Monthly Archives: November 2013

Small town sex scandal

I decided I ought to write something a bit cheerful. After all I’m supposed to write fantasy and SF and it’s a bit counter-intuitive if I then go off on rants about all sorts of political rubbish.
I wonder if it’s a sign that I’m getting older that I let all this political stuff bother me? I mean, when I was young and impressionable I used to let it wash over me, life was too important to waste watching the political tribes gibbering and posturing along their respective boundaries.

I would like to suggest that the right honourable member's stance on green tariffs is a disgrace.

I would like to suggest that the right honourable member’s stance on green tariffs is a disgrace.

Perhaps I’m older and worry about the next generation? After all there’s times where they seem awfully naïve and even seem to believe in weird stuff that used to reduce us to giggles when we were that age.
Perhaps it’s me; perhaps it’s just that the thick layer of cynicism has started wearing off?
But if I’m losing my cynicism, I’m still going to cling to my sense of the ridiculous. Yesterday as we drove into town we were met by the following boards outside all our local newsagents.

chicken

I’m not sure how many ways that is subversively politically incorrect. Our local paper has someone who creates these and I think people are a little unsure whether he or she is a genius or merely daft. Still they’ve set themselves a high standard. So far, their acknowledged masterpiece is

eel

So have a good day, Nil illegitimi carborundum* and it does you good to laugh.

* which apparently means ‘the unlawful are not silicon carbide’, I’m sure Terry Pratchett with his Discworld novels might dispute this.

Get a life, just make sure it’s your own

x

It’s strange really. I read a fair bit, I listen to the radio, mainly in the car, and it always seems to be women telling other women how to live.
We don’t get men telling men how to live quite so much. I suppose the twentieth century rather put a damper on that. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori no longer has the power it once did.
So how would I tell women to live?

I’d tell them to beware of the critics. What we forget is people seek affirmation by looking round and seeing other people striving for the same things that they are striving for. Hence the person who has dedicated their whole life to getting to the top in business, or to staying thin, or to combining all this with running the ‘perfect’ home will feel little but dislike for another person who does none of these and yet has the audacity to be perfectly happy. That’s not a woman thing, it’s a normal human thing.
So basically ignore those who tell you that you are betraying ‘the sisterhood’ or whatever by not following in their footsteps. What they mean is that by managing to enjoy life, to be happy and content, without bothering to do all the things they do, just makes them feel undermined and their struggles seem worthless.
That’s their problem, not yours; leave them to worry about it.

Then there’s this whole money thing. Given a choice I wouldn’t borrow money. The more you owe, the less free you are. If you owe nothing and even have a few quid tucked away in the bank, if the boss is a bastard, then you can tell him that and tell him where to stuff his job. If he puts his hands where he shouldn’t you can cheerfully stamp on his instep with your heels.
The fact that our society is now utterly out of kilter because housing costs have been allowed to get out of control is sad but probably the place for another rant.

So let’s get another thing straight. Don’t go into life expecting ‘job satisfaction.’ I think the concept really came in when women entered the job market. Yes, in education and nursing and suchlike you can get job satisfaction. But most men will tell you that, actually, a job is just something you do, it brings in the money and funds real life. Few men have a desperate urge to work in call centres, dig ditches, deal with housing benefit claims, empty dustbins, or fill in potholes in the road. If you get ‘job satisfaction’ fine, that’s great, but don’t expect it to just happen as a right. Like everything else that’s worth having, it’s something that only really comes when you work for it.
What you can hope for is to work with a decent crowd, but that won’t happen by accident either. Someone has to put the effort in and set an example. Might as well be you as anyone else.

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Curling up with a good book is something worth doing as well 😉

Swords for a Dead Lady

 

Available as ebook or paperback. If Amazon says it’s out of stock, ignore them. I’ve just had the audacity to have the books printed by somebody other than them. Order it and it will come.

Who wants sexy check-out girls anyway?

‘Ello, I wish to register a complaint.

(The owner does not respond.)

‘Ello, Miss?

Owner: What do you mean “miss”?

I’m sorry, I have a cold. I wish to make a complaint!

Yes, I wish to register a complaint. Someone out there is taking the micky. It’s like this. You’ll probably have worked out by now that I’ve written ‘Justice 4.1’ which is out in March. But it doesn’t stop there. I’m working on further books in the same setting. Indeed if you want to visit the Tsarina sector there’s even a facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/TsarinaSector

So wander along, click the ‘like’ button and bring a little sunshine into my life.

But the problem is I’m currently trying to create a decent villain who does unpleasant things. Not only that but I’m trying to portray the unpleasant and dysfunctional societies that he dominates.
‘Fair enough,’ I hear you all mutter, ‘Stop whinging and get on with it.’
The problem is that no sooner do I get a really cool, evil and devious idea for my villain, than along comes the real world, sneers at me and points out that reality has already surpassed me.
I was setting up a background where there population would be oppressed and kept in poverty by those employing them. I was a bit worried that I might be getting carried away. After all, when you’re writing fiction you have to make sure you carry the reader with you. They have to suspend their disbelief which means you have to keep things ‘real’.
And then I saw this.
http://www.upworthy.com/that-one-time-when-a-company-with-a-gajillion-dollars-tried-collecting-food-donations-for-its-staff-6?g=2&c=ufb1

Sorry but that is beyond a joke! I literally dare not make that up. Yet somebody sat in an office and decided to make that company policy!

Mind you, the great Terry Pratchett once wrote “There are hardly any excesses of the most crazed psychopath that cannot easily be duplicated by a normal kindly family man who just comes in to work every day and has a job to do.” (Small Gods)
But do we care? Will enough people be so revolted that they stop shopping in Walmart and Asda?
Why do you think I put ‘sexy checkout girls’ in the title? How many people would have bothered reading a rant about supermarket employment policies?

“The louder he talked of his honour, the faster we counted our spoons.”

Funny old world, I remember my mother using that phrase, and now, perhaps thirty years later I discover it was written by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Perhaps it’s an appropriate expression to be brought to mind when I’ve just read that China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Algeria, and Cuba have won seats on the UN Human Rights Council?
But there again, political hypocrisy has been the soundtrack of my life. After all I can remember America defending democracy by the simple expedient of propping up military dictatorships throughout much of the world.
It’s hardly a new phenomenon. I remember reading of an exchange in the House of Lords. One honourable Lord was reduced to spluttering fury. Her Majesty’s government had just recognised as head of state an African tyrant who had seized power by killing his predecessor. In the words of the irate gentleman “Never has a British Government sunk so low.”
At this point an older and potentially wiser member of the chamber had risen to his feet and raised a point of accuracy. He remembered a case when the British Government had recognised a dictator who had not merely killed his predecessor but had eaten him as well.

Are we entitled to intervene to impose our opinions upon others? Was the Second World War justified, or should we have sat back and let Fascism evolve and burn itself out? Was the creed that perpetrated the Holocaust a legitimate target?
But what about modern campaigns which might crush tyrants or regimes of which we disapprove; but that might well also secure energy supplies? Are they justified? Are we justified in going to war with an organisation that regards a fair proportion of the human race as non-persons who are fit only to be chattels of the rest? In the UK we’ve decided to join in the war against Islamic extremism, but we never interfered in the American civil war.

Personally I would suggest that hypocrisy abroad starts with hypocrisy at home. One problem is that we expect to get what we want at the expense of others. Look at the howl that has gone up over the price of energy this winter. Look at the complaints about the price of food. But if we were honest with ourselves, the prices have gone up because they were far too cheap; we were getting a good deal at the expense of others. Apparently, countries like Saudi Arabia now need an oil price of at least $100 a barrel to cover the level of social payments, food subsidies and suchlike they pay to their own population.
You cannot expect cheap food and energy and then bewail the conditions faced by those who are struggling to make a living producing that food.
But with the ‘my beliefs first’ attitude well entrenched we manage to take things even further.
Let us take the issue of the Winter Olympics in the Russia. Do I like the Russian government’s attitude (which may or may not be widely shared by the Russian people) to homosexuality? Frankly, no.
Do I think the Winter Olympics should be held there? Well let us put this in perspective. I have no interest whatsoever in the Winter Olympics (but then I never watched anything to do with the 2012 Olympics in London either.) If the Winter Olympics were cancelled, postponed or moved to Barnsley, it would bother me not at all.
But there are athletes out there who’ve worked for years, practicing, training, giving up all sorts of things, with the 2014 games as their goal. In 2018 they’ll be too old or past their best or new talent will have come through. Their lives have been geared to these games.
If I decide I’m affronted by the Russian attitude am I entitled to demand the games be boycotted, to demand that others screw up their lives to ensure that my beliefs are given the priority I think they deserve?
Surely it cannot be anything other than gross hypocrisy on my part to sit in a house warmed (directly or indirectly) by Russian gas, expecting others to sacrifice their careers because it’s an easy way for me to air my beliefs?
Surely I’m no better than those who demand that women sacrifice their independence of thought and action because their interpretation of their religious beliefs tells them this is how the world should be?

Complicated old world isn’t it?
The more you learn the less certain you become. Leap on a passing bandwagon and you discover it’s a tumbrel taking some poor innocent to the guillotine. I’ll leave you with a comment from a web cartoon, ‘Looking for Group’ at http://www.lfgcomic.com/

Kraken 1

Kraken 2

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You can see why I just farm and write books and try to avoid philosophy! I’d only get into trouble anyway.

 

As a reviewer commented, “Benor is a cartographer and he’s come to Port Naain to produce a handbook. He makes a home with Tallis, a professional poet and his wife Shena. She’s a mud-jobber or as we might say, a beachcomber. Some of her combings include bodies. Everything has a price and families will pay for the privilege of burying their dead and, if possible, finding who caused it. Benor is a natural. He’s a nosy person and, with the aid of the wonderful Mutt, a ten year-old wise beyond his years, he sorts out the villains from the corpses. This first short story from The Port Naain Intelligencer bodes well for the rest of the series. A really great Whodunit.”

Fabulous free holiday

Excursion, n ; An expedition of so disagreeable a character that steamboat and railroad fares are compassionately mitigated to the miserable sufferers.
(Ambrose Bierce.)

Everyone needs a gimmick and to sell a book I decided on a fabulous holiday competition. Other people give away bookmarks or free copies of the book or even signed free copies of the bookmark. I would go one step further. For everyone who buys a copy of Justice 4.1 (The Tsarina Sector) and turns up at the check-in desk at the Kaunas City Spaceport, Tsarina, will get a two week, free, all expenses paid holiday for two on Tsarina.
Cannot say fairer than that surely?

The problem is, whilst everyone is doubtless convinced that the book will be a true classic of its genre; folk asked difficult questions about the holiday, along the lines of what is the place like, what factor sun-block will I need; is there a nudity taboo which might impact on the beach holiday they have planned?

Now Haldar Drom is as nice a guy as you’ll meet but he’s a bit slow at getting back to me so I started pirating pictures off the web.
So obviously we need a spaceport. Where do I find a picture of a spaceport? After hunting round I found this and posted it to Facebook.

Spaceport

But I wanted to somehow make it unique to Tsarina so I added the comment
“So I’ve included an artist’s impression of the Spaceport. It’s been lying about in the files for a few centuries to be honest. Not only that but we never had the budget to build it as designed but the picture gives you some idea. Just replace the domed structures with an assemblage of converted transport containers, pre-fabricated industrial units and a couple of obsolete spaceship hulls which were too good to scrap completely. (Strip the drives out of them, leave in the power systems and they make perfectly acceptable office accommodation.)
Oh yes and the grass is greener and more verdant than in the picture. Apparently the artist was from off-world and never got to terms with our climate. (Or the geography for that matter, he’s completely forgotten to put in the river.)
And it’s still possible to land here without getting eaten by the natives.”

This only brought forth more comments. What does the place actually look like? So frantically I scoured the web again. I found this one, I liked it.

ad hoc offices

Actually I’d have liked it in real life because of the ingenuity, but it’s a very practical combination of shipping containers and a covered working area. So it’s there on the spaceport somewhere.
People commented that are site was rather more run down that I was claiming, so honesty compelled me to post this, an atmospheric shot of the breakers yard which is on the periphery of the spaceport.

ad hoc offices 3

Finally because Tsarina has seen better days, there is part of the spaceport which is no longer used much, and is sliding into dereliction. I found this…

ad hoc offices 2

Now then, in the second book, (about to go to the editors) Haldar takes a trip to the spaceport by river taxi and I describe the fishing village which is growing out of a decaying industrial suburb. Whilst I was looking for other stuff I found this.

sudan_slums

And then Susan Watson posted this picture, asking why I was covering up Tsarina’s less attractive face

the-road-desolation1

So I looked at the picture and liked it. I could work with that, so I merely commented
“I don’t think it shows the place in the best light. The old power station isn’t normally that bad but there’s too much Lignite available close to the site to ignore, and it does date from the messy period during the fall of the Salinid Emperors. We had to keep the lights on somehow. It’s wearing well for 350 years old. It’s actually some distance south of the Spaceport and you cannot normally see it from Kaunas City. The old access road has been scrapped since the winter that was taken; it had outlived its usefulness.”

And by chance, by design and by the suggestions of friends, Tsarina keeps growing. The background has now acquired a Lignite fired power station which will inevitably warrant a passing mention in a future book, if only because the smoke might delay flights, or alternatively act as a marker, more visible from orbit than the space port itself.

Stranger than fiction, or just strange?

As the boy confessed when caught peering over the partition into the girls section of the showers; “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

The problem for most of us is that we’re trapped in the shadow of the giants. Not only do we not share their vision, but we’ve not even got the initiative to step out into the sunlight that is there for us, had we only got the courage to shift.
The last couple of days have been a quietly thought provoking time. Remembrance Sunday has gone, and on it I managed to finish reading the new Terry Pratchett, ‘Raising Steam.’ Brilliant book but reading it is not an entirely unalloyed pleasure. You see I am not without my literary pretensions. If you click on the ‘About’ link on the red bar above you’ll see the fantasy books I’ve written. I’ve even got a Sci Fi book coming out in paper back this coming March
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Justice-4-1-Tsarina-Sector-Webster/dp/1908208236/

Hence I was seriously chuffed when someone told me my books reminded them a lot of Jack Vance and Terry Pratchett. It’s nice to think I’m good enough to remind people of the greats, but it does keep me in my place.
So I sat down to read the latest book by the master

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Raising-Steam-Discworld-novel-Novels/dp/0857522272/

And for me, he did it again. Engineering and Steam hit Discworld. But it is so much more than that. He hasn’t merely written a book which is both a good read and amusing in places, page turning in others, he’s shone a light back into our world.
In this book he manages to shine a light into the dark places of religious fanaticism and the use of terror, as well as to get the feel of ‘The Age of Steam’. And the problem is, as he gently looks at the magic of the railway and the nature of the world the railways made, he somehow sets our own world in stark relief.
A century and a half ago we were a people who could build things, who could dream and hammer the dreams into shape with steel, brass and steam. Now we’re just a people who, if they want to make money, rip each other off with financial services scams, wheel clamping schemes, and now the latest is the car parking protection rackets.
We’ve seen the giants, and now we are the pygmies trapped in their shade.

Now, even having literary pretensions isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, reality ends up being more fantastic that anything a writer feels they can create. I went to a meeting locally. A local store, The Range, has got a car park for customers. They’ve handed over the management to Parking Eye who monitor it and ‘police’ it. Now, if you go to the store and buy something, that’s fine, you’ve got two hours to park or else they’ll give you a ticket. But if you buy something, go home, and find that you’ve misjudged the quantities and need more, there’s no return within three hours or you’ll get a penalty charge notice!
Even more strange, if you’re keen to buy something, and turn up before the shop opens, that too earns you a penalty charge notice.

Sorry, but don’t they want our custom? Aren’t they trying to sell us stuff or is the margin on car parking fines better than the margin on actually selling stuff? Does the left hand know what the right hand is doing?

I’m left hoping that Terry Pratchett is fit enough for a few more books; he mentioned wheel clampers in ‘Raising Steam’, perhaps he can throw so light on car parking charges in his next. After all, I think he’s the only person with the imagination to come up with something more surreal than the reality.

Einstein parking eye

They shall not grow old

 

History? What of it. As my mother carried me, yet unborn, General Allenby led his army into Jerusalem on foot, with the words “I will not ride where my Saviour walked.” As I came into this world, the Tsar and his family were being shot in a cellar.
I loved in my own way, survived another war, the blitz, the rationing, and then I raised a family. Let future generations decide whether I did a good job; and now I am old. As we grow old we build a shell around ourselves like a snail. An accretion of memories and familiarity, known people and comfortable places that prop us up and help us make our way slowly but steadily into the future.
Was I shocked? In the last ten years the only thing that shocked me was when I read that they cancelled all London buses because of a bit of snow.
And now I am ill. The shell that supported me and gave my life shape has been smashed. My world is a hospital bed. I’m surrounded by nurses and auxiliaries and physiotherapists and technicians in unnumbered hordes. They speak kindly and clearly to me but then talk staccato gibberish to each other over my head because the day is too short for the deeds that need doing. And the wards keep changing, diagnosed with this, transferred there, diagnosed with that, transferred onward again. This time the care is intensive, this time palliative, this time they’re building me up for discharge. I’ve even got a social worker, whatever one of them is supposed to do. Perhaps it’s to make sure I don’t play truant or spend all my money on drink?
The day’s routine? Wake up, look round, try and check to see if I’m in the same ward. The bed next to me has a different occupant; I’m sure they weren’t there yesterday, are they new or am I?
And slowly my mind tries to rebuild the shell. Tries to give me back the security of ‘knowing’. Tries to give me what everyone else takes for granted. So we start with the real. We start with the German exam that no living person but me remembers. We start with the new lab, a triumph snatched from post war austerity. Did someone say austerity? What does some rich young puppy on the front bench know of austerity with his millionaire father? And they tell me his father was a Marxist?
And then there’s the questions; they’re always asking me questions, some difficult, some personal, and always such haste for the answer. Don’t they want me to think about it, to give them the right answer? If they don’t know who the Prime Minister is, why ask me, I’ve seen twenty of them, some great, some pygmies struggling to see over their own inflated egos.
But that’s the trouble with being ill, the questions, the tablets, the constant change for no reason. It leaves me so tired. I think I’ll sleep now, I wonder where I’ll wake up?
But to cancel the buses, just because of a bit of snow. I remember 1947 and……

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

A living wage?

It was JFK who said “The farmer is the only man in our economy who has to buy everything he buys at retail – sell everything he sells at wholesale – and pay the freight both ways.”
I cannot remember what I was doing when JFK died, but I remember this comment. It came to mind when someone sent me the link to this article. http://modernfarmer.com/2013/11/farmworker-confessional/
‘Farmer Confessional, I’m an undocumented farm worker.’

In the UK we do things differently. In food production our cheap labour is largely home bred. In the late 1990s I can remember sitting down and working out that I’d worked the previous year for 9p an hour. But agriculture is like that, I’ve had years when I’ve actually paid so much an hour for the privilege of working. But then I’m sure that a lot of self employed small business owners will tell you the same. But Tesco who sells what we produce insists on a 6% profit margin.

In recent years I’ve helped with ‘Farming Community Network’, it used to be Farm Crisis Network’ and it’s meant that I’ve gone onto farms to see what could be done to help people who’re in a serious mess. Whether it’s their physical and mental health, financial problems, animal health or government induced nightmare, we try to walk beside them and help.
A few weeks ago I had to read a report; it was ‘Walking the breadline, the scandal of food poverty in 21st century Britain.’ It’s produced by Oxfam and Church action on Poverty. I gave up half way through; I found I couldn’t see past those blighted lives, families scarred by illness, deprivation and poverty. These two august organisations were getting really wound up about the effects of food price increases on the urban poor but how many people gave a damn about the effects of poverty on the lives of those who produced the food?
Now to be fair to both Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty, whilst it was their report that wound me up, that was my problem, not theirs, both organisations have done good work in rural areas in this country as well.

More many years we’ve had a situation where our economy depended on falling food prices as a proportion of income. As a rule of thumb, for much of the 20th century the current generation could eat organic food and pay a smaller proportion of their income for food than their parents generation would do eating conventional food. This was based on technological advances and the use of cheap labour. Unfortunately for some; the technological advances have slowed (because who in their right mind makes major investment in a sector where the income is falling every year) and the labour isn’t so cheap any more. Odilia Chavez, the undocumented farm worker in the article, is hard working, skilled and flexible. As our economy stagnates, as our population becomes relatively less well educated compared to the rest of the world, less hard working, skilled and flexible, then we’re going to have to pay more to get Odilia Chavez and her like to come and do these jobs for us.

But in this country we’re seeing an apartheid slowly forming. We’re getting two classes of people. I saw this in today’s paper.

“Private-sector workers could see their final salary pensions “eaten away” by the rising of cost of living after ministers proposed removing legal protections against inflation from “gold-plated” retirement funds.
Almost two million employees who are still part of final salary schemes could lose the legal right to have their retirement income rise in line with inflation under the proposals.
The change, which would not apply to public sector workers, could cut the spending power of a pension by almost a third over a 15-year retirement.
Workers could also be forced to wait longer before drawing their pension because companies would be allowed to delay workers’ retirement in an effort to save money.
Additional benefits such as survivors’ rights, which pay an income to widows and widowers, could also be lost.”

Now this doesn’t impact on me too much, I’ve never put a lot of money into pension funds, when you don’t pay much tax it isn’t a good investment. I’m not really expecting to retire.

But then the paper went on to comment.

“The changes could also widen the gap between public and private sector workers. That divide has led some critics to talk of a “pensions apartheid” between the two groups.
Protections such as inflation-proofing will continue to apply to the 5.1 million state employees who are in line to receive final salary retirement incomes. That is because ministers promised that recent changes to public sector pension terms would be the last for 25 years, giving state employees “a settlement for a generation”.
By contrast, private sector workers have endured repeated changes to pension rules and tax raids on their retirement funds.”

We’re getting two groups, the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ and it isn’t healthy in any society.

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Then what do I know? Ask an expert

A collection of anecdotes, it’s the distillation of a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England. I’d like to say ‘All human life is here,’ but frankly there’s more about Border Collies, Cattle and Sheep.

As a reviewer commented, “

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!”

Playing with the Van de Graaff generator

zz

 

“The invention of the teenager was a mistake. Once you identify a period of life in which people get to stay out late but don’t have to pay taxes – naturally, no one wants to live any other way.”
― Judith Martin
I was listening to someone talking about the problems they had with rearing a teenager and it suddenly occurred to me that I never actually was a teenager. By the time I was fourteen, during the weekends and school holidays I was pretty well working full time, by the time I was sixteen I certainly was. During the week, the Grammar School made sure I had enough homework to keep me busy on an evening.
So somehow I missed the whole wearing too much make up (If you think it was only the girls you never saw Aladdin Sane) and coming over all angst ridden whilst listening to bad music.
But we did do all sorts of fun things. We got to play with the Van de Graaff generator, watched sodium dropped onto water. We climbed out of windows and up onto the gym roof to get our ball back.
I was going to write that ‘they’ve’ banned the Van de Graaff generator, but the freelance journalist in me decided to check. The RSC has produced a report on what is banned and isn’t, and actually, they haven’t banned it. They’ve done something much more insidious. Now you have to do a formal risk assessment.
So the teacher has to take the time to write the risk assessment, knowing full well that because it’s in writing, should anything go wrong, it is now entirely the teacher’s fault because it is their risk assessment that will be crawled over by the lawyers. You don’t need to ban something when you can do something like that.
But I look at all the other stuff I’ve done. I’ve marked out the foundations of a building using nothing but string, a tape and a handful of wooden pegs. Thanks to Pythagoras and his 3,4,5 triangle, on a base 100ft by 50ft I was less than half an inch out when they brought in the laser to check. (Which is pretty good going using pegs cut from slate battens which were then driven into sandy soil.) That drove home to me that maths was useful; if I’d known that earlier I might even have worked harder at school.
But by the time I finished with full time education I’d built walls, sharpened a chainsaw, rewired a plug, skinned a rabbit, fixed the broken ballcock in a header tank, calved cows, I’d even welded up a water leak in a galvanised water pipe with the water still flowing through it. (That isn’t something they recommend you do on responsible training courses) Even now I don’t feel comfortable if I don’t have a penknife in my trouser pocket.
The fact that modern kids have nothing more interesting to look forward to than being teenagers isn’t the schools fault. Let’s drop the blame where it really lies, it’s the fault of the parents.
Unfortunately the UK was the first country to have the industrial revolution, so our population is at least two generations further removed from the land than any other. We’re probably one of the first ‘post industrial’ countries so we’re the country where more and more people assume that the only sort of job worth having means you work with a computer.
But all isn’t lost; I’ve got daughters who were delighted to get spanner sets and tool boxes for significant birthdays, so perhaps I’ve done something right.

 

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Anyway, let your hair down with a good book

Swords for a Dead Lady

 

As a reviewer said,

“Swords for a Dead Lady follows Benor Dorfinngil through an intricate plot of murder and intrigue in a highly developed fantasy world with a rich caste of characters.

This is a book has well developed characters and a good plot, but what makes it a real joy to read is the depth of background. This is not only original, with none of the cliches or tired formulae that so often bring the fantasy genre down, but superbly detailed. The reader can walk with Benor and the other characters through a world both curious and distinctly human, with the geography, history and demography all ready set out instead of created merely for the convenience of the plot. The author clearly has a great deal of experience with the worlds of fantasy as well, and of the practicalities of life in a low tech world, allowing him to avoid common pitfalls and present the reader with a highly entertaining and polished work.”

And the stories just come crawling out on their own.

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Back in school we had to read John Steinbeck’s book ‘Of Mice and Men.’ It was two books in one, the other was ‘Cannery Row’ which rapidly became my favourite Steinbeck book. There isn’t really anything that you’d call a plot, there’s people and places and stories which just seem to happen. But there again, once you know an area, the stories just come.
If I walk out of my back door, take the lane right, cross three or four fields (I’ll be purposely vague here) I’ll come to where my Father said the old ‘Tossing School’ used to be held. You’ll have heard of ‘pitch and toss’ or ‘Two up’ as our Australian friends call it. The working man’s gambling game.
My Dad told the tale from when he was in farm service on a farm four or more fields to the other side of the ‘Tossing School’. One Saturday he’d finished work later than everyone else and went into the house to get washed and changed before going out that evening. Back then all the ‘men’ slept in the one attic room. As he was washing; one of the other men came and proceeded to empty money out of his pockets, boots, gaiters and shirt. He’d been to the tossing school and had got lucky. He’d come back to ‘bank’ his winnings before going back for another go. Dad helped him count the money. There was about thirty pounds there, (they would have been on between two and three pounds a week.) and apart from a few ten shilling notes, it was all in coin.
I remember ten years ago, one of the metal detectorists telling me he’d come across a lot of pennies scattered over a small area which is shielded by the hedges on three sides, so I guess he’d found at least one site.
If I keep walking past the tossing school and drop down to another lane; I’m not far from the farm where my Dad was in farm service. He and another lad had gone into Barrow one night and somehow they’d missed the last bus home. My Dad shrugged and assumed they’d just walk the couple of miles home. (It wasn’t unusual, when he got engaged to my Mum, he spent too much on the engagement ring and they didn’t have the money left for the bus fare so they walked four miles home that time as well.) But I digress; on this occasion his companion had other ideas.
“We’ll get a taxi.”
I don’t suppose Dad would have been more surprised if it had been suggested they flew. Farm labourers didn’t have money for taxis.
Anyway he allowed himself to be persuaded. Before they got in his mate said, “Stick with me and keep your eyes open.”
Dad was nothing loathe, never having ridden in one before.
When the taxi got to the bend in the lane just across there, Dad’s mate said; “Just slow down here, it’s a bit tricky.” As the driver did, the mate had the door open and was out. Dad hurriedly followed and they climbed over a gate and disappeared into a field. From there it was only a five minute walk across fields home.
I’ve a mate who’s a taxi driver and when I tell that story his eyes water. But then he has his own tale. One of the drivers who works for the same firm he does got a call on the radio to collect a chap from a certain house. He collected the chap who wanted to call in at a specific corner shop and then go on somewhere else. The guy, wearing his hoodie, went into the shop, and the driver sat with engine (and meter) running. Five minutes later the fare came out of the shop, got into the taxi and gave the driver the final destination where the driver dropped him off.
Then he got a message over the radio, “George, can you come into the office please.”
So George drove to the office where he’s met by the Police. His fare had robbed the shop, taking the money from the till and had made a clean getaway.
Except that the CCTV had provided the taxi’s number plate.
And the driver not only knew where he’d picked up and dropped the fare, he knew him because he was a regular.
And it turned out that the fare had paid by credit card when he’d booked the taxi.
I’m only a writer; I’m not allowed to make stuff like that up.

♥♥♥♥

As I said, I make stuff up

As a reviewer commented, “I am a keen reader of the fantasy genre and looked forward to reading this book. The story is engaging and there’s lots of action, some humour and a little pathos. The characters all worked well for me, especially Benor, Cartographer (and much else!) The story deals with a land which has its own races of people, its own herds of animals and I found it interesting to imagine this other world which is in many ways an equivalent of our medieval world. There’s plenty of intrigue here and the story has potential for a sequel.

Jim Webster has an engaging story telling style and a good knowledge of this genre. His writing has a gentle humour which comes naturally from the characters and their dialogue. It’s not played for belly-laughs but is very effective. There were some real gems, which I very much enjoyed. ‘He spat on the floor and missed’ really tickled me! I look forward to more of the same.”