode 6 https://scvincent.com/


Tuesday 26th June Chris Graham Episode 7 http://thestoryreadingapeblog.com/2018/06/26/reserved-for-jim-webster-2/


Wednesday 27th June Sue Vincent Episode 8 https://wp.me/p1wss8-fyz
Thursday 28th June Annette Rochelle Aben Episode 9 https://annetterochelleaben.wordpress.com/





Foxes, Sal, cultural dissonance and virtually the whole tree!


Have you ever wondered whether you were breaking the law or not? This morning I was quietly minding my own business, walking round the farm checking to see that various batches of sheep were OK. Of course I had Sal with me because even when there’s no formal work to be done, she can still be useful. She’ll find the ones who’re snoozing quietly in obscure corners and get them running back to the others. A sheep who runs back to the others is generally a healthy sheep. A sheep who just stares blankly at Sal and ignores her is, in all probability, ill.

Anyway this morning I was walking across one field and Sal set off into a big patch of rushes and long grass. Unfortunately she’s not a tall dog and just disappeared into them. Every so often she’d spring vertically using all four feet in an attempt to spot her way out.

Then suddenly I saw a fox leaving the rushes at speed. This was followed by Sal, also moving at speed. The fox accelerated and made a run for the beck. In Sal’s mind, this is the equivalent of a felon making a run for the state line. So of course she accelerated as well. Anyway the fox swam the beck and ran up the other side and away. Sal stopped on our side of the beck leaving me pondering whether I had been hunting?
After all “A person will be deemed to be hunting if s/he engages or participates in the pursuit of a wild mammal and one or more dogs are employed in that pursuit.”

Now I would put forward as my defence that I didn’t actually participate. Frankly there’s no way I could keep up with either Sal or the fox. Indeed I didn’t even shout encouragement from the sidelines.

Not only that but I would have suggested to my learned friend that a Border Collie bitch who takes it upon herself to remove a fox from amongst her sheep isn’t hunting. She’s merely doing her job.

Still we shall leave that vexed legal issue behind us and continue with our perambulations, checking sheep. Then as I left one field I discovered somebody had dumped a lot of chopped up lengths of Leylandii in the gateway. So after I’d been to church, Sal and I returned with the quad and trailer to collect them.

Now here’s where the cultural dissonance comes in. Somebody is proudly tidying their garden etc, and what to they do with their rubbish? Put it in the car and drive out into the countryside to dump it! The tip is probably nearer.

So they’re sitting proudly in their garden, basking in the praise of everybody who’s saying, “You’ve got this looking nice.” When actually they’re just some muppet who dumps their rubbish in gateways.

But actually it gets even more confusing because frankly, if the person had come into our yard with it, I’d have helped them unload the car onto our log pile. It can stay there, dry out a bit and then I’ll cut it up and it’ll help keep our house warm this winter. To some rubbish dumping muppet who lives in a house with central heating, it’s rubbish to be dumped. For those of us rural dwellers for whom affordable gas central heating is an impossible dream, it’s a resource. We recycle stuff like that for its energy content.

Isn’t the air thick down here?




Every silver lining has a cloud. Living here, every so often you get Herdwicks. Herdwick Hoggs are brought down from the fells to overwinter, and some of them wander off. They wander off because they’re Herdwicks. It’s just what they do. “I wander therefore I am.”

Anyway one of them wandered during the course of this winter and ended up with us. She is the white faced one in the middle of the picture. The rest of them, decent, respectable breeds, are forming something which looks like the start of a defensive circle because Sal (at the back) is starting to gather them up.

Defensive circles work well with Musk ox but somehow sheep don’t have what it takes. So seconds after this picture was taken, the sheep were moving in approximately the right direction.

But anyway, we are temporary custodian of a Herdwick. At some point an owner might turn up, who knows. But this process of wintering young breeding female sheep in the lowlands is very old. It’s been done for centuries.

But it’s not without issues. The bureaucratic complexities of the process are worth exploring.

Generally I’d say most of the environmental agencies are in favour of overwintering sheep off the fells. Depending on the fell and the environmental scheme, they will even make a financial contribution towards the process. It is, from their point of view as an arm of government, “A good thing,” and one the state, in some cases, supports financially for environmental reasons.

But then you come to another arm of the State, Animal Health. Livestock wandering about all willy-nilly is frowned upon. ‘You don’t know what they’ve got!’ For epidemiological reasons the state vets would cut down the number of animal movements to the absolute minimum.

So you get animal movement systems set up so that every movement is tracked, by a farmer who reads the ear-tag and sends the details to the appropriate authority.  This is an EU idea by the way.

Then you get a supermarket that comes along and decides that it can make something out of this. To try and entice you into paying more for ‘higher welfare’ the supermarket announces that it will not buy animals that have been on more than ‘x’ farms (where ‘x’ is a number chosen in a pretty arbitrary manner by the marketing people).

So an ancient system that is approved off by one arm of the state and closely monitored by another arm of the state is being discriminated against by a retailer who thinks they might get a couple of cheap brownie points out of it for their marketing department.

But the more we look at it the more complicated it gets. The EU pronounced that sheep would have an electronic tag so each was an individual traceable under all circumstances.

Now set aside the possible existential angst a sheep might experience on discovering that it is officially an individual. The idea was that the farmer would wave a stick reader at the sheep and it would tell him the ID of the sheep.

The farmer then submits to the local trading standards department a list of   the individual ID’s of the sheep that he or she is moving.

Obviously this should be done electronically, one database chittering away in machine-code to another. Except that government might legislate for a system but couldn’t afford to actually put it in place. So when the farmer sends information to trading standards (on paper) to say these 57 individual animals (with all their details) have moved. Trading standards immediately ignore the individual animals and write down 57 sheep moved off that farm to the auction.

So government introduced a system that the industry didn’t particularly want and government cannot afford to run anyway.


Anyway, just in case you wanted to know how, here’s a defensive circle done properly.


And if you want to read more about Sal, and other stuff, you could always try


Sheep, just because!


My lady wife had to get another car. It’s not new, but it is newer. Thus every time she starts it, a disembodied female voice informs her that ‘Emergency Assistance is not operational.’

It sums up so much of modern technology. This is a service we never asked for, haven’t got a clue what it does, cannot use because neither of us have smart phones (why pay for a smart phone contract when it spends 99% of its life switched off because we live in an area with no signal) and what’s more there appears to be no way of switching the disembodied voice off. Or at least none that our dealer can come up with.

Still it does give me the occasional chance to hear my wife mutter, “Oh shut up you idiot woman” when she’s got enough on her plate without having to contemplate the ineffectuality of technological innovation.
It has to be admitted that I treat the bizarre foibles of modern technology with casual distain. With the obvious exception of Windows 10, which has pushed back the frontiers of futility and has taken pointless innovation to new and self destructive levels, there is little that modern technology can offer in the way of incomprehensible behaviour that even a perfectly ordinary sheep couldn’t match.

Because we’re in May, and Furness does May really well, we’ve cut back the feed we’re giving to the ewes. Because they’re busy producing milk for lambs, the ewes need plenty of energy and in March and April this isn’t available from the grass. But as one old farming saying has it, “You can milk bullocks in May.” The grass is perfect for milk production, there is plenty of it and not only that but the lambs are old enough to be eating a fair bit of grass themselves.

So rather than me turn up with quad, trailer, Sal, and several buckets of feed, the ewes just get Sal and I. Unless that is, I’m in a rush to be somewhere and then they get a quad, Sal and I.
If it’s just Sal and I the ewes glare at me, some even wandering across to check up on the off chance I might just produce something for them, conjuring it up out of thin air.

But if the quad appears, the entire flock concentrates on us and when we turn to leave the field they stream after us like some ovine version of the Keystone Cops.

The propensity to associate the quad with food is immediately dispelled if you blow the horn. To the sheep (and through observation, to Sal) once the horn is blown the game changes. The quad morphs instantaneously from potential feed dispenser into the rounder up of laggards.


Whilst we’re on about sheep surprising you, it might be worth mentioning the five hoggs in the church yard. They’re keeping the grass down. The problem is it would cost an awful lot of money to pay somebody to mow it. Anybody volunteering to do it would find themselves spending days at a time wielding the strimmer because there are too many curbs and suchlike to allow mowing. So the answer is sheep. (Actually to get ‘sheep’ as an answer, you’ve got to be looking at a very specialist subset of questions.)

From a pure grazing/grassland management point of view we really put the sheep in too late, but then we don’t want to spoil the rather spectacular display of daffodils. So the sheep spend summer playing catch up.

Now this year there are five hoggs in the church yard. They ran with the tup last backend but being young it’s always touch and go whether they’ll end up in lamb, and so when the last ewe lambed on May 8th we weren’t surprised that these young ladies were obviously not going to lamb.

So next year is obviously going to be there big year, and they were kept to grow on with the idea that they’d come into the flock as shearlings. So this morning I turned up at the church to check on the five to see four running towards me, and I wondered where the fifth was.

She was following; looking over her shoulder to make sure the sixth was keeping up with her.


It did occur to me that you might like a few more stories about sheep, dogs, quads and stuff.


It’s unseasonably warm


It’s sunny, it’s even hot at times, and I haven’t worn waterproofs for at least a fortnight.

So what are we up to? Sheep are doing OK, lambs are growing nicely. They always say that lamb has to be cooked twice, once outside in the sun and once inside in the oven. But they’re looking well and bouncing happily. Otherwise we’ve finished first cut silage and are now waiting for the grass to grow again. At the same time in one of the ponds we have the lady in the photo who’s waiting for her eggs to hatch. She’s nesting on a pond we put a few trees round nearly thirty years ago. We pretty regularly get swans nesting here, and certainly geese, coots, moorhens and the occasional duck.

Actually we’ve seen a definite increase in the wildlife round here over the last few decades and much of it is due to the efforts of the local Wildfowlers. They will hunt ducks and geese (in season) for the table. Also in season they’ll take the occasional pheasant and help keep down the number of rabbits if they start getting out of hand.

The wildfowlers help in two ways. The first is that over the years they’ve done work to make nesting sites better, and have even worked with farmers to produce more nesting sites. But perhaps even more importantly, they help police who does and who doesn’t hunt. So whereas most farmers will be wary about crossing those who hunt with lurchers or other dogs, or shoot without permission (because they know where we live, and do you really want to come home to a barn fire?) the Wildfowlers can be straight on the phone and can turn up in court to provide witnesses if needed.

It depends on the area, but round here our wildfowlers and hunters are ordinary working class lads out of the local town, and they’re great because they provide a bridge between town and country. This is because whilst they live in town, they have a genuine love of the countryside and do try to understand the rural world.

I remember talking to one, relatively early one morning. He worked month on, month off, on the rigs. So he reckoned that the thing that kept him sane was being able to come home to his family and then next day go out early in the morning; long before the rest of his family were out of bed, and just walk for two or three hours with dog and gun. Perhaps he’d provide their evening meal (because he could cook game as well as merely shoot and prepare it) or perhaps he wouldn’t, but he was there with a purpose. Importantly, it was his purpose, his priorities were the priorities that really mattered and the company, the various inspectorates, the union and everybody else who made his working life so stressful could just go hang.

We see others as well. I know one chap who does not enjoy good health but took up metal detecting. When he’s up to it we’ll see him and he’ll get a day in and he always looks better for it.

Those who want to just walk are well provided for, there’s a reasonable network of paths and quiet lanes round here, but somehow we’ve got to provide for the others as well, those with different excuses for getting out into the countryside, but still have that same driving need to just immerse themselves.

There again, thinking about it; isn’t it a really sad indictment of decades of government and local authority town planning, that the spaces they have created for people to live in are so toxic that people can only survive by getting out of them and spending time in places where the planners have never set foot?

Scout Pilot of the Free Union



I don’t often review books, but I’m making an exception here because a writer whose work I like has branched out into a new field. Space Opera. So it would be churlish not to mention it so others get a chance to look at what he’s doing.


Scout Pilot of the Free Union

Infinity is for losers.


By Will Macmillan Jones

Published by Red Kite Publishing

Just to note that I received advanced copies in return for an unbiased review

The books follow the career (in this case, career as in ‘When the brakes failed, the wagon careered downhill’) of Captain Frank Eric Russell, who becomes a Scout pilot of the Free Union. The stories are told by the good Captain in the first person.

This means that we whilst we see events through the eyes of our hero, we also begin to realise that he is in some things an unreliable observer. It begins to dawn upon the reader that Russell is a far better pilot and far more generally competent than he admits.

The universe is divided between three main powers. The first two that we meet are the Free Union, which our hero serves, and the Imperium, who are the enemy in waiting. There is no war between the two but there is a constant bickering at the outposts and attempts to destabilise the other. Finally there are the Merchant Princes, who happily trade with anybody.

In the first book, ‘Scout Pilot of the Free Union’, each chapter seems to be a separate mission and a separate story. But eventually you start to realise that there is a common thread starting to pull them together, until by the time you get into the second book, ‘Infinity is for losers’, we see that our hero is caught up in something far more complicated and dangerous than he first thought. I have no intention of saying more and spoiling the plot for anybody.

This isn’t hard military SF; similarly we are spared being plunged into some dark angst ridden dystopia, these stories are Space Opera. Admittedly there are times when Russell sees his superiors as a bigger threat to his survival than the enemy, but I suspect many service personnel could empathise with this.

Will Macmillan Jones is a story teller and a fine one. As I read these books I found myself swept along by the story.

At some point it appears the modern reviewer has to award ‘stars’. It’s not longer good enough to describe something as a ‘cracking good read.’ But I am not a number, I am a free man. I will wave my hand airily and announce that these books are undoubtedly somewhere betwixt and between four and five stars.

The far more important question is will I read the rest of the series. Too damned right I will. I’m looking forward to them and when they arrive I’ll tear open the packet and start reading. They’re fun!


#bookreview – Tallis Steelyard and The Sedan chair caper

How could I not reblog this! 🙂

Robbie's inspiration

Tallis Steelyard and the sedan chair caper.

What Amazon says

Rather than his usual collection of anecdotes, this time Tallis presents us with one gripping adventure. A tale of adventure, duplicity and gentility. Why does an otherwise respectable lady have a pair of sedan chair bearers hidden in her spare bedroom? Why was the middle aged usurer brandishing an axe? Can a gangster’s moll be accepted into polite society? Answer these questions and more as Tallis Steelyard ventures unwillingly into the seedy world of respectable ladies who love of sedan chair racing.

My review

In this entertaining book by Jim Webster, the reader is treated to the ins and outs of sedan chair racing in Port Naain. Sedan chair racing comprises of chairs, transporting various wealthy ladies of impeccable social standing, borne by fit young men called sedan chair bearers, which raced each other through the streets. The ladies are not at all good sports and all…

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