Monthly Archives: November 2015

Card play

Tallis Steelyard

There was a time when I used to play quite a lot of cards. I look back and think to my self that I wasn’t a bad player, just handicapped by a paucity of funds and an anxious craving to eat at least two meals a day.

But I would spend quite a lot of time in the ‘Vagabond’s purse.’ It was, and still is, one of the better inns. The food is uniformly good, and in winter the various snugs and common rooms pleasantly cosy. I had an informal arrangement with the landlord that I could sit all day in the common room, read or write to pass the time, and if a gentleman wished for someone to partake of a hand or two of cards, I would oblige. Indeed on the good days I was even fed, especially if they had something left over. Many the times I’ve…

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Tis the season (to be offended)

full of people

You can tell it’s winter, there’s a chill in the air. It’s so cold that two brass monkeys knocked on our workshop door and asked if I did any brazing. In fact it was so cold that several ‘newspapers’ stopped printing pictures of topless models because it couldn’t find any girls willing to take their clothes off. OK so perhaps not quite but you get the idea.

Today I was out looking sheep and it was a bit on the cool side. There’s still grass for them, and when Sal and I went into a field, each bunch would glance at Sal and pattern recognition would immediately take over.

Teeth?   Snap

Teeth mounted in long muzzle?   Snap

Ears, two, cocked up?     Snap

Is it watching us?     Watching us, it’s never taken its damned eyes off us!

With this the sheep begin to move away, forming a defensive huddle and then turn and stare accusingly at their potential tormentor.

But today was different. You see, because it’s cold, we’ve got the fire lit. (Just don’t even think of trying to get central heating into our house). So of course I’m recycling wood as heat. And whilst looking sheep I’ll take a bag with me and any suitable bits of wood will be dropped in it for burning. And as I walked across the field, I moved the bag from one shoulder to the other. This produced the distinctive sound of a cake bag being moved. Within seconds the sheep that had formed the huddle fifty yards away were running towards us. Sal, her teeth, ears and whatever was totally ignored, it was winter and here was man with a feed bag. It had to be lunch time.

They were sadly disappointed but still, winter is drawing on and sooner or later we’ll have to start giving them supplementary feed.

But I quite like this season. It’s November so obviously it must be Christmas. According to some enthusiasts Christmas now starts on the afternoon of Remembrance Sunday! But along with Christmas we get those who demand that we don’t wish them merry Christmas, and those who remand that we only wish them merry Christmas, and a score of shades of opinion in between.

Indeed, tis the season to be offended. And this year, we’ve got a real gem here in little old England.

The Church of England produced a short advert, people saying the Lord’s Prayer. I’ve heard it but never seen it, and it lasts a full sixty seconds. This was to be shown in cinemas. Except that Digital Cinema Media (DCM), which handles adverts in all the big cinema chains, has refused to allow it to be screened.

DCM has told the Church that this advert risked “upsetting or offending audiences.” Further more (and doubtless with much pious finger wagging on DCM’s part,) it has pointed to its policy document. This bars commercials that advertised “any religion, faith or equivalent systems of belief” or “any part” of any such religion or faith.

So that’s perfectly clear then.

Except email correspondence between the Church and DCM which has been released to the media shows that in July a member of the company’s sales team offered the Church a 55% discount if they signed a deal for the ad campaign. What the blue blazes did they think the Church of England was going to advertise? Car sales? Sofas? Time share holidays? You really would have thought that the clue was in the name, ‘Church of England.’ Call me old fashioned but I’d have suspected they were a religious organisation with a name like that.

So at the moment matters might well rest in the hands of lawyers. The problem is, DCM is going to be awfully short of adverts this December. After all they cannot mention Christmas (or any part of any such religion or faith), or the solstice, or have Christmas carols in an advert sound track, or pictures of yule logs, holly and ivy (because paganism is a religion too you know and they might also be offended.)

As far as I can work out, those advertising with DCM are restricted to wishing viewers, “A festive mid-winter commercial festival”.

Anyway I’m quite enjoying this one. I do rather like it when the ‘oh so correct’ brigade end up wiggling on the skewer they’ve managed to hurl themselves onto.

But it struck me that I am failing in my duties. Christmas is coming. I notice that there are not many who are mean enough to use lack of belief as an excuse for not giving presents. In my more cynical moments I suspect there is an even smaller group who use their lack of belief as a reason for not receiving them.

But still, when you’re buying presents, I have paperbacks available. These are the perfect present to give if you wish to offend anybody with no sense of humour, no imagination, and a far too precious regard for the sanctity of great literature.

Go on, you know you want to. Available from all good on-line book shops and you can order them from real bookshops as well. Or you could just buy them for yourself and ensure you do have a good Christmas. (Or insert any other festival/non-festival of choice here)

four books

The essence of true humility

Tallis Steelyard


I suppose there is a danger I will be accused of becoming obsessed with the fact that artists are inadequately appreciated. So I felt that I should perhaps give an example of the opposite.

It could be fifteen years back now; Sarl Onwater had gained the Sinecure supporting the literary arts. Those of my generation will remember what a difference he made. Previously those who had purchased this duty would restrict themselves to putting on something of an ‘event’ where a handful of artists would be paid a reasonable sum to come along and give a recitation of their works. The sinecurist responsible would ensure that there was an excellent dinner, fine wines, and considerable social cachet in attending. They would then sell tables to those with more money than literary understanding. Indeed it was reckoned that with luck you could even turn a profit on the event.

Old Sarl…

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Funny what you learn


I’m going to have to be careful how I phrase parts of this blog or I could end up with the same sort of people reading it that I had when I wrote about how I was being haunted by Marks & Spencer’s knicker adverts.

You see I was chatting to a lady who was brought up with my late mother. It’s fascinating travelling with her because she’s done an awful lot and has seen a lot. But it was her memories of Page Bank that intrigued me. You see before the war my grandfather had two farms, with two houses and a farm worker’s cottage. The house I live in tended to be the house the family didn’t live in, so was occupied by an employee and his family.

And that was how I heard of Mr and Mrs Budd. Now their name wasn’t Budd, but that was the best stab a Barrow lass aged about ten could make of it. It was something like ‘Buddinski’ or Buddowski or something like that. But anyway, Mr and Mrs Budd were Jewish, and they arrived at some point, perhaps about 1938, and spent three years living here, in Page Bank. Mr Budd worked for my Grandfather for those years, and as far as anyone has ever said anything about him, he was a good worker.

Now when the Budds first appeared, they had ten children. Two, both daughters, were theirs, and the others were the children of family and friends in Germany. The Budds took all the children with them to safety. At the same time the other families tried to sell farms, houses, shops and get out of Nazi Germany to meet up once more with their children in England. Apparently the Budds did eventually manage to get the ‘extra’ eight children to family members, but whether the parents left behind made it out in time or died in the camps nobody now remembers.

After about three years, the Budds finally moved on, apparently to America. Think, somewhere out there in the US might be someone whose mother or grandmother lived here, sat and read in the same room I’m writing this, if only briefly.

But for three years, my Grandfather employed and worked with this man. I’ve mentioned my Grandfather before; his main contribution to defeating the fascist menace was growing as much food as he could, and arresting a German pilot at pitchfork point. Now he was employing and housing Jewish refugees as well. I suppose a chap with five daughters of his own could sympathise with the plight of the Budds.

But anyway I was just driving along, listening to the tales and occasionally asking questions.  The older girl had been traumatised by her experiences. At times she’d get upset about something and just totally forget all her English and revert to German. The younger sister was perhaps too young to understand and she adapted happily enough to life on an English farm.

But the thing that really stuck in my informant’s mind, looking back, was the strange things the Budds had. Obviously they’d managed to plan their leaving. They’d even managed to bring things like bedding with them. And even their bedding was strange. Big square pillows like nothing anybody had seen before. And they didn’t have sensible sheets and blankets, but big heavy continental quilts or duvets. Also, and here I am entirely in the hands of my informant, German girls wore entirely different underclothes to English girls of the same age. I’m afraid I’m not able to supply further details.

But think, in this house, every morning Mr Budd would say the Shema,


Sh’ma Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Eḥad – “Hear, O Israel: the LORD is our God, the LORD is One.”

His family would get out of their strange beds, put on their strange clothes and go out to meet the day.

Refugees, with their strange clothes, weird religion and unthinkable bedding lived here among us.

Are there echoes? Did people demand we kept the refugees out because they’d destroy our essential Englishness or steal our jobs or whatever?

But actually what happened. Yes, we changed. Apparently some people now have abandoned sensible sheets and blankets and use these weird German duvet things. (Again I remain silent on the subject of underclothes.)

And that’s what happens. People turn up and we absorb their good ideas and if we have any good ideas, they absorb them.

And it’ll still happen. If the English are worth being part of, people will want to be part of us. In fact to paraphrase loosely what a chap almost said, “Finally, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, people will see these things and want to be part of it.”

Earlier this year the gentleman pictured below died, Sir Nicholas George Winton. Let’s just hope this generation can aspire to live up to the example he set us.



There again, what do I know?

As a reviewer commented, “Another excellent compendium of observations from the back of Mr. Webster’s quad bike in which we learn a lot more about sheep, border collies and people. On the whole, I think the collies come out of it best. If you fancy being educated on the ways of the world, with a gentle humour and a nice line in well observed philosophy, you could do a lot worse than this.”

Cutting the back office.


Various politicians have been saying that local authorities ought to cut their back office and still provide frontline services. It’s an interesting idea and the whole concept of ‘cutting the back office’ probably needs looking at.

Firstly you could just put ‘back office’ stuff onto ‘front line staff.’ Let them do it. It has the advantage that it’s then being done by people who know what is actually happening in the real world. It’s what every family farm does. You put in a full day’s work and then you and/or your spouse do the ‘back office’ stuff at night when it’s too dark to work outside. Sometimes you can save the paperwork to those days when the weather is utterly disgusting and you’re almost glad of the excuse not to go out.

This system works reasonably well. You have to accept that farmers have high rates of undiagnosed depression and about the highest suicide rate of any employment group (Vets sometimes have higher figures.)

It might work pretty well because farmers tend to be people who are hands on and practical, which means they loathe the back office stuff and aren’t going to make a big thing of it.

There again there are those who deal with it by contracting it out to somebody else. I know several accountants who have farmer clients who just give them a black bin bag of receipts, bank statements and chequebooks and just leave it to them to reconstruct the finances of the business.

One problem with ‘cutting the back office’ is that it seems to indicate that there are people up at the cutting edge who have the kudos and authority to do that. The problem arises when those at the cutting edge, who meet the public and provide the services, are the low grade minions who are not held in any particular respect by the rest of the organisation.

HM Revenue and Customs is a fine example of this. They have back office which deals with stuff, and frontline people who meet the public and explain stuff and help us get it right, deal with our problems and make the system work.

So HMRC are cutting the 170 offices where you can actually go in and talk to a real person and making us deal with some of the least responsive call centres ever created. In this case it begins to look as if the back office is trying to save money by having as little meaningful contact with the outside world as possible.

In local authorities, the people in the back office you want to cut are the people who run the organisation and decide who and what gets cut.

Now there are ways around this. Contracting out services is one. This should cut down the need for both frontline and back office staff. It certainly cuts the frontline, but of course the back office reinvents itself as ‘contract monitoring’ and might even have to increase the number of staff it has to ensure the contract is properly monitored.

Funnily enough in small businesses, contract monitoring is done by the same person who does everything else, and involves one simple process. Compare result of contract with price paid. If happy, pay next year, if not happy don’t.

But of course those working for local government would point out that it’s not so simple for them. They’ve got all sorts of things they have to monitor. Not merely that the job has been done properly but that all sorts of other targets have been met, be they diversity, environment or whatever.

At this point the farmer, the small businessman, the teacher, the local government officer can all agree on something. A large proportion of the ‘back office’ stuff, the endless stultifying, mind numbing, time wasting bureaucracy that washes endlessly over us, is actually dumped on us by government in the first place.

So effectively, if government wants organisations to cut the back office, perhaps government ought to stop creating work for the back office to do.


There again, what do I know. If I were you I’d ask a real expert

As a reviewer commented, “I always enjoy Jim’s farming stories, as he has a way of telling a tale that is entertaining but informative at the same time. I’ve learned a lot about sheep while reading this book, and always wondered how on earth a sheepdog learns to do what it does – but I know now that a new dog will learn from an old one. There were a few chuckles too, particularly at how Jim dealt with unwanted salespeople. There were a couple of shocks regarding how the price of cattle has decreased over the years, and also sadly how the number of UK dairy farms has dropped from 196,000 in 1950 to about 10,000 now.
Jim has spent his whole life farming and has acquired a wealth of knowledge, some of which he shares in this delightful book.”

A festival of drabbles!

At this point a fair proportion of the readership of this blog are scratching their heads and asking, “OK so what passing bandwagon has Jim jumped on now in a pathetic attempt to sell a few more books.”

Obviously I refute that suggestion; I do not jump on passing bandwagons. I would have you know that my attempts to sell books are premeditated, lovingly stage-managed, and timed to perfection. You wouldn’t believe the effort that goes into them. So you can see why I get sniffy when people talk sneeringly of bandwagons. My promotions are much applauded and universally unsuccessful.


But what’s this all got to do with a festival of drabbles? What is a drabble? A drabble is a story, or piece of fiction, or something similar, which is exactly 100 words long.

That first bit you just read, finishing with the words ‘universally unsuccessful’  was a drabble. Count the words if you don’t believe me. Don’t worry; we’ll all wait whilst you take your shoes and socks off.

Come on, in your own time.

But anyway the thing about drabbles is that they tend to have a twist in the tail. Here’s another one.

At last, I’m free. A great burden has been lifted from my shoulders. Now I can go out there and look the world in the face, a free man. My chains have fallen off and I’m no longer constrained by the shackles others have bound me with.

No, that’s wrong. They are shackles I’ve bound myself with. I’m the one who has so loving forged them and fitted them but now they’re gone. No more desperately trying to achieve the impossible. Finally one simple revelation has liberated me. I’m a husband, automatically, what ever I do, I’m in the wrong.

Get the idea now. Well when Michael Brookes mentioned the idea of a festival of drabbles, I was quite taken with the idea. So I said I’d do my bit to publicise it.

Michael has set up a Facebook page where you can find out more

Here’s the link to his blog and the timetable for the event

Just go there and follow the links. You’ll find all sorts of stories. Some will be funny, some poignant, some dark, some asking questions far bigger that you’d expect to find in a 100 word story.

My guess, indeed my hope, is that at the end of this week, you’ll have read some stories which stick with you for a long time. But even more that that, I think you’ll discover a lot of cracking good writers who can tell a great story in exactly 100 words.

Grumpy old man, strike one!

An older chap, probably my age when I come to think about it, was being interviewed for a job. The interviewers were probably two generations younger than him, frightfully intense, frightfully correct, and there was a clash of cultures just waiting to happen.

One interviewer then asked him, “Do you have any weaknesses?”

It’s the sort of ‘right on’ question you’re apparently supposed to ask now. Whether it’s to give the applicant a chance to show how smoothly they lie or how good their bluffing is I haven’t a clue. But anyway they asked him this question. So he thought about it and said, “My honesty.”

One of the intense and oh so correct young things said earnestly, “I don’t think honesty can be a weakness.”
The old lad just looked at him and said, “I don’t give a damn what you think.”

Me, I think, I’m getting there.

It might be a symptom but I’m getting increasingly sick of the contemptuous hate filled postings that we’re getting on Facebook. I’m beginning to think a lot of people should get out more.

Listening to men of my Father’s generation talking (which I did when I was a lad and was working with them), they’d been about, mixed with people. The war pretty well meant that you travelled. As one chap said, “Live with somebody in a tank for two years and you stop worrying about whether he’s a bluidy toff or not.”

I remember one chap talking affectionately about a girl he knew. She’d been in the land army and had been sent to the farm he’d been working on. Spoke with a plum in her mouth, swore like a trooper when a horse stood on her foot, shared a woodbine when they were sheltering under a dike from the rain. Was a pal and taught him to dance so that he had the confidence to ask out a lass he fancied.

And now people seem to live in self reinforcing silos, allowing themselves the luxury of ‘hating’ people who are so obviously stupid that they support a different political party.

For God’s sake get a life.

Some of this is my fault. I’ve been on Facebook for years. I had an account for four years before I ever posted (or even looked at my page) because, wearing my freelance journalist hat, a lot of google searches used to lead to Facebook.

But then I became a writer and had books to sell and of course ‘you have to be on Facebook.’

So I’m on Facebook. But as a writer you’re supposed to have two pages, one for you as a writer and one for you as a person. So you can keep your life in separate compartments.

Except I’ve never worked like that, I’ve got one life and I’m living it all the time. So on my Facebook page I get stuff from family, friends who are real friends I’ve known for years, people I went to school with who it’s good to get back in touch with, people who apparently think I’m a writer and they obviously collect writers, and other writers who hope that by linking up with me they might somehow sell another book. (Given that this is why I’m on Facebook in the first place so I’m hardly well placed to moan about it.)

Anyway I’ve come up with a cunning plan. I want an all-purpose post I can just stick in Facebook discussions that irritate me. Save me wasting valuable time taking part in them.

Can't stop now someone is wrong on the internet

So I’ve come up with a few things that people might just want to remember

Are the Republics/Democrats/Socialists/Tories criminal scum planning to destroy the economy and our way of life?

Remember Plato

“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”

If you don’t like it, get off your backside, go out there and participate, stand for office.

Then again, are you angered by sad loners getting guns or whatever and killing or stalking people or whatever?

Well check out this person’s blog.

But short cut for those with busy lives, it’s suggested that the easy way to stop loners doing crazy things is to befriend them and stop them being loners.

But then that would mean actually getting off your backside and getting out there and doing something.

Seek enlightenment?


But really, the answer is always just switch off the chuffing screen and go out there and do something real, with real people. You’ll feel better.

But before you do, just buy one of my books


Enjoy the quiet life of a middle aged cartographer. Well it was quiet until somebody finds the naked body of a young woman hastily buried in a marsh. The journey to discover her identity and hunt down her killer leads our protagonists across the Land of the Three Seas, through ambush, civil strife and even light opera.

As a reviewer commented, “

Swords for a Dead Lady follows Benor Dorfinngil through an intricate plot of murder and intrigue in a highly developed fantasy world with a rich caste of characters.

This is a book has well developed characters and a good plot, but what makes it a real joy to read is the depth of background. This is not only original, with none of the cliches or tired formulae that so often bring the fantasy genre down, but superbly detailed. The reader can walk with Benor and the other characters through a world both curious and distinctly human, with the geography, history and demography all ready set out instead of created merely for the convenience of the plot. The author clearly has a great deal of experience with the worlds of fantasy as well, and of the practicalities of life in a low tech world, allowing him to avoid common pitfalls and present the reader with a highly entertaining and polished work.”

Belatedly, for National Poetry Day

Tallis Steelyard

The bottles sprawl unheeded

The discarded valiant dead

Their sacrifice accepted

Sobriety has fled

The truth it surfaced briefly

But shrugged and went to bed.

Will you walk again beside me?
Will you tread the path I tread?

The wine it made me wordy

The truth when poured was red

I didn’t mean to speak them

But I meant the words I said.

lady drinking

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