Monthly Archives: December 2014

OK, so who’s paying the bill?

A man walks into a bar, and tells the bartender to line up seven glasses of his finest whiskey. The bartender does so, and then watches in astonishment as the man quickly goes down the line, downing each with one gulp.

The bartender says: “wow, I’ve never seen anyone drink like THAT”

The man replies, “You would drink like this too, if you had what I have”

“Why… What do you have?” said the bartender.

Man: “Sixty-five pence”

Now then, you might have heard of William Boyd. (Who so far as I know always pays for his drinks.)

He is the author of ten novels which won lots of prizes and at least one of his books is described as ‘best selling.’

And now he’s written another book. It’s a 76 page story and it’s published by Jaguar Land Rover USA. It’s free on kindle. Apparently the book was commissioned by Landrover and features a Landrover Defender (as well as the more usual main characters.)

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Vanishing-Game-William-Boyd-ebook/dp/B00PD2MQRA/ref=zg_bs_341689031_f_95

And people are asking, should writers be doing this?

The problem I have with the whole thing is that I’ve been a freelance journalist/writer for over thirty years. The money that it brought in was necessary, because trying to make a living out of livestock on a small farm is real bed of roses (sounds great but get too close it’s all thorns and sh*t)

Earlier today, reading the paper, I read an article on the Publisher, Emap. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/mediatechnologyandtelecoms/media/11314679/Publisher-Emap-recovers-after-10-year-slump.html

Things are looking up for them. That’s nice, over the years I’ll undoubtedly have made money out of them for various articles written for various editors. One set of figures did come as something of a ‘wake-up call’.

“In 2008, digital represented 12pc of our revenues,” said Ms Christie-Miller. “Print publishing represented 69pc and events 19pc. Today, print is 38pc, events are 40pc and digital is 22pc.”

Where’s the money? It’s not in writing, whether digital or in print, it’s in events. I’ll come back to this.

But should writers take money for ‘product placement?’

One issue is that the boundaries between advertising and ‘art’ have been fuzzy for a while, way back there was that ‘romance’ that was done as part of a series of coffee adverts (Nescafe was it?)

And look at Meercats! Advertising hasn’t done them any harm

I know there have been times when people have said to me that the adverts are the only thing on telly worth watching.

So perhaps we’re moving back to patronage. You want your chapel ceiling painting; who are you going to call?

You splash out serious money and you get this. (Eventually)

sistine-chapel-creation-of-adam

OK so it’s perhaps a bit exclusive and not everybody can see it all at once, but eventually word leaks out and the great unwashed get to stare at it as well

Funniest_Memes_please-enter-your-pin_16965

We have a problem. There seems to be a long term trend. You see, if the actual viewers/readers aren’t willing to pay for books, or music or whatever and expect stuff cheap, then somebody has to fund it; because otherwise the best stuff won’t happen.

Great writers who could turn out good stuff will end up working overtime to be able to afford the family holiday/help pay off the mortgage/whatever, rather than writing another book, because whereas ten years ago, that book made a contribution to the family finances, now writing it is just dead time. A luxury you allow yourself when you have a bit of free time and the kids don’t need chauffeuring somewhere.

So what can we do?
Well musicians have it easy, they can do live performances. Everybody likes a good gig, and if you’re lucky you might make a few quid extra selling a couple of CDs you had made.

The problem is, whenever I’ve heard of people wanting authors to do readings, they’re not expecting to pay them, because they assume that the author will perform free, ‘because they’ve got a book to sell.’

So perhaps William Boyd has squared the circle. Perhaps he has spotted the way forward. A friend of mine who is an erotic novelist has already been selling ‘bespoke fiction.’ He has occasionally been commissioned to write ‘one off’ stories which will never be published but will exist only for the person who has commissioned them.

I could do that. At my standard freelance rate, you can have your own fantasy or SF book for £200 per thousand words! Throw in an extra twenty quid and we’d probably be able to get it done as a print on demand hardback for you. OK so it isn’t the Sistine chapel but it’s an art work entirely of your own.

And then there’s the whole field of events. I said I’d get back to this topic didn’t I. Well rather than writing the book, or in parallel with writing the book, we have not merely Justice 4.1,

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Justice-4-1-Tsarina-Sector-Webster-ebook/dp/B00IPTBEQW/

we have the Justice 4.1 weekend experience.

For discerning clients, we would offer not merely ‘Swords for a Dead Lady’

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Swords-Dead-Lady-Jim-Webster-ebook/dp/B006C4C8OO/

but perhaps ‘An evening with Benor Dorfinngil.’

And they thought product placement was getting a writer into something of an ethical dilemma!

Explain why churches beg for money…

Three boys are in the school yard bragging about their fathers.

The first boy says, “My Dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, he calls it a poem. They give him £50.”

The second boy says, “That’s nothing. My Dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, he calls it a song. They give him £100.”

The third boy says, “I got you both beat. My Dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, he calls it a sermon, and it takes eight people to collect all the money!”

Somebody asked me, explain why churches beg for money.

It’s a funny thing, this money and the church. I’m afraid the only one I know much about is the Church of England, which, like every other denomination, is unique and doubtless does things entirely different from the rest.

So where does all the money go? Well it’s tricky. There are three real costs. The first is staff. Not merely salaries (or stipends) and accommodation, but pensions, training, National Insurance, etc. To a certain extent this is one of these problems that is self rectifying, as within the CofE the number of clergy is falling and the proportion of those who do the job as volunteers is rising. Also more of what was once considered to be work for the Clergy is being done by lay volunteers.

In our own case the notional cost of a vicar is about £50,000 (which includes stipend, accommodation, training, national insurance, back office costs, etc etc.) The parishes which share our vicar manage to raise from their congregations through collections, concerts, fun-days and similar about that sort of sum which they sent to the diocese to pay for our vicar.

The Second cost is the building. Like pretty well every other CofE parish we’ve got a church. Some are beautiful, some are well designed, some are in the right place. Very occasionally you’ll get one which manages all three. They were designed and built in a different world. Who else is expected to work with buildings that were designed and built in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, where the population has moved, the road networks have shifted and the costs and expectations of such things as heating are massively different nowadays.

The costs of maintenance of a parish church fall entirely on the congregation, (ignoring listed buildings where frankly you’d be better off if it wasn’t listed because that imposes more cost than benefits) it’s bad enough if you’re a parish church, Durham Cathedral costs £60,000 a week to maintain. Apparently Durham has a sign on the wall suggesting that visitors donate £5. They’ve calculated that the average donation is £0.32. So you can see why Cathedrals are so quick to sniff out any sort of grant funding for historic buildings. Obviously there are individual churches and Cathedrals which might have other sources of money, investments and similar built up over the past centuries but even in their case, the money is almost always spent before it arrives.

Do we need these buildings? Probably not, and even if we need buildings we don’t need the ones we’ve got. The sensible thing is to just walk away, sell them for housing or give them to English Heritage and just hire a local hall of appropriate size when we need one. Save an absolute fortune.

Why don’t we do it?
Some of it is a feeling that some of these buildings are very sacred spaces; some is because the congregations love the building so much they’re willing to make that extra effort.

The main reason in some cases is that parishioners don’t want their daughters to ‘walk down the aisle’ at the local sports centre and they certainly don’t want their funeral service to be held there.

With the CofE, because it’s a parish based church, the church serves not merely its congregation but every person in that parish. Whether they darken the door of the church or not, contribute financially towards it’s annual upkeep or not, they’re entitled to be married there and have their funeral there. They also contribute to the debate, demanding the building be kept open and maintained etc, because so many of their fonder memories are tied up in it.

But really, we don’t need the physical infrastructure. Some people confuse the Church with the building. The Church isn’t buildings, it’s people. The Church would still be the Church if it didn’t have a building to its name and met in the market place.

And then there’s the third cost, the real work of the church which we need money for. This is most simply summed up in Matthew 25 :31-46, which starts with the instruction

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

And the problem is the money tends to be dished out in the order mentioned. Firstly we do have to pay people. The wages aren’t good, the hours can be horrendous and it’s only fair they get a reasonable pension. Then we have this edifice complex and get hung up about the buildings, and finally, what’s left, over and above what might be described as the ‘fixed costs’ goes to the real work of the church.

It’s something that stares every congregation in the face. He, we look at our own church building. A few years down the line we’ll have to spend serious money. Now the congregation doesn’t need the building. We don’t use it all that much anyway, meeting in the village hall about half the time, and frankly we could get rid of it, and all the money that gets poured into it could go into occasional hire of the hall and the rest can go straight into the work of the church.

We’ve talked about it, we’ve had open meetings. Basically we’ve decided that the building has to ‘wash its own face.’ It’s got to pretty well cover its own costs, whether as a part time heritage centre, concert venue, art gallery, office space, starter units, whatever.

_50556362_wintersheepatrampside2010december21st

If, after a few years of trying, it doesn’t then we’ll have to look at it again. But frankly I cannot see any point in raising six figure sums to maintain it. Indeed if someone turned up tomorrow with an open chequebook and offered us a six figure sum I’d point them into town, to the homeless centre and the foodbank and suggest that they had a word with the people there.

Other places do it differently. Norway and (from memory Austria) have all churches paid for by the State. Some places have a national levy. Personally I don’t want that over here. It’s a big enough hassle being the established church; I’d hate to be state funded as well.

But we’ve got to square that circle. The issue of paying staff and pensions is self rectifying. With less staff, then eventually there’ll be fewer pensions. It’s one of the things where we can grit our teeth and get on with it.

But the nightmare is the whole issue of buildings. Really, in many cases, if the buildings are so architecturally precious, so special, and so expensive to maintain, then congregations are probably best walking away, selling them or giving them to the state and let them worry about the cost.

If the building is the right building in the right place, in good condition and one the congregation can afford, sure, stick with it, a good building can be an asset.

Indeed having a decent building to work out from can make it easier and more cost effective to get on with the work of the church. But having a kitchen and showers might be more important than vestry and choir stalls.

Is that the phone?

Q: How can you tell which one of your friends has the new iPhone 6 plus?

A: Don’t worry, they’ll let you know.

Actually my phone isn’t a smart phone; it’s a phone of genius. An elderly nokia, on Wednesday it obviously got desperate.

It was sitting switched off in my pocket. Actually this is a pretty unusual situation for it, normally it lives switched off in the drawer. But did it appreciate the extra freedom, the change of air, the chance to get out and mingle a bit?

No, it colluded with the car keys to switch itself on, and then it was so desperate for company that it phoned my daughter! She then phoned me back because getting a call from me on my mobile is up there with first of the seven trumpets as a sign of the forthcoming apocalypse.

The first I knew about all this was when my phone started ringing.

To be fair I do use my phone. Someone was offering me a considerable number of free texts if I put another £10 top-up on the pay-as-you-go.

So I checked on my phone to see how many texts I used. I’d had a couple of texts from somebody last August, but hadn’t needed to reply. Prior to that, the last texts I got from a real person (and not from EE offering me fabulous deals or telling me about missed calls) was October 2013, and I remember distinctly sending a text back to them.

But anyway, I got home (after assuring my daughter that the end times weren’t upon us and it was just my phone getting bored.)

In the space of the next hour I had five phone calls on the landline. Two were silent, and when I put the phone down and dialled 1471 they were ‘number unobtainable.’ The next was a phone call to tell me that we might be eligible for some government energy scheme or the other. The problem was it was an automated call, with voice recognition software etc so it could answer your questions. Unfortunately it launched into this spiel, at the end of which I said ‘Pardon, who did you say you were?’

That was obviously not one of the questions the software allowed for and the voice at the other end lapsed into silence. So I put the phone down.

The next phone call was from someone who wanted to speak to Jim Webster. So I asked what about. She started off with this spiel and I interrupted to say that I was the switchboard and which Jim Webster did she want. So she put the phone down.

Finally I got a phone call from BT that was genuine and made sense. Or more sense than any of the previous calls.

I just wish I’d thought to do this.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mkdoogjic4I

Ditch-digger’s blues

I got really excited when I realised I could advertise my ditch-digging services on the web. I could go onto forums where there’s be all sorts of other ditch-diggers and we could discuss the problems we had digging ditches and moan about tree roots and swap tips on how to keep your spade nicely sharp.

But you wouldn’t believe it, I went on the forums and there’s all these people who would send me messages saying, “Tell you what, you come and dig this ditch for me for free, and I’ll make sure you get plenty of exposure and people get to know about your ditch-digging services.”

Well I was polite to them and told them that, actually, I was a professional ditch-digger. I dug ditches to earn my living and I couldn’t afford to give up time to dig their ditch for free. They seemed to have trouble understanding this, and told me I was being unprofessional and money-grubbing.

At the time I just thought they just didn’t understand what ‘professional’ actually meant.

But then it got worse. Companies and organisations I’d previously dug ditches for would phone me up and offer me work. I’d ask the rate and they’d tell me, and it was less than half of what it had been five years ago. So I told them it wasn’t enough to make a living on.

And they told me that I could take it or leave it, because the world was full of wannabe ditch-diggers who were willing to work for nothing, just for the ‘exposure’ and in reality, they were doing me a favour even offering a nominal payment.

Finally I came to the conclusion the job was knackered. Well and truly screwed. The world was full of people who expected everybody else to work for nothing, but got seriously upset if you suggested that they actually take a pay cut.

So what to do?

Then I had a brainwave, I’d take up writing. After all, whilst it’s hard grind, takes a lot of time and means you work unsocial hours, often at nights after doing another job; everybody appreciates writers and wouldn’t dream of asking them to work for nothing.

03family

Arts, crafts, and pouring drink into strange women  

The diverse duties of a churchwarden are a source of constant wonder to those who find themselves landed with the job. There are times you begin to sympathise with the clergyman who, every morning, at exactly 11.47am, dropped what he was doing and went to his study window which looked out across the railway. He’d watch the express pass and then get back to work. Finally somebody asked him about this habit of his. He just shrugged and said that he liked to watch it because it seemed to be the only thing in the area that moved without him pushing it.

But still, it’s when you get to the Christmas Fair that you realise just how much everybody else is doing. In the PCC you look at the previous running order, check on a few technical and legal matters (most of which seem to involve raffle tickets) and step back.

The outside stallholders are prodded, new ones solicited and the stalwarts get ready to run the cake stalls and tombolas. On the morning you turn up to give a hand setting up to find that a plan has been drawn up, everything has been assigned a place and all that remains is for you to set out tables, chairs, decorations and whatever.

Things have changed. The stern matriarchs of my youth have moved on. Their successors, the new generation, lack the ability to terrify that their mothers did, or perhaps I’m just older now and have an easier conscience. Still I’ve no doubt that with a decade or two of practice, they’ll chill the blood as well as any.

And then the opening, someone from the village says a few words, and we’re off.

I’m lucky, as a mere male I cannot be relied upon to run a stall or do anything complicated. Mind you there was a moment of panic when the ladies of the cake stall approached me with a particularly splendid cake. They felt it seemed a shame to sell it in slices, so should we sell it as a whole cake. At this point I felt like pointing out they were talking to the monkey, the organ grinder was elsewhere. But then some genius suggested we have a ‘guess the weight’ competition. A note was hastily penned and the cake was put on a table near the tea and coffee.

And suddenly I had a role. Not only was I placed in charge of the cake, (I assume they reckoned I couldn’t do too much damage with just one cake) but I had the other job of carrying tea or coffee to stallholders.

I’ve tended to feel a little sorry for the stallholders. If things are going well they’re too busy to spit never mind walk about looking for a brew. If things are going badly they need somebody to bring them a drink and cheer them up.

We had all sorts, home made knitwear, Christmas wreaths, miscellaneous handicrafts, Christmas tree baubles, hire a camper van, and a Brazilian lady who had her own cake stall selling Brazilian cakes! (Which were fabulous).

Brazil

It were a grand day out. And Me?

As somebody said, ‘There’s Jim, guarding the cake and pouring drink into strange women.”

Underneath the Sin Bin!  

You know how it is with the rock and roll lifestyle? Constant hedonistic excess, the exotic travel, the expensive hotels, the pouring drink into strange women, (Actually the last was our Church Christmas Fair but that’s another story)

But anyway as I was saying, this rock and roll lifestyle thing.

You see, I’m sitting here, metaphorically teetering on the edge of international fame, stardom and all the dark chocolate digestives that I can decently eat.

If things pan out as they ought to I could be drinking Tia Maria in my coffee even if the weather’s not seriously cold and miserable, and putting rum in my hot chocolate every night and not just on those occasions when the bottle has been left out because I’ve been making rum butter.

So what’s happening I hear you ask?

Well you see my book; Justice 4.1 (http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1908208236/ ) has just received one of the highest accolades.

It’s been chosen as one of the two books of the month for December by one of the leading ‘Goodreads’ forums, the Amazon Kindle forum no less.

https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/51445

It’s got 4,343 members at the moment, lord love them, so it’s not one of the little ones.

And of course with a little effort they’ll all notice it, dash out to buy a copy for themselves on Kindle plus a paperback to give a particularly worthy nephew, niece, or technologically disempowered friend.  After all it’s the perfect Christmas present so the more discerning will doubtless buy multiple copies to give to nephew, niece AND technologically disempowered friends.

Admittedly it wasn’t easy. These things never go smoothly. Rather than being flaunted at the top of the page, for reasons doubtless too technical for me to understand, my book does down at the bottom. Not merely at the bottom, but below the sin bin which is where they stick spammers, illiterates, and hardened recidivists lacking moral fibre.

Fortunately this error has been rectified, the book is back near the top. Hence the group’s web page is suitably ornamented, indeed rendered even more distinguished, by both the picture of the book and the discussion on its many merits.

So there, sell a quick eight thousand copies, get a bit of impetus behind it, get up there into Amazons top ten and we’re on a roll.

Or perhaps not.

Personally I don’t think becoming incredibly rich and famous would spoil me but I suspect I’m not going to get the chance to prove it.

If so, I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Jim

Growing old disgracefully.

An older chap went for a job interview. Things had changed since the last time he’d done it, (there’d probably been a world war or something) but anyway it was all emotional intelligence and empathy and stuff.

Anyway towards the end one of the interviewers, very earnestly, asked him, “Do you have any weaknesses.”

The old lad thought about it for a while and said, “Yes, my honesty.”

The interviewer looked shocked and said, “I don’t think honesty can be a weakness.”

“I don’t give a damn what you think.”

Many years ago I went to the USSR. Yep, back then they still had one. I even went to Leningrad, try doing that now.

But anyway it was my only ever package holiday because it was the only way you could get into the USSR back then.

On the trip was a family who’d brought mother and her sister along. The two ladies were Memsahibs. Born and brought up in British India, Daughters of serving soldiers, they’d been out east for much of their lives.

They were brilliant, practical, pragmatic, unshockable and they knew exactly what they wanted and how to get it.

Like the day they kidnapped a Soviet policeman.

I watched them. There was a seriously busy road, several lanes in both directions and plenty of traffic. They came up behind the policeman, and with one on either side of him they somehow moved him across the road.

Now this shouldn’t work, but obviously it did, personally I think the drivers were stopping to see what happened next!

But with no trouble at all they got to the other side of the road, where they thanked him for his kindness in helping two frail elderly ladies to cross. Then they went off to do whatever they’d been intending to do.

He stood on the side of the road, a bit pathetic, trying to work out how on earth he was going to cross back

We might have to grow old, but we don’t have to grow up

SummerWine_03_51161c