Monthly Archives: October 2019

Lentil Curls


I have undertaken a social survey and fully intend to astound you with the results. But first, I thought I better set out my stall with regard to the current unpleasantness. You might have noticed, but here in the UK we’re going to have a general election. This has several immediate results. The first is that social media is full of memes, faked photos, wild claims and downright lies. Personally I suspect the Russians have pulled out, being unwilling to sink to the level our political party black-ops teams have achieved entirely on their own initiative. Not only that, but the discussions will inevitably get more and more acrimonious as we get nearer to the big day. If somebody came up with a way of ‘fast forwarding’ life so we could get to the 12th December without having to suffer from this deluge, they’d probably make a fortune. Especially if they could also come up with a way to ‘pause’ and ‘replay’ some of the more interesting things we’ve done in the past to help fill in the gap.

Now initially I had wondered whether the election campaigning would at least have had the effect of driving the endless posts about ‘only x more days to Christmas’ off social media. Then I found myself hoping that the Christmas posts might just be able to swamp all the general election nonsense.

So I came up with a cunning plan. I just about managed it during the 2017 election. I’m going to do my bit to keep my facebook page an oasis of gentle humour and tranquillity. Obviously I reserve the right to mock unmercifully any of the more bizarre flights of political fancy. After all, I’m the one who writes fantasy fiction. If they start venturing into my genre I reserve the right to subject them to incisive literary criticism.

But in the interests of good taste, I trust the political pygmies jostling for the lucrative positions in parliament (in crude terms a MP earns four times as much as the median family income in this town. I trust they will explain to us why they think they’re worth it) will remember their manners and will instruct the sundry deniable and expendable minions they use to mount social media campaigns to restrict themselves to posting positive information about their own campaign. After all, if all they can post is knocking copy, they cannot have much positive to tell us about their aspirations.

Still I have some important information to impart. I have undertaken social survey of great depth and I feel the results have the most remarkable implications!

In the past, when walking through the lanes, often following livestock, I’ve made a habit of picking up crisp packets and similar, for proper disposal. As a result of this process I came to the conclusion that the favoured flavour of crisp was salt and vinegar.

Academic rigour insists that I state that the favoured variety for throwing out of the car window when you’d finished eating them was salt and vinegar. It may well be that, for example, more people purchase cheese and onion, but cherish the packets and only discard salt and vinegar.

But still, if I were to stock only one flavour of crisp in my notional emporium, it would be salt and vinegar flavour.

But now, recent researches have shown a major change in crisp buying. The last lot I found and have suitable recycled as energy were’ Lentil Curls, sour cream & onion’ and “Sunbites grainwaves. Sour cream & cracked black pepper.”

It is obvious that amongst litter louts, sour cream has displaced salt and vinegar as the snack of choice for the discerning oaf. Not only that but it is obvious that our sub-sentient discarders of food packaging are becoming more discerning. Either that or our area has been hit by a wave of aspiring middle class pseudo-vegetarian crisp eaters?
Note well the fact that the potato has been cast into the abyss, replaced by grain and lentils. Have we a new generation of hipster snackers? Are we looking at the arrival on the scene of a more woke generation of people who discard their litter in the countryside?
Let us be fair here, there are people who have been awarded doctorates for theories advanced with less evidence. At the very least I should be allowed to mention my books on the strength of it.


Guaranteed to contain no general election coverage

In his own well chosen words, Tallis Steelyard reveals to us the life of Maljie, a lady of his acquaintance. In no particular order we hear about her bathing with clog dancers, her time as a usurer, pirate, and the difficulties encountered when one tries to sell on a kidnapped orchestra. We enter a world of fish, pet pigs, steam launches, theological disputation, and the use of water under pressure to dispose of foul smelling birds. Oh yes, and we learn how the donkey ended up on the roof.

Big skies?


A tourist was talking to an old farmer. (It was in the farmer’s agreement with the Environment Agency, the old lad had to stop whatever he was doing and lean on a gate trying to look bucolic whenever tourists appeared.) The tourist looked round at the scenery and asked, “How far can you see from here on a good day?”

“Oh about 93 million miles. On a clear night you can see further.”

I remember going down to see friends near Cambridge, they were out on the edge of the fens and as we stood there, they asked, “What do you think of the big skies?”

It’s one of those embarrassing, ‘do I tell them?’ moments. I live on the edge of Morecambe Bay, I can see for forty miles or more in most directions.

Today when I went out to give some feed to dairy heifers, it’s the first day we’ve had ‘rag’ (frozen dew) on the grass. Not a lot and it soon burned off, but now it’s feeling more like winter than autumn. As I looked east across the bay towards the rest of England, I could see Ingleborough and Pen-y-Ghent in the Pennines. Ingleborough, with the flat top is distinctive, our own ‘table mountain.’

Admittedly at 2,372 ft it’s hardly one of the world’s major mountains, but what people forget is that if you stand on the Pennines and look due east, the next range you meet that is higher is the Urals.


But still, in case somebody thinks I’m being at all demeaning about Cambridge, here’s a photo of Ely Cathedral, which is one of the places well worth visiting.


There again, if you fancy a trip out under the big skies across a frozen steppe, but don’t really want to leave the comfort of your own fireside,

As a reviewer commented, “This is Jim Webster’s third book and though it doesn’t carry on from the previous two it is set in the same fantasy world. We follow a young man named Freelor as he takes on a job to cover a winter time when he’s unable to get home, where he is due to marry. There are other sub-plots in this story and if you have read his earlier books, you will recognise the name of the city which falls and is destroyed by fire. One of the subplots concerns a shaman’s amulet worn by Freelor, which grows hot in the presence of the evil god Hkada whose followers are able to summon him. There are exciting battles and some serious temple raiding resulting in a possession by the god Hkada.

The story is a quest tale with Freelor leaving his usual haunts to undertake a journey to a temple where his friend, the academic Tolshin, hopes to find information about Hkada. It’s a fantasy classic and I particularly like some of Jim Webster’s phrases, for example, the merchant’s expression, “I keep my grandmother freshly washed and presentable, against the possibility of impulse buyers.” And the exchange between the soldier and his superior, “Just got my boots off for the first time for three days.” “Exotic pleasures of the flesh are reserved for officers. Get your boots fastened and get over here!”

A really good read!”

Sheep may safely graze


When you have a herd of dairy cows, there isn’t really a lot of room for sheep. The sheep just eat grass that the cow could eat and it’s the cows that are paying of the mortgage. But there again, there are times of year where even the most intensive dairy herd could use a few sheep. That is during the autumn. The ground has got too wet for dairy cows, and you’ve laid them in for the winter, but there is still some grass left. Indeed in a mild winter it might still be growing, albeit slowly. So what to do with that grass?
To be fair, at this time of year it’s not really worth a lot. We used to let cows out for an hour on a nice day in winter and they might browse a little, but normally they’d just sit down in the sun and enjoy the change before they went back inside of their own accord to eat. So that’s what cows thought about the grass. Nice for a change, pleasant enough to sit on, but it’s not as good as silage.

Alternatively you could just forget about it, and it’ll still be there next spring and it’ll get mown or eaten off then. The problem is that by then it’s old and ‘lowky’. So whilst it will help bulk up a silage crop, it actually brings down the quality. So by far the best thing to do is to eat if off with sheep. They’re bare the field right down so that when spring comes, the grass is off to a flying start and everything that comes is beautiful young new-season grass.

Some farmers will buy store-lambs, which have moved down from rougher, higher, farms where the season isn’t long enough to fatten them off grass. The dairy farmer will then fatten the store lambs on his ‘spare’ grass. To be honest it’s one of those ventures where you can do everything properly and still lose money. Or you strike lucky with the year and suddenly the pound collapses and suddenly lamb exports are booming and your store lambs do you really well.

Other people take on wintering hogs. These are young female fell sheep who’re sent down to the lowlands to get one easy winter in which they’ll grow really well and be ready to put to the tup the following year. They can do a good job but they too have problems. Firstly they’re fell sheep. They aren’t used to the concept of fields and fences and they just spread and get everywhere. The second problem is that the dairy farmer really wants them away by January and the Hill farmer doesn’t want them back until May. So they can end up getting in the way and eating the new spring grass which is supposed to go to the dairy cows. There is a further positive side to wintering sheep. A few years ago we rented some land which was, frankly rotten with ragwort. This is a poisonous weed, cattle won’t eat it, unless it’s been mown and horses seem to eat it for the pure joy of running up a big vet’s bill before they die. Sheep on the other hand can eat it and seem to suffer no ill effects. After ten years, the land was totally clear of ragwort, and ten years after we gave the land up, there’s still no ragwort.

Another alternative is to just let a neighbour run a few of his ewes over your fields and that way you can get them away by Christmas and they don’t become a problem.

But anyway this evening I went down to give some feed to the young dairy heifers who are used to be fed twice a day. Of course I took Sal. And when I got to the field there is a sea of sheep with the dairy heifers sticking out like small islands. (To be fair, this can happen whether you invite the sheep in or not)

So I shouted to the heifers.

They took one look, saw me (“Quick, it’s him with the feed”) and Sal (“aw it’s Sal, isn’t she so small and so cute”) and of course they came running to see us.

The sheep saw me, (“Irrelevant tall human, ignore”) and they saw Sal. (“Flee, wolf substitute.”) The sheep then move away in a semi-disciplined huddle.

This is a good thing because means the heifers can eat their feed without getting it stolen from them by innumerable sheep.

Sal ambles across the field on the path she normally follows, and quietly enjoys the fact that for once, something is taking her seriously. Indeed she seemed quite cheered by it all.

Normally cattle and sheep will graze quite happily, largely ignoring each other. On one occasion old Jess and I were moving some suckler cows and their calves from one field to another. What I hadn’t realised was that a neighbour’s sheep had got into the field. I walked ahead of the cows and calves, carrying a bucket of feed, and Jess followed on behind. I noticed the sheep at about the same time as the cows did. The cows formed an impromptu flying wedge which just charged past me and through the sheep, (the calves followed behind the wedge.) Suddenly there were panicking sheep everywhere. At the far side of the field the cows turned round and this time it was more a ragged single line of assorted cattle which charged back. The sheep by this time were running in the direction of the gap in the hedge they’d crept through. By the time the cows reformed and turned round for a third charge, there wasn’t a sheep in the field. So I gave the cows their feed and put a thorn in the gap to stop the sheep coming back.

Mind you, Jess was a picture as all this was going on. She wore an expression of grudging admiration. It wasn’t how she would have done it. To be honest it was a bit flashy. But to be fair, you had to admit it was damned effective.


To be fair, Jess was a dog of strong opinions!

As one reviewer commented, “A great collection of bite-sized tales from the author’s farming life.
Sheep and collie dogs are prominent, but the occasional passerby gets a wry mention.
My favourite is about the bunch of runners who race past him without speaking (noses firmly in the air), except for one friendly Irish lad who is trailing behind them.”

Government wants summat fer nowt.


I confess that I don’t often visit Carlisle, so whilst it’s technically my county town, I don’t go there every decade. In fact if I’ve been into the city half a dozen times that’s probably it. It’s just that we have to go up to Carlisle soon. Hence I was a bit nonplussed when my lady wife commented that the Victoria Viaduct in Carlisle was closed. I frankly hadn’t a clue where it was. So with the aid of a map she explained it to me (she knows the city far better than I do having lived in the north of the county for a while.)
What has happened is that a hotel, the Central Plaza, is collapsing and this has made the road unsafe. It’s causing a lot of problems for the good people of the city. So something should be done. Personally I’d have the council sue the owners.

Except that the last owner died intestate and the hotel, closed on 2004, now belongs to the crown. To be fair the council is managing it. But here again there are issues. The hotel is Grade II-listed so the council cannot do anything without the permission of Historic England. So far the council has spent one million pounds just stopping it fall down. They’ve been quoted £2.5 million to demolish it. But of course Historic England won’t let them, but equally ‘of course’ Historic England aren’t going to give them any money to do it up. The council has been trying to find a use for the building that isn’t theirs and they don’t want, but nobody else wants it either.
Currently they’re saying it’s going to take months to sort the matter and businesses working out of the same block are living the nightmare, as are people trying to get about Carlisle.

The problem is you have Historic England which exists to stop people doing things but is under no pressure to ensure that anything sensible can happen. Perhaps if we stopped paying the salaries of senior people in the organisation until a remedy was found, we’d suddenly find that there was a solution.

I raise this because it’s a nice example of the fact that this country is full of organisations which have power but no responsibility. In my home town there is the skeleton of a building. It’s stood there, stabilised to stop it falling down further, after it was gutted by fire in January 2017. Because of the costs involved, the owner might just walk away and effectively give it to the council. To quote, “”I think Historic England would like to see the building restored, rather than knocked down. That’s the battle.” Cllr Pemberton estimated such a project could cost in excess of £12million.

Why not build something brilliant and new so that in 150 years people will come and look at it because it’s such a beautiful building?

The problem is, government has, largely since the war, gathered to itself all sorts of powers to force people to do things. But they’re failing because owners are handing over the keys and are walking away because they cannot face the cost. Or the owner is the government anyway and government rarely takes government to court to force government to fulfil its responsibilities.
We’ve seen it with the way government has decided it cannot afford to pay for free TV licences for pensioners, so it’s foisted the entire cost onto the BBC.

This doesn’t come as a surprise to me. We’ve seen it in agriculture as well. One favourite of theirs is to suggest that farmers would do work for environmental schemes and they would be paid ‘income foregone.’
So in simple terms, if you converted an arable field which earned you £1000 a year, into a marsh, they’d pay you £1000 a year. The problem, given the low level of agricultural profitability, is that this meant that in some cases, where the farmer was currently making no money at all on the land, I’ve seen civil servants arguing that the farmer should do the work and not get paid for it. They seemed to think the idea that somebody was expected to pay for the conversion of land that would probably earn him money at some point in the future, into land that would never earn him anything, was entirely reasonable.
Hence I confess that I find myself feeling more sympathy for the councillors of Carlisle than people might expect.


There again what do I know about it. There again, perhaps this is the answer to government’s problems?


As a reviewer commented, “Someone has tried to cheat Benor and his young ‘apprentice’ Mutt. They set out, with a little help, to redress the balance. Another in this series of Port Naain novellas that had me smiling. They are not belly-laugh stories but full of wry, clever and thoughtful humour. Often, it’s the way he tells them. I’m always up for more of these stories.”

Do you want fries with that?


I’m obviously better preserved than I thought. I’ve clearly kept my youthful good looks. At least you’d think so from the number of people who seem to assume I was born yesterday. It’s like the time I was levelling up a gateway. When livestock or tractors go into a field they can make a bit of a mess. It’s easy to understand why, everything passes through that one narrow passage.

So if the gateway runs the risk of getting churned up, we’ll often tip something in it to provide a hard surface. It really depends what you’ve got about. I’ve known people use sand, crusher-run, quarry waste, or any waste stone. I was just using some beach cobble. It came from an old building that had finally had to come down. As I was levelling it out a chap was watching me and commented that there were a couple of pieces of decent red sandstone in it. He explained that he was looking for some sandstone as he was planning to have a rockery at one end of his garden, and fancied sandstone for it.
He then asked if he could have some of mine. So I gestured to the two pieces visible and commented that if he wanted, he could have them. I was then led to understand that actually, he was hoping he could have what I had in the yard as well. Not only that but he didn’t expect to have to grub about in the dirt for it himself, he rather expected me to deliver it. And because he was doing me such a favour he didn’t expect to have to pay anything.

Now I might not be at the cutting edge of technology, but I can still use google and I know that the sort of sandstone he’s after costs about £400 a ton. (And that’s collected, delivery is extra.)
Strangely enough I felt disinclined to fall in with his wishes, and he left in a huff. And this was no youthful snowflake assuming the world owed him a living. This was a chap in his sixties.

But there again, I’ve got friends who work in fast-food outlets. (In point of fact it seems I’m unusual in that I admit to having friends in that trade. From comments they have made to me, it seems that socially they’re assumed to be irremediably stupid to work in such places.)

But listening to their tales of ‘customer interaction’ would turn your hair white. Talking to one, he was ‘building a sandwich’ for the customer. The idea is that the customer tells you the ingredients which are visible behind the glass counter, and you put them into the sandwich for them. One customer came in, talking on their phone. They continued to talk on their phone and merely gestured through the glass at the ingredients. The only conversation he had with them was when he asked which of the two ingredients they had waved vaguely at was the one they wanted. The conversation was one sided and consisted of a stream on invective from the customer.

Another friend works in a coffee shop. There are no dogs allowed but there’s a hook fastened to the wall outside so you can fasten the dog’s lead to it. It’s a quiet town, if somebody made off with the dog, passers-by would probably know the dog and the real owner so dognapping isn’t an issue. My friend had a queue of people to serve and he noticed that somebody at the door was waving to attract his attention. Worried there might be a problem he stopped serving a customer to ask what was the problem. The person merely shouted their order at him, pointing out that they couldn’t come in as they had a dog.
So he pointed out there was the hook for the dog lead he just got abuse. They wanted their drink then and there.

Again these cases are not stroppy kids, the offenders were ‘adults’ or at least persons over the age of forty.

The attitude is spreading to other trades and professions. I know one vicar who realised they were being addressed in much the same manner as the barista in a coffee shop. The person wanted a wedding, they wanted it on this particular day, and they wanted these particular trimmings.

When the vicar pointed out that it couldn’t be that day because the church was already booked the impression he was given was that a mere church service should not be allowed to get in the way of creating the perfect wedding for her daughter.
It has to be said that one of the real pleasures of my job is that I am not expected to be nice to anybody.


Courtesy will get you everywhere! Try saying it with flowers.


As a reviewer commented, “Benor recounts how he met his wife.
Benor and Kirisch travel 4000 miles to find said wife, then take a side trip to deal with a troublesome Tyrant.
We meet some familiar characters, some new ones, and even a few monsters.
We learn how an Urlan Knight and a Cartographer get involved in the fashion trade, how beauty and love can be found even in the wilderness, and how one particular paddle boat is powered.”