Monthly Archives: June 2018

Pontifications along a road less travelled, when things get out of hand.

 

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I learned long ago that people don’t read blogs about authors going on about the trials and tribulations of being authors. The world at large tends to cast a jaundiced eye in their direction and suggests, helpfully, that they might like to consider getting a proper job.
So I now want to hand the situation over to your imaginations. I want you to forget that I just spent over an hour walking round with Sal checking sheep. Dismiss entirely from your minds the fact that I spent a fair bit of that absentmindedly slapping the cleggs that landed on my arms or neck. Still it might be some sort of consolation for you to realise that I did at least shower before having my coffee.
So I want you to imagine the scene. Now, allowed briefly to play at being the author, I am sitting in the shade, looking out over the rolling vistas. I’m sipping an excellent mug of coffee, and my words are being taken down by a secretary who sits behind me (thus I’m not sure which of them it is.)
Somebody did ask me how I got into the writing business thing in the first place.

Once upon a time, as well as farming, I was working as a contractor for one of the farming/landowning lobby organisations. I was their National Livestock Adviser. Anyway after doing it for about ten years they finally believed me when I told them they needed somebody doing it full time. They then told me that it would be London Based, and I wished them joy in it and hoped they hired somebody they were happy with.

So I had a bit of time of my hands and probably needed to get ten years of dealing with EU regulation out of my head. So I wrote a fantasy novel, ‘Swords for a Dead Lady,’ and Benor Dorfinngil, Cartographer, bestrode the globe like a colossus.

Well to be fair to Benor, actually he rode through it in a thoughtful manner, and for somebody who could be described as a serial philanderer, he proved to be a remarkably moral character.

So much so that in the second book I wrote about him, ‘Dead Man Riding East’ he accidentally acquired a wife.

Benor novel covers
I did a couple more novels in the same background (all available in paperback. Ignore Amazon’s comment that they’re out of print. That’s just Amazon playing silly beggars because I haven’t used their favoured print on demand service. Order them and they will come.)  but these novels didn’t involve Benor.

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But by this time I realised that, yes, I could write a couple of novels a year, but frankly it was disheartening to see them just drop into the bottomless abyss that is indie publishing.
Anyway talking to people, listening and thinking, it struck me that the ebook allowed for the novella form to come back. So I experimented with that. I wrote ‘The Cartographer’s Apprentice.’

The Cartographers Apprentice

 

Basically Benor being married and sort of settled wasn’t really up for yet more adventures. He was somewhere in his fifties when I introduced him to the world, which meant that left plenty of room for his ‘youth.’
Not only that but I’d made a number of throwaway remarks about Benor’s past in the other two books. The Cartographer’s Apprentice gave me a chance to fill in the detail behind those remarks. So this collection of stories took Benor from finishing his training through his first professional engagements.

Then I attended a convention, selling my books (something possible with paperbacks), and a rather fierce and determined young lady asked me about ‘female roles in my books.’ Given at one point I was living with my wife, three daughters, my mother, sixty milk cows and even the dog was a bitch, I am not one who succumbs easily to the myth of the poor helpless female.

Anyway I pondered this. I couldn’t see any problem with the female characters in my books. But it struck me I’d start something new. I invented Shena, the mud jobber, and her husband Tallis Steelyard, the poet. To be fair, Shena was always going to be the grown up in this relationship. But still I tried writing the first of the Port Naain Intelligencer stories and it just bogged. It was just hard work. Then suddenly, as Shena was leaving the barge, she stepped over the prone body of their sleeping lodger. The lodger turned out to be Benor who had somehow insinuated himself into the story. From that point on the story came alive for me and the first collection of six was written. A collection because you can read them in any order, six because that’s what I wrote. Not only that, they were all written and ready for publishing before I published the first one. My idea was to try and copy the old pulp magazine idea where you didn’t wait for the next great novel; you just automatically picked up the next copy of the magazine when it came out.

Port Naain Intelligencer covers together

 

But you’ll notice that I’ve now discovered Tallis Steelyard. Mike Rose-Steel, my editor, is also a poet and he asked to borrow Tallis and write some poems for him. This is how Lambent dreams was born. He wrote the poems and the literary criticism; I had Benor write the stuff which puts it all in context for the person who doesn’t dwell in Port Naain.

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And of course, Tallis is now an author on Amazon, so of course he must have a blog. I created a monster! I’ve worked out I have over 400,000 words of Tallis Steelyard stories, some published in ebook form.

three book covers

2nd three tallis books

 

But as an aside, if you’ve got a blog, you’ve got to keep the blog going. I discovered that the hard way. In 2016, with the referendum campaign, I got so hacked off by the total nonsense being spouted by both sides I didn’t do a blog post for a couple of months, because otherwise I’d have upset far too many people.

It took me to the end of 2017 before I had more people stopping by and reading the blog than I had in 2015.

So with Tallis, I’ve been determined to produce at least a story a week. In case you don’t know it, its’ across at

https://tallissteelyard.wordpress.com/

 

But anyway, I’d always intended to do a second Port Naain Intelligencer collection, another six Benor stories.

Yet I suddenly realised that to an awful lot of people Benor was just part of the world of Tallis Steelyard. So how to educate them?
When I released ‘A licence to print money’

A licence to print money

 

I decided I’d have another Benor story running on the blog tour. My intention was to make it complete. I know that a lot of people hate cliff hangers, and I didn’t want to produce half a tale and then charge people for the last bit.

So this story, ‘A measured response’ ran for nine episodes and had a beginning, middle and end.

Even as it ran on the blog tour I realised that there was more to tell. So I wrote the extra bit, which effectively is the final third. My cunning plan is that those people who liked the blog tour have a choice. They can be happy with the ending they got, or they can invest a little and see what else happened.

 

And what’s next?
Well there’s more Tallis stuff being edited up and ready to go, and of course the Port Naain Intelligencer is back. There will be more Benor.

 

 

 

Pontifications along a road less travelled, Sylvia, her mother and that nice young Doctor Hook.

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It’s funny what tunes stick in your head, and in my case last night it was Dr Hook and Sylvia’s mother. Anyway as I was supposed to be trying to sleep, somewhere in my brain decided I obviously had nothing else to do with my time than to listen to it on constant loop.

But after listening through it for a number of times it suddenly struck me. Look at the lyrics.

 

Sylvia’s mother says, ‘Sylvia’s busy

Too busy to come to the phone’

Sylvia’s mother says, ‘Sylvia’s tryin’

To start a new life of her own’

Sylvia’s mother says, ‘Sylvia’s happy

So why don’t you leave her alone?’

And the operator says, ’40 cents more for the next 3 minutes’

Please Mrs. Avery, I just gotta talk to her

I’ll only keep her a while

Please Mrs. Avery, I just wanna tell ‘er goodbye

 

 

Or listen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PvRVekhMf88

 

Released in 1972 but written by Shel Silverstein some years previously based on an incident in his life. When you start working things out on your fingers, this incident in Silverstein’s life probably happened in the late 1950s, meaning Sylvia was probably born in the 1930s. Somebody interviewed the lady who was probably the original ‘Mrs.Avery’ and she was born in 1907.

 

It just struck me that this song might be incomprehensible to somebody under twenty, (or perhaps under thirty?)
In our connected society, imagine there being one phone in the house. It was often the lady of the house who answered. So if as a teenager you wished to talk to the girl of your dreams and perhaps arrange a date, unless you managed to impress her mum, it wasn’t going to happen. Forget her Dad, unless her mum was impressed enough by how nicely spoken and polite you were, it wasn’t a case of not getting to first base, you weren’t even going to get into the ground.

And then the operator breaking in! Butting into your conversation to ask for more money!
Oh yes, and the money, Forty cents for three minutes. Apparently the 1960 dollar had the purchasing power of $8.27 now. So that forty cents more is the equivalent to $3.31. Or in real money that’s £2.53.

So when you wonder if your £20 a month phone contract is expensive, it would have bought you twenty-three more minutes with Sylvia’s mother.

 

And then there’s the bit where Mrs Avery gets rid of him.

 

“And Sylvia’s mother says, ‘Thank you for callin’

And, sir, won’t you call back again?’”

 

Now there’s a rare fossil of etiquette. It harks back to the time when the guest in your house was, notionally at least; honouring you by their presence and of course you gave the impression that you’d be delighted to have them back. For a while, the person who phoned you was afforded the same courtesy, and was almost seen in the same light. Certainly it gels nicely with Mrs Avery being born before the First World War.

Obviously that attitude didn’t last. In an era where most landline phone calls are spam that at least is understandable.

 

But if they ever set this for GCSE, it’s going to need more revision notes than Shakespeare.

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There again, if you want to win the heart of a lady, read

As a reviewer commented, “This is a collection of stories about Tallis which go to show that it’s not all drinking afternoon tea or partaking of soirees for a jobbing poet. We discover some of his early life, some of the society feuds he became entangle with, and the story of how he met his wife and acquired the boat on which they live. Great little tales!”

Pontifications along a road less travelled, delayed gratification.

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It’s a funny topic, delayed gratification, and it’s entirely possible to get deep and philosophical without answering the question. Or indeed without even acknowledging there is a question that needs to be answered with any sort of haste.

Back in 1965 when my parents started farming, what happened was that my father and his brother-in-law both rented a farm off my grandfather. He’d had 34 cows, 60 sheep and a handful of young-stock. Because my father had always quite liked working with sheep he bought the sixty sheep and then the two brothers-in-law split the 34 cows between them. The cows were still tied up for winter, so all that happened is that they let every other cow out, and these seventeen were walked next door to where we lived and were the start of our herd.

On his two farms, with that level of stocking, my grandfather had employed three men and a boy, and he’d also worked. Almost immediately, because both new farms were borrowing money to start off with, the amount of labour was cut. It dropped to two men and ‘family labour.’ At the time this meant the wife helped out when she wasn’t working. Still the aim was that when the businesses were properly established and the debt paid off, they’d employ people.

The economic situation back then was pretty positive, even in the early 1970s my father could work on increasing the herd to 30+ cows and that would keep two families, assuming that at some point I would get married etc.

But the world turns, that was a period of massive inflation, governments needed to keep food prices down to provide cheap food to ensure that they didn’t have an unhappy electorate. But by then we were behind the EU tariff wall which keeps food prices up by excluding cheap imports from the rest of the world. So the UK government couldn’t just drive down prices by encouraging cheap imports.

So instead they destroyed the Milk Marketing Board, and when farmers formed a co-op to market their milk, they destroyed that as well, forcing farmers to form multiple smaller trading bodies or sign directly with processors.

This nicely drove prices down. It fitted in well with supermarket plans. They used their market dominance to undercut those who were running milk rounds, and we’re now at the stage where rounds-men are a novelty and the major retailers have largely carved up the liquid market.

And of course they’ve kept the price of milk down. By the time I stopped producing milk in 1999 there was me, with 60+ cows, thirty sucklers and an awful lot of young stock across the same land my grandfather had farmed with himself, three men and a boy. Admittedly I still had family labour, but thanks to the EU my lady wife had a nearly full time job just coping with the paperwork.

But anyway, governments and consumers got what they wanted, cheap food. Consumers now had money they could spend, which largely seems to have gone into creating the online world with everybody having computers, laptops, netflix, smart phones etc and being ‘connected’. Admittedly there were issues. One man on his own hasn’t got the same amount of time as four men and a lad when it comes to doing things like walling and hedging and keeping the countryside looking like it should.

But supermarkets were making lots of money, (until of course the online retailers started eating their lunch. And ironically part of the reason there was money available for the growth of the online world is that people are spending far less of their income on food. The rule of thumb is that this generation can eat organically and spend a smaller proportion of their income on food than did their parent’s generation eating conventionally.)

But still, government and consumers and even supermarkets got what they wanted, almost immediately.

But to get it when they wanted they’ve been faced with a price that they’re still paying. Cheap food leads to a cheap countryside, maintained on the cheap

Oh yes, delayed gratification. I’ll have to get round to discussing it with you some time in the future.

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More tales from a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England, with sheep, Border Collies, cattle, and many other interesting individuals. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is just one of those things.

 

 

Pontifications along a road less travelled, boundaries and lines.

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I saw this comment. “Anoia, Goddess of Things That Get Stuck in Drawers, might have been a creation of Terry Pratchett, but the ancient Romans did have a goddess of hinges. Her name was Cardea, and according to Ovid, “she opens things that have been closed, and closes things that have been opened”.”

I found a picture of her, she’s a minor figure in a bigger tableau so, just for her, I’ve cut the rest of them out. Now it’s interesting to note that although probably ranked as a nymph, Cardea is dressed nicely as a Roman matron. Greek nymphs might frolic winsomely in the altogether, but there are boundaries that no Roman nymph would cross.

 

Now Ovid is an unreliable witness. A poet, he ended up being exiled to Olbia by the Emperor Augustus. We’re not sure what Ovid actually did to warrant this, he probably crossed a line somewhere. Whatever it was, it was enough to have him exiled to Olbia, the Barrow-in-Furness of the Roman Empire. (In that nobody close to the centre of power is quite sure where it is, or how to get there, or why you should go in the first place.)

Now the denizens of Barrow-in-Furness are often quite fond of the place, indeed they can take a quiet pride in it. This of course is enough to get them mocked by those who live on the other side of a line. Obviously to these people, anybody so small-town and parochial is just ignorant and uneducated. How can an intelligent person be proud of just happening to be born somewhere?
Yet the same people can talk, without blushing, about ‘gay pride.’ Because obviously if you’re born gay it’s something to be proud about but being born with blue eyes or in Barrow-in-Furness isn’t?
We draw our boundaries in complicated places.

 

For many people the lines and boundaries are vital. It’s how they see the world. They tell you how you ought to act. Heaven help anybody who crosses one of the lines and gets above themselves.

I am old enough to remember a Labour Party politician saying how much he hated grammar schools because they took good working class boys and turned them into Tories. Note that because of the lines he’d drawn round himself, the boundaries he’d fenced himself in with, it never even occurred to him to think about working class girls.

 

So what happens when we break down the lines? I mean, other than it being the end of civilisation as we know it. Well there was a chap who set out his stall pretty comprehensively. “There can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal.”

Well they executed him; obviously. That taught him a lesson he won’t forget in a hurry.

Those who are most scared of the boundaries being breached are those who police them most fiercely. Those who have the strongest vested interest on keeping themselves on one side of the line and hoi polloi on the other will react most fiercely to block any hint of an incursion from ‘the others’.

 

So perhaps the Romans were wiser than we think with their nymph Cardea. The presence of a hinge means that the boundary is more permeable than those desperately holding it might like. It suggests that the green fields beyond are accessible to those we consider to be the ignorant and uneducated who don’t think like us.

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Sal’s still dozing in the sun so I’ve not got the heart to disturb her to ask her what she thinks.

 

Another collection of anecdotes drawn from a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England. As usual Border Collies, Cattle and Sheep get fair coverage, but it’s mixed with family history and the joys of living along a single track road.

 

As a reviewer commented, “Excellent follow up to his first collection of bloggage – Sometimes I Sits and Thinks – this is another collection of gentle reflections on life on a small sheep farm in Cumbria. This could so easily be a rant about inconsiderate drivers on country lanes and an incessant moaning about the financial uncertainties of life on a farm. Instead, despite the rain, this is full of wise asides on modern living that will leave you feeling better about the world. Think Zen and the Art of Sheep Management (except he’s clearly CofE…) Highly recommended, and worth several times the asking price!”

Pontifications along a road less travelled, a historical perspective.

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Every so often two or three things come together at about the same time and spark off each other. One was the cartoon above. The other was a quote. A friend has lent me the book, ‘The Diamond Age’ by Neal Stephenson. So far I’m enjoying it. But more pertinent to my thoughts at the moment is his quote from Sir Charles Petrie, The Victorians.

 

‘Moral reforms and deteriorations are moved by large forces and they are mostly caused by reactions from the habits of the preceding period. Backwards and forwards swings the great pendulum, and its alterations are not determined by a few distinguished folk clinging to the end of it.’

 

Now I’ve always had a love of history, and one thing you realise is that history never quite repeats itself. In reality a pendulum, whilst it might appear to swing backwards and forwards, if you attach a pen to the end you find it doesn’t, mainly because the world keeps turning. The metaphor works pretty well for history as well.

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With agriculture we’ve seen the pendulum of government concern swing backwards and forwards over the last two centuries. Admittedly being politically determined the pendulum swings somewhat erratically, but still we had the Corn Laws to keep prices up. Then we needed to provide cheap bread to feed the industrial masses and keep costs down for industry so food prices were allowed to go into freefall. Not much food was grown in the UK but nobody cared because we could import it cheaply from anywhere in the world. What’s the point of having an empire if you cannot buy stuff at mate’s rates.

Then we had the War to end all wars and suddenly there was a U Boat blockade and we were in danger of starving. Government made frantic attempts to increase production and ensure that the price farmers received actually covered the cost of production.

At this point the real historians will be nodding to themselves as they recall the plight of Athens. Same pendulum but swinging a little differently, the world has turned since then

Then because the War to end all wars was obviously the end of war, government pulled the plug and food prices were allowed to fall again, and land went out of production. Just in time for World War 2 and another U Boat blockade.

This time WW2 merged seamlessly into the Cold War. Europe was run by politicians who’d eaten grass as children in 1944 because there was damn all else. They were really keen on ensuring that we had plenty of food and the CAP was designed to ensure this.

Then the Cold War ended, the Berlin Wall fell and the pendulum swung again. The possibility of being hungry diminished and people with full tummies decided they were environmentally aware and conscientious. In reality they just bought food from abroad, using their wealth to take it out of the mouths of those who couldn’t outbid them in the world market. Effectively they were exporting hunger. Indeed this probably peaked in the UK with Hilary Benn as minister of agriculture (or was it Defra then, they keep changing names to keep ahead of the auditors.) when again it was stated that we could import food cheaply from anywhere in the world. Then in 2008 there was a world shortage, prices rocketed and food exporting nations stopped exports because they weren’t going to let their own populations go hungry.
And now has the pendulum turned again?
But it’s not just agriculture; we see it in all things. Fashions come and go, hemlines rise and fall. Within society it’s the same when it comes to deciding what is or is not considered moral. At the moment we’re all politically correct and careful not to offend people. Inevitably the pendulum will swing back and those seen as the standard bearers of the current morality will in their turn be as mocked and derided as the Victorians were by their ‘right on’ successors. Will the young foot-soldiers of the ‘Me too’ generation be the ones who in forty years time are writing handbooks for upper middle class young ladies wanting to know how to maintain order in a household with a number of domestic servants?

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Dunno, I’d ask the dog but she’s just soaking up the evening sun and cannot be bothered.

 

 

As a reviewer said, “Another great collection of bite-sized tales from the author’s farming life. (The first one being ‘Sometimes I dit’s and thinks’)
A gentle sharing of observations from a sheep farmer (and his collie)
More wry observations of animals and humans!”

Pontifications along a road less travelled, if it ain’t woke, don’t fix it

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There are times when it’s wise to chat things over with your co-workers. This, to be honest, is when I miss old Jess most. She’d been there, seen it, sniffed it and piddled on it. Sal on the other hand still has a puppyish enthusiasm at times and occasionally still believes things that she’s told.

But still, somebody asked me about young people who’re too woke, to busy virtue signalling, to enjoy themselves.

Now I’m lucky, I’ve never really met any in real life, and those I’ve met on the internet might just have been somebody’s dog enjoying themselves at the keyboard. But still there is a phenomenon out there, of people worrying about micro-aggressions and whether this or that is phobic or shaming. If you fall into this rare category and are prone to blood pressure or cardiac issues, you might want to stop here and enjoy the picture of the cute puppy while the grown-ups go and do grown-up stuff

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So after being deliberately insulting what next?
People tell me that our universities are following the American model and are now filled with people who won’t allow free speech because it might offend somebody and demand safe spaces. Again, that’s an environment I have safely avoided for a long time and I doubt they’re ever going to invite me back, so I’m reliant on what people tell me about it.

But remember, it’s the duty of young people to shock their elders. Look at Punk. Appalling dress sense combined with really bad music. (And sorry but even now, all these years afterwards, the music is still bad.)
In reality virtue signalling is probably the only way that young people today can shock their elders. What are they going to do, get drunk and pregnant? How 1980s.

There are a couple of ways where it’s perhaps different to what we had forty years ago. Firstly there are so many more young people in university. When at one time it was about 5%, it’s now about a third. So you’ve got a bigger population so it becomes more noticeable.

The second problem is that these young people have genuine reason to be fed up with it all. Purely to stoke the flagging self esteem of their elders (People have to go to university to ‘get on’ because I have ‘got on’ and I went to university.’ Therefore more people must go to university.) and of course to increase the importance and salary levels of university vice chancellors, young people have been sold the dream of university education.
Spend three years, build up a heap of debt, and then struggle to enter the job market.

The science graduate asks “Why does it work?”

The engineering graduate asks “How does it work?”

The business studies graduate asks “How much will it cost?”

The liberal arts graduate asks “Do you want fries with that?”

 

 

I know married men in their thirties who have degrees who are trying to get on an engineering apprenticeship because that way they’ll have a chance of a decent income and some job security.

 

So back to our woke, virtue signalling ‘snowflake’, stuck in a degree course with damn all employment opportunities at the end of it? What are they going to do? If you’re really on top of your game, more woke than anybody, signal your virtue really passively aggressively, there could be a job out there for you as a party activist or in a small subsection of the subsidised media. But for the rest of them, Subway, McDonald’s, the call centre await. They’re decent young people betrayed by a university system that is so desperate for money now, that it’ll mortgage the lives of the students it’s failing, even as it fails them.

And the future? What will happen to all our woke young people?
What happened to the hippies, the punks and all the rest of them? The vast majority will settle down, marry, have children of their own. They’ll continue to be the decent people that they are, and they’ll worry in their turn at the way their own children chose to rebel.

Some will find a niche where they never need to grow up, and they’ll enter local legend, like ‘Mad John’ the hippy who used to sit in the middle of the road playing a guitar in the late 1970s.

 

Well that’s how I reckon old Jess would have seen it anyway.

♥♥♥♥

I suppose you could always ask her

 

As a reviewer said, “This is a selection of anecdotes about life as a farmer in Cumbria. The writer grew up on his farm, and generations of his family before him farmed the land. You develop a real feeling for the land you are hefted to and this comes across in these stories. We hear of the cattle, the sheep, his succession of working dogs, the weather and the neighbours, in an amusing and chatty style as the snippets of Jim Webster’s countryman’s wisdom fall gently. I love this collection.”

I suppose it’s probably summer

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Whilst we’ve had a lot of hot dry weather up here, the ground was so wet that we’ve seen very little sign of grass burning off. Indeed everything still looked pretty green even before the last lot of rain. This is especially true of anything deep rooted. When you look at the photo above, I’ve got to get through there with a quad bike at times.

We aren’t a big farm but we have an interesting collection of soil types. Down on our bottom land we’re right on the clay, and as you can see by this photo, it’s cracked nicely. We really need a dry spell at some point in the year to crack the clay. It lets the air in and also improves the drainage. Indeed if it cracks like this, when it rains, the ground holds the water rather than having it just run off the surface and into the beck.

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There are other signs that we’ve moved firmly from spring to summer. Even a quick glance at this field of barley will show that it’s starting to ‘turn.’ From now on it’s going to stop growing and start ripening. I suspect further south the combines will be working in a month.

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One thing I’ve stopped doing is feeding sheep. The lambs are old enough to be able to get their nutrition out of grass. At the same time the ewes will be slowly cutting down the amount of milk they produce so they too can manage entirely on the grass they eat.

Now Sal and I walk round sheep, and their reaction to me is different. Whereas when I was on the quad they’d mob me looking for concentrates, now when I walk in they might drift across just to check. But all in all they’re starting to lose interest and a lot of them would rather sit in the shade and just watch me go past.
Still, it has to be said that on a fine morning, looking sheep isn’t a bad job. I worked out it took me about an hour and that means I must be walking nearly three miles.
Luckily my co-worker, who is faster than me, is happy enough to wait for me to catch up.

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Anything else?
Well actually I was, as they say, proper chuffed recently. Somebody was writing about my books on one forum or another and made the comment

“but in all seriousness, they are great fun, intelligent, whimsical and a very easy read.

Ankh-Morpork meets the City State of the Invincible Overlord… or something.”

 

So what’s not to be chuffed about? If you’re interested I’ve got another one out.

A licence to print money: The Port Naain Intelligencer

 

An honest cartographer attempts to steer his way though grasping bureaucrats, bent bookmakers, magistrates who practice performance poetry and a young lady who wishes to end an ‘arrangement.’

Can Benor see justice done? Will Mutt finally meet his match? What do they teach aspiring temple dancers nowadays?

 

Oh and there’s another story coming out in installments as part of a blog tour

If you want to catch it, it’ll be on these blogs

A licence to print money tour, addresses
Wednesday 20th June Annette Rochelle Aben Episode 1 https://annetterochelleaben.wordpress.com/

 

Thursday 21st June Suzanne Joshi Episode 2 https://patriciaruthsusan.wordpress.com/

 

Friday 22nd June Chris Graham Episode 3 http://thestoryreadingapeblog.com/2018/06/22/tales-from-the-port-naain-intelligencer-collection-blog-tour-episode-3/

 

Saturday 23rd June Robbie Cheadle Episode 4 https://robbiesinspiration.wordpress.com/

 

Sunday 24th June Craig Boyack Episode 5 https://coldhandboyack.wordpress.com/2018/06/24/a-license-to-print-money/

 

Monday 25th June Sue Vincent Episode 6 https://scvincent.com/

 

Tuesday 26th June Chris Graham Episode 7 http://thestoryreadingapeblog.com/2018/06/26/reserved-for-jim-webster-2/

 

Wednesday 27th June Sue Vincent Episode 8 https://wp.me/p1wss8-fyz
Thursday 28th June Annette Rochelle Aben Episode 9 https://annetterochelleaben.wordpress.com/

 

 

 

Foxes, Sal, cultural dissonance and virtually the whole tree!

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Have you ever wondered whether you were breaking the law or not? This morning I was quietly minding my own business, walking round the farm checking to see that various batches of sheep were OK. Of course I had Sal with me because even when there’s no formal work to be done, she can still be useful. She’ll find the ones who’re snoozing quietly in obscure corners and get them running back to the others. A sheep who runs back to the others is generally a healthy sheep. A sheep who just stares blankly at Sal and ignores her is, in all probability, ill.

Anyway this morning I was walking across one field and Sal set off into a big patch of rushes and long grass. Unfortunately she’s not a tall dog and just disappeared into them. Every so often she’d spring vertically using all four feet in an attempt to spot her way out.

Then suddenly I saw a fox leaving the rushes at speed. This was followed by Sal, also moving at speed. The fox accelerated and made a run for the beck. In Sal’s mind, this is the equivalent of a felon making a run for the state line. So of course she accelerated as well. Anyway the fox swam the beck and ran up the other side and away. Sal stopped on our side of the beck leaving me pondering whether I had been hunting?
After all “A person will be deemed to be hunting if s/he engages or participates in the pursuit of a wild mammal and one or more dogs are employed in that pursuit.”

Now I would put forward as my defence that I didn’t actually participate. Frankly there’s no way I could keep up with either Sal or the fox. Indeed I didn’t even shout encouragement from the sidelines.

Not only that but I would have suggested to my learned friend that a Border Collie bitch who takes it upon herself to remove a fox from amongst her sheep isn’t hunting. She’s merely doing her job.

Still we shall leave that vexed legal issue behind us and continue with our perambulations, checking sheep. Then as I left one field I discovered somebody had dumped a lot of chopped up lengths of Leylandii in the gateway. So after I’d been to church, Sal and I returned with the quad and trailer to collect them.

Now here’s where the cultural dissonance comes in. Somebody is proudly tidying their garden etc, and what to they do with their rubbish? Put it in the car and drive out into the countryside to dump it! The tip is probably nearer.

So they’re sitting proudly in their garden, basking in the praise of everybody who’s saying, “You’ve got this looking nice.” When actually they’re just some muppet who dumps their rubbish in gateways.

But actually it gets even more confusing because frankly, if the person had come into our yard with it, I’d have helped them unload the car onto our log pile. It can stay there, dry out a bit and then I’ll cut it up and it’ll help keep our house warm this winter. To some rubbish dumping muppet who lives in a house with central heating, it’s rubbish to be dumped. For those of us rural dwellers for whom affordable gas central heating is an impossible dream, it’s a resource. We recycle stuff like that for its energy content.

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But then, 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.”

Isn’t the air thick down here?

 

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Every silver lining has a cloud. Living here, every so often you get Herdwicks. Herdwick Hoggs are brought down from the fells to overwinter, and some of them wander off. They wander off because they’re Herdwicks. It’s just what they do. “I wander therefore I am.”

Anyway one of them wandered during the course of this winter and ended up with us. She is the white faced one in the middle of the picture. The rest of them, decent, respectable breeds, are forming something which looks like the start of a defensive circle because Sal (at the back) is starting to gather them up.

Defensive circles work well with Musk ox but somehow sheep don’t have what it takes. So seconds after this picture was taken, the sheep were moving in approximately the right direction.

But anyway, we are temporary custodian of a Herdwick. At some point an owner might turn up, who knows. But this process of wintering young breeding female sheep in the lowlands is very old. It’s been done for centuries.

But it’s not without issues. The bureaucratic complexities of the process are worth exploring.

Generally I’d say most of the environmental agencies are in favour of overwintering sheep off the fells. Depending on the fell and the environmental scheme, they will even make a financial contribution towards the process. It is, from their point of view as an arm of government, “A good thing,” and one the state, in some cases, supports financially for environmental reasons.

But then you come to another arm of the State, Animal Health. Livestock wandering about all willy-nilly is frowned upon. ‘You don’t know what they’ve got!’ For epidemiological reasons the state vets would cut down the number of animal movements to the absolute minimum.

So you get animal movement systems set up so that every movement is tracked, by a farmer who reads the ear-tag and sends the details to the appropriate authority.  This is an EU idea by the way.

Then you get a supermarket that comes along and decides that it can make something out of this. To try and entice you into paying more for ‘higher welfare’ the supermarket announces that it will not buy animals that have been on more than ‘x’ farms (where ‘x’ is a number chosen in a pretty arbitrary manner by the marketing people).

So an ancient system that is approved off by one arm of the state and closely monitored by another arm of the state is being discriminated against by a retailer who thinks they might get a couple of cheap brownie points out of it for their marketing department.

But the more we look at it the more complicated it gets. The EU pronounced that sheep would have an electronic tag so each was an individual traceable under all circumstances.

Now set aside the possible existential angst a sheep might experience on discovering that it is officially an individual. The idea was that the farmer would wave a stick reader at the sheep and it would tell him the ID of the sheep.

The farmer then submits to the local trading standards department a list of   the individual ID’s of the sheep that he or she is moving.

Obviously this should be done electronically, one database chittering away in machine-code to another. Except that government might legislate for a system but couldn’t afford to actually put it in place. So when the farmer sends information to trading standards (on paper) to say these 57 individual animals (with all their details) have moved. Trading standards immediately ignore the individual animals and write down 57 sheep moved off that farm to the auction.

So government introduced a system that the industry didn’t particularly want and government cannot afford to run anyway.

 

Anyway, just in case you wanted to know how, here’s a defensive circle done properly.

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And if you want to read more about Sal, and other stuff, you could always try

 

Sheep, just because!

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My lady wife had to get another car. It’s not new, but it is newer. Thus every time she starts it, a disembodied female voice informs her that ‘Emergency Assistance is not operational.’

It sums up so much of modern technology. This is a service we never asked for, haven’t got a clue what it does, cannot use because neither of us have smart phones (why pay for a smart phone contract when it spends 99% of its life switched off because we live in an area with no signal) and what’s more there appears to be no way of switching the disembodied voice off. Or at least none that our dealer can come up with.

Still it does give me the occasional chance to hear my wife mutter, “Oh shut up you idiot woman” when she’s got enough on her plate without having to contemplate the ineffectuality of technological innovation.
It has to be admitted that I treat the bizarre foibles of modern technology with casual distain. With the obvious exception of Windows 10, which has pushed back the frontiers of futility and has taken pointless innovation to new and self destructive levels, there is little that modern technology can offer in the way of incomprehensible behaviour that even a perfectly ordinary sheep couldn’t match.

Because we’re in May, and Furness does May really well, we’ve cut back the feed we’re giving to the ewes. Because they’re busy producing milk for lambs, the ewes need plenty of energy and in March and April this isn’t available from the grass. But as one old farming saying has it, “You can milk bullocks in May.” The grass is perfect for milk production, there is plenty of it and not only that but the lambs are old enough to be eating a fair bit of grass themselves.

So rather than me turn up with quad, trailer, Sal, and several buckets of feed, the ewes just get Sal and I. Unless that is, I’m in a rush to be somewhere and then they get a quad, Sal and I.
If it’s just Sal and I the ewes glare at me, some even wandering across to check up on the off chance I might just produce something for them, conjuring it up out of thin air.

But if the quad appears, the entire flock concentrates on us and when we turn to leave the field they stream after us like some ovine version of the Keystone Cops.

The propensity to associate the quad with food is immediately dispelled if you blow the horn. To the sheep (and through observation, to Sal) once the horn is blown the game changes. The quad morphs instantaneously from potential feed dispenser into the rounder up of laggards.

 

Whilst we’re on about sheep surprising you, it might be worth mentioning the five hoggs in the church yard. They’re keeping the grass down. The problem is it would cost an awful lot of money to pay somebody to mow it. Anybody volunteering to do it would find themselves spending days at a time wielding the strimmer because there are too many curbs and suchlike to allow mowing. So the answer is sheep. (Actually to get ‘sheep’ as an answer, you’ve got to be looking at a very specialist subset of questions.)

From a pure grazing/grassland management point of view we really put the sheep in too late, but then we don’t want to spoil the rather spectacular display of daffodils. So the sheep spend summer playing catch up.

Now this year there are five hoggs in the church yard. They ran with the tup last backend but being young it’s always touch and go whether they’ll end up in lamb, and so when the last ewe lambed on May 8th we weren’t surprised that these young ladies were obviously not going to lamb.

So next year is obviously going to be there big year, and they were kept to grow on with the idea that they’d come into the flock as shearlings. So this morning I turned up at the church to check on the five to see four running towards me, and I wondered where the fifth was.

She was following; looking over her shoulder to make sure the sixth was keeping up with her.

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It did occur to me that you might like a few more stories about sheep, dogs, quads and stuff.