Monthly Archives: February 2016



miss christian elspeth mallock by edward arthur walton 1860-1922 scotland

I know I am, I cannot help it, it’s just my charisma, my natural magic. But enough of me, even the word ‘fascinating’ is fascinating. It crops up all over the place, the ‘fascinator’ which started off as a light crocheted hood, evolved into a ‘cocktail hat’ which perches precariously on top of the hair, and now apparently we have the hatinator, which is the bastard offspring of the fascinator and the hat.


Now the origin of the term fascinator is reasonable, it derives from the Middle French fasciner, which means ‘to enchant’ or ‘bewitch’. Thus a pretty girl wearing a fascinator can look enchanting or bewitching. Note that this is involves a modern definition of enchanting and bewitching but we’ll let that one pass.

The French term goes back to the Latin, fascinare which also means bewitch or enchant, and derives from the Latin word fascinus which was a charm or enchantment.

Still following me?


But for the Romans, Fascinus was also the living embodiment of the divine phallus. In Rome the Vestal Virgins were the guardians of the cult of the fascinus populi Romani, or the giant phallus which was one underpinnings of the Roman Republic or Empire.


Augustine, in his seminal work, ‘The City of God’ comments about Roman religion

“Varro says that in Italy, at the places where roads crossed each other the rites of Liber were celebrated with such unrestrained turpitude, that the private parts of a man were worshipped in his honour. Nor was this abomination transacted in secret that some regard at least might be paid to modesty, but was openly and wantonly displayed. For during the festival of Liber this obscene member, placed on a car, was carried with great honour, first over the crossroads in the country, and then into the city. But in the town of Lavinium a whole month was devoted to Liber alone, during the days of which all the people gave themselves up to the must dissolute conversation, until that member had been carried through the forum and brought to rest in its own place; on which unseemly member it was necessary that the most honourable matron should place a wreath in the presence of all the people. Thus, forsooth, was the god Liber to be appeased in order to the growth of seeds. Thus was enchantment to be driven away from fields, even by a matron’s being compelled to do in public what not even a harlot ought to be permitted to do in a theatre, if there were matrons among the spectators.”



As the man said, “Thus was enchantment to be driven away from fields.” So there we are, back with the very roots of the word, a charm or enchantment.


So what does this show? Well what struck me was it shows that we don’t really understand our ancestors. What is perfectly normal to one generation can be regarded as utterly bizarre a few generations later. In fact I would go so far as to say that it WILL be regarded as utterly bizarre.

I suppose that this is a hint to us all that an element of humility in our attitudes would not be a bad thing. It doesn’t really matter what you believe, how right-on and politically correct you are in your thinking, your great grandchildren will regard you as some sort of freak, a throw back to the dark ages. As they clean out the attic they’ll look with horror at your ‘Gay Whales Against Racism’ T shirt, your author signed copy of ‘The Female Eunuch’ and your Open University course books on Existentialism, Phenomenology, Structuralism and Post-structuralism and frantically drop them into the shredder before the neighbours notice.


Actually I find this all really liberating. In reality, you don’t have to read that stuff. There is no point in appearing cutting edge and cool, because history has already got you marked down as the barely sentient ancestor whose beliefs we have already advanced beyond.

So revel in your liberation, instead just sit back with a good book. Remember that the bawdy comedy ‘Satyricon’ of Gaius Petronius is read far more often than the worthy and learned letters of Sidonius Apollinaris. So abandon the worthy stuff and read literature that lasts!


May I humbly recommend the much acclaimed book ‘Learning a Hard Trade’ by that celebrated author Jim Webster. Available in paperback or as an ebook it’s much acclaimed because I never shut up about it, and if you buy a copy I promise to celebrate


 As a reviewer commented “In this very engaging story we follow Trulor in his education and coming of age in the Land of the Three Seas. His father owned an apparently magical belt decorated with seven plaques, which was broken up and distributed to several people. He decides to try to reunite these parts and have the belt renovated. Jim Webster writes some excellent fight scenes, action packed but believable. He also writes with a whimsical humour which I very much enjoy.

I have read all the stories of the land of the three seas and this is by far my favourite. I felt the characters were so well drawn and I really cared about their fate. Fantasy readers – form a queue for the next book – but I’ll be first!”

Milking it


A lot of years ago, when I was probably about seven or eight; I was with my Grandfather, father and others when they were ‘leading’ hay. The trailer was loaded and a small Fergie 135 pulled it out of the gate and into the lane.

Now the gateway itself slopes steeply because the lane is about four feet lower than the field, so as you can imagine, with the old 135 not being the world’s most powerful tractor, even in its day, this was something you took carefully. It was going really well then at this point somebody in a car came hurtling up the lane, screeched to a halt and gestured for the tractor to back out of his way.

This wasn’t going to happen. Even if we’d wanted to do it, it was probably beyond the capabilities of the tractor. So we had an impasse. My grandfather was in charge, and he wasn’t entirely impressed by the car driver. I suspect the lack of good will was entirely mutual because the debate grew heated. I learned a lot of interesting phrases that I was later to try out in conversation at school, with mixed results.

But one part of the exchange has stuck in mind. The car driver, frothing slightly, shouted, “You wait until we nationalise you.” Remember this was the early 1960s, so it was probably still Labour party policy in some diffuse way.

My Grandfather just looked at him. Remember he’d lived through two world wars and arrested German pilots at pitchfork point. Working by himself, he’d once gone into the beck to unblock it to stop flooding, and in pulling stuff out a nail in a fence post had been driven deep into his arm. So he climbed out of the beck, with the fence post still fastened to his arm, and walked a good four hundred yards, climbing over two hedges, to reach a neighbour who would give him a lift to hospital. That’s where they removed the post and nail under proper medical supervision.

So that’s the sort of person who, in his early sixties, is confronted with some overexcited and raving car driver out of town. When the bloke shouted “You wait until we nationalise you,” my grandfather just looked at him and said, “Forty hour week, every weekend off, guaranteed wage, I’m looking forward to it.”

At some point the car driver realised that physics was against his plan and backed away and we carried on working. This was about 7pm and I was the only person who hadn’t been working since 5am, and they probably finished about 10pm because later than that it gets too dark to stack hay inside.


I stopped milking cows in 1999. The milk price, which had got up to 30p a litre, had dropped to 14p a litre. I decided milking cows was a more expensive hobby than Ocean yachting, wetter and with less sex appeal. It was about then I divided my annual profit by the number of hours worked, to discover that in the previous year, I’d worked for nine pence an hour.


Currently Sainsbury’s are offering farmers what is probably one of the best UK milk contracts. It’s done on a ‘cost plus’ basis, with the idea that a farmer who has some economies of scale, who is doing the job properly and to a high standard of animal welfare, will be able to make a living, contribute to a pension and invest in his business.

The Sainsbury’s price is about 31p a litre. A lot of other suppliers are paying between 16p and 23p a litre. So just remember, if you’re buying cheap milk, don’t go lecturing farmers about ‘sustainability’.

Anyway, I was at a meeting a while ago when the speaker, from one of the quangos, said that dairy farmers had to get more efficient. Somebody in the audience then suggested that if the speaker was willing to go back to being paid his 1999 salary, then he could lecture them on efficiency.


What do I know, ask an expert!
Now available in paperback

As a reviewer commented, “This is a delightful collection of gentle rants and witty reminiscences about life in a quiet corner of South Cumbria. Lots of sheep, cattle and collie dogs, but also wisdom, poetic insight, and humour. It was James Herriot who told us that ‘It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet’ but Jim Webster beautifully demonstrates that it usually happened to the farmer too, but far less money changed hands.

I, for one, am hoping that this short collection of blogs finds a wide and generous audience – not least because I’m sure there’s more where this came from. And at 99p you can’t go wrong!”