Monthly Archives: October 2014

Not so much flies as plummets

sheep 1

Shepherd: Birds is the key to the whole problem. It’s my belief that these sheep are laborin’ under the misapprehension that they’re birds. Observe their behavior. Take for a start the sheeps’ tendency to ‘op about the field on their back legs. Now witness their attmpts to fly from tree to tree. Notice that they do not so much fly as… plummet. (Baaa baaa… flap flap… thud.) Observe for example that ewe in that oak tree. She is clearly trying to teach her lamb to fly. (baaaaa… thud) Talk about the blind leading the blind.

Tourist: Yes, but why do they think they’re birds?

Shepherd: Another fair question. One thing is for sure, the sheep is not a creature of the air. They have enormous difficulty in the comparatively simple act of perchin’. (Baaa baaa… flap flap… thud.) As you see. As for flight its body is totally unadapted to the problems of aviation. Trouble is, sheep are very dim. Once they get an idea in their ‘eads, there’s no shiftin’ it.

Tourist: But where did they get the idea from?

Shepherd: From Harold. He’s that sheep over there under the elm. He’s that most dangerous of animals, a clever sheep. He’s the ring leader. He has realized that a sheep’s life consists of standin’ around for a few months and then bein’ eaten. And that’s a depressing prospect for an ambitious sheep. He’s patently hit on the idea of escape.

Tourist: Well why don’t you just get rid of Harold?

Shepherd: Because of the enormous commercial possibilities should he succeed.

(Courtesy of Monty Python)

It’s a funny old world, you cannot rely on anything being as it used to be. Sheep flock together, it’s part of what sheep do; except we had one that didn’t. I first noticed it a couple of months ago. Went into the field with Sal to round up some lambs and they all run together and stand in a clump. The theory is that you then move that clump in the direction you want them to go.

If I’d been rounding them up using a quad bike that would have been how it went. Except that Sal, being a border collie; spotted one almost fat lamb that wasn’t doing this. This lamb drifted quietly off to the side then ducked down under the bridge and there she hid; troll like, in the gloom.

Of course Sal followed her down, but we had an impasse. Lamb couldn’t go further forward and Sal was inadvertently stopping her coming back.

So some muppet (me) had to go down the other side of the bridge to chase the daft beggar out, at which point Sal could take over and drive it back to the flock.

Except that the stupid little beggar decided to swim for it. Wearing a heavy woollen jacket!

So guess who had to haul it out?

Anyway I dragged it out, pulled it to the group and this time it went home with them.

Scroll on a couple of months. On Wednesday I went with Sal to bring in the fat lambs, we were going to sort out some who were ready for selling. And this lamb dived quietly into another hollow and hid. Again Sal spotted it and eventually we dragged it out, pointed it at the rest of the group, and it dived off to one side, headed for the beck in an attempt to drown itself again. This time I grabbed its back leg before it could get into the water, tied it to a fence post and went to find the others, who of course had all gone home anyway.

So leaving them and Sal (who had got to the stage of hysterical frustration with this lamb) at home, I went back for the last ewe lamb. Of course she wouldn’t walk, indeed refused to even stand up. And if I didn’t have her on a lead, she’d dive into the beck.

So eventually I picked her up and slung her over my shoulders and we walked home that way. She was put in a separate pen, was judged to be over 40kg and so went to mart with the others for whom mint sauce is a distinct possibility.

Missed opportunities.

An elderly lady decided to give herself a treat for her birthday by staying overnight in one of London’s posh hotels.

When she checked out next morning the desk clerk handed her a bill for £350.

She exploded and demanded to know why the charge was so much – even without breakfast!

The clerk told her this was the ‘standard rate’ so she insisted on speaking to the manager.

The Manager appeared and said, ‘the hotel has an Olympic sized swimming pool and a huge conference centre which are available for use.’

‘But I didn’t use them.’ She said

‘Well they are there and you could have,’ explained the manager.

He went on to explain that she could also have seen one of the in-hotel shows for which the hotel is famous.

‘But I didn’t go to any of those shows,’ she said

‘Well we have them and you could have,’ said the manager.

The manager was unmoved so she decided to write a cheque.

The manager was very surprised when he looked at the cheque. ‘But madam this cheque is only made out for £50.’

‘That’s correct’ she said ‘I charged you £300 for sleeping with me.’

‘But I didn’t’ exclaimed the manager.

“Well, too bad, I was here, and you could have’

It’s funny really, I remember somebody bewailing their missed opportunities.

In my life I’ve come across two sorts of missed opportunity. The first and most easily remedied is what the French call ‘’l’esprit d’escalier,’ or ‘staircase wit’. This is when you think of the crushing put-down or the witty rejoinder only after you’ve left the room.

For most people, they’re an example of their personal futility, a measure of how far they’ve fallen from the level of normal social intercourse.

But for a writer they’re gold dust. Jot them down and remember them. Then you’ve got two chances of using them. The first comes years later when you are the person telling the story to an audience a generation younger than those who witnessed the original event. Under these circumstances, as you tell the tale, that belated witty remark can appear on time and allow you to dominate the situation.

Another way to use it is to work it into your next book, good dialogue can be hard to come by, don’t waste it. Not only that but this method allows you to claim credit not only for the pithy response, but for the remark that provoked it, giving you almost twice the kudos.

Never turn your back on kudos, it may not pay many bills but at least it’s not taxable.
The other sort of missed opportunity is the sort you didn’t even know you had. I remember a few years ago I’d been despatched to the builders’ merchant to get a couple of things because we were running out. You know the situation, you need three more bits of whatever it is, it’s about 4pm on Friday and you grab the most expendable person who has a valid driving licence and send them.

So there I was, battered jeans, battered rigger boots, torn shirt. Everything bleached by the sun and stained by the environment. Oh and my hair was longer then.

I’m walking up the steps into the shop and somebody shouts, “James.”

Well I’ll answer to James but not many people call me that, so I just glanced over my shoulder to see an attractive and well dressed young woman. So I shrugged and carried on and she shouted, “James.”

So this time I turned and looked. She was probably a couple of years younger than me, elegantly dressed (especially for the car park of a builders’ merchant) and was leaning against a top-of-the-range Volvo Estate which contained two chocolate Labradors and two well scrubbed and smartly dressed children. Oh and to be fair I think at this point I ought to upgrade ‘attractive’ to ‘pretty.’ I’d not go so far as to say ‘stunning’.

It had been a busy day at the end of a busy week and Saturday was going to be busier, but struggle as I might, I couldn’t for the life of me remember her name.

Not at all.

She wasn’t even familiar to anybody I knew.

As she walked up to me she said, “James, you don’t remember me.”

Now here was something we could agree on, a real meeting of minds. At times like this I think a sort of minimalist honesty is called for. So I said, “Yes.”

So she told me her name and added that we’d had piano lessons together.

By my reckoning we’d been about fourteen at the time. I think I can plead in my defence that she’d changed since then.

But anyway we chatted briefly and I was more secure in my mind that I knew who she was. But that night my sister phoned. Now I knew my sister would know her so I told my sister of the meeting and mentioned the name.

“Ah”, she said. “I remember her; she had a crush on you at the time.”

Sisters are the people who tell you things thirty years too late!

missed_opportunity

Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn. And, the labourer is worthy of his hire.

There’s the tale of a lad who went for a job on a farm. The old farmer who interviewed him asked what he could do. The lad replied ‘Everything.’

‘Can you milk cows?’

‘Yes, no worries.’

‘Can you plough?’

‘As good a ploughman as you’ll find anywhere.’

‘Can you clip sheep?’

‘Won competitions for it.’

By this time the old lad felt he ought to bring the cocky little beggar down a bit so he asked, somewhat sardonically, ‘Can you wheel smoke in a barrow?’

To which the prospective employee replied, ‘You shovel it, I’ll wheel it.’

It’s a while now since I last employed anybody. The seven pound weight of the bumper fun-pack we got sent by the tax authorities when we took on our first employee ensured that that was a mistake I’d never make again.

But of those who did work for us, either on a training scheme or as proper employees, by and large they were a decent bunch of young people that I’d cheerfully recommend to anyone.

We had one lass who had the makings of first rate cowman, but went on to be an ambulance paramedic. I like to think the livestock handling skills we taught her were invaluable in her new profession.

We had another lad who stood about four foot six in his stocking feet. When he first arrived we went into a field to collect a cow and her new-born calf. At this point the other seventy cows all noticed what was going on and came running across to look. If I hadn’t caught the lad by the shoulder as he turned to flee we’d probably never have seen him again. But a week later he went into the collecting yard to get me a brush, and as he came back through seventy milk cows, all I could see was the brush, like a periscope, passing in-between them.

But the relationship between employee and employer is predominantly an economic relationship. If in the hour I pay them £10 for, they don’t at least add £10 to the value of the business, eventually I have ‘let them go’ or the business will fail. It’s that simple.

Now the value they add needn’t be in widgets punched out or sales targets achieved. I’ve talked to receptionists who were well worth their salary. They didn’t directly add to the balance sheet, but the way they greeted people, made them feel welcome, and ensured they got through to the right person as fast as possible gave me a positive feeling about the company.

Mind you I also remember phoning one company just before Christmas. The receptionist had been left to man (or woman) the telephones whilst all the rest of the staff had gone out to the staff Christmas do. But one of her friends had slipped her a bottle (at least one) of martini.

By the time I, in all innocence, phoned, she’d drunk most of the first bottle. So when I asked to speak to Mr So-and-so, she proceeded to tell me, in excruciating detail, about his sexual proclivities, dubious business practices and problems with personal hygiene. She then expanded her tirade to include the other partners, and was working her way through her ‘co-workers’ before I realised I’d been on the phone for over half an hour listening to this PR version of the slow motion car crash.

But the economics work both ways. If you’re a good lad, clean driving licence, used to handling machinery, sensible, then you’re probably worth more to me that someone who turns up with half a dozen degrees and other qualifications, a drink problem and an inability to work out which end of a fork is which.

Which I suppose brings us onto Lord Freud with his ‘Disabled people not worth paying the minimum wage’.

In some jobs and with some people, from the employer’s point of view he is right. It’s the person and the job. I know one cowman who had an artificial hand. I’ve known people with severe physical problems who’ve made excellent accountants and finance officers.

But looking at my business there are handicapped people who I couldn’t afford to employ at the minimum wage because however wonderful they are as people, they aren’t going to fetch in enough to cover the cost of employing them.

Now a lot of people get upset at this. But they’re confusing two things. Somebody’s economic value to a business and somebody’s moral worth as a human being.

A handicapped person is as entitled to as much respect, care and compassion as anybody else.

But dumping them in a minimum wage job they cannot really do, claiming you’ve ‘empowered’ them and forgetting about them is not respect, care, or compassion.

The economic value of a potential employee is for me, as the employer to determine.

The moral value of somebody as a person is for ‘Society’ to determine. But if ‘Society’ consists of people who just want to foist the cost of their preconceptions onto somebody else to pay, so that they can bask in the smug glow of their moral superiority, ‘Society’ ain’t worth jack.

wages001

Getting out more.

I’ve been watching the reaction to the Clacton by-election. What started me thinking was a post on Facebook from someone who is otherwise a Labour party supporter. The message was ‘Tory Scumbags take a kicking.’

But one question I’d like to ask the Labour supporter is, “If people so dislike the Tory Scumbags, if the Tory Scumbags are so out of touch and hated, why didn’t the electorate vote for the obvious opposition party, Labour?

I suspect the question could be answered by pointing at this picture.

Screen-shot-2014-10-10-at-17.38.36

I’ve seen it posted half a dozen times and the general consensus of the discussion beneath the picture is that the population of Clacton are a bunch of racist fascist whatever.

But the problem is that in the 2010 General election, 10,799 people voted for Labour. In the by-election only 3,957 did.

It’s a fair guess that the majority of those who switched their vote switched to UKIP. So effectively according to the argument of our friend attacking the Scumbag Tories, Labour is a party that relied on the fascist vote to get anywhere.

Now there’s been a lot of talk and accusations about Fascism and I’m grateful to another friend to posted this by Michael Rosen

“I sometimes fear that people think that fascism arrives in fancy dress worn by grotesques and monsters as played out in endless re-runs of the Nazis. Fascism arrives as your friend. It will restore your honour, make you feel proud, protect your house, give you a job, clean up the neighbourhood, remind you of how great you once were, clear out the venal and the corrupt, remove anything you feel is unlike you…It doesn’t walk in saying, “Our programme means militias, mass imprisonments, transportations, war and persecution.”

It is absolutely true. But the real danger of fascism is it arrives when people lose faith in their politicians because they see them as venal and corrupt (normally because they are, people aren’t stupid). It also comes in when people feel the politicians no longer listen to them. Again this is normally because the Politicians are no longer listening to them.

Fascism is fought most efficiently by having open, honest, political discussion when everybody feels their opinions are respected.

So when someone affiliated however loosely to the Labour party starts slagging off the Scumbag Tories as being corrupt and in it only for what they can get for themselves, most normal people just nod quietly and try and remember the names of the five labour MPs jailed for corruption.

There are times when a little humility is called for, just as there are times when a little honesty is called for. Just because you forget to mention the deficit in your speech doesn’t mean that the public are so thick that they’ll not notice.

This is important. A strong, coherent Opposition in parliament that can reach out and listen to all strands of society is important. Indeed it might be more important than the calibre of the government to be honest. The Opposition has to be able to speak for ALL the ignored and marginalised, not merely those whom fit in comfortably with the preconceptions of an isolated liberal elite. (And let’s not forget that this isolated liberal elite is snugly at the top of the heap in all three main parties.)

How did they manage to become so isolated?

I think that previous generations were forced to live more cheek by jowl. Two world wars stirred people up and sent them all over the place alongside people who very much weren’t their type.

But it meant that young men from widely differing backgrounds were properly mixed.

It also meant they were mixed under circumstances where you get to know what people are really like, no matter what drivel they spout in the bar after a couple of drinks.

When some guy picks you out of the mud and slings you over his shoulder and hauls you off to the aid station, you could care less whether he was a Tory Toff or a Maxist troublemaker but only by making the sort of effort you don’t feel up to when you think you’re dying.

But now the right people live in nice areas and make sure their children go to the nice comprehensive schools, so they only make the right friends and go to the right universities before getting a place as an intern in a friend’s office. From there it’s a job as an MP’s research assistant, before they get put forward for a safe seat.

If they’re worried about Fascism then I suggest they get out more. Meet a few ‘bigoted women’ but this time, listen to them.

Funny old world

You know what they say, “The sooner you fall behind the more time you’ll have to catch up.”

Hopefully today it’ll be right because I’ve spent most of it doing things that need doing but which weren’t even to be considered when I bounded cheerfully out of bed this morning. (Before you ask, yes I am a morning person. Milking cows for thirty years can reset anybody’s personal alarm clock.)

Still I was busy really. Had to check lambs, and whilst I was there I intended to cut some ivy that I’d noticed choking a tree and then I’d break up some logs and carry them back. Which all meant I had an axe with me, obviously.

And as I set off up the field this white van towing a trailer stopped and two chaps got out and walked into our yard.

This isn’t usual, or encouraged so I wandered back to find out what was happening. The felling axe clasped casually in one hand was a mere incidental.

As I passed their van I noticed cockles in the trailer. So if they’re cocklers, they might not even speak English. Ah well. It’s not an easy job, it’s a dangerous world out there

Morecambe_Bay,_abandoned_car

But they saw me and came back. This is where it’s useful not to jump to conclusions. They were two biggish chaps, and they were seriously hacked off with a genuine grievance. They’d had a trailer nicked the previous night. Someone in a blue Landrover with a white top had driven off with it, and had gone down our lane.

Problem with this is that it isn’t a dead end, you come out the other end and you can drive into town. Their trailer is probably somewhere in Barrow by now.

So if you know someone with a Blue Landrover who has just acquired a battered five to six foot trailer, with its drawbar replaced with heavy box section steel, and the back gate replaced by two sections of scaffolding pole, they’ve probably nicked it.

When I last saw them these two lads were going to the police and to have a word with various scrap yards in case someone tries to cash it in. But they were also going to have a quiet drive round various parts of town, just keeping their eyes open.

I hope they find their trailer, but I don’t think they are disposed to be particularly forgiving of the person who took it.

Hopes, dreams or goldfish

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FXrdWW2RlX0

I was going down to London a few days ago and sitting opposite me was a bunch of people from Glasgow and further west. Nice enough people, got on well enough with them. As they got off the train at Euston they all put ‘Yes’ stickers on. My betting is that nobody they met noticed never mind cared. Must be awfully difficult being cutting edge and ‘edgy’ when history has moved on.

Looking at the debris of September I was left wondering where we’ll be in twelve months. When it comes to the deal promised to the Scots, will an English parliament allow itself to be bound by the promises made by the Scots MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath? Should it be bound? One parliament cannot bind its successor.

It’s strange watching dreams and aspirations not so much die as be left wilting in a jar on the mantelpiece.

Yet for these people the whole thing was obviously still a living issue. I’m glad they didn’t try to talk to me about it, I’m afraid I’d probably have done the classic male thing, “Aren’t you supposed to call a girl friend and sit on the sofa together eating ice-cream from the tub and watching weepy movies or something.”

We move on, or rather the universe moves on and we can try to keep up with it if we want. I suppose that after a while we all start to fall behind. I confess to being a little torn, is this failure to ‘keep up’ a sign of maturity or are you just getting old.

Or is it just that as you get older you start seeing stuff in context and have a better idea of what is going on and how things fit together?

Like someone said to me, “The Russians are invading the Ukraine.” I’m afraid my first response was, “Hang on, the first Russian city was Kiev*, so who’s invading what?”

Perhaps it’s possible to see things in too broad a perspective?

At this point I will leave you to Douglas Adams and the Total Perspective Vortex

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kSnJl7B_TVs

*Novgorod is a contender obviously