Monthly Archives: August 2013

Unselective deafness


I’m looking back into a distant era. Rationing had finished, (but the ration books were still in the draw in the kitchen) the bright golden dawn of the NHS was upon us, and a young teacher had her two children, first a boy and then a little girl.
Yes, that boy was me. And as young mums are with their first child my Mum was doubtless a bit over watchful. Admittedly she had her mum, and my Dad’s mum, and doubtless a great heap of aunts and suchlike for advice, but this probably didn’t really help.
But eventually she came to the conclusion that there was something up with my hearing. So she took me to see the doctor. I remember him even now, not a big man, a Scot with an abrasive manner. From my perspective older and possibly wiser than God, and he examined my ears.
Then he arranged appointments for all sorts of clinics, where we waited in draughty corridors, (or rather my mum did, I read happily, as one advantage of having a teacher for a mother is that you’re literate before you get to school.)
Anyway I have to report that back then I found the tests quite fun. You had to listen to this but press a button if you heard that, and there were headphones and all sorts of stuff to play with.
But eventually, all good things come to an end, the various tests were completed, various reports were doubtless collated and sent on and we were summoned to meet our doctor once more.
Here, in retrospect, I have to pay tribute to the doctor, faced with an educated and strong minded young mum and her first child. He set the case out clearly. My hearing was perfect. My Mum probably expressed surprise, doubt and perhaps even bewilderment.
The doctor let her say her piece and then very gently (and over fifty years later I can still remember his explanation) said. “What you have to remember Mrs Webster, is that all men have an instinctive ability to screen out the female voice. It’s something of a defence mechanism. It’s just that your son has developed it at an unusually young age.”


I suppose I ought to recommend a book to you as well. How about

as a reviewer noted
“This is a delightful collection of gentle rants and witty reminiscences about life in a quiet corner of South Cumbria. Lots of sheep, cattle and collie dogs, but also wisdom, poetic insight, and humour. It was James Herriot who told us that ‘It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet’ but Jim Webster beautifully demonstrates that it usually happened to the farmer too, but far less money changed hands.

I, for one, am hoping that this short collection of blogs finds a wide and generous audience – not least because I’m sure there’s more where this came from. And at 99p you can’t go wrong!”

Men in tights

Why is it SF films are so unimaginative? Starwars has Hans Solo with a C96 Broomhandle Mauser with stick-on bits as a blaster pistol. Storm troopers used Sterling sub-machineguns, also with bits stuck on. Even in Aliens the Marines wear Vietnam War body armour with extra bits stuck on.
I hate to remind these people that fashions change and military dress is normally just a version of civilian dress. Just because we are wearing a certain style now doesn’t mean that it’s the pinnacle of fashion and isn’t going to change. Good grief, even during the dark ages we can see fashions in brooches change amongst the Germanic tribesmen who settled in Britain during the fourth and subsequent centuries!

One thing people sometimes ask is how did you get into this whole SF/Fantasy thing? Well I suppose it’s my mother’s fault. She was a teacher and wasn’t impressed by comics, but she decided that ‘Look and Learn’ was educational and so she bought me that. But then ‘Look and Learn’ incorporated ‘Ranger’ and suddenly things started looking up. Ranger brought the story of the Trigan Empire. What’s not to like, space ships, atmosphere craft, laser cannon, charging horsemen and flashing sword play? OK the stories were probably a bit stereotyped, but looking back they managed to avoid the semi-naked slave girl look, indeed their women wore more than in Star Trek. They also managed to break down the SF stereotype of the future dressing virtually like we do but with more electronics and different fabrics.


Then, in about 1972, I bought Jack Vance’s book. ‘Dragon Masters.’ Set in the far distant future you have a pre-industrial society that has bred lizard-like intelligent aliens to function as mounts for riding and warriors for fighting. Their insular little world is invaded by an alien ship which is crewed by the same aliens, who fight using humans that they’ve bred for much the same purposes.

This story totally blew me away. The world and the society it described was so utterly different from our own that I realised at once I had to read more by this writer.
To that day, whenever I’ve seen a book by Jack Vance that I didn’t own, I’ve bought it, no matter whether I had to walk home because I’d spent the bus fare or not.
But this is back in 1972. Jack Vance finally passed away this year, at the grand old age of 96. I’m waiting for a modern writer to set his SF story in a distant future where, once more, real men wear doublet and hose.


But then, how do real women behave?
Available in paperback or as an ebook

As a reviewer commented
“Where to start with this review? First of all a health warning. Do not read this book when drinking coffee/beer/WHY. Neither is it a great notion to read somewhere sudden bursts of laughter could be seen as inappropriate.
I must confess upfront to being a fan of Jim Webster’s writing as he has a talent for making the most wildly inconsequential of observations seem matter of fact and perfectly believable. Any of the tales he weaves around the imaginary but utterly believable city of a port Nain are going to be chuckle worthy at the very least.
Therefore I approached the chronicles of Maljie’s varied and exotic life with great expectation.
I wasn’t disappointed.
In fact there were places where I actually howled with laughter.
Our heroine veers from situation to situation – rarely finishing without a profit. And some of her jobs are so silly and improbable. But you still keep reading and chuckling.
The ease with which Jim, in the guise of Tallis Steelyard (poet, visionary and unreliable witness) pilots this rickety craft through the shoals of Maljie’s life is exemplary.
But don’t just take my word for it. Read for yourself. But don’t forget the health warning.

Five big shiny stars.”

How did we manage?

Mate of mine was just out of his apprenticeship. (So we’re talking more than thirty years ago.) He’d done something silly, made something using the wrong grade steel, or put the holes in the wrong place, and then it went from their workshop through to the next workshop where it would be fitted.
They didn’t just send it back; the foreman from the other shop came back with it and verbally tore into my mate. Within seconds my mate’s manager was there. He physically stepped between the foreman and his prey and told him that if he had a problem, then there was a proper procedure and if he ever caught him hassling ‘his staff’ again, he’d nail his ears to the bulkhead.
When the foreman beat a retreat and was out of sight and earshot, the manager looked at the problem, told my mate he wasn’t a complete idiot, as he obviously had bits missing. He then had him redoing it then and there, made him bring it in for him to inspect before it was sent on as finished.

The management philosophy was simple. The manager was there to support and protect his people. If they got it wrong, yes, he bawled them out, but no other wandering manager or whatever got to do that. If there was a problem, then it was the manager’s fault because it had happened on his or her watch and they carried the can. They then went back to their people and made damned sure it didn’t happen again. That’s largely why they were paid more.

Yet just talking to mates who work in education, or the civil and public services, it seems that this is no longer the way it’s done. Managers now wear Teflon. When trouble descends from above it pours all over the manager and wonder of wonders, none of it sticks. Instead it all lands on those at the bottom.
Now back in the day, managers could actually do the work that their people were doing. OK they were probably a bit rusty on the details but they’d done the job or one very like it. But now all that some of them know is how to ‘manage’.

Call me old fashioned but frankly, having seen some ‘management’ in action over the years, I’m not impressed.

My manager is always on top of her game!

As a reviewer commented, “This is the third collection of farmer Jim Webster’s anecdotes about his sheep, cattle and dogs. This one had added information on the Lake District’s World Heritage status. This largely depends upon the work of around 200 small family farms. Small may not always be beautiful but it can be jolly important. If you want to know the different skills needed by a sheep dog and a cow dog, or to hear tales of some of the old time travelling sales persons – read on! This is real life, Jim, but not as I know it.”

Geriatric delinquents

To quote Clegg on ‘Last of the Summer Wine;’ “The young are a great comfort as you grow older. Makes you realise that at least you’re going in the right direction.”
As I get older I find growing older distinctly liberating. In this liberation there are definite milestones. The first came when I got married. My female acquaintances suddenly divided themselves into three distinct groups. The first group, the largest, relaxed. I was married, I wasn’t trying to chat them up or whatever, and they were just happy to talk to their mate Jim. The second group, the next largest, didn’t change the way the treated me at all. The third group was the smallest and I soon learned to avoid them. They seemed to work on the principle that no one misses a slice from a cut loaf and now I was married I was available without consequences.
The next milestone was one I passed without really noticing. I was down in London attending a couple of meetings and three or four of us were having a drink over a pint at the end of the day. I mentioned, in passing, with no attempt to brag, that several times in the previous couple of days attractive young Polish ladies had come up to me and asked me for directions as how they could get to wherever they were going.
One of my mates punctured that one, he said, “Well they trust you Jim, you remind them of their peasant grandfather.”
Mind you, I’m just a kid when it comes to this sort of thing. I remember my Dad having trouble with some snotty jumped up little twonk of a bureaucrat. A real nasty piece of ‘More than my job’s worth’. (Those outside the UK might be surprised that we have such people, but alas it is true. May the Lord have more mercy on them than they are willing to grant their fellow citizens.) Anyway Dad landed home. He wasn’t driving by then; it was probably not much more than a year before he died. By that time Mum had to ferry him. Anyway he was still fuming when he got home. He told me what had happened so I pointed to the stick he used to walk with and told him, “Next time, prod him with that.”
He looked at his stick and said “I couldn’t do that?”
“What’re they going to do, jail you? Anyroad, if it ends up in court, we’ll be able to cover the cost by selling tickets.”
Cheered him up no end but next time he had to deal with that office he got a human being to deal with and there were no problems.
Still, for the last few days I’ve been watching a real expert. Let’s call him Old Bill. My guess is that he’ll never see seventy five again but I could be a year or two adrift. Anyway Old Bill is currently in a hospital ward. The other day the nurses were talking about him in hushed tones, so when they went I asked one of the other patients what had happened; this is the story that I’ve managed to put together.
Basically I think Bill had got bored so, dressed in bright orange hospital pyjamas, dressing gown and slippers he took his zimmer frame and walked past the nurses’ station on the ward and made his way to the day room. From the day room, when the nurse at the nurses’ station was busy, he did the last twenty feet of the corridor and took a sharp left to the lifts.
This took him down to the ground floor and then he walked the hundred or so yards of corridor and went out of the main door where he was met by the taxi he’d ordered. A passing member of staff helped him get into the taxi, and he told the taxi driver to take him to the Preston Street club. Now the taxi driver was beginning to smell a rat at this but what could he do, especially when half way there Old Bill cheerfully tells him he doesn’t have the money on him, but he’ll pay him in the club. At the club the taxi driver takes him in. The staff and regulars are a bit surprised to see him. (Not many folk drink there wearing bright orange pyjamas, dressing gown, slippers accessorised with a zimmer frame.) Anyway someone bought him a pint to stop him wandering off to somewhere more hospitable and the taxi driver phoned the hospital.
“Hi have you discharged old Bill?”
“No why?”
“Oh well, I’ll bring him back then.”
This afternoon I passed Old Bill as he was leaving the room his bed is in.
“Going far Bill?”
He just winked at me, grinned and said, “Nah, just the Gents.”
He didn’t add ‘this time’ but he managed to leave the words hanging unspoken.

A level results, pretty girls and American Pie


It’s a long long time ago, but I can still remember. One of the quirks of fate, I never went into school to get my exam results. So I missed out on the whole tears and hugging thing and haven’t a clue what anyone else got.
My O level results I got when I phoned home from the island of Rhum. My mother had phoned the school to get them and I wrote them with biro on a notice in the phone box because I’d forgotten to take any paper with me.
In my mid to late teens I had several holidays up in the Hebrides, Inner and Outer. Used to go up there with a youth group from across in Yorkshire, from memory, at one point they were called ‘Yorkshire Field Studies.’ I remember sitting in a minibus with bench seats down both sides singing ‘American Pie.’ I suppose it had been a hit either earlier that year or the year before, and the girls knew the words. (Because girls always knew the words of pop songs back then, don’t know whether it’s still true.) But in the course of numerous minibus trips even I learned them, and given time and a decent run at it, I can still remember the words even now.
My A level results were something of an anti-climax. I was busy, had calves to take to Ulverston auction and so my mother phoned in for them.
I confess that I don’t know the words to many other pop songs; a shortage of pretty girls to teach me the words perhaps? But American Pie sort of followed me through life.
A lot of years later, I was invited out on a mate’s stag do around Barrow. Now going out around Barrow is always interesting. In the course of a long evening (during which I was sober because I’d got to drive home) I met up with lasses I’d known at school, friends of my sister, friends of the older two daughters, and all those lasses I’d met working as dental assistants, veterinary nurses, or behind the counter in the bank and what-have-you. My daughter once asked me if I could manage to go into a shop and buy something without flirting with the shop assistants. The simple answer is probably no. The longer and more complicated answer is that I’m not flirting with them. It’s simple old fashioned courtesy and that’s how I was brought up. Anyway, I get on OK with the fairer sex, but then I’m half woman myself, my mother was one. But it was somewhat amusing at this stag do to watch the faces of younger, single male friends when a constant stream of ladies of various ages totter across on their heels to say hi. I remain as always courteous and charming as I frantically try to remember names and how I know them, because wherever it was, they weren’t dressed like that!
Still on this stag do, I was leaning against the bar in one of Barrow’s many pubs. As I said, I was driving, so was slowly working my way down my second half pint. The rest of the bunch I was out with were out there dancing or whatever. It was at that point they started playing Madonna’s cover version of American Pie.
OK the crust is a bit hard and the filling blown but in a quiet and probably somewhat maudlin way I started singing along until I was interrupted by a young lady who came across to talk to me. Now I’ve mentioned, in all modesty, that this isn’t all that uncommon. But I just couldn’t place her at all, yet there was a nagging familiarity about her face. So I said “Hi’ and then she started to chat me up. Everyone has to learn at some time I suppose, but I felt a bit like you do when you see the documentary showing a young lioness out on her own for the first time, stalking a particularly evil looking water buffalo. Especially as from your angle you can see the rest of the herd, (sitting round sharpening their horns and swapping tales of lions they’d hunted) and the young lioness obviously cannot.
Anyway I finally worked out why I recognised her, so I just smiled and said to her, “You know lass, not only did I know your mother, I was me who introduced her to your father.”
With that our young lioness smiled vaguely and went off to hunt elsewhere.



Now it’s probably time I just curled up with a good book

As a reviewer said, “Webster is the best new fantasy writer in 20 years. His series has realistic characters, interesting and rapidly evolving plots and wit. He also displays an exceptional knowledge of ancient warfare, farming, sleazy lawyers, dodgy accountants, field and kitchen cookery and and even of high fashion houses! His female characters are the sort of girls both you and your wife would enjoy meeting.. I have all his books and will buy all his future books as soon as I hear they are out.”


Corruption is like slurry. It trickles down from the top, staining everyone on the way and pooling around those at the bottom who’re forced to wade through it to the contempt of those at the top.

Frankly it stinks. It’s not just the world of kickbacks and favours, the charity bosses who feel that they should be paid over 100K ‘because they’re worth it.’ It’s the world of the BBC where apparently a quarter of executives got payoffs that there probably illegal. Why that particular quarter? Are they the ones whose faces fitted, who did the right courses at the right universities, sat on the right think-tanks and floated on the edge of the correct political parties?

But we see if everywhere, the degradation of society. People who cannot be bothered to do the job they’re paid to do; people who seem to get their kicks, not through their own achievements but by stopping other people doing things. (Have you noticed, the ‘precautionary principle’ is only ever used to stop ‘them’ doing what they want to do; it is never used to stop ‘us’ doing what we want to do.)

And of course when you stir hypocrisy into the mix, then it really does stink. The BBC had great fun tearing into senior clergy about child abuse, and now, slowly and painfully, their own squalid idols are being dragged out of retirement and thrust blinking into the spotlight.
And it’s the spotlight that we need. A bright light shining into the murk; the stone turned over so the bloated things wiggle and squirm to get out of the sun. Let the light in, let the truth be seen then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.
Let’s see how much these people earn, let’s see how much of our money is being poured into their gaping maws. Let’s watch them wallow in the world of Christian Louboutin footwear bought on Civil Service credit cards.
Let’s turn the light on them.

And where does the light come from? Well I’ll give you an example. I know a lady who is a teacher. The school she’s teaching at got involved, peripherally in an ‘incident’ that made the national newspapers.
The local education authority piled in, blamed everything on the headmaster and harried and hounded him into retiring. The lady was one of the few, along with the school secretary, who stood by him. Who drove him home the day he broke down in tears in his office; who told various ‘worthies’, various members of the ‘great and the good,’ both authority staff and union reps, exactly what she thought of them. Of course she hasn’t got a career, but sometimes it’s good to remember the words;-
“Don’t be intimidated. Eventually everything is going to be out in the open, and everyone will know how things really are. So don’t hesitate to go public now. Don’t be bluffed into silence by the threats of bullies. There’s nothing they can do to your soul, your core being.”

And this is where the light comes from. It shines out of the Sikh train manager I saw comforting a lost old lady, it shines out of the policeman who sizes up the situation and defuses it, giving two lads a chance to patch things up and avoid a criminal record; it shines out of the teacher who works endlessly to try and get her charges to just behave decently.
It shines out of the paramedic at the side of the road who’s done too many hours already but isn’t quitting until this person is safe. It shines out of the taxi driver who stops the meter before he carries the old dear’s shopping in for her, and puts it on the shelves; because that he does in HIS time, not the company’s time.
It shines out of the accountant who at the end of a long day sits down with a young couple and shows them how to get their books in order so that their little business can grow, and all for no more that a clumsily muttered thank you.

You see, these people and the light that shines out of them set a standard, a benchmark. They draw the line in the sand that we can look at and wonder. We can ask ourselves whether we’ve got the guts to cross the line and get out of the slurry. They are the ones who shine like stars amidst a twisted and perverted society.
And it’s by their light that we can grow. It’s their light that helps us set our direction. But have we the courage they have, have we what it takes?
Or are we happy to wallow in the stench provided we get our share?


Never mind

In paperback and on kindle from Amazon


and from everywhere as an ebook from

When somebody shoots down a documentary maker, what are they covering up? Haldar Drom of the Governor’s Investigation Office on Tsarina finds himself dealing with illegal population control drugs, genetic engineers, starmancers, and the risk of brushfire wars. Who knows how far up the chain of command the corruption reaches?
You use what you can get, allies in unusual places, reconnaissance by journalist, or a passing system defence boat.

As a reviewer commented, “A short way into this book I realised I had read it before a few years ago. This wasn’t a problem. It was a good read this time too. Jim Webster tells a good story.”

Hang on, wasn’t that a horse?

A chap I know has always been keen on trail hounds. But a young dog can be as likely to piddle on the leg of the starter as he might be to run the course. Like everyone else they have to learn their trade.
Ideally this is done somewhere relatively out-of-the-way, where sharp tongued competitors don’t get the chance to mock your latest exploits. So he and a couple of mates used to set up a trail across our land for their young dogs, just so they could make their embarrassing mistakes out of the glare of publicity.
It was always impressive watching these young dogs run, hell for leather, following the scent. To get a decent length of run the trail had to cross a lane, so one of the dogs’ owners would stand in the lane to stop traffic in case a car came just as the dogs were crossing. I watched with him, we’d opened gates on both sides of the lane so the hounds could just run.
The young hounds came hammering across the field. They passed a group of suckler cows with their calves so fast the cows never noticed them. The calves did and ran a short way after them before falling behind and loosing interest. Then the hounds ran between two Shetland ponies. As the hounds crossed the lane the owner was counting them to make sure no one had got lost. “One, two, three, four, five…Hang on, wasn’t that a horse, seven, eight…”

trail hounds

We’ve all got to learn our trade somewhere. We come into this world with a very limited repertoire of social skills and suchlike and we have to learn them on the hoof.
Now I’m lucky. I wasn’t merely born before the web happened; I was married with kids before the web happened. So my unconvincing chat-up lines and awkward faux-pas have sunk without trace.
But one thing I do know. There is no privacy on the web. Forget what any company says about the settings, once you’ve posted it electronically, you’ve handed it to the world to do with as they want.
Wisdom says that when you send an email, a tweet, a text message, or post something to facebook or whatever; act as if everything you send will be blind-copied to the Sun newspaper. You might not send it to them, but the recipient might, or the person the recipient forwards it to might.

I don’t think people realise just how long the written word lasts or the impact it can have. I’ve been writing for money since the late 1970s, and even now stuff written back then resurfaces in my life. I’ll give you two examples.
The first was a column I did in our local paper, probably about ’79. About a month ago I was having a cataract operation. There were six of us being prepared as a group for surgery and one lady said, “You’re Jim Webster aren’t you.”
I confessed, (but there are two Jim Websters round here and folk do get us confused.) and she told me that in one column I’d said something about Milk Tanker Drivers. Her husband was a tanker driver (I knew him, he collected our milk for years) and when she read the article she was so incensed she wrote a letter to the paper.
However writing the letter meant she actually properly read what I’d written and she discovered that she was agreeing with me. And thirty something years later she got the chance to tell me that she agreed.
Another example is the first article I ever got paid money for. It was about the war between Chile and the alliance of Peru and Bolivia. There was an interesting warship action where the Peruvian Navy’s ship the Huáscar was finally captured. (Look I’m from Barrow in Furness, Warships are important!)


Anyway, unbeknown to me a guy called Paul had been taken with the article. He ended up as a contractor, working in BAE Systems here and joined our wargames club. Earlier this year, thirty-four years after I wrote the article, he and I refought the action, something both of us had been intending to do for the previous thirty-four years.

Occasional google searches have brought up articles I wrote on a type writer and delivered as hard copy which are now on websites as electronic documents.
So next time you’re about to post something, anything, just ask yourself; “I wonder how that’ll look on my CV in thirty years time?”
But then again, the way things are going, those of us who haven’t posted pictures of our genitalia on the web might be regarded with deep suspicion as the unusual ones who are too dangerous to employ.

Naughty tales for people who should be working

I know a chap who used to carry a bit of weight. He was fit, just heavy. When he finally got wed his wife took charge and he slimmed down a treat. I mentioned this to one old lad who also knew him. The old fella just took his pipe out of his mouth, played with it a while and said “Aye, Tups alus lose weight when they’re working.”
Someone asked me about ‘Ribald’ and it struck me as one of the things a writer has to deal with. It’s like a story another mate of mine likes. Someone was surprised to see him in the pub watching football and said as much. So totally deadpan my mate said, “It’s the wife, she’s been reading all that fifty shades of grey stuff.”
“Thought that would mean you were too busy for the soccer.”
“She turned up in the front room stark naked carrying all these ropes and gags and handcuffs and whatever and said I could do whatever I wanted. So I tied her up, gagged her, and came out to watch the soccer in peace.”

Ribald is apparently referring to sexual matters in an amusingly rude or irreverent way. It’s probably what a lady of my acquaintance was doing when she described de-caf coffee as being as much use as sex by post.

I have one friend who makes a living writing erotica. At the moment it’s all the rage. But frankly I never saw it as my job to provide a manual for people. In fact given that a fair number of my readers seem to be ladies who’ve done the whole childbearing/rearing thing it strikes me that telling them what to do and how to do it is downright presumptuous.
But when thinking about ‘ribald’ what did strike me was the humour. It’s the humour that realises that actually it’s not all about perfect bodies and everything in unbelievable synchronisation. In fact it’s the humour that actually giggles at the whole ‘perfect bodies’ delusion.
On those rare occasions when I’ve heard men talk about the sexiest woman they knew, it was never the prettiest or the one with the best figure. It was those who were just unselfconsciously fun to be with. Even when doing something perfectly innocent like walking the dog.
Now that’s something the fashion industry never tells you. But then as the fashion industry is dominated by women and gay men, would they ever know? Now there’s a thought, impose quotas on all fashion houses, magazines and whatever and demand that their staff be at least 40% heterosexual males. That would be the end of civilisation as we know it.

But without getting erotic, how do we do ribald.
“Benor was sitting in bed, making a few notes in a small notebook. Alissa tucked Alinia into the cot by the bed, glanced at him, muttered ‘Cartographers’ and, throwing a robe over her shoulders slipped out of the room. A few minutes later she came back carrying two glasses on a tray.
Benor blew on the ink and closed the notebook carefully, placing it on the table by the bed. “A drink?”
“Hot toddy,” she said meaningfully. “I was told you couldn’t get to sleep without a pretty girl bringing you one, so I thought I’d better take over the role.”
She handed him a glass and kissed him, then sat on the side of the bed. She sipped her own drink, and said, “You are looking tired. I don’t think Talan agreed with you.”
Benor finished his toddy in silence. He put the glass down on the table next to his note book. Alissa ran her fingers up the side of his face. “Demons, monsters and unsuitable women; you’ve not had an easy time of it have you?”
“Unsuitable women?” Benor tried not to sound guilty.
“Well, stealing people’s concubines for a start.” She climbed into bed and snuggled up against him. “Anyway, we’re going to have to start north soon.”
“One minute I’m looking tired, the next minute you want to be back on the road.”
“Alinia is not many months from having a brother or sister. Delightful as your nephew Maurshott is, I am not going to spend another winter in a Ranger post.”
“You’re pregnant?” Benor sounded both shocked and delighted.
“Not yet, so I thought it was perhaps time to do something about it.”

How cheap can we get?

I’m not the person to ask about retail therapy. I don’t shop. I make an exception for second hand bookshops, but then so does every other civilised person.
But I am beginning to ask myself whether we’re trapped in a downward spiral. We’ve been here before. Food had to be cheap. Quality didn’t matter. Back in the 1980s I remember hearing a supermarket buyer talking to a group of farmers and I asked him about quality and flavour. His reply was ‘Just produce meat. We’ll add the flavour cheaper during manufacturing.’ That was the road that led to the horsemeat scandal.
I was asked about buying shoes. Look. I’m the chap who has no hair on the back of his calves because I spend so much time in Wellingtons. I’ve also got broad feet which means that I just walk into the shop, find the pair that fits, buy them and leave. Choice is for other people. Anyway, I’ve got a pair of black shoes to go with the suit. (I think they’re about ten years old but they aren’t worn every year). I’ve a pair of walking trainers that I will wear out within a year. I’ve a pair of elderly sandals which I use as slippers around the house and I’ve got myself a pair of light weight walking books (or perhaps they’re slightly heavier trainers) so see if they’ll last better.
For me the joy of new footwear is that it doesn’t leak.
But I was listening to a discussion about shopping. Someone had been into the shop, tried on the garments, then had gone to a coffee shop, got out the tablet, and had purchased the same garments on line. I guess the saving would more than pay for the coffee and the bus fare into town.
There’s a lot of it about. I remember a radio interview with a camera shop in this country that now point blank refused to give advice over the phone. They knew that it was never going to bring them trade; they’d never see the person walk though the door of the shop and buy anything. Indeed they were thinking of making a charge for advice.
An Australian shop is actually doing that. A speciality food store in Brisbane is charging visitors a $5 AUD ‘just looking’ fee. Buy anything; you get the $5 knocked off the bill. Now obviously you might say you wouldn’t go into such a shop, but should they be bothered? What is the custom worth of someone who doesn’t actually intend to buy anything?

But what really drove this home to me was a piece in the paper about ‘Pets at home’ Store group intending to expand their vets business across the UK. They’ll have a vet in the store.
The vet will probably be cheap and convenient, but it worries me. OK I’m used to large animal vets where you pick up the phone at 3am and the vet is in the yard by 3:30am. But when old Jess got caught by a hit and run driver, the vet kept her in overnight. When she had to have her operation she went in the evening before so they could have her quiet and relaxed for the operation in the morning.
Is a supermarket going to want to have staff available to do this? Given the way they’ve been driving costs and staff out of the system I wonder. Mind you, let’s not beat about the bush, one reason they have to get cost out of the system is that people wander in, get the advice and then see if they can buy cheaper on-line.

So the question that I think we all have to ask is really, ‘How cheap are we willing to go?’ Are we going to accept that we have to pay a browsing fee or are we going to just lose the service?
Because someone has to pay for it; if we’re not willing to pay then the service won’t be offered.

What do I know?

Mung Beans and Homecomings

Funny really; according to a peer of the Realm we’re the desolate North West and only fit for fracking. Yet we are so cosmopolitan you can buy foods I’ve never heard of.
Yet that’s probably my ignorance. Years ago I picked up a British Army Lieutenant’s handbook, dated 1912. It was packed full of useful information to make sure your junior officer didn’t make too much of a fool of himself. So it told you how much space various units took up in camp and on the march. It included an idiot’s guide to digging trenches and how to make sure the Vickers was deployed properly. Oh, and it had a number of recipes because the Lieutenant was also, technically at least, in charge of feeding people. Good traditional food, Lancashire Hotpot, Curry, the staples of British cuisine.
Yes, Curry. After all this is the British Army, most men had served in India or further east. I’m pretty sure that these lads would have known their Mung beans.
A friend was asking me about homecomings. It was this little book that came to mind, because our family has had three generations of homecomings. My Grandfather went away in 1914. In six years (four years total war wasn’t enough for acting Sergeant Francis Webster) he saw Sulva Bay in Turkey, Egypt, then he fought in what is now Iraq, probably across into what is now Iran, and then into Afghanistan. Yes, in the first decade of the twenty first century, the British Army has been making the Francis Webster tribute tour. In 1914 when he volunteered, (a man in his mid twenties with a wife and three young daughters) I wonder how long he thought he’d be away? In his battalion he’d be alongside men who’d fought in the South African war, men who’d fought alongside Corporal Jones and General Kitchener in the Sudan. But in 1920 he got back, and over the next few years they had another daughter and a son (my Father.) I never knew him to ask about his homecoming, he died before I was born, but he peers out from my parent’s wedding photos.
Then there was my Dad. At fourteen he went into farm service. Away from home for six months at a time, paid £13 a half year; then home for a few days, then off by train, bus, or foot, to the next hiring fair, and away for another six months. My father worked from as far north as the Workington/Whitehaven area down to around Morecambe. Given that it was a six day working week, the chances of getting home for visits weren’t good. How many fourteen year olds have that sort of homecoming? Meeting up with a parent and siblings you haven’t had any communication with for six months. (No phones and who has the time to write letters?)
And me? In the house I was born in. Yes, I’ve travelled. On the grounds I made it to ‘Soviet Central Asia’ I might have got further east than my Granddad. And a home coming for me? Tip out the washing, switch on the computer to download all the emails I’ve not accessed because I was on holiday. Then next morning, out early, check livestock, check land, discuss policy with the dog and by the time I’m sitting down to breakfast, home has reclaimed me and life is back on track.
Actually, when you think about it properly, compared to my Father and Grandfather, I’ve hardly been away. I’ve not ‘lived’ away; I’ve merely passed though places. I’ve not travelled, I’ve merely toured.
And the places I’ve been, how can they compare to the places Father and Grandfather had to live in? Yet I’ve visited places they had never heard of. I might have missed out on Afghanistan, but I have walked Mirkwood and can still smell the stifling air, with its hint of knacker’s yard. I have watched an aged and bloated red sun sink slowly over the Dying Earth. I have spent idle days on the Yann and have seen the Thaw Ball at Estar Vale.

“The Thaw Ball is held in Sea Brisket Square where the central area is raised up, and the whole thing is crisscrossed with broad shallow streams which are bridged by flagstones.
The houses around the square have had their gutters altered so that the water in them is collected and transported down to the square, where it fills the streams. But each house has not merely got the gutters at the eaves – at each level the houses will have gutters which pass under their window sills, almost like window boxes. The flow is managed so that these can also remain full.
At the evening of a thaw ball the water is managed precisely by the person chosen as the organiser, so that the streams are full, all the gutters are full, and a slight current continues to flow.
They then take thousands of little candles, each in its own individual waxed paper boat, and have them floating in both gutters and streams. At the same time, all other lights are extinguished, and whilst this is being done those participating will gather around the harbour and on a signal start the dance. This is initially a dance of some simplicity, especially as the dancing pairs make their way along Chittlings and through Saltgill, but as they enter Sea Brisket Square the dance becomes an intricate winding dance of immense complexity, as strings of dancers wind in and out of each other, over the flagstones, above the streams, all the time illuminated only by countless tiny candles.”
And finally, as the lights begin to flicker out, the dancers slowly retire, until only the Organiser and his or her partner remain, dancing alone by the light of the last few flickering candles. Finally, as the last lights go out they bow to each other and make their way out of the square, leaving it utterly dark and silent.”