Monthly Archives: April 2016

They did not grow old…


It’s a funny old world; I went along to a ‘school reunion.’ To cut to the chase, Barrow Boy’s Grammar School had two memorial boards for the old boys and masters who died in the two world wars.

When the school was demolished, the boards were saved and today there was a short dedication service as they were put up in the foyer of the Town Hall.

There was a chance to meet people who I might not have seen for forty or more years, and a chance to listen to a talk about some of the names on the boards.

Unusually the Grammar School had more names on the board for the Second World War than for the First. In the First World War, Grammar school boys were regarded as excellent officer material, and a high proportion died, leading from the front.

In the Second World War, apparently Grammar school boys with their first class all round education, were regarded as excellent material for air-crew. Again, leading and dying from the front.


And at one quiet point in the proceedings, it struck me that my Grandfather had gone to school with the lads whose names were on the first board. My mother had gone to the Girls Grammar School, and she would have known the boys whose names were on the second board.

And of course, I would have known the lads whose names were on a third board. But thanks to those whose names are on the first two, there isn’t a third board.

Because of the sacrifices made, not merely in wartime, but in peace time. There isn’t a third board because of the courage of people who took the steps necessary to keep NATO strong, and who were willing to take the steps necessary to ensure that conquering us was just too expensive for the Communists to stomach. Yes a lot of lads did die, in strange places, in places we’ve long forgotten, but there were never enough of them to warrant a third board. The fact that there isn’t a third board is perhaps the finest memorial they could ever ask for.


So I’d just like to say “Thanks for what you did lads.”

Careful with that axe Eugine! Drama at the garage: how MTM learns there are two sides to every argument.

M T McGuire Authorholic

Yesterday, I went to see the Old Dears. As you know Mum has had a stroke and Dad has a kind of dementia. These last few weeks he has had very limited mobility and been close to incontinent. We have newly brought in 24 hour live in care.

It’s hard.

As you can imagine my parents’ situation takes a lot of my mental air time right now … it seems I’m a long way into innerspace. What is interesting is how that has changed my perception of the world around me or perhaps, my ability to read it.

Check this, this is my Fitbit readout from yesterday.


As you can see, my Fitbit is ADAMANT that I went up 157 floors. What I actually did was walk the usual 5 miles or thereabouts, probably, go up the stairs maybe 10 or 12 times? And do a 280 mile round trip…

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The Potemkin village and post Christian morality.

Grigory Potemkin, the favourite lover of the Russian Empress Catharine the Great built ‘prefabricated’ villages for the Empress Catharine to stay in on her travels. The idea was she would be impressed with the quality of the housing and people (also drafted in from the Potemkin equivalent of central casting) and would think that old Grigory had done a good job developing the area.

Now then, given that they were lovers and she was no fool, there is a suspicion that she knew and he knew she knew, and apparently she kept changing the route to make things more difficult and give him another challenge to overcome.

But whether it happened or not, the idea of sprucing the place up for inspection, drafting handsome and pretty people in for the photographs, and generally making sure that there is nobody there to rock the boat is a well practiced one.

A nice current example is occurring in Baku where there is going to be a motor race and the eyes of the world will be on the city. Given that the eyes of the world include the world’s TV cameras, an effort is being made to spruce the place up. Even fine examples of Soviet Brutalism can be transformed into something much nicer with the addition of Styrofoam mouldings and cornices. A few balconies never go amiss, although Styrofoam isn’t in the list of recommended materials for them.





This does raise interesting possibilities. Obviously some of the buildings do look better for the treatment, but the treatment is only temporary. I haven’t a clue how long Styrofoam will last out there. But when it inevitably starts falling off, will the inhabitants miss it, and even contemplate having it re-done? Or perhaps have it re-done with a different design, perhaps mock Corinthian columns, or Gothic tracery, or perhaps some of the fantastic blues you get in Samarkand. Has a whole new industry been inadvertently created? It would be a happy irony if the income generated by the Styrofoam architecture industry exceeded that contributed to the economy by the motor racing.

But the thing about the Potemkin village is that it tells you who is important. For Potemkin, there was only one person who mattered and who had to be impressed and that was the Empress. One woman, one vote, and only one vote mattered. Obviously the peasantry didn’t matter, the fact they could see the man behind the curtain was irrelevant.

It’s the same with Baku. The audience that matters is not the local people; it’s the TV cameras of the world. Whether it’s a political gesture to show what a wonderful place it is under the current government or a cunning attempt to lure tourists because it’s a wonderful place to visit I don’t know.

But all in all, the creator of the Potemkin village knows her market. She has set her stall out to target one particular sector of the ‘electorate’ and to convince them of what she or he has to say.

What is embarrassing is when somebody makes a great effort to target their audience only to discover their audience is utterly uninterested. All that does is proves how out of touch the perpetrator of the scheme is.

A fine example of this is the current ‘scandal’ over Culture Secretary John Whittingdale. For non-UK residents he is a single man who had a six months relationship with a woman he met over the internet. It turns out that she’s a sex-worker. He claims he didn’t know and on the assumption that meant she wasn’t invoicing him, fair enough.

Interestingly the newspapers knew about it but largely ignored it as a non-story. ‘Single man has relationship with single woman’ isn’t news. Apparently the relationship collapsed when a journalist quietly phoned Mr Whittingdale and told him about his girlfriend’s day job.

But the story gets interesting. In the UK we have a pro-privacy lobby group called Hacked Off. They were apparently furious that Whittingdale’s relationship with this woman was not exposed and in a BBC Newsnight interview said newspapers had an ‘obligation’ to tell the story.

Read that sentence again. Please note I didn’t make this story up. I write fantasy and SF, there are rules about suspension of disbelief that reality obviously doesn’t feel obliged to follow!

The suspicion is that because Whittingdale is the one who could decide about reforms for the BBC under charter renewal, the BBC jumped at this chance to start a scandal which would cause Whittingdale to resign, with the hope that his successor would be more nervous about upsetting the BBC.


But stop and think about it. However you frame it the story is still ‘Single man has relationship with single woman.’

Unless of course you’re seeing things through the prism of the teaching of St Paul where he says in 1 Corinthians “Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, ‘The two shall be one flesh.”

Here Paul is only following Christ who said ““Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’ So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”


But what the BBC forgot in its enthusiasm for a good scandal is that in the UK we are a post Christian society. Most people seem to feel than monogamy is a good thing, and most people would frown on a husband or wife having an affair. But in a post Christian society who cares about a single man having a relationship with a single woman to whom he is not married?


It’s rather amusing to think that the trendy intellectual types at the BBC have got so out of touch with the rest of society that they haven’t realised how the world has changed. Even more ironically it has changed in the direction that a lot of them were pushing for. But it does make it considerably harder to blackmail ministers.

Certainly Grigory Potemkin would never have allowed himself to get so out of touch. That could have been why he was the favourite lover of the Russian Empress Catharine (as opposed to just ‘a lover’.)
And with this shocking revelation, Aunty BBC has doubtless thrown her skirts over her head and rushed hysterically from the room.


Yes, it has been a quiet day today, only a set of triplets last night, two sets of twins this morning and another set of twins this afternoon.

In a post Christian society does the devil still make work for idle hands?



Yet more observations on rural life. We have cattle, environmentalists, a plethora of new thinking as Defra plunges into the new world but more importantly we still have our Loyal Border Collie, Sal. She is joined in a starring role by Billy, the newly arrived farm cat. As well as this we have diversification opportunities for those wishing to serve niche markets, living in the past, and the secret of perfect hair.

The high intellectual standards of the white faced breed.

I must confess to wondering, with modest trepidation and not a little anticipation; whether the title of this blog will provoke a twitter storm. Frankly I suspect the answer is a resounding ‘no’ if only because I imagine not enough people will ever see it.

But still, on with the motley; I have used the phrase, ‘bluidy auld witch’ about sheep in the past. But this phrase needs modification.

Firstly we have here a picture of a texel cross




Then we have a texel cross with a mule in the background.



Finally we have a Suffolk cross.




So now you know. These sheep are pictured in our very temporary holding pens. They lamb, often outside or in the building they’re brought into for night. Then they’re whisked across here with their lambs and they stay for as little time as possible, just so we can check they have accepted their lambs and have the milk to feed them. If all is well and the lamb has a full tummy, next day they’ll be back out in the field as a happy family unit.


But when the ewe has just lambed in the field you have to get the mother and lambs home to make sure they’re all right. A lamb that spends the nigh outside without having been licked down properly by mum and without a full stomach is probably dead. So muggings here turns up with quad and trailer. The routine procedure is simple.

Pick up lamb or lambs, place in trailer. Stand out of way so mum can get in trailer. Close gate, fetch happy family home.

And sometimes it actually happens like that.


Mules, especially those who’ve done it before, tend to be OK with it. Every so often you get one that plays silly beggars, but by and large they’re OK.

Suffolks fall into the ‘nice but dim’ category but by and large they’re not difficult to load.

Your white faced texel cross on the other hand can be mad as a bucket of frogs. In agricultural terms, speaking as a cattleman, they could do with crossing with Limi just to calm them down.

When you put the lamb in the trailer you don’t know whether she’ll knock you down trying to get in; get in and knock you down trying to get out, or run fifty yards away and try and find the lamb over there because that’s the idea that is currently ricocheting around the inside of an otherwise largely empty skull.

But by and large, sooner or later, you get them loaded and get them home.


And sometimes when you’re doing this, it isn’t raining. Which is nice.


But then it’s usually raining. So for your comfort, in paperback or ebook we proudly present


As a reviewer commented, “This book charts a year in the life of a Cumbrian sheep farmer. It’s sprinkled with anecdotes and memories of other years. Some parts (especially when featuring Sal, the Border Collie) were so funny as to cause me to have to read them out loud to my husband. It’s very interesting to read these things from the pen of the man who is actually out there doing it – usually in the rain! A very good read.”

Ya Bluidy Auld Witch mk 2



Yes, it’s that time of year again. Lambing has started for us. We’re a lot later than last year. The reasons are largely economic. Early lambing is expensive. The ewes need more feeding to carry them through the winter, and once they’ve lambed they need more feeding to enable them to milk well enough to feed their lambs.

Alternatively you can just wait until later and let the grass grow, and that goes towards reducing the costs and the feed bill.

Obviously the price is normally better for earlier lambs, but last year it wasn’t. Last year I was tempted to seize the moral high ground and claim we were a not-for-profit enterprise. If we could get away with that we’d be able to ask people to donate on our webpage and they’d get a warm glow of smug self satisfaction as well.

Actually the way the weather is, it’s the only warm glow anybody is going to get. It’s one of the bizarre things about sheep that wet weather does get them lambing. Whether in some distant past predators would look out of their den, watch the rain blowing past in sheets, and mutter, “Blow this for a game of soldiers”, before curling  back up and going back to sleep, I don’t know. But the minute the weather got wetter, the ewes started to lamb. We had the first outlier on Easter Sunday, nothing for a couple of days and then the deluge. In more ways than one.

I must admit I thought that with the fine fortnight we had, the ground had dried up a bit, but frankly that was an illusion. A couple of wet days and everything is back to standing water again. The water table must still be very high.

But the miracle of birth continues. Given it’s sheep we’re talking about it’s a miracle punctuated by ewes who decide somebody else had nice lambs so she wants those. Or she decides to skip the entire lambing business and just steal another ewe’s lambs. Or else she looks at her own lambs and just panics and flees.

One morning I went into the shed relatively early in the morning to discover about eight lambs and five ewes playing happy families. Given that they weren’t sure who belonged to whom, I’m not sure how I was expected to sort it out. It’s one of those occasions when you just want to quietly close the door and tiptoe away, leaving it for the Grown-ups to sort out.

Isn’t it a beggar when you discover that now, actually, you are the grown-up? Suddenly you realise that there isn’t much chance of a proper grown-up, you know, a more grown-up grown-up coming along, because it’ll still be you.


But anyway, if you like the picture, it’s a painting by a very talented lady, Pat Porter. She has a website which you might fancy a look at, it’s at


And if you want a good book


And from everybody else

As a reviewer commented, “Once in a while a book really gets to you. Jim Webster’s book Sometimes I just Sits and Thinks has done just that to me. Jim is a farmer in the English county of Cumbria. His sense of humour shines throughout each episode. If you come from farming stock as I do, this is the book for you. In my mind’s eye I was out there with Jim and his faithful Border Collies Jess and Sal. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book…”

Regularising Easter



There has been a bit of talk about having a fixed date for Easter, indeed even the Archbishop of Canterbury has joined the discussion. In law, provision has already been made; the Easter Act 1928 has been passed but not implemented.

Looked at seriously, there is no reason why the state should not fix a date for Easter. In 1978, the moveable holiday of Whitsun, (known more widely in the Church as Pentecost) was fixed as Spring Bank Holiday. This allows the country to plan and the various churches all still celebrate Pentecost on the traditional date which is seven weeks after Easter Sunday. Nobody has any problems with this.

The obvious thing to do is for the State to fix the Easter Holiday, but not to call it Easter. The Church will carry on celebrating Easter and if it eventually decides, probably after a decade or two of international discussion, on a fixed date, then the Church will continue to celebrate that. It might even coincide with the date the UK government sets but given the Church is a world wide organisation, it would only really do so by chance.

Indeed it would make a lot of sense, instead of Easter the State could fix ‘Chocfest’ on the second Sunday of April. People could give each other chocolate, cards with chickens and rabbits on them and suchlike. The Church could then celebrate Easter without the clutter and late accretions.

One thing that could be considered though is the nature of bank holidays. Because Good Friday is, by definition, a Friday, it is also a normal working day. (Unlike Sunday for many people.) So what we could do at the same time as fixing Easter is to allow everybody two bank holidays they can fix personally whenever they want. As long as they give a couple of months notice to their employer, they must be given the day off. (Failure to do so leading to a fine of a multiple of the company’s turnover.) So if you wanted you could book yourself Good Friday and Christmas Day (both of which have a habit of not falling on Sunday.) Or alternatively you could book your wedding anniversary, or your Daughter’s wedding, or the Rugby World Cup final or whatever you wanted.

While we’re fixing Easter, it does make sense to look at Christmas as well. The fact that we have Christmas and New Year a week apart, fixed by date but not by day, means each year is different to the last and it’s generally a silly situation.

So because those who want to celebrate Christmas can do so, just by spending their holiday entitlement (under the new scheme suggested), we can scrap the Christmas and Boxing Day bank holidays. They can be added to New Year’s Day. This means that whatever day New Year falls on, the two extra bank holidays can ensure that it becomes part of a really long weekend. This gives everybody a nice long winter break. Obviously it isn’t Christmas, which can still be celebrated on the appropriate day by those who want to. So we might as well give that a new name. How about Consumerfest? This would be to celebrate everybody giving everybody stuff and there being the sales in the shops and people buying on line and then and re-selling their gifts on EBay.

Again it would mean that those who wanted to celebrate Christmas could do so without a lot of commercial tat and clutter, and then could join in the commercial tat and clutter later in the month if they wanted to.





Well if you’ve got a bit of time off, some of it will be perfect for curling up with a good book. Lucky that really.

In this novel, recounted by Tallis Steelyard in his own inimitable manner, we discover what happens when the hierarchy plots to take control of the Shrine to Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of Tempered Enthusiasm. Will the incumbent be exiled to a minor fane in the far north? Will Tallis end up having to do a proper job? Does ordination and elevation beckon for Maljie?
This story includes the Idiosyncratic Diaconate, night soil carts, Partannese bandit chieftains, a stylite, a large dog and some over-spiced food. On top of this we have not one but two Autocephalous Patriarchs and a theologically sanctioned beggar.

As a reviewer commented, “

Maljie and Tallis start by taking action to protect their incumbent from being involuntarily removed from her post in order to serve the ambitions of Battass Droom. They then have to go on to protect each other from being elected Patriarch, which is, by definition, a job best done by somebody who does NOT want the appointment.

The efforts to achieve their aims become steadily more and more tortuous, including an attempt to delay a key meeting by employing such diverse methods as elaborate food poisoning and a trebuchet with an unusual payload, a race against time involving a one way balloon ride and having, temporarily, two Patriarchs (or are they non-Patriarchs?) with too much time on their hands.

Along the way, Jim takes delight in lampooning bureaucracy and its devotees, with some jaw-dropping moments that challenge the way things work. What would be non sequiturs anywhere else are hilariously believable in Port Naain and make you consider “real life” in a new light.

Do NOT read this book anywhere that full volume belly laughs are not socially acceptable.”