Monthly Archives: November 2014

Told me by a man in a pub?

A mate of mine has a job which involves him sitting on the end of a phone whilst people tell him about how they paid a lot of money to a man in a pub, and now they’re shocked that whatever they bought doesn’t work or has broken down.

So frankly I try not to believe ‘the man in the pub’.

But anyway what about the man in the coffee shop? I don’t know if it’s only me, but I tend to chat to the people who work behind the counter at places like Costa. I remember talking to one guy and asked how he was enjoying it. He did me the honour of assuming that I meant it as a serious question and explained that, funnily enough, he was enjoying in. He was originally working in the pub trade. He knew it; he’d literally been born into it. He hoped to work his way up to management.

But pubs are dying, society is changing, now people buy cheap drink in supermarkets, drink it at home and tell their friends on Facebook what a tragedy it is that all the pubs are closing.

The only work he could get was in pubs where they paid you less than a minimum wage but promised you’d get a share of the profits. In his case he’d been in the trade too long to fall for that. He could walk round the pub and tell that it wasn’t going to make profits for five or ten years.

So when an old friend walked into the bar and asked him how he was, he said he was getting sick of it. So she offered to try and get him a job in Costa where she worked. He’d said ‘Fair enough.’

So there he was working in Costa, and by his own account he was quite enjoying it. Money was OK, hours were OK, the other staff were fine and the customers sober. Yes, if you’re a Guardian journalist then the money looks pathetic, but if you’ve spent your life in the pub trade, it’s actually pretty good. And he gets to spend his evenings with his friends.

But anyway, that’s by the bye. We’ve got a general election coming up and we’ve got two groups of people deluging us with memes on Facebook saying how either, “The economy is rubbish, the greedy bastards have given everything to their mates” and “The economy is recovering, we’re pulling out and everybody is going to be better off, but don’t vote for the other lot or they’ll screw it again.”

Fair enough, they’ve got jobs to do; they both want flash offices, ministerial cars and the extra salary and expenses.

But what’s the truth? It’s an old question, Pilate wasn’t the first to ask it (John 18:38) and since his day the definition has been changed regularly to make sure we never find out. So let’s ignore that people who’re paid to tell us what they want us to believe.

Every so often I go for a longish walk on a Wednesday afternoon and if I’m going the right way I’ll stop in at Costa.  It’s about 5pm when I drop in and normally it’s quiet. There’ll be me, the staff and three or four other tables with customers on them.

Except that in the last two weeks, same day, same time, it’s been busy. First time I wondered if there’d been something on in town, second time I mentioned it to the guy who was making me my coffee.

He also did me the honour of taking my question seriously, because he stopped to think as he reached for the chocolate sprinkles.

“We’re a lot busier all the time now.” He sprinkled the chocolate on, leaving the shape of a Christmas tree. “You know, I wonder if the recession is over?”

Who knows? But frankly he’s not standing for election, he’s just looking at the world that he lives in, and because he’s not the man in the pub, he might even be worth listening to.

Oh and thanks for offering, mine’s a large cappuccino, with chocolate.

before coffee break

Tales of travelling to Sandbach and also of not needing to learn Polish

Exotic travel and really wild things; learn all sorts of strange stuff. Like the fact that the people in Crewe and Sandbach are really nice people.

Strange that isn’t it.

But in Sandbach and Crewe, bus drivers, taxi drivers, the hotel staff, people you bumped into on the street or in Costa, were just nice people, friendly and helpful.

Someone wondered if we’d inadvertently walked into some sort of Canadian overseas province.

But there you are. Last weekend I went to Sandbach. That’s the joy of attending meetings where the organisers book church halls and parish rooms rather than conference centres; you go to the most intriguing places. Sandbach, Barnsley, Chesterfield, Peterborough, live long enough and you get to see them all.

And you discover all sorts of things, like Sandbach has a brilliant Armenian Bistro, Barnsley has a fabulous collection of charity shops; I tell you all human life is here.

The other thing about going to meetings in church halls is you see what’s going on. I was just amazed they managed to fit us in, what with the toddler group, the coffee shop and the after school club the building was always cheerfully busy. Mind you the advertised event I liked was the ‘dads and kids club’ where for £1.50 you could take your children, let them play; you get a cup of coffee whilst you read your paper, and bacon butties were only £0.50.

I’m tempted already. I’m just not sure my three daughters would be all that keen.

Then you get home from strange foreign parts and discover that the hot tap doesn’t work in the bath.

So out to the workshop, get a couple of spanners.

Problem one, a twelve inch adjustable doesn’t open wide enough to get a grip on the shell. Back out into the workshop and back into the bathroom with a 35mm spanner. Fits perfectly, the shell comes off easily. But just who designed a shell that big! Out there are bathrooms where there isn’t room to use a 35mm spanner!
Anyway the gland nut is just ¾ so that’s OK. And one of the three ¾ spanners I took to it fitted so that’s even better. Unscrew it and discover it’s just the washer is knackered. Replace washer.

Reassemble, turn hot water back on and Świetna robota!

Then it was pointed out the cold tap in the sink was getting a bit dodgy so ‘while you’re at it’…

And I was at it so it seemed a sensible idea. Except that this one had an entirely different sized washer so I had to nip out and get one, and of course the staff all asked me why I didn’t speak Polish or at least have a moustache.

At my age growing a moustache is probably faster than learning a foreign language.

But back with the new washer and job done, spanners put away, and time for a spot of lunch. The Polish contribution was very much in the background.

Poles

Oh yes, and I did get to do something sneaky. When you’ve written a book there are always people who’d fancy a free copy. But I’ve one good friend who wouldn’t ever dream of asking. You know the sort of person who is a real friend and is always there when people need her.

Well when her back was turned I slipped an autographed copy of Justice 4.1 into her bag and she never noticed until she got home.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Justice-4-1-Tsarina-Sector-Webster/dp/1908208236

It’s good to be sneaky at times.

Wearing your headscarf at work

‘Time is a construct of man, a means of adding value and structure to a chaotic universe, it serves no real purpose, it’s endless and infinite, unfathomable and subjective’

‘You’re still bloody late’ replied my boss.

Funny old world isn’t it.

I saw an old film on Facebook, showing a lot of women leaving the Jute Works in Barrow. It was probably shot before the first war or perhaps not long after. All the women were wearing headscarves. Indeed with their long heavy skirts and high necked knitted cardigans they were perfectly dressed for the hard dirty work that they were doing. The fact that it was a dress code that would have found favour with even the most zealous mullah is by the way. Of course I couldn’t find a still photo, but some ladies from Lancashire have gallantly stepped into the gap

1900

It certainly brought back memories. I suppose round here I was brought up being used to the concept that families were run by tough working class women. They kept order at home, in the street; indeed they dominated the local church or chapel, even if they weren’t formally in charge.

I can remember one lady telling me of an incident that happened before I was born. She got home from work to discover her son had been punished at school for something he couldn’t have done. His alibi was that at the time whatever it was happened, he was with his mum. The teacher hadn’t believed him and hadn’t checked.

As the lady said, she never even stopped to take off her pinny (something she always wore, as much a protective garment as the overalls her husband wore). She crossed the road to the school, dragging her son behind her, knocked on the head mistresses door and proceeded to tell her exactly what she thought of her. Looking back I remember her commenting that middle class women tended to be ‘stuck up’ and didn’t understand the basic realities of life.

Looking back they had short, hard lives. Admittedly they still tended to outlive their husbands whose lives were also short and hard. There was none of this nonsense about job satisfaction, career progression or things like that. She had perhaps a dozen jobs over her life. At times she did cleaning because it fitted in with the children. Actually it was pretty much the same sort of working life as her husband; a job for life was for the sort of people who got a job on the council or worked in a bank.

I often wonder what she’d say to people now. Those who promise everybody job satisfaction and similar are just lying. Looking at my male friends, I can probably count on the figures of one hand the number who’d keep doing their job if they were paid whether they turned up or not.

One thing I remember learning from some of these women was that what mattered wasn’t job satisfaction, but life satisfaction.

The job is just the thing that you do that pays for the things that matter. It’s nice if you enjoy it, it’s even better if you do it surrounded by people you quite like and get on well with. But it is not your reason for existing.

Oh, by the way, in this regard do as I say, not as I do, but I’m self employed and that means I don’t count because I don’t have a job anyway.

Just helping out

I suppose one thing I regularly get is, ‘Jim, could you just give us a hand here.’

To be fair it’s normally somebody wanting a hand sorting sheep, or somebody to hold a tup while they trim its feet.  But occasionally it can be an editor, desperate to get something to fill a gap in their publication.

I’ve helped by pouring drinks at book launches and tactfully trying to sort out two streams of traffic moving in opposite directions down a single track road.

And occasionally it’s because a neighbouring parish has a funeral and they need a spare churchwarden.

I’ve done my fair share of funerals, both as mourner and as ‘staff’. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked to be a bearer, (which I suppose is just another example of ‘Jim, could you just give us a hand here.’)

But helping at a funeral of somebody you never met is ‘interesting.’ You get the church ready, as a rule of thumb open up an hour before the funeral, longer if you expect there to be a lot of family from away. The undertaker will have somebody drop in with the orders of service, ideally before people start arriving.

Then people start drifting in. Often the first people are members of the regular congregation who knew the deceased, if only in passing. They will come in and sit quietly, lost in their own thoughts. Then you might get a friend of the deceased turn up, somebody who’s travelled a long way and was determined not to be late. You greet them, give them the order of service and tactfully ensure they know where the toilets are.

At some point the Minister will make an appearance. Checking the microphones, checking that everything is at hand for when it’s needed. Making sure that the churchwardens know he’s off to the crematorium with the family afterwards so don’t let anybody block his car in.

Probably twenty minutes before the official start you get two groups forming outside. The first is ‘family and bearers.’ They’ll come in carrying the coffin or following it. The other group are those who you might call ‘lightly churched’. They put off entering the building until they reach a critical mass and then sweep in as a group, relying on mutual support and numbers to help them face the unknown terrors that await.

And finally the cortege, led by the hearse. With practiced professionalism the undertakers make sure everything is ready. Does this church have its own trestles for the coffin to rest on or does it need the set carried in the hearse?

And then it starts. Different churches do it differently, this one they toll the bell from when the coffin slides out of the hearse to the moment it enters the nave. The bearers, unsteady, grim faced and concentrating, gently shepherded by the undertaker, make their way into the church. Then the family in order, nervous and fighting tears.

It’s at this point that you realise that there is no gap between ‘mourners’ and ‘staff’. I’ve followed coffins as well as carried them, and I’ve known the grief that I can see as people walk past me.

And then we’re into the service. It’s at this point that the finality asserts itself. Perhaps it’s the competent and sensible young woman who has organised everything for the family just about holds it together as she does a reading. Perhaps it’s an old friend of the deceased who reads a favourite scripture or poem, perhaps it’s younger family members who struggle through their piece in tears.

Beware of sentimentality. There are places for sentimental verses, but when read in the presence of a coffin they often just seem empty. It’s like watching a small dog yapping in the presence of a wolf. People are staring into the unblinking eyes of their own mortality; “Goodbye Granddad” said through tears can say everything the family needs.

The minister then gives us the eulogy. It’s strange to meet somebody for the first time after they’ve died; but already I’ve a picture of him. Not of the man in his nineties but of the real person.

“Courted her for six years before marrying at the age of ….” Grief, they’d be living together after the first few months now.

“Married for seventy years…” And you remember the widow, straight-backed, a daughter-in-law holding her hand, staring ahead as she entered the church. Seventy years. Not for that generation the emotional self-mutilation of divorce and serial polygamy. She stares back unblinking into a world long gone.

Then the Minister moves into the committal. He’s a man I know and think well of, he stands there trying to offer comfort, to give people something to take away with them. No mouthing of platitudes, this isn’t the place for them; he is sharing certainties. Then the twenty-third psalm, poetry three thousand years old.

And the hymns, old favourites, ‘Abide with me’, ‘The Day thou gavest Lord is ended’, ‘All things bright and beautiful.’ It’s at this point you see the cracks at many funerals. A good half, perhaps more, of the mourners stand silent. I suspect it isn’t that they just don’t know the words; it’s that as a society many of us have lost the habit of singing at all, certainly as a group. Yet there is an immense comfort to be had in singing old familiar words together, a sense of being part of a community that has been facing the same griefs that you feel now for so many thousands of years.

And then it’s over. Quietly move to get the doors opened, then the coffin is carried out and the family follow.

Head bowed in respect as the coffin goes out through the open doors. He’s worthy of respect, he’s left a nice family, decent enough folk who loved him, what more can a man ask for? Red eyed and voiceless the family make their way out into the gloom of a November afternoon.

For them, it’s the crem, then the funeral tea where the healing begins. There should be stories, the catching up, the memories and the setting of the world to rights. For us it’s a case of tidying up, putting everything away and wandering back into our own lives.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;

Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;

Change and decay in all around I see—

O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

Move along, nothing so see.

A few thoughts from writers. “A blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it to be God.”

– Sidney Sheldon

“I have been successful probably because I have always realized that I knew nothing about writing and have merely tried to tell an interesting story entertainingly.”

– Edgar Rice Burroughs

“People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn’t like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it.”

– Harlan Ellison

I had thought of writing something literary, something really fancy. After all, I’m supposed to be a writer and I’m supposed to be selling books. So as I went to look sheep this morning I thought I’d mentally map out what I was going to say.

But checking on the fat lambs I heard bleating. Now this is from the far end of the field they’re at and that corner has a lot of rushes in because it’s a bit wet. And a wall of drizzle had started rolling in, and visibility was dropping and I was starting to get wet.

And then, in a tree in the hedge up above where the bleating was probably coming from I noticed two crows sitting.

Now crows sitting in a tree isn’t a problem. If they’re sitting in a tree, then they’re still waiting. So I made my way across the field towards the bleating and eventually, as I picked my way through the rushes, I saw the lamb. Not a big one, perhaps 25kg, with his head caught in the netting.

Getting a lamb out of netting need not be rocket science. Their sole method of extracting themselves is to push forward. This never works. Occasionally a big lamb can break off fence posts holding the netting in place, but it’s a limited sort of victory.

You grasp the lamb firmly and pull it backwards. This is something the lamb never seems to consider but it works every time. You then release the lamb and it runs off to join its mates.

And the crows fly off; annoyed because you got to it before it weakened so they couldn’t take its eyes.

And as I walked back across the field it suddenly struck me. Who was the lamb bleating to, it had been weaned for months, mother was long gone, its mates are as ineffectual at dealing with fences as it is, and anyway they were ignoring it. But it bleated. If it hadn’t I’d probably never have noticed it.

And at this point, walking back, I gave up on doing anything literary. After all I’m a stockman. I suppose I write a bit but before everything else, I’m a stockman.

When my first book was published, http://www.amazon.co.uk/Swords-Dead-Lady-Jim-Webster-ebook/dp/B006C4C8OO a friend of mine who bought it commented that nobody but me would have written it.

The mentioned one section, which I thought I’d quote at this point.

“An hour later Yallou returned with a short stout man with ears that stuck out like jug handles and the reddest nose Benor had ever seen.

“Meet Tilosh, livestock dealer.”

Tilosh added, “- and I am a livestock dealer, not an out-of-work bandit trying to make an honest living.”

“What’s more he can probably get Benor inside the caravanserai.”

“That I can, provided he can dress less like a plump pimp at a society wedding.” He studied Benor, tilting his head to one side.

“Ever worked livestock?”

“I worked half a season as a drover west of Tarsteps as a way of working my passage.”

Tilosh nodded a third time. “What sort of orids will we be buying now?”

“The tail end of last year’s lambs that have been over wintered because they wouldn’t finish off grass last autumn;”

”What’ll they be like.”

“Big, wooden, too tall, and lean, but there’s damn all else on the market and if you can get them away for killing before the new crop of lambs are through, then you’ll make good money.”

At this point Tilosh smiled. “Tomorrow you and I will drop round to that caravanserai. If they’ve nothing to sell, they might be wanting to buy, and either way whilst they’re wasting my time, you can get a look round. But change your clothes first.”

Yep, I’m a stockman

(Oh and ‘Swords for a Dead Lady’ is only £2.99 from Amazon and is available from all reputable ebook dealers, and some of the better disreputable ones)

An Interesting Week.

In 1605 Guy Fawkes, along with others, plotted to kill King James 1 by blowing up the House of Parliament (the Gunpowder Plot). Since then England has commemorated the event, on 5th November, with bonfires and fireworks. Occasionally, over the last few years, you will hear people ask “Where is Guy Fawkes when you really need him?”

How many safety inspectors does it take to light the bonfire?

One to light the match and three to hold the fire extinguisher

How many civil servants does it take to set fire to Guy Fawkes?

One to strike the match and twenty two to fill in the paper work.

How many aerospace engineers does it take to light the kindling sticks?

None. You don’t need a rocket science to start a bonfire.

How many Apple employees does it take to flame Guy Fawkes?

One to light the match and four to design the t-shirt.

How many Microsoft programmers does it take to start the bonfire?

Microsoft declares darkness to be a new standard.

How many God-fearing, tax-paying, law-abiding Members of Parliament does it take to light a bonfire?

Both of them.

It’s interesting that Bonfire night and Armistice Day are so close together. Not quite a week apart.

It was that last Wednesday night I was walking down Wheatclose Rd (of all places) at pretty much the height of the fireworks. The road sort of runs East-West (or West-East if your peculiarities run in that direction) and there was a firework display to the north and another to the south.

But the sound of the fireworks to the north echoed off the houses on the south side of the road and were reflected back, just as the sound of the fireworks to the south of the road were echoed of the houses to the north side, and reflected back.

And the road itself sounded like a war-zone. As a Nigerian friend of mine said, “If I heard this in Lagos, I’d have assumed we were having a coup.”

But looking back I’ve known men who couldn’t have walked down that road, the memories, the terrors, were just too real. There are lads out there now with the same problems. Not every victim of war is dead or physically crippled.

Looking back I’m old enough to have known the men who came back from the 14-18 war. The ones I knew were old, by the time I was able to talk to them with any sort of understanding the youngest would have been in their seventies. But the men who came back from the Second war were my father’s generation and I worked with them.

They were all sorts. I knew one who’d fought at in the Battle of Cable Street. He was quietly proud to have been there but kept quiet because he’d been part of the British Union of Fascists. Five years later he was in the Western Desert fighting against the Fascists.  Forty years later he was a petrol pump attendant, working to pad out the pension. That is how I knew him.

Back in the ‘70s there was talk of Armistice Day dying out because nobody would remember it. After all, there’d been no more wars.

But our political masters have managed things better than that. A lot of gilded youths have found foreign fields for British lads to die on and every generation has its sons, brothers and friends to mourn. So Armistice Day seems to be a solid fixture on the calendar for another century at least.

And as always the lads we send are by and large ordinary lads, and none the worse for that. As the good knight, Sir John Falstaff said, “Tut, tut; good enough to toss; food for powder, food for powder; they’ll fill a pit as well as better: tush, man, mortal men, mortal men.”

Editorial cartoon from Bruce MacKinnon in the Chronicle Herald

Editorial cartoon from Bruce MacKinnon in the Canadian Chronicle Herald

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.

The rebirth of secular religion

You know what they say, what goes around comes around. Back in the good old days we had secular religion. Our Roman and Greek predecessors kept gods in their place. Priesthoods were just jobs handed out to the already powerful, to people of the ‘right sort’ who could be relied upon to maintain the status quo.

You weren’t expected to actually believe any of this religion stuff, just pay dignified lip service and keep up appearances.

Society was nicely stratified as well. You ended up with the humiliores and honestiores. The humiliores were persons of low social status, about 90% of the population. They were the ones who were subject to certain kinds of punishment, such as crucifixion, torture, and corporal punishment. Indeed if you were a humiliores and appeared as a witness in court, you had a fair chance of being tortured to make sure you were telling the truth.

The honestiores were the better class of people, the political ruling class who owned most things, and got the priesthoods and similar.

This cosy set up was screwed up, big time, by new religions. Really you can lay the blame on the Jews. They introduced into religion people like the prophet Nathan (try 2 Samuel 12) or Isaiah (try Isaiah 5). But here’s a highlight from Isaiah

Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine

and champions at mixing drinks,

who acquit the guilty for a bribe,

but deny justice to the innocent.

Therefore, as tongues of fire lick up straw

and as dry grass sinks down in the flames,

so their roots will decay

and their flowers blow away like dust;

The problem with the Jewish religion (and the Christians and Moslems who picked up on it,) is that they didn’t know their place. Nathan’s attack on King David is revolutionary; it suggests that a monarch should be held accountable by the same law as the rest of the people. These religions refused to accept the concepts of humiliores and honestiores.

Now obviously the honestiores have not been willing to take this nonsense lying down. They’ve clung to their power and left the little people to do the actual believing in religions, whilst they got on with running what really mattered.

But every so often they’ve discovered their own mortality. When Henry IV walked to Canossa and stood barefoot for three days in a blizzard as a penitent, people were shocked. At least some of the shock came from the fact he was being treated as any other penitent and not afforded treatment appropriate for his exalted status. Somehow, somewhere, somebody had slipped and allowed the very Judeo-Christian concept of equality in the eyes of the law to creep in and it’s going to be a beggar to get rid of.

Obviously the honestiores haven’t taken this lying down, and they’ve spend two or more millennia trying to keep their hands on the levers of power and influence. And for as long as the old Judeo-Christian faiths had people who believed in them, the humiliores were in with a chance. The last great push was probably the birth of the Labour Party which came out of the Methodist revival.

But now the honestiores have largely captured that as well, so normal service can at last be resumed.

Hence now at last we have a new priesthood and a new secular religion once more and at last the honestiores are firmly back in the saddle.

But wisely the new religions are unlike the old Judaeo-Christian faiths. The latter were just an embarrassment. If you claimed you believed in them, then people would point to some rule you’d forgotten or had overlooked ‘because it was inconvenient’ and ask how you could call yourself a whatever when you weren’t doing what the book said.

Now you don’t have to believe the new religions, you’ve just got to pay lip service to them.

So take the current dominant cult of Climate Change. There the priesthood has things well in hand. They put forward measures which are paid for by the humiliores and keep them in their place, whilst at the same time the honestiores can jet round the world to conferences or get good salaries on quangos thinking of new restrictions to put onto other people. Admittedly they haven’t worked out how to burn people as heretics yet, but the term ‘denier’ works nearly as well.

Obviously the beliefs of the cult cannot be allowed to actually impinge of the things that the honestiores regard as important. Hence whilst promising us a guaranteed 3mm a year rise in sea levels, devotees of the cult are still investing massively in London, even though by their own calculations the tube will be full of salt water in another generation.

One problem these new cults have got is that their priesthoods might well regard their own deity as important, but they can sometimes get so carried away with their own schemes that they forget to pay lip service to other deities.

So the priestesses of feminism who decided to allow their devotees to wear ‘This is what a feminist looks like’ T shirt, (a snip at a mere £45 each! I mean, who spends £45 on a T shirt?) totally ignored the fact that humiliores were being forced to work for £0.69 an hour to make them.

But that’s perhaps what the new faiths are for. They’re there to make the honestiores feel good; they’re not actually there to make things better for the humiliores.

AlexGraffito.svg

Alexamenos worships his God“.