Monthly Archives: June 2013

I was never terribly good at this modern culture thing.

When they explained that the lass I was to meet was a ‘Goth’ I saw blond plaits, thick as your arm, and the pounding hooves of a thousand horsemen. Black lipstick and white complexion was a shock. Mentally this was the equivalent of dropping from second into reverse without dropping the revs. But I managed somehow.
But modern culture can catch me out in all sorts of ways. A year or two back I was driving down across country to Ely, and was on the M6 toll and decided to stop at the services there to get something to eat.
As a walked across the central court, there were two ladies with a stand demonstrating and selling cosmetics. I observed them as a potential obstacle to be avoided, but I haven’t a clue which company they were working and even if you told me the name it wouldn’t mean anything to me. (I’m bad like that; someone was trying to give me directions to get to the hospital in Kendal and started, ‘Well you know where ASDA is?’ I replied ‘No, I’m a male, I don’t do shopping. Where is it from the first river bridge?’)
But anyway I seem to have drifted off the subject. There were these two ladies with their cosmetics stand. I guess they were about ready to pack up and go home, the day’s rush had long gone. Anyway they saw me and converged on me, coming at me from each side of the stall in a pincer movement.
“Excuse me Sir, would you like to look at these.” (Produces something which is probably called a ‘goody bag.’)
I stopped, looked at her and said, “Lass, I don’t think that I’m your target audience.”
She smiled a tired smile at me. (You could tell it had been a long day and she’d almost certainly spent most of it on her feet.) “Ah but you’ll have a wife or girlfriend or daughters who you buy clothes and cosmetics for.”
I’m afraid to say that at this point I was shocked. I was more put out than when the Goth turned out to be some vapid and anaemic Miss with black lipstick and eye shadow. When I got my voice back I merely said;
“Madam, I’ve never bough clothes or cosmetics for my wife or daughters in my life.”
Frankly if I’d pulled holy water from out of my jacket and started spraying them with it I don’t think they could be more shocked. We were speaking at each other in the same language but we weren’t communicating. The cultural gap between us was too wide for mere words to bridge. They fell back together, huddled for mutual support in the face of this walking blasphemy and I made my way to the counter to get something to eat.
But it has to be said that this shocked me. It was their absolute certainty that as a Husband/Father/Boyfriend I would automatically be buying this stuff for the ladies in my life. Had I, by some embarrassing oversight missed out on what was one of my more important duties and everyone in the family was too kind to tell me of my failings. (To be fair, that would be a first, they’re pretty good at telling me of my failings.)
So when I landed back home I mentioned this incident to my Lady wife. She laughed and asked how the rest of the trip had gone. Well that was sort of reassuring.
Anyway oldest daughter made an appearance. So I told her the story and asked whether I should be buying her clothes, cosmetics etc. She patted me on the arm as if calming a puzzled dog and said ‘Jim, you buy me books as presents. You buy me interesting books I’d never think to buy for myself. Stick to what you do best.’
Well that was reassuring. Anyway youngest daughter wandered back from Uni or wherever and I told her the tale and asked her the obvious question.
She pondered it for a number of seconds and then pronounced that she might, under strictly limited circumstances, let me buy her gloves, and perhaps even socks, but should this ever happen I would be furnished with full written instructions as to size, colour, model, location in shop and even the position on the rack. She would also be in the store so I could show her what I’d picked up before I went to pay for it.
So that is me firmly in my place.
And for the record, Goths who don’t come with blonde hair, burning cities and a wave after wave of armoured horsemen are a pretty poor substitute for the real thing. Sorry and all that.

(And sorry to be picky, but someone should have told them that a shield isn’t a fashion accessory, you wear it on your left arm, not strapped to the saddle. I suspect they struggle to get enough properly trained horsemen, even with CGI)

The end of empire

Empires should end with a bang, not a whimper. Barbarians should pour through the gates and the circling carrion birds should be silhouetted against the flames of the burning city. If the job is to be done, it ought to be done properly

You might ask why I was thinking about this. Well yesterday I went for a walk along the coast north of here. A little bit of history and geography might be useful. Barrow has one of the best deep water harbours in the UK. But around the town are considerable areas of level sand. Indeed from memory the land area of the borough more than doubles when the tide goes out. During the Second World War there was concern that should the Germans invade this country, Barrow might become a target. A glider attack could land on the sands and merchant shipping that had been lurking along the coast of a neutral Irish republic could be discharging men and supplies within hours of the town falling.
When I was a child, ‘The War’ was still a factor in our lives, even those of us born more than a decade after the end. I can remember sitting at meals listening to what is now Radio 4. News broadcasts would start with, ‘Twenty years ago today’. Men and women of my parent’s generation would go quiet remembering those they knew who hadn’t survived, whether they died in fighting abroad or in the bombing at home.
Back then the beaches round here were still covered with anti-glider defences, poles driven into the sands, to deter the enemy from attempting to land, and concrete pill boxes were scattered around the coast.
Well my parent’s generation have largely gone now, the anti-glider posts have rotted and are no more. But concrete wears well and the Pill boxes are still there. Solid, immoveable, great chunks of poured concrete, all in one piece, their embrasures like blind eyes still stare out over the level sands. They wait tirelessly for an enemy who hasn’t arrived yet.
And yet and yet, as I walked along the coast in the early evening I passed four of them. A warm sun played on them, solid, eternal, set among the short beach grasses and wild flowers, dominating the beach. Across the beach they have Black Combe and the Lakeland fells as a back drop. Time has hit even these slumbering behemoths. Set on their concrete beds to master the sea, the sea has mastered them. Two have been so undermined that they have slipped slowly down the concrete pads built to take them and now lie like discarded milk crates. They look as if we built them, and then out of habit we attempted to launch them. They lie at the foot of the ‘slipway’ as if waiting for the tide to right them.
A third sits where it should, guarding the footpath off the beach, whilst the fourth is spectacularly upended. It rests entirely on its front, its roof and floors now the only vertical walls, with its entrance up in the air and totally inaccessible. It has a post-modernist air, simultaneously both sculpture and comment on the futility of endeavour.
And it reminded me of another place. Back in the 1980s I was on Iceland, and there in the far north there had been a British wartime radar base. I walked up to it. Very British, there was a pier for supplies to be landed by boat, and a narrow gauge railway had carried supplies up to the camp. I walked up a long staircase of short concrete sleepers stamped RME. (Royal Military Engineers) The steel of the rails had long since been taken for recycling. In that part of Iceland all the hills have been taken off at the same height by ice sheets in the past. Get to the top of one and there isn’t anywhere higher than you. So at the top on a plateau I could see for miles, out across the Arctic Ocean. Both sea and sky were that particular shade of faded washed out blue that you get up there, as if someone had mixed in more white that was really necessary.
And there was the camp. A huddle of Nissen huts, all that was left of them was the brick built chimney stacks and the concrete bases they’d stood on. Forty years of winter gales and no maintenance had got rid of the rest.
And then there were the light anti-aircraft guns. Still on their mounts, rusted permanently in place, their barrels pointing skywards; only the breeches had been removed. I stood looked out over the ocean for a fair while. Abandoned, forgotten, this place felt like a lesser known contemporary of Hadrian’s Wall.

Empires don’t end with a bang. In ‘The Life of St. Severinus’ as written by Eugippius, written about 500AD, the author describes the end of the Roman Empire in what we might now think of as Northern Austria and Slovenia in about 470AD

“So long as the Roman dominion lasted, soldiers were maintained in many towns at the public expense to guard the boundary wall. When this custom ceased, the squadrons of soldiers and the boundary wall were blotted out together. The troop at Batavis, however, held out. Some soldiers of this troop had gone to Italy to fetch the final pay to their comrades, and no one knew that the barbarians had slain them on the way.”

Empires end with a whimper. There isn’t the money any more and they just take the breech-blocks out and go home.

Four Lesbians in a fast car

Over the years I’ve avoided equine entanglements. I used to boast that I’d eaten horse more recently than I’d ridden one, but now thanks to Tesco pretty well everyone can say that.
Still I’ve avoided going into the whole ‘livery yard’ diversification thing. Not through innate conservatism or immense wisdom but basically because I’d heard too many stories.
One lass I knew did Livery for a few years. She had tales to make your eyes water. As she said, “I didn’t mind helping them organise their show timetables, but be damned if I was going to help them organise their adultery as well.” She also got fed up of having to cough loudly before going into her own barn, in case she might stumble on something (or in one case quite literally stumble over someone) that she’d prefer not to know about.
One lady brought a horse in for livery. Things went well enough for three months or so but then the rent started falling behind. My informant made tentative enquiries (She’s very English you know, doesn’t want to make a fuss) and discovered that the horse was actually owned by the husband and the livery fees were being paid by the boyfriend. The two gentlemen in question had at this point discovered each other’s existence and were less than happy with the situation. The lady who had brought the horse in had more chance of becoming the next Pope than she had of paying the bill.
At this point my informant had had enough. She parked a tractor across the stable door and took the back wheels off. She didn’t care who paid her but someone was going to before they could get their horse back.
Which sort of brings us to the title of this blog post; another place and time has moved on. Now in these ostentatiously enlightened times a (different) lady of my acquaintance discovered that adultery had also moved on. She had a female client who had the horse with her. As far as I can make out the husband was paying for the horse and the lady and her girlfriend were both riding it. And when said Lady decided to go off with girlfriend and abandon husband, husband of course stopped paying.
So as usual these things get acrimonious and people get all upset. People forget themselves and make threats because they aren’t willing to take responsibility for their own actions. After all it’s easier to do that than try to put things right.
Eventually I became peripherally involved. I was walking quietly down the lane minding my own business when this car came past me rather quickly. I stepped promptly to the side and had just recovered my equilibrium when my informant appeared in her car to ask me a question which I’m unlikely to forget. “Have you just seen four lesbians in a fast car?”

Live and Learn

It’s funny what you learn as you grow older. I now know that a lady can wear a skirt when playing on a bouncy castle and still maintain both dignity and decency. I’ve also discovered that I’m not happen as young as I was.
But it’s sort of been a busy few days. On Saturday I gave a hand with shearing sheep. I’m not the one with the clippers. That is a young man’s game, and probably a short young man’s game as well to be honest; all then bending and pulling hammers your back. There were three lads doing the shearing, working on a trailer, with the ewes in a race behind them. The procedure is kept simple. Grab ewe out of race, clip ewe, kick fleece onto sheet for someone to roll and release ewe to join her mates. Grab next ewe in the race. Repeat.
It was hot, the sheep are heavy, and my job was pushing ewes into the race. So I got to fill the race then I had time to spit before the shearers had finished their ewes and made enough room in the race for me to put some more in. But the shearers just didn’t stop. They work damned hard for their money.
You might imagine that when shearing you don’t need a lot of clothes. But given that sheep collect briars in their fleeces, you wear decent long trousers (which end up waterproof with all the lanolin) and normally a vest. We did have one disappointed lady who commented that she’d expected to see a fine selection of well muscled and bronzed ‘six-packs’ but actually the lads today don’t do the amount of fork and shovel work we used to do. So whilst I’d say they were fit, they fell short of her definition of ‘fit’.

Anyway we got all the sheep clipped, called in at ‘The Derby’ for a pint, which went down well and then I went home to get on with some work. Next day as I rolled out of bed I found I was stretching carefully, like an old dog. Starting at one end and waiting to see which bit cracked next. As I said, I’m not happen as young as I was.
But then we had to go to a bit of a do. A lot of little kids and a bouncy castle, and much to my surprise, a lady who kicked off her heels and went onto the castle in a skirt to ensure the littlest ones were OK. And it is true, if you know what you’re doing, you can go onto a bouncy castle in a skirt and still leave everything to the imagination.
And then there was the little lass who stood there studying the whole situation. You know how something or someone looks familiar and you just cannot place them? Well suddenly I realised where I’d seen her. Remember the ‘Charlie Brown’ cartoons by Charles M. Schulz? She was an absolute spit of the little girls in that, even down to the expression.
Certainly if in the next year or so if she is looking for someone to kick the football she is holding, she can ask someone younger and less well read.

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!

I do a fair few things to earn a living. Admittedly I no longer sell firewater and cheap rifles to the natives, the government has an aid budget to handle that side of things, but I still do some freelance journalism to help keep the wolf from the door.
They always say write about what you know, which of course means that because I tend to know agriculture best, that’s what I write about.
I was putting a piece together today and I was looking at Beef and Lamb. Now the Chinese have always been big pork eaters, but now they’re eating other meats. When looking at lamb, in 2004 the Chinese imported 10,000 tons; in 2013 they are expected to import 60,000 tons. To put this in perspective, the UK is expected to export 12,000 tons of lamb to France this year, and France takes about half of our exports. The Chinese are buying beef as well, so even through world production is up a little, the price is still rising.
What is interesting is the knock-on from the horsemeat scandal. Last year, with similar levels of Beef production in the UK, the price of beef rose by less than 10p per kilo. This year with pretty well everything else unchanged, the price of beef rose 35p per kilo. Why? Well this year the retailers cannot pad their beef out with horsemeat to keep the price down. Imports from Poland have collapsed. In January this year, Polish exports to the UK were three times as high as they were in January 2012. By March this year they had fallen to half the level they had been in March 2012.
Food prices are going to continue going up, we’re not a wealthy country, and we’re not rich people any more.
Yet a friend of mine was visiting a young mum in hospital. She’d seen the girl’s mother, knew the lass was expecting and asked mum how things were going. She was told “Oh they’ve made a mess of it; hopefully we’ll be in for some compen.” My friend arrived at the hospital to find the lass had been taken to one hospital, her baby, who was fine was at another. By the time she found the lass, the young mother was now quite well, sitting up in her bed. My friend commented that her table was a complete mess with drinks, magazines, tissues, fruit, sweets etc in a teetering pile and was told, “Don’t worry, the nurses are here to tidy it up, it’s their job.”
To the best of my friend’s knowledge this young woman has never worked, has no training in anything and whilst pleasant company and a loving mother hasn’t much economic leverage.
Mind you I read something that cheered me. In Cumbria, our Bishop, James, has chaired a meeting which seems to be contemplating Cumbria being the first County in the UK to have a fairness commission. This would adopt the following aims

* moving minimum wage staff onto living wage
* trimming Chief Executive and top pay in the Council
* compressing pay ratios between highest and lowest paid Council staff
* making fair pay a condition of contracts with private sector providers
* in-sourcing services previously outsourced (better staff terms/conditions)

I’m already sold on the trimming Chief Executive pay. Mind you, I’d trim with a chainsaw. I’d recommend that no one in the public sector earned more than the PM. Whenever a contract comes up for renewal, the pay will drop to that level. Expenses will be limited to 2nd class rail fair and bed and breakfast accommodation costing no more than £40 a night.
Obviously some of them will claim that their skills will earn them far more in the private sector. That’s fine, I’m cool with that. I’d cheerfully allow them to resign and move to the private sector.
Oh yes, pay-offs. Why should they get one under any circumstances whatsoever unless a tribunal shows they’ve been unfairly dismissed?

There’s a hard landing coming, some are going to find it harder than others. On the other hand if you’re willing to work, you’ll probably get by. The Chinese appreciate hard workers.