Monthly Archives: January 2015

The Irishness of the Long Distance Runner

It’s like the Irishman said when asked for directions, “Well to get there I wouldn’t start from here.”

I know just what he means. We live down a series of narrow (ish) lanes and they tend to be so quiet that when I go into a field to feed sheep I can leave the gate open blocking the road because nobody will come along.

Wherever you’re going, I wouldn’t start from here.

But that’s not to say we don’t have excitement and see strange and unusual things. Like the day the bus came through. But that’s another story.

It’s just that some years back my father and I were doing some hedging. In the local vernacular the technical term is ‘laying a dike.’ I’ve been warned about using that phrase. Apparently for some of our colonial cousins who no longer speak the old tongue in all its richness and purity it means something entirely different.

Needless to say I’m not adverse to pandering to the unlettered, and thus I will take time out from the tale to explain that ‘laying a dike’ is where you work your way along a hedge, partially cutting through and bending over each upright stem, to thicken it and ensure it remains a stock-proof barrier.

hedgelaying_little-stretton

Anyway there me and my Dad were, busy away, and along the lane comes a pack of runners. We nodded to them, friendly like, and they ignored us. I can only assume that for some people, expending effort on courtesy when you’re striving for a dopamine high is counter productive. Or perhaps they just don’t mingle with the peasantry? Who knows, obviously I don’t because they wouldn’t talk to us.

But actually, there was one runner, at the back of the pack, who did wave back and say ‘Good afternoon’ in a broad Irish accent.

Anyway Father and I thought nothing of it. Ignorance is common enough and you no longer get upset by the ostentatious display. We carried on working away, until, about half-an-hour later the runners passed us again; heading in the same direction. Now if they’d been coming back you could understand it. They’d run ‘out’ and now they were running ‘back’; but in the same direction? Obviously whatever it was involved big laps.

And of course they ignored us again.

Except for the Irish lad who stopped, looked at us and said, “We’ve been past here before haven’t we.”

Neither my Father nor I were going to lie to the lad, so we admitted he had. So he said, “And this isn’t the road to Leece is it?”

We agreed with him that it wasn’t the road to Leece.

“So which is the road to Leece?”

Admit it, I couldn’t not say, “Well to get there I wouldn’t start from here.”

But we relented and gave him directions

He muttered something under his breath which might have been some ancient Irish charm for all I know and then he sprinted off after the pack. Five minutes later they appeared again, going ‘back’ this time.

And of course they all ignored us, except for the Irish lad, still at the back, who gave us a cheery wave.

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Horsing around

A man in a cinema notices what looks like a horse sitting next to him.

“Are you a horse?” asked the man, surprised.

“Yes.”

“What are you doing watching a film?”

The horse replied, “Well, I liked the book.”

I’ve always loved the work of the cartoonist Thelwell. But once, just once, I felt I might be sitting on the edge of one of his cartoons.

little rider

He was better known for his pictures of small girls on fat ponies, but he also catered for what we might call the larger lady. (I know that makes him sound like a manufacturer of structural hosiery, or garments noted for their ‘firm underpinnings, but you know what I mean.)

fat-riders_2519602a

Our farm sits on a ninety degree bend in a quiet rural lane. At times it even warrants the term ‘leafy’. So we regularly get horse riders going up and down it and they’re not normally a problem.

But one winter’s morning I was clearing up the silage face and making sure our dairy herd had plenty to eat. Some cows were watching me with what passes for eager anticipation amongst middle aged bovines. The rest were just waiting, which is something milk cows can do really well.

One was leaning on the gate, looking along the lane to see if anything more interesting was happening there.

And for once, there was. Two ladies rode down the lane towards our gate. These weren’t chits of girls on ponies; these were serious ladies on proper horses.

The first horse trots happily past our gate, glances at the cow, metaphorically shrugs and ignores it.

The second horse sees the cow and comes to a halt. Whether it had ever seen a cow before I don’t know but it wasn’t impressed and wasn’t willing to go past. The rider (you know, the one in charge) urged it onwards. There may even have been cheerful cries of encouragement, it’s a few years back and memory fades. But the horse wasn’t convinced. On the other hand, the cries and general kerfuffle attracted the attention of another cow. She joined the first one to see what was going on.

Obviously if one cow is bad, two are worse, and the horse was even less impressed. So the lady rider became even more strident in her demands that the horse moved on.

The sole effect of this was that several more cows came to line the gate. Street theatre is rare in the bovine world and chances to enjoy it should be grasped enthusiastically.

With this the horse took a pace backwards. The other rider brought her horse back and endeavoured to display to the wary horse that there wasn’t a problem.

More cows were enticed by this to leave their contemplation of me forking silage into a barrow and made their way to the gate. This was now lined, two deep, with interested dairy cows.

By now the horse that had previously passed the gate without turning a hair was having second thoughts. It started walking sideways to get away from the gate and the rider did technical stuff with the reins and issued verbal commands which merely attracted more cows.

The rider of the more recalcitrant horse decided to get firm, she had dismounted and was going to lead the horse past. The cows at the gate were now four deep and the horse was having none of it. She was, no doubt, a fine figure of a woman, but the horse was at least four times her weight. It took one step forward, thought better of it and took three back.

The language coming from the two riders was growing choice. It has to be admitted that milk cows are not entirely unused to hearing such terms. But as the volume, and to some extent the pitch, climbed higher, the rest of the herd abandoned me for the performance laid on for them at the other side of the gate. Indeed our cows were now drawn up so deep at the gate that those at the rear couldn’t see and there was considerable ill-mannered jostling going on at the back.

At this point the two horses decided that enough was enough. Walking sideways and/or backwards they determinedly headed away from the gate. Their riders remounted and rode, grim faced, back the way they had come.

Me? ‘Tarbaby, he said nothing’.

Had I appeared it was only ever going to be my fault.

But apropos of nothing in particular, it is probably experiences like this that made me the man I am today.

If you wish to make some small financial contribution towards the counselling deemed necessary; you could do worse than purchase a copy of

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

Coffee, sheep, tractors, fine literature and bad rock’n’roll

Coffee, sheep, tractors, fine literature and bad rock’n’roll

My lady wife and I were following a tractor and hedge-cutter down a lane. She commented that it didn’t look like a desperately exciting job. My reply was along the lines that tractor driving wasn’t at all exciting. Obviously when things go wrong it can get far too exciting but when done properly it can be a case of chugging along, working long hours and surviving on coffee and with bad rock’n’roll coming out of the radio.

But this morning I discovered that the task had been so soporific that the driver using the hedge-cutter had casually chopped through an old gate that we had used to block a gap. This reopened the gap and over a hundred ewes had wandered through to see what the wider world had to offer.

So I blocked the gap and when to bring the ladies back. This involved me chasing them through the gate and out of one field, onto the lane, and then taking them down the lane through another gate and back into their original field. Both gates opened to block the lane so it was a job I could do on my own.

This was lucky, because these ladies are heavily pregnant. Thus they are pampered. The dog isn’t allowed anywhere near them in case she is a little bit too firm or things get too excitable. Everything is done nicely and quietly and gently.

So I go into the field to drive them out, I’m riding the quad bike. Instantly half of them follow me because I might have food (I told you they were being pampered) and the other half stand and watch because they don’t think I’ve got food so aren’t going to waste time following me. But be damned if they’re going to miss out if suddenly food appears.

So I’m trying to follow the ewes who’re following me and at the same time not upset anybody and also get them to move as a group out through the gate.

So eventually they all turn round and move out of the gate. They have to go the correct way down the lane, because of the gate. But across the lane is a fence. Someone had to take a digger through the hedge and there’s a fence of hurdles across the gap. It’s fine, it’s kept sheep in place for months. No problems.

Except this morning these heavily pregnant ewes who’re not supposed to get too excited hit this fence of hurdles like the tide and just poured over it, flattening it. Shouting the distinctive vernacular phrase “Ya bluidy auld witch” I’m left in the other field watching the chaos develop. So I had to shut the gate behind me, re-arrange the hurdles and get the sheep out of this field and back onto the lane.

Of course at this point some of them started following me again. I suppose you could see their point. Perhaps it was this field that I was going to feed them in. From the sheep point of view this adequately explained why I hadn’t fed them in the previous field. The fact it was them who’d smashed down the fence so they were in this field passed them by entirely. Cattle know when they’re ‘escaped’ or are in the wrong place, and can get all excited or guilty about it. Sheep have no concept of having escaped. They’re just where they are.

So I finally got them moving again, back into the original field that they’d first escaped from. At this point they discovered the food that was waiting for them. A feeder full of silage and a bucket of molasses (when we pamper, we pamper) and they immediately piled round these and started eating. Occasionally stopping to look at me with the sort of expression which said, “About time as well.”

The fact that they’d abandoned both silage and molasses to go ratching about in strange fields was apparently my fault.

But anyway I spent the rest of the morning before the rain hit fixing things they’d damaged in transit. This meant that it wasn’t until dinnertime that I had a chance once more to turn to creating deathless prose.

Admittedly today fine literature and tackling the eternal verities will probably be something on rural fuel poverty but we cannot have everything.

But if you fancy a bit of quality writing and have the princely sum of £0.99 to spend, ‘The Cartographer’s Apprentice’ is still available.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Cartographers-Apprentice-Jim-Webster-ebook/dp/B00ECZIM4A

Ya bluidy auld witch

It’s a phrase I’d never come across until I started working with sheep. It’s normally directed at the misbegotten mule ewe who wiggles, burrows and climbs through or under netting, snapping off posts and generally creating a gap which the rest come pouring through.

From experience the Mule (normally round here a cross between Blue faced Leicester and Swaledale) is the worst culprit. They’re the normal ‘breeding sheep’, the mothers of this year’s lambs. They have the toughness and mothering ability of their own Swaledale mothers, and because their mothers are fell sheep, they’re prone to wandering.

Down breeds aren’t such a problem, and they provide the sires of this year’s lambs, because they’ve better confirmation, grow faster and taste better. But they’re not as hardy and aren’t such determinedly good mothers.

And we’ve fetched a batch home because they’re coming up to lamb. In another month the first of them will have lambed and things will be hectic. So we fetch them home, pamper them a bit, make sure they properly fed and generally treat them as you’d expect expectant mothers to be treated.

But their condition doesn’t stop the bluidy auld witches ‘ratching’ through every fence looking for better grazing.

The problem is, there is one field with a little bit of grass. We’ve been saving it for them, so they can go on it after they’ve lambed.

But of course they’ve found it now, and they just keep breaking fences down to get to it. And of course I just keep putting them back up again, strengthening the weak spots and generally trying to make sure the fence is as stock proof as I can. But it’s a fair length of fence and bits that appeared OK yesterday were the ones they went through last night.

So after I’ve posted this I’m back out to have another go. There are things I should be doing; after all they’re robbing the world of my deathless prose. (Or alternatively saving folk from having to read my petty scribblings.)

Egg boxes, Border Collies and First Class Travel!

Travel, they say, broadens the mind. Anyway I had to go south and the problem with going to London from here is that if you’ve got stuff to do on Tuesday and Thursday, it’s not worth coming home because you’ll barely make it before you’ve got to go back again.

So anyway I was in London and had time to kill. So I’ll wander round and see what I can see.

There were various things that struck me. One was listening to people on the train going down. Now it wasn’t that I wanted to listen to them, it’s just that they were sitting behind me and I couldn’t not hear them.

But I discovered just who is doing rather nicely at the moment. A small group of thirty somethings, living in the Preston area were heading for a meeting down in London. They’re all working for a company which pays London wages because it has to be competitive. So they’re living in Preston and being paid London wages. One lass was moving house, and discovered that she didn’t need to sell the first house to be able to afford the Mortgage on the second. So she’s just renting out the first house and slowly building up a property portfolio. There was general agreement amongst them that this was the way forward. The opinion was that by the time they get to retiring governments will have reneged on the idea of providing a state pension anyway and the other pensions schemes are great if you’re a pension provider but less good if you’re looking for a good way of saving for the future.

But anyway, in London you can tell it’s a cosmopolitan place. The graffiti in one toilet was written entirely in Chinese characters. (And I haven’t a clue what it said.)
Then I walked past the church of St Magnus the Martyr, and as it was open went in. They have a four yards long model of the old London Bridge. Apparently it’s build of egg boxes, but it is an excellent piece of work and well worth a look.

magnus_bridge2

Then in St Paul’s Cathedral I wandered across to look at the nativity scene. The models are round and about normal human scale. You’ve got Kings, and Shepherds, mother, father and baby. But there are also two lambs and a dog.

And the dog is a Border Collie. The person who created it obviously knew their dogs. This one has the perfect pose. It is utterly focused on the two lambs. There, in the presence of Kings, shepherds, the saviour of the world, our Border Collie, with absolute certainty, focuses entirely on the thing that matters to it and ignores everything else.

It is a beautiful piece of work and I suspect that there’s a metaphor there for anyone who wants to look for it.

dog

And finally, home. I arrive at Euston station, make my way down the platform, show my ticket at the barrier and am let through. As I walk past the train it occurs to me that at this point I really ought to check which carriage my seat reservation is for. So I fished it out of my wallet. Coach H.

Hang on, Coach H is a First class carriage and I’ve bought and paid for a standard class ticket! I examined it, yes, it even says that it’s first class.

Right, so I wandered along, found the train manager and showed him what I’d got. He just congratulated me on getting lucky, told me to take my rightful seat in coach H and make sure they plied me with the free coffee (and it is rather good coffee to be honest) sandwiches, cake etc etc.

Now you might wonder why I’ve rather laboured this point; that I ended up travelling first class by accident. Well you see; I’d hate my many fans to feel that success has made me stuck-up, and that I’m turning my back on them.

Honestly, I’m still the same ordinary humble guy I was before I had Justice 4.1 published, and I’ve not let the fact that I’ve written a well received and much acclaimed science fiction classic go to my head.

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

It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong.

It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong.

(Voltaire)

Is it wise to believe too much that you see posted to Facebook? Can you rely on what people say they believe in?

Voltaire has had quite a good week this last week thanks to the madness that we’ve seen in Paris. Several people have posted his saying

“I may disagree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it”

Now that’s good, that’s commendable. I entirely approve. But still I wonder. How sincere is this sudden conversion to the principle of “Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend?”

I thought I’d try an experiment, but at that point I remembered another quote from Voltaire. “I am very fond of truth, but not at all of martyrdom.”

So I’m not trying the experiment, I’m going to ask you, dear reader, to conduct a thought experiment.

Try saying the following things, obviously some of them will be more difficult for some people than for others, but hopefully you’ll be able to sincerely work your way down the list and come out at the end able to cope with them all.

“I quite understand that you might find Tory philosophy offensive and why you would not wish to entertain people who believe in it in your own home.”

“I quite understand that you might find homosexuality offensive and why you would not wish to entertain such people in your own home.”

“When looking back at the miners’ strike one has to accept that the members of the Union of Democratic Mineworkers took a decision which I disagree with but I defend their right to make that decision.”

“Whilst personally I feel that Margaret Thatcher may have been wrong in some of the things she did, this is no reason to demonise her and those who still respect her actions.”

“Whilst I personally have not suffered economically from immigration, I realise that there are those who have and their opinions are just as valid as mine.”

“Ched Evans has served the sentence imposed upon him by a court of law, and thus should be free to take up his profession again.”

And so our American cousins don’t feel left out

“Whilst disagreeing with much in the Democratic/Republican agenda (delete as appropriate) I have no doubt that those in favour of it are decent people, sincere in their beliefs, and whilst they may be wrong, they have the best interests of our country at heart.”

Well can you say them? Are you willing to defend to the death the right of others to say them?

Funnily enough Voltaire said a lot of things

voltaire

It’s not fear and greed, it’s fear and contempt

There’s an old Wall Street saying: “Financial markets are driven by two powerful emotions – greed and fear”. It might be true, but our society is driven by two other emotions, fear and contempt.

Let’s start from the beginning. The phrase “All men are created equal” was included in the US Declaration of independence.” John Ball, the Lollard Priest included in a sermon preached during the peasants’ revolt the phrase “When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?” We have to give him points for political correctness over and above Thomas Jefferson, but still not a bad effort for both gentlemen.

Then we have the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), article 1: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights…”

Are we agreed on these? Because frankly, if we aren’t, then you’re probably wasting your time reading further.

So actually then, if all people are equal, if all people are of equal worth, (In the old phrase created alike in the image of God) then they are equally worthy of respect. If they disagree with you then their opinion, whether it is right or wrong, is just as worthy of being aired as yours is. You might disagree with me on this, if so, I respectfully disagree with you but fair enough.

stephen

Except as a society we don’t respect it. Various groups, various subgroups are regarded by the leading core in society with contempt. I’ve blogged about this sort of thing before in https://jandbvwebster.wordpress.com/2014/11/03/the-rebirth-of-secular-religion/

But things have been thrown into starker relief because of the atrocities in Paris.

We use contempt to ‘monster’ groups. They stop being people; they become ‘rednecks’, immigrants, wags, chavs.’

And as groups turn inwards the fear starts. Oppression comes out of fear. Various churches oppressed others because they feared that they would be swept away by the new interpretation. Islam lives in fear, in the East they’re losing people to Christianity, in the West they see their sons and daughters being secularised. They can see the writing on the wall and they are afraid.

But then we fear as well. We’re surrounded by these groups we’ve ‘monstered’ and we’re afraid of them.

We have now got groups in our society that have been so marginalised by contempt that they no longer belong. The contempt of the metropolitan elite of the ‘white van man’; the contempt of those who regard church people as homophobes.

Indeed it’s been fascinating watching the intellectual gymnastics that have gone on over the ‘Black Churches’ and their absolute refusal to tolerate Homosexuality. Eventually it seems that their refusal to tolerate homosexuality (obviously bad) outweighs the fact that they are by definition from an oppressed ethnic minority background (obviously good) which is compounded by the fact that they’re Christian churches, (obviously stupid.)

It’s interesting how completely we monster groups and deny them any legitimacy. This is a relatively new phenomenon. Someone like Winston Churchill could be interested in Islam, could study Islam, and indeed could be so impressed with it that his family wrote to him pleading with him not to convert to Islam.

Or look at Kipling with his Fuzzy Wuzzy.

We’ve fought with many men acrost the seas,

An’ some of ’em was brave an’ some was not:

The Paythan an’ the Zulu an’ Burmese;

But the Fuzzy was the finest o’ the lot.

We never got a ha’porth’s change of ‘im:

‘E squatted in the scrub an’ ‘ocked our ‘orses,

‘E cut our sentries up at Suakim,

An’ ‘e played the cat an’ banjo with our forces.

So ‘ere’s to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, at your ‘ome in the Soudan;

You’re a pore benighted ‘eathen but a first-class fightin’ man;

We gives you your certificate, an’ if you want it signed

We’ll come an’ ‘ave a romp with you whenever you’re inclined.

Both Kipling and Churchill could see merits in others who they fought both with and against.

But then they were men comfortable in their own skin. The desperate need to monster others, to create groups of ‘untouchables’ and ‘morally reprehensibles’ is fear. The fear that actually history might show that we aren’t right, the fear that we’ll not keep our place in the sun, the fear that unless we grind down others, others will grind us down. When we’re frightened we lash out.

He drew first