Monthly Archives: March 2019

The dawn chorus and too much time to think.

The Pirates of Ersatz

I was up quite early the other morning, even for a cowman, and I was just mooching about getting stuff ready. Nothing too dramatic, just Jim wandering about on his own, sorting things out a bit, but as it was just me and I wasn’t moving cattle about, it was quiet.

So I got the dawn chorus. With us, because we have the sea so close on three sides, the first thing was the gulls. Some nights they seem to spend on the fields next to the farm. I suspect it has something to do with the state of the tide and of course the weather. With the dawn, and perhaps with the tide going out, they wanted to be up and out to sea. So they were circling and crying to each other.

They were followed by the more usual sounds, the cawing of nesting crows, the chittering of innumerable smaller birds and in the distance the occasional cry of a goose. Then as I listened we got the bark of a pheasant and the drumming sound of a woodpecker. Sounds like everybody else was busy.

But I like the quiet times because it gives you time to think. It was during this sort of time that I’d been thinking about books and writing. We have a serious issue. People want books cheap. £0.99 seems to be the sort of price point a lot of people look for. The new standard is that the book you read with your coffee should cost you less than the coffee.

To be fair, given the fact you can pick up cracking paperbacks in charity shops at three for a pound, splashing out fifteen quid for a novel does rather look at you.

The problem with writing paperbacks is sheer cost. Printing and distribution costs set a minimum price that you cannot reasonably go under, even if you’re willing to work for nothing. But people do seem to want that more economical read.

Anyway I was thinking. Look back at the years of the Great Depression and wartime austerity. People really needed some magic in their lives; people needed taking out of themselves. It may well have been the golden age of Hollywood, think how many cinemas even small towns had. It was the same with reading. We had ‘pulp fiction’ by which I don’t mean the film, I mean the magazines. Take as an example, Astounding Science Fiction, it was only 35 cents. The reason the magazines were called pulp fiction was they were printed on paper that was the cheapest the printers could get away with. Looking at some of the early issues, they ran to about 90,000 words (which is actually novel length) and had seven or eight stories in them.

Then we had the age of prosperity. One thing that struck me was we went from the slim volume to the doorstep. Fantasy tales and SF stories became epics, paperbacks with a thousand pages. Yes we’d had them before, Lord of the Rings being an obvious example, but now they flooded the bookshelves.

Let’s be brutally honest, I’m not going to spend two years sweating and slaving over a book that size and expect to give away the copies I sell for 99p, especially as I only get 28p of it. (The Chancellor of the Exchequer nearly gets as much as I do, with his 20% VAT on ebooks.) Not only that, but to write a great book at that sort of length, you have to be really, really good. It’s not easy to write a good story in 20,000 words, or in 80,000 words, but it’s more focussed and more disciplined. If you’re not careful, writing a doorstep means that unless you’re really good and really disciplined, you leave in a lot of stuff that you’d cut out in a slimmer volume. It might be kind of fun, you as the author might quite like it, but it doesn’t add to the story and can even get in the way.
But now, with ebooks you can read on a tablet, a kindle, or your phone, perhaps we are back in the world of pulp fiction. We can suddenly turn out stories, pile them high and let you have them, cheap as chips.

I thought about this for a while. Now the thing about the doorstep, when written by a great writer, you are sucked into a fabulous world. A great book is like a holiday taken at home.

But I suddenly realised, I could give you the holiday at home experience, but with shorter stories. If I had the stories set in the same place, about the same people, then each time you picked up the next ‘issue’ you’d find yourself sinking comfortably back into the world. Not only that but I’d make the stories a ‘collection’ not a series. The difference is that with a series you ought to read them in the right order. With a collection, it doesn’t matter. The Sherlock Holmes stories are ‘a collection.’ Yes they were written and published in a particular order, but it doesn’t matter what order you read them in.

So I went for it. I decided on the Port Naain Intelligencer collection, which would chronicle the antics of Benor, the hero of two of my novels, when he was a young man in Port Naain. I wrote six novellas, got them ready for publication, and then published them, one every three months or so. It seemed to work.
At the same time, Tallis Steelyard appeared as an incidental character in the first Port Naain Intelligencer novella and elbowed his way into my life. He was a poet, he demanded a blog. The blog consists of the anecdotes that Tallis might tell to friends over a glass, late at night. Eventually I collected up the anecdotes and published them. I also wrote some novellas, set in the same city as the Port Naain Intelligencer stories, with many of the same characters. But this world is seen through the eyes of Tallis Steelyard and the stories have a different emphasis.

So where are we now? Well I think I’m ‘getting there.’ There are now four novels and twenty-one novellas. Obviously the novels are slightly more expensive, but the novellas are all there at £0.99p.
The world is in place; anybody can pick any of the books or novellas, and be sucked into it. If they like it, there’s plenty more where they came from, and I can quietly keep adding, because a good world does not stand still. Plenty to find at

The Port Naain Intelligencer


Anyway two more novellas are now out!

Tallis Steelyard. Deep waters, and other stories.

More of the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. Discover the damage done by the Bucolic poets, wonder at the commode of Falan Birling, and read the tales better not told. We have squid wrestling, lady writers, and occasions when it probably wasn’t Tallis’s fault. He even asks the great question, who are the innocent anyway?


Tallis Steelyard. Playing the game, and other stories.

More of the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. Marvel at the delicate sensitivities of an assassin, wonder at the unexpected revolt of Callin Dorg. Beware of the dangers of fine dining, and of a Lady in red. Travel with Tallis as his poetical wanderings have him meandering through the pretty villages of the north. Who but Tallis Steelyard could cheat death by changing the rules?

Adventures and alarums!

This is how a blog should be written 🙂

M T McGuire Authorholic

What the fuck is going on?

This last week has been rather fun but it has been a bit like some badly written situation comedy. Then again, most of my life is like a badly written situation comedy. McOther often tells me that if my life were written up as a screen play, it’s so barkingly strange that no-one would believe any of the true life events depicted were … well … true.

In a strange coincidence, two old friends who I haven’t seen in ages have rung up to say they’ll be in the area and could we meet up. To my delight they were around when I am, as well so I met one friend yesterday and another is coming to see me on Wednesday! Woot all round.

On top of that, it’s been an adventurous couple of days. The night before last McOther was due to come…

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Just keep taking the tablets; and the secret of perfect hair.

cattle drenching horn

I must admit I’ve never had to give tablets to a cat. As far as I’m concerned I’ll be delighted if this happy situation continues. Giving them to a dog is a doddle. Some of them now look (and apparently taste) like some sort of dog treat. Even those that aren’t so camouflaged soon disappear in a piece of bread, butter and touch of marmite; squeezed together and proffered gingerly lest you loose a finger to the enthusiastic patient.

But have you ever considered giving tablets to a cow? With a calf it’s not too difficult. Stand behind it; grasp the bottom jaw with your thumb inside the calf’s mouth. It is really really important that your thumb is in the gap behind the incisors and in front of the molars. The thumb also holds the tongue in place. With two fingers of your other hand slide the tablet over your thumb and carefully avoiding getting your fingers chewed by the molars, push the tablet back and the swallowing reflex takes over.

Try doing that with an adult animal, or one over about a month old!

So with larger animals, if possible, whatever is in the tablet is given in a liquid form, so you just pour it. Again there are ways of doing this. Ideally you use the same grip, holding the lower jaw with your thumb across the tongue, and then slide the nozzle of whatever you’re using in to the mouth, opposite your thumb. Hold the animal’s head up so the liquid pours out and the animal swallows it.

It’s a very old technique. The picture is of a cow horn. The pointed end (which obviously is not longer pointed) goes into the cow’s mouth and you use the horn as a funnel, pouring out of a jug into the other end.

Technology has moved on and to be honest a wine bottle is excellent for this sort of task. But it has to be the right bottle. You want a long narrow neck, no fancy bulbous bits. I’ve known people go into an off-licence and purchase a wine purely because it was inexpensive and the bottle was perfect. The wine was doubtless consumed first before the bottle was signed across to the businesses medical section. Due to the exigencies of fate our current wine bottle is a Tia Maria bottle which once you get used to it is actually quite good.

The problem is that the cow might object. Now as a small child I had to drink medicine off a spoon. I might not like it, I might object, but I had to do it. I’ve never yet convinced a cow to drink medicine off a spoon. Given the dose, the spoon would probably look a bit daunting. There again I have had calves take medicine from a spoon. A few years back we had some which were recovering from illness and the vet suggested we give them cod-liver oil as a pick-me-up. I did try them with a spoon, being the cheerful optimist I am, and much to my surprise they enjoyed it so much they would drink if off the spoon. Admittedly they also sucked the spoon enthusiastically looking for more.

As an aside the vet commented that he knew some farmers who sold cattle as ‘store’, (by which I mean they were sold for other people to fatten) often mixed cod-liver oil in the rations for the last few weeks. Amongst other things it gets into their hair and makes it really shine. Not only does it do them good, it makes them look good as well. So forget your fancy shampoos and expensive hair lotions, a spoon full of cod-liver oil will get your hair positively glowing.

Anyway having inadvertently solved all your tonsorial problems, back to the cattle.

That is, the large cattle who object to being given their medicine. It’s all very well and good to try and hold the cow’s head, but the head is a pretty big thing. It’s also supported by a neck with an awful lot of muscle. So if a cow inadvertently swings its head across and catches you in the chest, it can knock you flying. That’s without the cow moving forwards or backwards and knocking you down.
So farmers tend to have a cattle crush. The amount of TB testing we have to do, they’re almost compulsory nowadays. The cow walks into it and there are some nice round steel bars that restrict movement. They don’t ‘trap’ the animal, and the term ‘crush’ is entirely a misnomer as the animal isn’t held firmly. It’s designed so the animal is ‘constrained’ but is unable to hurt itself, and equally as important, is unable to hurt you.

So as you give the animal the medicine, the head can now still move about, but far less than it could previously, and the animal cannot trample you.

When you look at a good cattle crush, it’s of solid construction with a lot of metal. This is because you don’t want it to move when the animal steps into it. When over half a ton of bovine steps onto something, or pushes something, it’s surprising how often that something gets out of the way. So a good crush is solid enough for both you and the cow to get a sense of security.

There’s a lot to be said for heavy metal.


And if you don’t believe me, ask the dog. She has her own opinions as to whether certain animals need to be restrained!

As a reviewer said, “Like the other two books in this series, Jim Webster gives us a perspective of farm life we may not have appreciated. Some of the facts given will come as a shock to non-farming readers, but they do need to be read. Having said that, there are plenty of humorous anecdotes to make the book an enjoyable read.”

This last three months I’ve been mostly …

Somebody telling it like it is, and I thought I’d share it because I know there are people out there who need to know

M T McGuire Authorholic

Putting my dad in a home.

As I may have hinted, things have been extremely tough since Christmas. Dad doesn’t respond to Christmas so well at the best of times – I suspect he is as ambivalent about it as I am – but he excelled himself this year. Mum flipped from being happy to have him at home to admitting that things were too much to deal with in about three weeks. Fair play to my brother for getting us to pick out a home for him because booyacka, we had it lined up. However, Mum needs care too and this home cost the same, per week, as care for the two of them did, at home.

Then, I realised Dad had run out of money. Dad and Mum kept their stocks and shares separate, which is unusual for married couples. As I’d understood it, when Dad’s cash ran…

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The gentle sadness, the quietly getting on with trying to live a life in the face of the slow deterioration of a loved one, got to me in this blog.

My Blog

I feel the need to write something but can’t find the words

Every evening around 4.30pm I have to dissuade my Husband from going to bed…I have to persuade him to have a light meal and maybe sit and watch TV for a while.

He may eventually be convinced this is a good idea but rarely sits for more than a few minutes before he is off to check the doors are locked, to close the blinds and ask where ‘the others’ are.

When he finally heads for his bed and settles down I sit here on tenterhooks worrying how long it will be before he gets up again and appears fully dressed and bids me ‘Good Morning!’

Most nights I manage to watch a little TV or read for a while and then I have to creep around tidying up, gathering things together, getting tomorrows meal from the freezer…

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To posh to push, and a retort stand.

retort stand

When I was at school, I took chemistry A level. I got the A level but I didn’t particularly shine. Still the practical lessons were interesting. On one occasion I was heating up this mixture in a flask. I’d done the usual agricultural level time and motion calculation and had worked out that by the time I’d put the flask down, made my way to the far end of the lab, collected a retort stand from the cupboard and walked back, I’d have finished boiling the flask anyway.

As I boiled the flask the chemistry master walked past and commented, “I trust that life holds out better opportunities for you than to be a retort stand.”

Anyway back in the real world, there is a cow calving. She’s a big lady, and in human terms might be said to be carrying a bit more weight that she should. Only she’s not calving, she’s faffing about and not getting on with it. So after a few hours it’s obviously sensible to check, just to make sure there’s nothing wrong.
There are all sorts of things that can go wrong. Unlike human babies, calves come front feet first. Think of them as ‘diving’ out. Now they can have a ‘foot back’ which means they cannot get through the gap. Or they can have a whole leg back from the shoulder. In these cases you’ve got to get your arm in and gently get all the limbs lined up properly. There’s a knack to this because you have to cup the calf’s foot in your hand as you gently straighten the limb so the foot doesn’t damage mother. Remember all this has to be worked out by feel because there’s no way you can see anything. You can also have the head back, which needs bringing forward. That can be a bit tricky. But ‘in nature’ these are all things which would mean the calf couldn’t be born and both calf and mother would die.

Or, as in this case, you can have the calf can be coming backwards. Now coming backwards, (A breech birth) isn’t necessarily a major problem. In fact the calf’s hips can be easier to get out than the calf’s head and shoulders. But once the calf starts coming backwards, it’s got to keep coming. This is because when a calf comes forwards, its nose is soon out and the calf can breathe naturally. Coming backwards the nose is a long time coming, and when the calf is about half way out, the umbilical cord parts and the calf is no longer getting air from mum. As an aside, you can tell when this happens because the calf’s tail starts wiggling rapidly. At that point you’ve got to pull the calf out rapidly to stop it drowning.

Anyway back to our large lady. She did everything but push. She contributed about as much to the miracle of birth as a paperweight does to the good running of an office. So we had to pull, slowly and carefully. Finally with the calf’s hips about to come out, the cow noticed that something was going on and finally started to contribute. So between us we got the calf out before it started running into problems with lack of oxygen.

To be fair to the cow, she was pretty good at the next part of the process, enthusiastically licking the calf down and being motherly. So far so good. Now because she’s a big cow and not perhaps as young as she was, she’s a prime candidate for hypocalcemia (also called parturient paresis but on farm even vets call it milk fever). This is where the cow runs low on calcium. It’s just that older cows can have problems with metabolising calcium when they calve. Their bodies need more because they’re starting to produce milk. Again in the wild, it would probably not be a problem because in nature they’re unlikely to live to be old enough for it to be an issue. So we give them the calcium in an easy metabolisable form to carry them over until they get their own systems up and running.

Now the calf needs milk as soon as possible. The calf depends on the antibodies in mum’s milk to provide it with immunity and to kickstart its immune system. So we take mum into the milking parlour. There she gets some feed (and warm water to drink). We take some milk, (just enough for the calf) and I put the contents of a bottle of calcium borogluconate under her skin to prevent milk fever. To do this you have a long flexible tube. It has a needle at one end and a flutter valve at the other. You fit the bottle into the flutter valve. A flutter valve allows air into the bottle so that the contents of the bottle can then run quietly and steadily down the pipe and into the cow. It’s not a fast process but it doesn’t cause anybody any stress. The cow happily kept on eating whilst I got the calcium into her.

Now the whole thing works better if you have the bottle as high as possible about the cow, so the pipe is almost taut. So it means I’ve got to stand there with my hand pretty much as high about my head as I can, holding the bottle. And as I did this I heard again my chemistry master’s comment about ‘life holds out better opportunities for you than to be a retort stand.’

Apparently not.


Still I have interesting co-workers

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.”



Knowledge comes when you least expect it …

Now this is just a great piece of story telling. Well worth a read

M T McGuire Authorholic

This month, I have mostly been ill.

That isn’t the entire sum of it, obviously. I mean there weekend at the end with the dig where I found the howling beastie and there was a rather jolly week after that plus a weekend when we had visitors and I faced arthritically on a table, remember. McMini was ill on the Sunday our hearts left and off school the entire week. Then it was half term and he gave whatever it was he’d had to me in time for me to be ill over the school break, obviously. McMini threw it off in a week or so, but felt a bit weird from time to time during the half term holiday. McOther binned it in about twenty four hours. I felt as ill as I’ve felt since I was ten, and had the highest temperature I’ve had since I was ten…

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The photo above is of Urswick church; it was taken by a friend of mine, and gives some feel for the beauties of the area. Nowhere does spring half as well as Furness.

One or two people have commented about spring this year. Because we had a few warm days in February and it’s gone colder now, everybody is beginning to panic. Strangely for the last ten or so years, (I use that measure because it’s the length of time I’ve been involved in Lambing and so really noticed it) it has been common for February to be better lambing weather than March.

But at this time of year, the important plant is grass. I’ve spent a lot of my life tending grass, cosseting grass, making sure it’s happy and perfectly fed. Indeed grass is the core of any livestock farmer’s business.

Actually it’s the core of our environment as well. It’s been pointed out that grasslands store carbon, indeed there’s growing interesting in Carbon sequestration in grassland systems. One reason is that grass locks carbon up below ground in root systems. So scientists are beginning to realise that in some parts of the world, the USA is one of them, you’re better to have grassland to sequestrate carbon than forests. The forests sequestrate their carbon above ground. One forest fire releases the lot. But with grassland, not only does it not burn if grazed properly, but even if it does, only a very small amount of carbon is released.

There is also the major advantage that you get damn all food for people from forests, but grasslands are a source of really high quality protein.
We get all sorts of information suggesting how we might farm in a more environmentally friendly way. The problem is that nobody advising us seems to be interested in looking at the whole picture. So the latest environmentally conscious thing I saw was encouraging livestock farmers to intensify. This is because the animal was ready for the table younger, or produced more milk over less time. Thus the food produced per unit of Co2 released was less. But following that through what it means is that rather than dairy cows grazing, they’d want them housed inside and being fed high energy diets. So we’d plough up the grass (that is sequestrating carbon so beautifully) and plant a lot of maize. Somebody hasn’t thought it out. Indeed you begin to suspect that people are producing the figures to paint the picture they want, with very little regard to what is actually true. You hear a lot about food and greenhouse gasses, (because you’ve got all sorts of food and environmental campaigners with agendas to promote) but far less about planes.

Yet to quote from

“Although aviation is a relatively small industry, it has a disproportionately large impact on the climate system. It accounts for four to nine per cent of the total climate change impact of human activity.”
Yet we were told that one of the perils of Brexit would be a massively reduced number of slots for UK airlines. Actually, looking at it from an environmental point of view, that’s one of the advantages! Something to think about that as you jet off to your next climate change conference!

The effects of the human diet can be seen all over the world. What about the Greenhouses of Almeria. About forty years ago I cycled through the area, or around the fringes of it. It was an arid desert; they used to shoot spaghetti westerns there because it was so dry and barren.

Since then they’ve brought in fully hydroponic systems, grow-bags, chemical fertilisers in the water supply to each plant, and of course, endless greenhouses. So instead of spaghetti westerns, it appeared in the opening scenes of “Blade Runner 2049”.


Apparently the temperatures inside the green-houses can reach 45 degrees Celsius and migrant workers are brought in from Africa and the Middle East because they can cope with the heat better than local Spanish labour. Workers rights are almost none existent,

Yet this place apparently produces more than half of the Europe’s demand for fresh fruits and vegetables. Some people have pointed out that this is the vegan future.

Me, I had to top up the feed hoppers in the parlour during milking. You cannot use an auger when the cows are there because it’s too noisy. So I walked down the exit passage with a couple of buckets of feed to pour them in by hand.
Loitering near the exit were two of the youngest milking heifers. They were obviously pondering whether to go and eat silage, or just to have another snooze. Anyway they watched me go by with interest. When I’d poured the feed into the hopper I turned round to find they’d both followed me down the passage to find out what I was doing. After all, somebody carrying dairy feed has to be a person of interest. One of the joys of working with cattle is their happy curiosity.


But then, don’t talk to the monkey, talk to the organ grinder, try
‘Sometimes I sits and thinks’

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

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