Monthly Archives: December 2015

The Invigilator

Tallis Steelyard

The invigilator

I’ve always felt that it is important to encourage the young, to drive young minds to grapple with the eternal verities which dominate the world of the arts. I learned my lessons young and am eternally grateful for the education I received from so many masters in the past. It was they who taught me the importance of such artistic practices as being paid cash in advance, and making sure you are owed debts of affection by all those standing between you and the exit. Hence when Charlon Drane asked me to teach a class at the University in Port Naain, obviously I agreed.

Apparently my reasons for doing so may not be obvious to the ordinary reader. Hence I will elucidate. Since Charlon Drane’s unfortunate ‘death’ and, in some eyes, the even more unfortunate discovery that he was still alive, I have been one of the few people to…

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A hard rain in the north

I’m about to break with tradition and who knows, I might even set a trend. Who’d believe it, a blogger ranting about something they know a little about?


So here goes.

Some time ago I was involved in the Flood Defence Advisory Committee covering Cumbria and North Lancashire. It was part of the National Rivers Authority. This existed between 1989 and 1996. It was a result of one of Margaret Thatcher’s last privatisations. To quote the wiki (because I’m idle and it’s correct)

“Before 1989 the regulation of the aquatic environment had largely been carried out by the ten Regional Water Authorities (RWAs). The RWAs were responsible for the supply and distribution of drinking water, sewerage and sewage disposal, land drainage and flood risk management, fisheries, water quality management, pollution prevention, water resource management and many aspects of the management of aquatic ecology and some aspects of recreation. With the passing of the Water Act 1989, the 10 Water Authorities in England and Wales were privatised by flotation on the stock market. They took the water supply, sewerage and sewage disposal activities into the privatised companies. The remaining duties remained with the newly created National Rivers Authority.”

The Flood Defence Advisory Committee was composed of local authority reps, plus some from local industry and agriculture (me) so it meant that the community got to look at what was going on. But two things struck me at the time. The staff of the NRA had largely come from the Regional Water Authorities. They were for the most part engineers. Up until the creation of the NRA they had been ‘sat upon’ by the RWAs who as part of the state did such things as cheerfully dump poorly treated sewage because proper treatment plants ‘weren’t in budget’. Now the gloves were off, and whilst their colleagues were now no longer bureaucrats but the highly paid employees of a privatised company it was the engineers who could hold their feet to the fire and make damned sure they actually spent the money and fulfilled their legal obligations.

This they did. At times there was almost an air of schadenfreude in the air as they recounted tales of ex-bureaucrats who had spent a career avoiding having to install the proper plant, now facing major fines if they didn’t. Obviously there was a price to pay, and by and large it was paid by the user. But then, the question has to be asked, “If you don’t want your faeces to join you on the beach for a summer holiday, who is responsible for paying for your faeces to be properly disposed of?

The other thing that struck me was that these guys knew their stuff. They had good relations with plant hire firms, they knew the waterways and they made sure that the regular work was done. They were so good that one chap I knew was headhunted personally by the government of Bangladesh because they needed the best.

But time moves on and we were ‘blessed’ with the Environment Agency. It was created under an act passed by John Major, but the problem came when the incoming Labour Government appointed people to lead it.

To an extent the Environment Agency has been a victim of government. When you look at the people chosen to lead it, there was Labour peeress, Baroness Young of Old Scone, chair of English Nature; vice chairman of the BBC; board member of AWG plc; Chief Executive of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and of a number of local health authorities. She was not merely reluctant to dredge rivers, she is famously said to have remarked that she wanted to see ‘a limpet mine attached to every pumping station’. She was followed by Chris Smith, environmental spokesman under John Smith in opposition, but only Culture Secretary under Tony Blair in government.

You can judge the attitude of governments by the people they appoint. Frankly it is obvious that previous governments haven’t taken flooding, land drainage and agriculture seriously.

It isn’t just government. For example in Cumbria there has been an effort to ‘turn the pumps off’ in areas like the Lyth Valley, the RSPB has ranted about this over on


But let’s put it bluntly. Rather than being three decades, the Lyth Valley was first drained just after the Napoleonic Wars. Switching pumps off, thus allowing the levels to rise means that people whose houses are ‘still protected’ will have septic tanks that are below the water table for much of the year and will spent their time driving along roads which regularly flood. Not only that but the main A590 was cut in the flooding this year meaning that 100,000 people were cut off from such things as regular deliveries of milk and bread, you know, life’s little luxuries. With the Lyth Valley pumps switched off that is likely to become more common.

Indeed the RSPB might well have more say on the policies of the Environment Agency than local communities, given that the EA claimed they couldn’t afford the £4.5 million that it would have cost to dredge the rivers down on the Somerset Levels, but somehow found £31 million for a bird sanctuary.

So what to do? Well get the engineers back in charge for a start. Let’s get rivers cleaned out properly. As one chap said, ‘If the bath is overflowing and you cannot turn the taps off, you don’t build up the sides of the bath, you take the bluidy plug out.”

Then stop local authorities building on the flood plain.

Whalley Arches


I checked this picture out; because it was so good I wondered if it had been photo-shopped.

But no, it’s right. And one of the papers followed up and checked with the local Planning Authority. As required to do, the Planning Authority consulted the EA on three applications that made up that development. The EA made no comment on two of the applications and in the third case it said it “had no objection in principle.”

Strikes me, somebody needs to find their P45 waiting for them on their desk when they get back to work after Christmas.

The Mudfold and Cockeren Feud-part 3, by Tallis Steelyard

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

The third and final part of Tallis Steelyard’s explosive revelations…

Part One and Part Two can be found by clicking the links.


The Mudfold and Cockeren Feud

Part Three

As I have intimated before, Mesdames Mudfold and Cockeren were at daggers drawn over various matters. Indeed I’ve described the situation as a feud and I don’t think many who found themselves caught up in the unhappy circumstances would disagree with me.

So far, matters had managed to resolve themselves with no harm being inflicted upon persons of import or good taste. But this happy situation was inevitably going to change.

To a certain extent I think some of the blame for this can be laid on the broad shoulders of Mister Cockeren. Old Bluffer Cockeren was a cheerful, happy-go-lucky chap; casual, easy come-easy go, happy to stand anybody a drink. Fine qualities indeed, although perhaps not what you’d expect in…

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The Mudfold and Cockeren Feud-part 2 by Tallis Steelyard

The story, such as it is, continues. Is there no propriety any more? What happened to decorum, rectitude or even common civility? There are times when one begins to despair

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

The second part of the scandalous story of the feuding ladies of Port Naain, told by Tallis Steelyard, a poet of that city…

The Mudfold and Cockeren Feud

Part Two

I did at the time entertain hopes that the feud might just fade quietly away, but I’d not allowed for the tenacity with which the two ladies clung to it. It seemed to become the centre around which their lives orbited. An example of how this sad situation drew in other, entirely innocent parties is the occasion when Madam Mudfold had some success in the field of fashion.

This probably needs more explanation. Madame Mudfold herself was a short lady; her friends would call her slim, her detractors would perhaps say skinny. In reality she was one of those ladies who are a bundle of energy, always doing something, perhaps a little prone to worrying overmuch. Not being one to…

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A tough audience

Tallis Steelyard

A tough audience

In my mind, part of being a poet is in the performance. I know that there are technically excellent poets who write fine verse who never venture from their garrets. But I feel that to get your work known you have to perform it. So I feel that a poet ought to be willing to read their own verse. Indeed I’d go further, I believe that being a poet is, in itself, a performance. You have to play the part, so that folk know, constantly, that they are in the presence of a poet.

Perhaps because of this I have often been asked to give readings in public. If the occasion is suitably remunerative I have no false modesty, indeed I have been known to present the work of other poets as well. Obviously only if I think their work can stand comparison with mine own, but frankly it never…

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GLENRIDDING-FLOODS_3522632bYes, it’s Cumbria, we’re used to rain, but there are limits. So with the flooding, what’s happened?
Well of course, if you want anything done, send in the army (and the other emergency services.)

I saw one digger driver interviewed. Sick of being made to sit in their diggers because it was too dangerous, they waited for petty officialdom to knock off for the day before starting up the diggers and getting the job done.

I was talking to one chap who crept along flooded roads, and across the bridge, only to find his way off the bridge blocked by a local government employee engaged in closing the bridge, because the bridge was unsafe. Because the road was already ‘blocked’ the jobsworth wouldn’t open it up to let him through, instead he forced him to reverse back across the bridge that was so unsafe they were closing the road, and take his chance once more with the flooding on the other side.

It doesn’t matter how bad things get, there are folk whose presence you know will somehow ensure things get worse.

Yet as usual in Cumbria, folk rallied round and got stuck in. What decent folk could do to help their neighbours, decent folk did. And other decent folk came up to help from all over the place, people of all creeds and backgrounds and from all sorts of different places and it was good to have them.

But what are we going to do about it?

Let’s be brutally frank about it. A lot of building has been done in areas that were prone to flooding. Because of this building, the rivers have been more hemmed in, and thus they’re more prone to flooding that people notice. They always did flood, but the land owner knew to move cattle out of the field in wet weather, the hint is in the term ‘flood plain.’ The climate is changing (this isn’t an ideological point; the climate is always changing, always has changed and always will changed. It’s entirely possible that in the natural cycle of these things, in half a millennia Cumbria will get a lot drier again, but let’s worry about our life times.)

So what are we going to do? Well at the moment a lot of houses are only insured because government did a deal with insurance companies so that the rest of us cross-subsidise them. Getting insurance for commercial building could be more tricky.

Now there’s talk of using land upstream for sacrifice flooding. Firstly I’ve heard talk but seen no really convincing plans which show exactly how it’ll work. There’s talk of planting more trees to reduce run-off. There might be enthusiasm for planting more trees along the side of  Thirlmere to stop the fellside sliding into the road as well. But this is all National Park; best of luck in getting anything done quickly. It’s difficult enough to get permission to dredge rivers properly in Cumbria, doing that would probably be a good start.

So let’s be sensible. Rather that trying to shift the blame and the cost upstream onto those who haven’t made a penny out of rates and rents on buildings erected on the flood plain, how about being sensible. Any non-residential area that has flooded in the last two floods, just demolish it, get rid of the concrete, turn it back to grass. Plant it was willow if you want, make it a park, but let it flood. See what happens. Does that reduce the flooding into housing? If it does, great, but if, with this done and the rivers cleaned out properly, we have housing estates that are still flooding, then I think we’re going to have to look at compensating the owners, demolishing them and rebuilding somewhere more sensible.

When we have events that aren’t supposed to happen twice in several centuries happening twice in a decade, it’s probably time to stop fannying about.

The Mudfold and Cockeren Feud: from the pen of Tallis Steelyard

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

The tale is freshly penned, the ink barely dry and the tale as yet unpublished… and it is with inordinate delight that I once again welcome that renowned, if impecunious poet of Port Naain, Tallis Steelyard, as my guest, with a cautionary tale on the unexpected dangers of patronage and the inadvisability of fishing for gold…

chandlersThe Mudfold and Cockeren Feud

Part One

I may have intimated before that I have dealt with many patrons, ladies and gentlemen, and at times have had a number of patrons simultaneously. This is a truly admirable situation to find oneself in, except on those occasions when two patrons fall to arguing, and in some cases these arguments can reach the intensity of a feud.

As an example, nay as a dire warning of how bad things can get, I shall recount for you what I can remember of the Mudfold and Cockeren feud.

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My Southern Exposure

Suddenly they all died. The end.

With me today is a poet of some renown, the inimitable Tallis Steelyard, to talk a bit about poetry and adventure. 🙂

Cover A much arranged marriageI am, of course, a poet. None the less I am not biased and recognise that there are other fields of artistic endeavour which might even be considered legitimate. That being said I have always had my doubts about novelists.

This reminisce was brought on by reading the obituary of old ‘Truly’ Gicken in last nights ‘Port Naain Intelligencer’. I honestly never knew his given name, everybody called him Truly, even his wife, because of the habit he had of starting his sentences with that word.

But I remember him in his prime. He was the younger brother of Ardwok Gicken, who ran Gicken’s Printers. Ardwok didn’t have an imaginative bone in his body, but no finer printer ever drew breath. Truly was almost the opposite, but in…

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Requested to perform by a lady, a guest post by Tallis Steelyard

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

image: mfa image: mfa

I have always had a passion for the subtle language of the fan, often a lady’s most formidable weapon. In this instance, it was enough to bring the inimitable Tallis, a poet of some renown, to my domain.  Every once in a while you come across a writer whose work instantly appeals. Perhaps it is the use of language and how it is shaped, perhaps the subtle humour or the nonchalance with which a fully formed world springs from their pen. Let me introduce you to my guest…

Requested to perform by a lady.

Yes indeed, it is I, Tallis Steelyard who takes the liberty of laying these few simple words before you.

When a lady but flutters her fan, I am instantly there by her side to provide her with my wit, my wisdom and my verse.

And I’ll have less of the knowing smiles and sly…

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It’s wet!


It’s been raining.

When I say raining I really mean it’s been chucking it down. Even for Cumbria, it’s been wet. I was looking sheep this morning. I set off, in full waterproofs and the first job was to collect the Sal to take her with me. Normally she’s standing outside her kennel full of enthusiasm; indeed she can leap four feet into the air from a standing start in her delight that we’re going to be doing something.

Her Kennel by the way is an old cattle trailer. She has a big plastic drum inside that which is really snug and she does sometimes sleep in. But normally she’ll sleep under the trailer. And this morning she watched me approach the trailer and crawled out from under it at the last possible moment to join me in our walk through the rain.

And the rain continued to fall. It was so bad I was reminded of that bit from Winnie the Pooh where the rain is so bad the pages of the book start to run!

First down onto the Mosses to check some old ewes with a tup down there, it’s wet. All the hollows are full of water, and when Sal had wandered off and I called her back to me she took a long and complex path to avoid having to wade to get to me. But the ewes seem to be happy moving about on the drier bits and it’s not as if there’s a risk of genuine flooding.

Then off to see the others. Walking through one field the path I was walking along was under six inches of water and the water was moving. We’ve had so much rain that not only is the ground saturated, but it’s starting to flow across the surface to run off.

The other ewes weren’t too pleased to see me either. I think the endless rain has made them irritable. They moved together into a huddle and glared at me. Every so often one of them would shake herself, pretty much like a dog does. Because of the lanolin in their fleece the water doesn’t really soak in to the wool so when a wet sheep shakes herself, you can see the cloud of water thrown off.

And then in for coffee; discard wet clothes and put stuff to dry. It has to be said that there are times when I tell myself that it would be good to get a few cattle again. Build up a small suckler herd, buy some half-bred Hereford heifer calves and rear them, bull them with Angus. Quality meat, easy calving, sell it direct to consumers in freezer packs. It would be more of a hobby than a business to be honest. But it’s on days like this, when I think of the work with housed cattle, and the problems of getting slurry out when the ground is waterlogged; I just sigh as I sip my coffee in front of the fire.


Really it’s the day for a good fire and a good book. The fire you’ll have to do for yourself, but strangely enough I can manage the good book.


Just published, 99p on Kindle (or other e-readers)

‘A Much Arranged Marriage.’

Another short detective story from the Port Naain Intelligencer.

Go on, treat yourself, have you looked outside the window?

much arranged marriage