Monthly Archives: October 2017

Getting the timing right

sal and trees

It’s interesting watching the effect that changing the clocks has on livestock. With dairy cows they adjusted very rapidly. If you were an hour ‘late’ they were all queuing in the cubicle house muttering to each other, wondering where you’d got to. If you were an hour early they were all sitting snoozing in their cubicles. They’d turn their heads to give you a surprised look, wondering what on earth had got into you.

Sheep on the other hand pass through life with a blithe disregard for the time. You appear, you do whatever you’re doing and you leave. As much as possible they ignore you. It’s only when you start feeding them in winter that cupboard love kicks in and they keep an ear cocked for your arrival. Even then it’s not the time; it’s the sound of the vehicle which they react to.

Sal, current Border Collie, resident guardian of good order, and for all I know, Keeper of the Sacred Flame of Eribor, has her own innate sense of timing and refuses to be swayed by the clock.

She will appear outside her kennel at what she considers the right time. There she can glance in through the windows and check whether I’m having my breakfast or not. She is reasonably generous; she’s willing to give me a quarter of an hour or so. Finally she feels that the day is wasting, she obviously has things to do even if the rest of us haven’t. At this point she will bark to remind us that time is passing. The fact that thanks to the clock changing I appear an hour later is an almost personal affront.

It should be noted that her enthusiasm for starting work is weather dependent. When the rain is drifting in sheets across the yard, she obviously catches up on her reading or whatever, because she manages to stay snug and out of sight.

Anyway this morning was pleasant, so Sal was chivvying me along well before I’d finished my coffee. As we walked down to the Mosses to check the sheep down there, there was rag on the grass for the first time. Whilst I was down there I had a look at the hedge I was working on last winter. Looking at the photo you can see why I had to quarry it rather than merely lay it. Sal was mooching about in the undergrowth deciding how the next bit ought to be tackled.

It was one of those quiet mornings. The wind turbines spun languidly, energy generation was something that happened elsewhere. At one point I could hear a leaf as it fell, tumbling through the branches on its way to the ground.  The twenty-first century was a dull rumble barely at the edge of hearing.

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Linguistic good taste.

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I took the car in to get an MOT and service this morning. As I walked home two women passed me walking in the opposite direction. As one said to the other, “He were having a fag behind the recycling bins.”

Such is the joy of the English language that this probably means something entirely different depending on what part of the English speaking world you hail from.

Apparently it was the Canadian, James D. Nicoll, who commented that “We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.”

When we acquire these words, we sometimes give them meanings that the original owners had never contemplated. So we have raddle. This can apparently be spelled ruddle or reddle (because all three words mean the same thing.).They may have originated as a term meaning ‘to paint red.’

About the only use for raddle now is when you smear it on the chest of a tup or ram before turning him out with his harem. It has the advantage that it rubs off on them and you know that he’s working and that they’re coming in season.

Obviously a ewe that has been smeared with raddle is ‘raddled’ and that’s another word that has wandered off into more mainstream parlance. I suspect that it’s not perhaps as widely used as it might once have been.

It’s funny that dyes of varying sorts seem to linger around the fringes of agriculture. Years ago (probably pre-EEC) there used to be ‘stockfeed potatoes.’ What happened was that when the potato price collapsed, the government would buy up surplus potatoes that weren’t needed, to put a bottom in the market. They’d then have them sprayed with a purple dye and sold cheaply to farmers for livestock feed.

Because the supermarkets and other retailers didn’t particularly want the very big potatoes, they were often the ones chosen for cattle potatoes. Given that they were both very large and very cheap, I remember a lot of talk about the number of chip shops where you might find purple stained potato peel in the waste bins. After all the dye didn’t soak into the potato, and it also had to be safe because livestock were going to eat it.

Another place where they use a lot of dye is the slaughterhouse. Because of various regulations, some offals cannot be eaten. To make sure they’re kept out of the food chain, government inspectors will watch as they’re sprayed with dye. This stuff is designed not to wash off, to ensure that the stuff sprayed goes for proper disposal. To be fair to the authorities, it works.

There are disadvantages. I remember taking cattle in, and one of the lasses was doing the paperwork for me in the office. One of the slaughtermen came in off the line and handed her a sheaf of papers. She examined them carefully and then gingerly took them off him. Because the lads were spraying the dye about, they’d get it on themselves and then it’d get on the paperwork, and then it’d get everywhere.

As she said, “It gets so that I have to really scrub my hands before I go to the loo. Otherwise my husband keeps asking me whose are the hand prints on my knickers.”

Apple Chutney and Refrigeration Engineers

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Way back, probably in the late 1960s, the Milk Marketing Board decided to try and move farmers away from putting their milk in churns for collection and shift over to bulk collection. It would save them a fortune in labour and suchlike. Also the MMB paid for the churns, farmers had to install their own refrigerated tanks.

But they offered a small premium if you shifted to bulk collection. I think it paid for the tank over three or so years, and so we made the leap and bought a 150 gallon bulk tank.
I can still remember it being delivered. The driver appeared in our yard with his articulated lorry. He’d got to where our lane met the main road; glanced at the map and realised he wasn’t sure whether he could turn round when he got to us. Not only that but there were no mobile phones so he couldn’t ask. So he’d backed his lorry about three-quarters of a mile, down a winding single-track road, between tall hedges, with at least one right-angled bend.

This was a seriously impressive feat of driving and my Dad commented on it. The old chap just smiled quietly and commented that after spending the war driving Scammell Tank Transporters, anything else was pretty much a doddle.

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Time went on and in the late 1970s we ended up getting a bigger tank, 300 gallons this time. This was delivered by a chap who was an owner/driver who got all those complicated jobs employees don’t want. So he’d set out from home, load up with milk tanks and travel up one side of the country and down the other side, delivering them. He was normally home after three or four days. To pad his week out, on the other days he’d deliver ammonium nitrate fertiliser in hundredweight bags.

His next door neighbour was a fanatical gardener and asked if he could buy some ammonium nitrate. The driver said he’d have a word with a customer, and managed to buy a full bag of a farmer for him. He warned his neighbour to be careful with it, because it’s not the diluted stuff you buy in garden centres. Next morning, as he set off to collect a lorry load of milk tanks, he noticed that his neighbour had put the ammonium nitrate on his lawn. He’d put so much on it looked like there’d been heavy hail, the lawn was white. A bag, which would do a third of an acre perfectly happily, was largely used on a lawn not much bigger than a double bed.

When the driver arrived home three days later, the lawn was black. Anyway he advised his neighbour not to do anything; he probably hadn’t killed the lawn. He hadn’t, and the following summer he had to mow it every other evening or else it would have got totally out of hand on him.

But drivers aside, we were now left with pretty complex refrigeration equipment, compressors and suchlike. Of course it goes wrong. It’d been installed by a chap the MMB recommended at the time so we’d contact him for servicing and suchlike. He was based in the Lancaster/Morecambe area. Anyway you could never get hold of him and finally we got hold of a firm in Penrith. They send an engineer down and he sorted things out. We mentioned the other company and the engineer just laughed. Apparently if you wanted to get hold of them you had to phone the right pub. The chap was apparently a legend within the industry; he’d serviced the freezers in a cinema somewhere and ended up with melted ice-cream running through the foyer.

So we stuck with this chap from Penrith until he retired. He’d learned his trade in Glasgow and when he first started he’d get to various jobs around the city by climbing onto the tram or bus with his toolbox and letting public transport take the strain. Obviously that isn’t an approach that is ever going to work in Cumbria.

But the reason this chap came to mind is apple chutney. My mother used to make apple chutney occasionally, because in all candour we can have a lot of apples. But the problem with cooking apple chutney is the smell of it permeates the entire house, often for days. Anyway this chap was having a bit of supper with us after finishing working on our tank, and when the conversation turned by chance to chutney, he announced he had a method of making chutney without cooking.

My mother got the recipe off him and made some and frankly, it was a success. Anyway to scroll down through the years, I’m faced with a lot of apples. I like chutney. In fact I’ve always been partial to cold meat with a bit of pickle. So I decided to make some apple chutney.
Could I find my mother’s recipe? Not a hope. It was written on a piece of A4 lined paper over forty years ago. But anyway, we have google. So I had a look at various recipes and decided on this one.

 

450g    apples, peeled and cored

225g    onions, quartered

225g    stoned dates

225g    sultanas

225g    Demerara sugar

1 small teaspoon      ground ginger

1 small teaspoon      salt

cayenne pepper, to taste

225ml white wine vinegar

 

Chop the apples, onions and dates. Put the mixture into a large bowl and add the sultanas, sugar, ginger, salt, cayenne and white wine vinegar.

Leave for 36 hours, stirring occasionally, and then put into warm sterilised jars. It keeps for months, if not years.

 

I’m at the ‘stirring occasionally’ stage at the moment. It’s looking interesting. I used large crab apples and added a little more sugar. I’m quite looking forward to it.

 

My secret sin

Not my confessions, these are the well chosen words of a friend of mine, Will Macmillan Jones.

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I have a vice. I’m going to confess to it, here. Openly, and with only the merest flicker of shame to season the pot. I know I have your attention now! But fear not, I have no intention of wearing one of Jim’s hairy shirts (they probably wouldn’t fit anyway) or falling on the floor and beating my breast, wailing wildly or flagellating myself. Not least because my tastes do not run in those directions, and therefore nor does my secret vice. Here goes.

I enjoy scaring people.

There, I’ve said it. Now, before any reader contacts the authorities, I do not jump out from behind bushes or shout at random strangers in the street. I use a pen and, more often, a laptop. That is because I like writing stories – either short stories, or novels – that are intended to be frightening. Yes, I’m a horror writer. Or rather, for I prefer the term and since I have sequestered Jim’s Blog for a day I get to choose, a writer of paranormal mystery stories.

Now, it is commonly said by the people who commonly say such things, that an author should both ‘write what they know’ and ‘understand their readership’. For me, this presents a small problem. Firstly, not being dead yet, I have no personal experience of the paranormal from the side that counts – the Other Side. Yes, like many people, I have had strange experiences that I’m not going to recount here. If you want to know a little more about those, go and buy The Showing (my first paranormal book) which is based upon many of them. But for the rest of the books, let’s just say that they are works from my imagination, from my dark dreams, and move on to the real point of this piece – the second issue.

I am curious about what scares readers. Well, more than curious – I am avid to know what readers find scary, so that I can use, misuse, and abuse the information to increase the feeling of insidious dread I want to seep from my text.

My eldest daughter finds no film worth watching unless it contains scenes of multiple body parts, preferably sliding down the screen accompanied by the scream of a blood splattered chainsaw. Personally, that does nothing for me, but it floats her boat. I would hope that she is experiencing a delightful frisson of terror rather than some sort of avatistic blood lust, but one never really knows, I suppose.

So that is one cause of fear. Blood. Either ours, or other people’s. My partner can be very squeamish about seeing blood or wounds on a TV screen, and I wonder why. She isn’t scared of blood per se, so is it the act of releasing blood from the flesh that imprisons it that scares her? Very popular in Fantasy novels at this time is the sub-genre called Grimdark. This pretty much does what it says on the tin; the books are dark or dismal in tone, largely without glowing heroic characters, and noteworthy for the gleeful enthusiasm and extreme detail with which murders, mutilations, and killings are carried out.

Here then is a second cause of fear. Pain. Largely other people’s, of course, but inflicted in a way that allows us to transfer the pain into our own memories and experiences. I am told that some people positively enjoy being hurt to some degree or other, again this isn’t my taste so my information on that is pretty much second hand. The only self inflicted pain I can recall was taking my children to see some awful boy band or other whose name I have forgotten, and that probably doesn’t count.

Death. An oldy but a goody. Most of us seem to be afraid of death, or perhaps the process of dying. A long, dreamless sleep, as Socrates said before drinking the hemlock, is nothing to be sneezed at – but the bit in between holds countless possibilities for terror. How, and which of its most dreadful guises, will Death sneak up upon us? In a horror novel, Death is ever present as a possibility. For minor characters in a novel of course, it is probably their only raison d’etre and therefore a certainty. Lucky them. But does the terror of death in a novel rise from the actual demise of the character or the manner in which that demise is effected?

My main focus in a novel is on creating threat. Risk. Insecurity. A constant oozing dread, as one reader said. (Unashamedly over the top, said another, but let that pass by for now along with the Amazon Review that said the buyer had been unwell and hadn’t opened the book. I can only assume that they were terrified adequately by the cover, or possibly the picture of me.) I try to keep the reader off balance and aware of a continuous possibility of imminent harm to characters by something unrevealed, yet ever present.

Which brings us to the author’s last trick. The unknown. I rate this as the most fearful cause of all terrors – the fear of the unknown. The noise outside the room, the drifting shadow across the wall, a scratching at the window, the howl of the wind in the eaves revealing the approach of… exactly what? Let the reader’s imagination do the work, bring their darkest fears to the cusp of sight or hearing, and a horror author can relax and let the dear reader do all the work for them. (I am congenitally lazy, after all.)

What frightens you in a novel? What gives you that delicious frisson of terror, that may – just may – drift away when you close the pages? And yet return when the storm rattles your windows with rain, and the wind howls softly around the eaves of your roof, and faint noises in the loft are – what, exactly? I’d love to know.


Jim joining in at this point. It’s a really interesting question. What does give people that frisson of terror?
I’ve been the games-master in roleplaying games and there I discovered that one way to really ‘shock’ people was to drop the terror in immediately after a period of mirth and hilarity. Or to have a build up to fear, then suddenly have it collapse into hilarity when the players realised that they’d totally misread the clues, and just as they’re relaxing and patting each other on the back, have the source of the fear suddenly appear stark and terrifying in their midst.

It’s a really tricky thing to pull off, but remarkably effective when you do. But how do we do it in a book?

 

Will’s latest release is Demon’s Reach, the fifth in the Mister Jones Mysteries collection of paranormal mysteries.

 

Obviously you’ll want to know a bit about Will’s book.

All families have secrets or skeletons in the cupboard, hidden away from view. Most of those secrets are better left undisturbed, for very good reasons. When Mister Jones agrees to deal with the Estate of a recently deceased cousin, he finds that the secrets hidden by his family are very dark indeed, and that the skeletons in this cupboard are very real – and not yet entirely dead.

Drawn once more by Fate into a world where magic and myth are all too real and danger lurks at every turn, Mister Jones confronts a past that seeks again to become the present, and to plunge his future into a rising Darkness.

Can he escape the Demon’s Reach?

When Mister Jones discovers that he has been asked to be executor of the Estate of a cousin he wasn’t aware he had, he thinks that the request is innocent, a family matter. But when he travels to his late cousin’s home, he finds that the local village is a dark place, full of mistrust of his family and with unsettling whispers of a dark past.

Indeed, his arrival is enough to spark of an attempt by the villagers to destroy part of his late cousin’s home – and the first death. The mystery deepens as another lost relative finds Mister Jones – but is she all that she seems?

His first visit to his late cousin’s house is almost his last, for Mister Jones finds first evidence of Black Magical Rituals among the effects in the house, and then discovers that a Demon still walks the grounds. The Demon makes herself known to more than just Mister Jones, and the body count rises. Joined by another relative stranger who reveals that she is his half sister, Mister Jones struggles to unravel the web of deceit and mystery and uncover the truth – only to discover that his half sister is more involved than he believed and that the plot centers around his presence, there in the house. He is to be a sacrificial victim, in a Ritual that will restore his long-lost father to life – at the expense of Mister Jones’.

Can Mister Jones’ half sister bring herself to sacrifice the brother she doesn’t know, for the father she fears?


 

And for real terror, here’s a picture of the man himself!

 

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Don’t look at me, I’m not an engineer

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I genuinely haven’t a clue how much of my life has been spent working with, and on, these drum muck spreaders. The idea is simple; a long drive shaft spins, powered by the tractor. Fastened to the shaft are flails, steel chains with a solid block on the far end. So when you’ve filled the spreader, you just drive out into the field and start the central shaft rotating. The flails spin round and smash up the muck in the drum and throw it out in a reasonably even covering.

Over the years I’ve changed the bearings at either end of the shaft. I’ve changed bearings and tightened drive chains in the system which connects the tractor power take off to the central shaft, and I’ve shortened the flail chains.

What people who’ve never used these don’t realise is spinning them round as quickly as we do, the chains slowly stretch, and this means that eventually the steel blocks on the end of the flails start hitting the drum. The drum can only take so much of this so basically you’ve got to shorten the chains.

Now there’s a proper way to do it. The central shaft has a series of brackets welded to it, and a bolt goes through the bracket and also through the last link of the flail chain. So you unfasten the bolt, remove the chain, cut off the last link, and rebolt the shorter chain back into place.

Life being what it is, the process isn’t quite as simple as that. Firstly the whole thing has been marinated in muck for a year or so. It’s probable that the bolts are rusted solid. Not only that but when you get them out you discover that some of them have worn a bit with the flails pulling on them, so while you’ve got them out it might be time to replace them with a new bolt because you’ll probably never get them back in. This time, grease your new bolt well before you fasten the nut in the vague hope that next time you’ll be able to undo it. (You won’t but greasing it will give you the warm smug glow of somebody who’s thinking ahead.)

So rather than this being a job you can do with two spanners, what you really need is an angle grinder for cutting the nuts off, a hammer and punch for getting the bolts out. Then you can use the angle grinder to cut the bottom link off. Then open your pack of new bolts and put one of them in.

Unless of course, you’re just way too busy. You see, you’re on your own, (Lone working is my life) and you’ve got perhaps an hour at most to work on this job before you have to start afternoon milking. Tomorrow morning, you’ll be using the spreader again, so that hour is all you have. Under these circumstances you might be tempted to try a different method.

With the angle grinder cut through the chain link that is bolted to the shaft. Don’t worry, it’s so jammed with muck and rust it’s not going to move. Remove the rest of the chain, shorten it, and then put the end back through the cut you just made. With a hammer, bring the ends of the cut link closer together and just weld the gap shut so the flail chain is now in place.

Now do the next one.

I remember one time wondering how much of my life has been taken up with keeping knackered machinery working using techniques that aren’t in the manual, and whether, one day, I might ever be able to afford a piece of new kit that wasn’t held together by muck, rust, string and hasty welding jobs.

But here at the scruffy end of agriculture, worrying about how to cope with too much newness has never been an issue to be honest.

Once you’ve dealt with a water leak in a galvanised metal pipe by covering the leak with weld, whilst water is still running at low pressure through the pipe, very little upsets you any more.

 

 

I did produce a collection of anecdotes about farming, but frankly, in the interests of safety I left out the engineering tips

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https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sometimes-sits-thinks-Jim-Webster-ebook/dp/B06X6M3SYL/

 

Go on, treat yourself

Uniquely unqualified

"I'm so much more efficient at my job. I used to waste hours shredding resumes. Now I insist they be sent online and I can delete them in under a minute."

 

Ah the wonderful world of social media and the joys of being connected. Way back I joined Linkedin. Frankly I’m not entirely sure why. I suppose that being, amongst other things, a freelance writer/journalist; I thought it might possibly bring a little work my way.

Needless to say it hasn’t.

Still in spite of my best efforts I seem to have acquired 105 contacts. Of these at least forty are ‘real people’ who I’ve met in the real world. Of the rest perhaps another forty are people I’ve come across previously thanks to the wonders of the web, and the rest are the people who contacted me on linkedin. These are the ones who weren’t obviously just trying to sell me something.

So when doing a cost benefit analysis, it hasn’t made me anything but then I’ve not spent anything on it either. Given that I don’t look at it every week it’s probably low maintenance.

Some of the problem is probably that their algorithms don’t cope well with the self-employed. This I suppose is fair enough, damn all else seems to. But still, I felt it excelled itself today. I was advised to apply for a job with a company that specialises in writing CVs for people. Given that I’ve never even written a CV for me, I feel I’m pretty much uniquely unqualified to apply for the job. Perhaps they thought that for somebody who wrote Fantasy novels, doing CVs for people would be a doddle?

I would have mentioned it before but I’ve been busy

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Apparently in this age of social media, where we’re all on-line all the time, it’s impossible to be out of touch. So if the theory’s right I have no excuse for getting back to you earlier.

But in this beautiful area we are truly blessed. You see, mobile connection is distinctly iffy. My phone, an elderly battered nokia, (which cost me £20 of which £10 was phone credit) lives switched off for 90% of the time. If you’ve not got my personal number don’t let it worry you. When I’m at home there is no signal so the phone lives switched off. When I’m out and about working, the phone doesn’t accompany me because in those few occasions where I won’t be out of signal, I’m busy so don’t want to be bothered with a phone. Finally if I’m in areas where there is signal, I’m either driving, in a meeting, or merely walking quietly from a to b and happy with my own thoughts. So obviously there is no place for a phone.

But I’m pondering upgrading my phone. The Sellotape holding the nokia together is still sound, but apparently it’s one of the first generation to offer colour. Which means you cannot actually read their screen in direct sunlight; which is a bit of a sod if you’re scrolling down looking for a number to phone. Not only that but without my reading glasses I couldn’t read it anyway.
So I drifted aimlessly round various suppliers looking for a phone. I wanted a decent camera, wifi (because when the computer is down we’ve no way to get our email) and a pay as you go contract.

To be fair, some of the sales staff could cope with this. There was only one who was convinced that I should sign up for a £12 a month contract, even through I pointed out that after the first ten months I’d have been better off having just paid cash for the phone. I did try explaining, again, that on pay as you go my phone normally costs me less than £10 a year. But you know what it’s like, the lights were on but there was obviously nobody in. As a previous generation of journalists used to say, “I made my excuses and left.”
So don’t expect anything to happen on this front any time soon. But I might have actually got a new phone by this time next year; or then again, perhaps not?

Still I’ve also been busy. Real life and real work has intervened. Ewes are going out with the tup and everything has to be got ready. The ewes have already been vaccinated, but then we had to get them in, dag them out (cutting away mucky wool from the rear end) treat them for worms, lice and fluke, and finally give them a dose of multivitamins just to make sure there were no hidden deficiencies were weren’t aware of.

Then the tups were wormed and got a good dollop of bright coloured raddle smeared on their chests so we can tell if they’re working or not.

As you can imagine, it all takes time and that means I never got round to telling you about the Tallis Steelyard Blog tour. If you want to follow it the links are, in order

 

https://scvincent.com/2017/09/24/guest-poet-and-raconteur-tallis-steelyard-a-family-saga/

 

https://thestoryreadingapeblog.com/2017/09/17/playing-the-game-guest-post-by-tallis-steelyard/

 

https://addandsomuchmore.com/2017/09/18/of-kings-and-kindness/

 

https://issuu.com/smde/docs/boox_01_2017

 

https://annetterochelleaben.wordpress.com/2017/09/19/questions-happily-unanswered-tallis-steelyard/

 

https://jenanita01.com/2017/09/25/the-monster-of-bell-wether-gardens-and-other-stories-by-jim-webster-short-stories/

 

https://patriciaruthsusan.wordpress.com/2017/09/25/if-a-tree-falls-and/

 

https://bridgesburning.wordpress.com/2017/10/04/awakened-and-enlightened-guest-post-by-tallis-steelyard/

 

https://tallissteelyard.wordpress.com/2017/10/06/theatrically-matrimonial/

 

And if you read them in that order you can follow the story as it develops.

 

Also, because I ought to have mentioned it before, I have had a SF short story accepted in an Anthology. I’m reading the anthology my self at the moment and there are some cracking stories in it.

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Quantum-Soul-Sci-Roundtable-Anthology-ebook/dp/B0763KCC6D

 

Quantum Soul