Monthly Archives: September 2014




One day the zoo-keeper noticed that the orang-utan was reading two books – the Bible and Darwin’s Origin of Species. Surprised, he asked the ape, “Why are you reading both those books?” “Well,” said the orang-utan, “I just wanted to know if I was my brother’s keeper or my keeper’s brother.”

You see, there’s a chap called Will who has a blog and he’s taken to asking about God.

Well worth a look.

But one big problem is not God, or god or whatever. It’s what you worship. Looking at Christianity it’s actually pretty easy, you get two commandments.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

OK so doing this is the tricky bit.

But the problem comes because we go off and worship other stuff. Think about the words we use to describe the process, ‘Pop-idol’, we idolise things. In a Christian context we give them the worship that we ought to give to God. (Worship, expression of reverence and adoration)

Even outside a Christian context, this following of idols is still the sign of an unbalanced life. To follow this through, to get a grasp of it, the question you have to ask is ‘Why do I get up in a morning.’ “The alarm clock woke me” doesn’t count as an answer because you let somebody set the alarm clock.

Another similar question, a way of trying to find out what you really worship is “What do I spend my money on.” Again this is a question that’s easy to side-step. Most people could honestly answer ‘the rent,’ or ‘the mortgage.’ But let’s say that someone answers the first question by saying ‘I get up in the morning to earn money to pay the rent’ and the second question by saying, ‘I pay the rent’, you’re forced to question just how empty their life is.

Compared to these, the person who gets out of bed because he quite likes his pointless job, and then spends far too much money on following his football team, buying wide screen TV and wider screen TV and yet more satellite subscriptions so he can watch more football almost has an interesting and fulfilled life.

But these are our idols, the football, the latest gadget, the next smart outfit, the next exotic holiday. The problem is that if we’re not properly grounded, if we don’t have a centre to fall back on, we can disappear into some dark place following our idol. There was a piece in the paper about Mr El-Erian who was working the sort of hours only the very poor or the very rich achieve. He was brought up short by his daughter presenting him with a list of the 22 important events of her life that he’d missed.

This shocked him. He’d made work his idol, his daughter had managed to ground him, to pull him back from that dark place and he’s now working more sensible hours and spending time with his family.

This blog was provoked by the news that one Dale Bolinger, aged 58, an NHS nurse from Broadstairs, Kent, has been jailed for nine years for grooming a 14-year-old girl who he planned to kill and eat. His comments included the phrase, “I do not find children sexually attractive but I do find them interesting as a food source.”

It strikes me that someone has followed their idol into a very dark place indeed. It also occurs to me that someone has a serious job on if they’re going to ground him. Would you send in a priest or an atheist?

So whether you believe in God or gods or Richard Dawkins it might be time to do yourself a favour.

Facebook has all sorts of sites where you answer ten or a dozen questions and it’ll tell you what sort of person you are.

I’m going to ask you only two questions, and I won’t tell you anything, for judgement is not mine.

Why do you get up in the morning?

What do you spend your money on?

Know thyself.

know thyself

as inscribed in the pronaos of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi


There again, if you want any common sense, ask the one who knows her role with absolute certainty

As a reviewer commented, “Once in a while a book really gets to you. Jim Webster’s book Sometimes I just Sits and Thinks has done just that to me. Jim is a farmer in the English county of Cumbria. His sense of humour shines throughout each episode. If you come from farming stock as I do, this is the book for you. In my mind’s eye I was out there with Jim and his faithful Border Collies Jess and Sal. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book…”

Dogging their heels


A new project traditionally goes through these phases.

  1. Wild enthusiasm
  1. Disillusionment
  1. Confusion
  1. Panic
  1. Search for the guilty
  1. Punishment of the innocent
  1. Promotion of non-participants

When training a young border collie, you can pass through all seven phases in as little as twenty seconds.

Still one tries.

But on Saturday I noticed that we had a gap in a hedge and a bunch of lambs had got out. Now when I say lambs I don’t want you to get to emotionally involved. It’s September. We’re not talking about anything cute and fluffy. We’re talking about a bunch of forty kilo potential trouble makers who are as cute as a collection of fairground boxers out on the beer.

So I gathered together the tools of the trade. These comprised of a post to help plug the gap, a mel to drive the post in, and Sal, our young dog.

I went into the field the lambs were supposed to be in, Sal ranging about in front of me. The lambs left in the field collected in a defensive huddle in a far corner and Sal obeyed my strict instructions to stay reasonably near me and leave them alone. So far, so good, her training is progressing; the wild enthusiasm can be contained.

Then through the gap into the other field, the situation was complicated because it contained a bunch of bulling heifers and a bull. Still, worry about details when we have to. At this point I’d put Sal on a lead. (OK a long piece of baler twine through her collar but it’s virtually the same.) I then walked towards the lambs. They saw me (and more importantly Sal) and went into a huddle.

I walked past the huddle which drifted off to one side to maintain a respectable distance between me (and of course Sal.)

At this point things were going well. Sal was obviously giving her attention to the sheep, there were signs of enthusiasm and interest but we didn’t have any mad pulling at the lead etc. The bulling heifers and Bull had noticed I was there but I wasn’t doing anything interesting so they continued to watch me.

Then I moved with Sal around the back of the bunch of lambs which drifted, nonchalantly, back towards the gap and stopped, watching us.

You could see the lambs assessing the situation.

“It’s that dog.”

“Yeah but she’s on a lead.”

“For how long?”

“She’s on a lead.”

“I can see her teeth.”

“She’s just smiling.”

“There’s an awful lot of teeth. She has them on the top and bottom of her jaw, and along the sides as well. Nobody should have that many teeth!”

At this point we move towards the lambs. Now with a trained dog there’d have been no lead and the dog would have calmly moved towards the lambs who’d have turned and scuttled through the gap.

However we have Sal. If I’d removed the lead at this point we’d probably have something which from the air would have looked more like somebody breaking up the reds at the start of a game of snooker. She’d have moved toward them at speed, the flock instinct would have collapsed and lambs would have gone in every direction.

So we keep moving towards them, with Sal on the lead moving from side to side as well as forward. The lambs continue to head nonchalantly for the gap and by the time Sal and I arrive, the last one is through and has joined the defensive huddle in the other field. It’s already practicing its innocent expression.

So I fix the gap and Sal stands, ears pricked, watching the sheep who watch her back.

Finally, job done I leave. I whistle and Sal, somewhat reluctantly, turns away from the lambs who have been careful to give her no further excuse to intervene.

I leave the field. A remarkably self confident dog ranging ahead of me, secure in the knowledge that she’s done a good job.

Now you might ask what she’d done. But actually if she hadn’t been there, the lambs would just have run round and round the field all day, secure in the knowledge that I was never going to catch them.

But place Sal in the picture and suddenly it’s no fun any more.

Border Collies seem to be of the old Granny Weatherwax  school, “If you haven’t got respect, you’ve got nothing.”

So they just half curl that lip, drop into the crouch, and suddenly the sheep remember their proper role in the performance and move as directed.


Or at least sometimes they do

As one 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.”

Not my circus, not my monkeys?

Glasgow city council has decided to build a tennis court for a Scottish open championship. They chose to call it ‘The Alex Salmond court’.

Although some of the players don’t like it because it’s too slick. However it benefits players with good spin.

It’s interesting listening to the wailing and bellowing which is taking place to the north of here. Are the Scots going to vote for independence?

It’s funny, I’ve travelled a bit in Scotland and like the place. I’ve gone a few times into Wales, and crossing the borders into these two countries is a very different experience.

When you go into Scotland, everything changes, even the architecture.

Straiton main street

Whether it’s the long low terraces of Galloway and the Borders, or the classic ‘Sixties Soviet’ that you hit further north, it’s very different to the English side of the border. Indeed as you travel across Scotland various bits are very different to each other as well.

But when I’ve driven into Wales, if it wasn’t for Welsh road signs you’d never notice, and if you follow some roads you can wander backwards and forwards between the two countries without ever really knowing which one you’re in. The road signs don’t help to be honest. When I saw a sign which said ‘Pant’ I wasn’t sure whether it was a place or an instruction which would make more sense to Welsh speakers.

I suppose like most others in the North of England, we’ve had a generation or more of Scots independence. You get used to it, and treat the ‘Braveheart wildmen’ with the respect their grasp of history deserves.

I could say more but won’t. It’s their circus, their monkeys; their bed, theirs to make and lie on.


There again, what do I know?

Life for a jobbing poet is difficult. You have to be flexible with regard to your art. One day you’re organising an elegant soiree, the next a pie eating contest. Yet all the while you are striving to raise the tone and to ensure that decency, dignity, and an appreciation of the fine arts prevails.
And sadly it appears that the more honest your attempts, the more noble your endeavours, the more likely it is that you end up making enemies. Tallis helps out the family of an old friend, obliges a patron, and does his best to aid the authorities in the administration of justice. Each time he merely manages to upset the powerful, the petty, and the vindictive.

As a reviewer commented, “Any story that contains immortal sayings like “I will merely point out that whilst the little ship did not lack ambience, it was an ambience that clung, and it took three washings before I could get it out of my shirts.” Is well worth reading.
Additionally, this tale refers to maps, missing gems, pie eating contests and even a marimba – what more could a reader want?”

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?


“In Clacton-on-Sea I heard about the young man who had been sanctioned, and had his benefits removed, because he was late to his appointment when the bus broke down. He couldn’t phone to let them know because he had no credit on his mobile phone. He was told he should have used a phone box but the bus fare had used up all his money, so he had no food.”

This isn’t my quote; it comes from the following document, looking at foodbanks.

Now let’s get this straight, we’re not talking about government policy or legislation. We are talking about a nasty jumped up bureaucrat who has just been revelling in the joy of being able to put a fellow citizen firmly in their place.

But this is a symptom of a bigger issue.

First let’s look at the young man who was sanctioned. To whom did he appeal? Obviously not to the department who sanctioned him. But what about his MP, or even the local newspaper, why weren’t they involved?

Some of the problem lies in the fact that so many of our population are poorly educated as citizens. They’re conditioned to just accept the decisions of authority. Yet it is the duty of a citizen to overthrow the state by obeying its orders to the letter.

Petty bureaucrats know better than to try this sort of trick with well connected middle class people. If I’d been the young man’s advisor, before the hour was out he’d have padlocked himself to the doors of the centre, super-glued the lock, announced his hunger strike, and with photos on the web, local journalists harassed, his MP phoned, and I’d probably even made sure the BBC got to know about it.

But would it have worked? Would these organisations have bothered to go to the trouble of defending some nameless nobody in Clacton?

I don’t want to bring the MP for Clacton into this, or the local paper. I want to look at the general rather than the specific.

Have we as citizens forgotten our duty? It was probably Edmund Burke who said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

If we watch petty bureaucrats acting tyrannically without protesting, are we abrogating our right to be considered citizens?

Perhaps we don’t approve of people on benefit? Perhaps we feel that there are too many people ‘not pulling their weight.’ Perhaps we feel that people ought to face the smack of firm government, for the good of the state?

Perhaps we ought to stop and think, and remember that all of us can find ourselves on the wrong side of a petty tyrant.

Perhaps we ought to remember the words of Pastor Niemöller

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me


What do I know? Speak to a real expert

As a reviewer commented “Once in a while a book really gets to you. Jim Webster’s book Sometimes I just Sits and Thinks has done just that to me. Jim is a farmer in the English county of Cumbria. His sense of humour shines throughout each episode. If you come from farming stock as I do, this is the book for you. In my mind’s eye I was out there with Jim and his faithful Border Collies Jess and Sal. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book…”

Less is more? More or less.

I saw this cartoon. It shows a vicar sitting at the organ and he’s looking over his shoulder at the congregation and saying

“Due to our failure to secure a holiday-relief organist, the next hymn will also be sung to the tune, Chopsticks.”

 'Due to our failure to secure a holiday-relief organisty, the next hymn will also be sung to the tune of Chopsticks.'


Well we’ve had a holiday. Nothing too exotic, we’re a bit out of practice at this holiday malarkey and didn’t want to strain anything. Basically we wanted to attend a service in Canterbury Cathedral, and we decided that rather than flogging down M6-M1-M25-A2 we’d do something more civilised. So we went via Leeds (and a chance to have lunch and spend time with daughter) to Woody’s Top near Ruckland in Lincolnshire. To find Ruckland, go to the back of beyond, turn left and keep going for another ten miles.

Then we had a day in Lincoln, before travelling south, having lunch with old friends before crossing the Thames and spending a couple of days ‘doing’ Canterbury.

Another thing we did get to do is have a good look around Lincoln Cathedral, (as well as the second hand bookshops on Steep Hill) as well as have a good look around Canterbury Cathedral.

They’re fabulous buildings, really amazing. Well worth the look. But one thing that struck me was I was walking around them was the genius of Christopher Wren. He was surrounded by magnificence like that but was great enough to break out from it and create St Paul’s Cathedral.

If you really want to see St Paul’s Cathedral at its best, don’t go when it’s busy. Make the effort, and turn up for the 7:30am morning service. They open the doors not long after 7am and when you go in it’s almost totally silent, and there are not many lights on. You get a chance to see the building in its native state. Just to sit there in the quiet, amongst the great stone columns branching out into shadowed arches, like so many great dreaming trees, listening to the words of morning prayer can leave you hanging outside time.  

The clean lines, the plain stone catching the morning light, are stunning. At that time the decoration is merely hinted at in the gloom, or suddenly highlighted as the sunlight strikes an upper window.



Yet on the Tuesday evening of our holiday the weather was pleasant and we went for a walk. This took is down to Ruckland Church, then along a footpath from which we saw partridge, muntjac deer and rabbits, getting back to Woody’s Top as the sun set.

St Olave’s church, Ruckland can hold about thirty, provided they’re all friends, so it’s not architecturally impressive. But they’d had a flower festival the previous weekend, and the flowers were still there. Nothing fussy, but beautiful, as you can see from a photo I borrowed from the web.

St Olave's Ruckland


And it was in this church, amongst the flowers, that I saw the cartoon.

I was always told a good book was a holiday in itself.

As a reviewer commented, “Having read many of Jim Webster’s Historical Fantasy books, I looked forward to seeing what he would do with a Science Fiction story.
I was not disappointed.
Webster’s trademark style of weaving the main storyline with several, seemingly unrelated sub-plots was in evidence throughout, all of which are neatly brought together in an unexpected, but satisfactory, finale.”

Now the entire series is out there for you