Monthly Archives: December 2019

Speaking to my inner anthropologist


Yes I do know it’s New Year’s eve. Even if I wasn’t on social media, I’ve still got access to a perfectly adequate calendar. It has to be confessed that I’ve never made a big deal of the New Year. Having been the one who was up at 5:30am for thirty consecutive New Year’s mornings doesn’t help.

It’s just that today I would walk into town. It was a beautiful afternoon, and there’s a couple of very pleasant walks to get there. Not only that but whilst I was at it I could pay a cheque in to the bank. When I arrived at the bank at just after 2pm it was shut. On the door the sign said that on Tuesdays it would be open to 4:30pm, and a rather hacked off young lady was staring at the sign muttering something under her breath. It turns out she’d gone to the trouble of going onto the website to check that it wouldn’t be shut, and the website said it would be open.
Still the bank was just something I would do as I was passing so I wasn’t too fussed. But there was one incident that intrigued me. I passed the barbers where I normally get my hair cut. Now this is not a fashionable salon. It’s very much the sort of place where you can still get your hair cut for six pounds. A young man was looked at the door. The notice on the door said that it would shut at 4:30pm, and at 2:30pm the shop was ostentatiously shut. (Do we detect a pattern here?)

Anyway I merely commented to him that with the weather turning colder, he might be glad of longer hair. He commented that, actually, it was all his fault. “I spent the last hour putting my clothes out to wear tonight.”

Suddenly I felt like the anthropologist who discovers an incomprehensible native custom that the indigenes seem to assume to be normal.
How on earth can you spend an hour putting clothes out to work out what to wear? In an hour I can come in from working, shower, shave, change, have a coffee and a sandwich and be out again with time to spare. It didn’t take me an hour to get ready the day I got married!

I mean, how much do you actually have to wear before it takes an hour just to lay it out ready?
Stopping to think about it, it’s never taken me that length of time. Then I remembered the words of the greatest observer of them all.


“IT is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Thus, an elderly lady of leisure can spend the entire day in writing and despatching a postcard to her niece at Bognor Regis. An hour will be spent in finding the postcard, another in hunting for spectacles, half-an-hour in a search for the address, an hour and a quarter in composition, and twenty minutes in deciding whether or not to take an umbrella when going to the pillar-box in the next street. The total effort which would occupy a busy man for three minutes all told may in this fashion leave another person prostrate after a day of doubt, anxiety and toil.”
Thus the great C Northcote Parkinson started his great work, “Parkinson’s Law.”
If you’ve never read it, you really should.

Anyway, Happy New Year.


Actually, if you’re short of something to read, you would probably enjoy

Available in paperback or as an ebook.
As a reviewer commented, “This author has created a rich world, filled with interesting characters – of whom Maljie is one of the most colourful. Her life and adventures are presented though the gossip of the poet Tallis Steelyard who has a sharp eye and a sharper tongue. Reminiscent somewhat of Pepys’ diaries about the small and large events of London, Tallis is a better writer. And why is Mr Webster dangerous – too much of my money is being spent on his books.”

Wheeling smoke in a barrow


One of the tales my father always told was of back when he was in his teens and farm workers would work for a ‘term’ (summer or winter) and then after the term was up, he’d either sign on again with the chap he was working for or go on to the next fair.

Apparently one of the tales going round at the time was of a young chap who was approached by an old farmer who asked, “And what canst tha do, lad.”
“Owt yer want, Sir.”
The old lad was a bit sceptical about this, so asked. “Canst tha plough?”

“Aye, as well as any, and a good acre a day.”

“Canst tha milk cows?”
“Aye, tha’ll niver get a better cowman?”
The old chap was getting even more sceptical. “What about sheep? Hast tha worked much wi’ sheep.”
“Aye, I’m a grand shepherd an’ all.”

This was too much for the old farmer. “Canst tha’ wheel smoke in a barrow?”

“You shovel it boss, an’ I’ll wheel it.”

Apparently the old fellow hired him. When asked why he merely commented, “Whatever happens, coming year isn’t going to be boring.”


The old hiring fairs died out with the war, but my father, footloose and single, used them to travel a fair way. He worked on farms between Workington and Morecambe, doing all sorts of different jobs before he got married and settled down. He talked about the conditions they lived in. The lads would sleep in an attic bedroom, single beds. Any girls living in would sleep in a different bedroom, and the farmer and his wife would have the bedroom below so they’d hear if there was any hanky-panky. On one farm he was woken up in the middle of the night by the sound of rats chewing his corduroy working trousers, to get at the milk that was spilt on them. Back then, there was no underwear for lads, who was going to wash it? They had two pair of work trousers, washed alternately on a Monday.
Washing day fitted in with the family diet as well. Farm workers, living in or not, ate with the family. On Sunday there was always a roast dinner. On Monday, after the big copper had been used to boil water for the washing, one of the lasses would make a hotpot in it.
This consisted of a layer of potatoes, chopped fine, a layer of carrot, a layer of turnip, then some meat left from the Sunday roast. Then another layer of potato, another of carrot, another of turnip, a bit more meat, then more potato, until the pot was full.

When it came to dinner time, whoever was serving would stick the ladle in, give it a good stir round, and then give everybody a couple of good ladles full. For dessert there would be rice pudding, and you ate your dessert off the same plate that you’d had your dinner off. I can remember as a child watching my grandfather. In spite of the fact that everybody got a bowl for their pudding, he still cleaned his plate with the flat of his knife blade, and had his pudding on the same plate.
But back to the hotpot. The pot always held more than people could eat, so there was always a foot of so of hotpot left in the bottom. So after dinner, one of the lasses would put in a layer of potato, a layer of carrots, a layer of turnip, and keep this up until the pot was full. There was no more meat put in, because there wasn’t any. This would be put back over the fire and would continue to cook until the next meal, at which point the whole process was repeated.

My father always commented that you could tell the good farms to work on, they would add a black pudding or two every day to the hotpot, or a bit of bacon. Otherwise by the time you cleaned the pot out on Saturday, it was pretty much the vegetarian option.
But this was what families were brought up on and considered normal.


You could always ask the expert


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!”

Head transplants!


I read an article in the paper today where a researcher was saying that he reckoned we’d probably see the first successful head transplants in ten years’ time. Actually he suspected it would be head and spinal column transplants, as they would probably make more sense.


The problem is, I’m not merely cynical, I’ve had a lifetime in livestock agriculture where you are regularly forced to pick the ‘least worst’ option. Try coping with a cow who is trying to calve in the dark and the rain, in a muddy ditch; when as well as calving she’s suddenly developed calcium deficiency. You’ll pretty soon learn how to prioritise. Add to that I’m a writer, so I’m rather expected to be able to extrapolate and imagine. So as I finished the article and went to get on with some work, it occurred to me that in the future, there’s no point in trying to keep your body in good shape. If you’re rich, you can just acquire a nicer body when you wear this one out. If you’re not rich, you almost certainly don’t want a body that the rich might covert.

But then, because of the weight of my background, I mentally crossed out, ‘the rich’ and wrote instead, ‘the powerful.’ Because money is merely a form of power. The servants of an over-mighty state can accumulate vast power. Indeed the petty servants of a sanctimonious state which doesn’t keep a sharp eye on its minions can let them accumulate enough power to make the life of an ordinary person hell. End up in the wrong local authority nursing home if you don’t believe me.

Obviously I could be wrong in this. The easy way to convince me that I am is by showing me a newspaper headline which says, “Communist Party leader dies because they couldn’t find a suitable organ donor.”

As an aside, it struck me that the problem with the rich is that, by and large, we made them rich. The seriously rich are the people who sell us stuff we want. Like Facebook or Google. Or perhaps your weakness is cool phones? Obviously our whims change and suddenly some of the rich can find their income stream drying up. The reason they remain rich is that they’re smart enough to diversify.

So whilst we cannot control the rich, the State can. Yes there is a lot of talk about how various transnational companies are massively powerful. That is true. But whilst companies can be international, their employees all have to live somewhere. The State is the one who can send polite people round to explain, gently, that we know where your children go to school. States have laws and prisons.  At the very least, upset the State and even the wealthiest of plutocrats can suddenly discover that there are very few places without extradition warrants out for them and it becomes unwise to fly, lest your plane is inadvertently forced to land in some country you’re wanted in, ‘because of engine problems.’

So the State can crush the rich, but doesn’t often do it, because senior people within the State want to join the rich. (In the UK, as of August 2019, to be in the top 1% of income tax payers in the UK (i.e. to be among the 310,000 individuals with the highest income), a taxable income of at least £160,000 is required. Know the right people and get yourself a nice job chairing the right quango, and you’re in.

And we’ve already seen that the Rich can take us for a ride, because they know us too well and give us the bright shiny things that we want.

But, and here is the rub, ‘we the people’ are the ones who can crush the State. This can happen in various ways at various levels. In a democracy, we the people can force a state to perform a handbrake turn. Brexit has showed that. The election of a Labour government in 1945 showed that.

When you have dictatorships, one party rule and totalitarianism it’s not as easy, but it still happens. If you doubt me, discuss the matter with the General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party. He was one of the lucky ones, he lived through the experience. Ceaușescu faced a firing squad.

Indeed we might have a scissors, paper, stone situation with the Rich, the people, and the State. Obviously all three groups continue to exist, no group ever smashes the other because all the groups need the others or want to be part of them.

But anyway, back to the important idea, head transplants. Actually it might be brain and spinal cord transplants but it’s still interesting, and problematic. You see, it’s perfectly possible to spare a kidney for somebody. Or if you die in an accident, there are all sorts of bits of you that are still worth sharing around. But frankly, and between ourselves, by the time I’m ready to leave this body, it isn’t really going to be fit for anything else. You might be able to break it for spares, but it isn’t going to be a low mileage runner with only one careful owner.

Not only that but if you’re going to be the person who is having their brain, etc, transplanted into another body. You don’t want to move into something that might have five or six good years left in it. You want one with five or more decades ahead of it, before you move off into the next.

Now I can see there could be a shortage of donors. After all, how many people in their twenties die of something which leaves their body in perfect condition, just ready for the next tenant?
Still, there are times when we see a shortage of conventional organs for transplant and to quote Reuters, “LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A senior lawyer called on Tuesday for the top United Nations human rights body to investigate evidence that China is murdering members of the Falun Gong spiritual group and harvesting their organs for transplant.


Hamid Sabi called for urgent action as he presented the findings of the China Tribunal, an independent panel set up to examine the issue, which concluded in June that China’s organ harvesting amounted to crimes against humanity.


Beijing has repeatedly denied accusations by human rights researchers and scholars that it forcibly takes organs from prisoners of conscience and said it stopped using organs from executed prisoners in 2015.”


After all, looking forward, executing prisoners by transplanting another brain into their body isn’t organ transplanting. And in some countries the law allows the death penalty for certain serious crimes.

So you never know, being young, fit, good-looking and driving at more than 10mph over the speed limit could well be the sort of heinous crime that deserves the death penalty.


There again, what do I know? Speak to the experts.

As a reviewer commented, “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.”

Working with livestock keeps your reflexes sharp.


At one time I used to buy a few calves. I’d get them from all over the place purchasing them off people I knew. I’d also buy them in Ulverston Auction Mart. The ‘calf ring’ was in a separate building and the buyers would stand round the ring and bid for the calf as the owner walked it into the ring. There wasn’t a lot of room because you’ve got a circular ring in a long narrow building. At one point you could have three or four rows of people watching the calves sold, but because people had to walk through that area as well, you could perhaps get three rows. People liked to stand there because you could get a good look at the calf as it walked into the ring.

Anyway I was standing there one day, I was in the ‘third’ row. There was the row hogging the ringside, a row of people behind them, a bit of a gap with people passing backwards and forwards, and then the third row, us, leaning on the wall. It wasn’t a problem, I’m tall enough and could see what I needed to see.

Anyway, one of the chaps walking through the gap between us was a dwarf. I sort of knew him, in fact he’s the only dwarf I’ve ever really met. He was part of a farming family and as far as I knew, he just earned his living farming.

Now in front of me was a young lady, a farmer’s daughter, who was watching the calves being sold. From memory they had a dairy herd and she was the one who brought the calves in for sale. As the dwarf made his way up between the rows, he pinched the young lady’s bottom.

Immediately she swung round and brought her hand round to slap the face of whoever had done this. Luckily working with livestock keeps your reflexes sharp, and I managed to get my left hand up to block her strike. Without saying a word I just pointed down with my right hand to the dwarf. She looked down, saw him, and burst out laughing. I think he was a neighbour, she certainly knew him. Anyway she apologised to me and we went back to watching the sale.


The problem with this tale is that it involves looking back on a world that no longer exists. In 2001 with foot and mouth, obviously the auction mart was closed. Then when the movement restrictions were lifted, the mart was still closed. I needed calves so had a brainwave. I would contact those farmers whose stock I’d purchased through the mart and buy calves off them direct. At least until the government opened the markets again.

Except that when I contacted the small dairy farmers who I’d traded with, they had, without exception, gone out of milk. There was a large demand for milk cows in the north of the county, and all the small farmers who farmed along the southern border of the Lake District had just taken the opportunity offered and had sold their dairy herds north. After all, economically they were marginal. Instead of the milk cows they kept some beef cattle and upped their sheep numbers. This meant that they could also get a day job as well, and finally get a bit of financial security.


And as we were talking about Gentlemen behaving badly

As a reviewer commented, “Another great set of stories as told by jobbing poet Tallis Steelyard. Fights abound and artists and poets are not the least amongst the fighters. I love these stories and sometimes think if someone were to drop me anywhere in Port Naain I could find my way, well, not home, but at least to Tallis and Shena’s barge. Jim Webster always gives us humour, wit and a wisdom he wears lightly. People like him should be running the country.”



Burning down the village to save it


There are all sorts of ethical dilemmas. Like the chap who went to the supermarket, paid for his groceries in cash and as he went out discovered that the cashier had given him a £20 note in his change when she should have given him a £5 note. This presented him with an immediate ethical dilemma. Did he keep it all for himself, or did he share it with his wife.

Which brings us seamlessly on to discussing party politics. Now I don’t discuss party politics. I’m perfectly happy to vote for a party but I draw the line at being expected to believe in them.

Still even those living outside these fair islands may perhaps have noticed that we have been having a general election. It must have been a bit like living next door to a couple having ‘a domestic argument.’ But anyway it’s over and it looks like that there is going to be an even bigger row within the Labour party.
The problem is that the Labour party lost. They didn’t merely lose, they lost spectacularly. Longstanding supporters turned against them, the party which was created to represent ordinary working class people (often the northern industrial working class) has discovered that the northern industrial working class went off and voted for the Conservatives.

There are all sorts of reasons. Picking somebody who is apparently disliked and distrusted by your core voters is never a good move. The Labour policy over Brexit could have been done better. But still. That only explains this election. The problem the Labour party has is that there appears to be a trend.

Let us look at Scotland.


1945 Scotland send 37 Labour MPs to Westminster.

1950  37

1951   35

1955   34

1959   38

1964   43

1966   46

1970   44

1974   40

1974   41

1979   44

1983   41

1987   50

1992   49

1997   56

2001   56

2005   41

2010   41

2015     1

2017     7

2019    1


Currently the Labour party are the fourth party in Scotland, having been the first party since 1959.

Now this matters because Labour has always struggled to defeat the Conservatives in England. In 2017, the dangerously hung parliament, the Conservatives had a 59 majority in England. In 2010, the Conservatives had a 103 majority in England.

Now the Labour problem is that the only leader they had who they could rely upon to win majorities in England was Tony Blair. His policy of reaching out to ‘Middle England’ was genuinely successful. The problem was that this policy didn’t resonate with the Scots. Add to that the fact that the Scots got their own devolved parliament with a different voting system, and suddenly the Scottish Nationalist party became a realistic option to vote for. Given that you have a choice of two left wing parties, one based in London and the other centred around Scotland, why would a Scot vote for the London based one?
The number of Labour seats in Scotland crashed. This means that in crude terms, the Labour party’s best hope of forming a UK wide government is in coalition with the SNP. This does not help with English voters.
It’s interesting to see what Jack McConnell, (the defeated Scottish Labour leader in 2007) said.

“I think there was initially defensiveness that was then added to anger after the SNP won in 2007.  And I have to say defensive anger is not a good starting point for a political party that’s trying to rebuild its levels of support. But that was what was driving much of Labour decision-making and tone from 2007 onwards. That there was this anger that the voters had done the wrong thing, how dare they?”

But then we get the next turn of the downward spiral. The Labour party after 2015 picked Jeremy Corbyn as its leader. We then had the referendum on leaving the EU, and in the eyes of a largely ‘remain’ party leadership, we saw the phenomena that Jack McConnell had noted earlier, “The voters had done the wrong thing, how dare they?” To be fair to Corbyn he’d always been strongly Euro Sceptic and could doubtless have worked with the result, but was trapped by his party. When you look at the referendum vote by region, only London, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain. All the other regions voted to leave. The problem is that the Labour party, when it kicked out the Blair idea of appealing to Middle England, ended up being a party that appealed mainly to student politicians and London. The party had the problem that its members were probably very strongly in the remain camp. The people who traditionally voted for it were far more divided, and perhaps forty or more percent of them voted Leave.

So we’ve had an election. Whilst the Conservatives have a majority of 80 seats, in England their majority is actually 157. This figure matters because if Scotland does become independent, the Labour party not only doesn’t have a good solid block of forty to fifty Scottish MPs following the party whip, it won’t even have fifty or so SNP MPs to form a coalition with. So in the long term, whatever happens to Scotland, our Labour party has to be able to win in England.
Now this matters. Our democracy works because there is a good strong opposition which is there to challenge things and shine a light onto things the government doesn’t really want to see brought out into the open. We need a strong Labour party, just as we need a strong Conservative party. Other parties seem to exist to put forward ideas for the main parties to steal. Which is fine, it means we keep moving forward. The best thing to keep politicians honest and to keep grubby fingers out of the till is the knowledge that in a couple of years, there will be an election and your political opponents will be going through the books in forensic detail. As Mark Twain said, politicians are like nappies and should be changed frequently for the same reason.

So now we have the Labour Party about to start the process of picking a new leader. I’m not being nasty to Londoners here, but frankly I don’t think a London MP, who lives and works in London, is going to be the person who takes the party back out into the rest of England.

The problem for the country is that the Labour party is at a fork in the road. The easy way would be for it to drift into being a southern, metropolitan, party. The problem with that is that somebody else will become the party of the Northern working class. If the Libdems hadn’t been so committed to remaining in the EU, they might have been able to chase Labour out of its northern seats. Labour has to realise that it isn’t the only alternative to the Conservatives available.
The other fork has the Labour party coming back with a leader and a party machine that is willing to get in touch with voters outside London. A party that will listen to them and take their ideas on board. Not a party that parachutes ‘safe’ candidates, ‘people like us,’ into Northern seats. (One is reminded of when Peter Mandelson, parachuted in as MP for Hartlepool, went into a local fish and chip shop and was pleased to see that they had guacamole. There again, had he ever eaten mushy peas?)
But to take the second fork, something is going to have to be done to get a far broader membership that would vote for somebody who isn’t on the far left, and I suspect the fighting will be vicious.
Hence the title of the blog, burning down the village to save it.


(For those not old enough to remember the origin of the phase, “When the phrase was first published on Feb. 8, 1968, the New York Times buried the dispatch containing it, printing just two paragraphs on the battle of Ben Tre. Almost instantly, however, the line was being misquoted everywhere. On Feb. 10, an Oregon newspaper rendered it “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.”)


There again, what do I know about this sort of stuff? Speak to an expert


As a reviewer commented, “and sometimes I just sits.
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.”

Whistling in the dark


The other morning I ended up getting up earlier than usual start. I had to be in Penrith for not long after 9am. So this meant that I was doing various things an hour before I normally do them. So 6am found me feeding a small group of three heifers. They’re still outside so I take some dairy cake to them to supplement the last of the grass. As I floundered through the mud of the gateway, in the dark and driving rain, I suddenly realised I was whistling. So I metaphorically at least stopped to listen. For reasons I do not understand I was whistling, ‘I’m dreaming of a White Christmas.’

It has to be admitted that everything is distinctly un-Christmassy. Everything is sodden. Even Sal looks askance when I venture into a field. She picks her way rather daintily, heading in roughly the same direction, but ostentatiously avoiding the worst of the mud and trying to keep to the bits under barbed wire fences that only she can walk on. Admittedly it’s not as bad as the photo. Still we’re getting there.

Still, I’m inside now, there’s a good fire going, and it’s not long to coffee arrives. So I thought I’d write my blog. Which is handy because I can mention in passing that I’ve been put forward for Blogger Recognition Award. This has rules, but then everything has rules. As far as I’m concerned it’s a way of letting people discover new blogs.




  1. Thank the blogger(s) who nominated you and provide a link to their blog.


Well that’s easy, it was Stevie at who nominated me.


  1. Write a post to show your award.


Yep, doing that one.


  1. Give a brief story of how your blog started.


Well I wrote a book. And once you write a book, you’re doomed to a lifetime of trying to convince people to buy it. So I had to do facebook. I tried doing twitter but because I only access the internet on a desktop computer, twitter doesn’t work because I wasn’t looking at it often enough. Now I just set the automatics to post stuff to twitter and don’t look at it every month. If anybody asks me about it, I merely reply, “I have my people to do twitter.” You have to admit this is one up on just saying, “Life is too short to spend my life chained to my computer.”
But at the same time, back in 2012, I realised I had to have a blog, to tell people how wonderful my book was.
But frankly it’s a very limited subject. At the end of the first blog post I’d got bored of the topic, and I suspect the readers had given up on it before I did. So I just started blogging about what I know, which is why cattle, sheep, Border Collies and quadbikes make regular appearances.




  1. Give two pieces of advice to new bloggers.


Try and stick to one blog post a week. Any less and people will forget you. Any more often and you’ll never get anything else done.


Write about life, what you know, and stuff that interests you. Then at least you’re enjoying it. If you enjoy your blog, there’s at least half a chance that others might as well.


  1. Select up to fifteen bloggers you want to give this award to.


In no particular order, I’d mention

Sue Vincent

M T Mcguire

Robbie Cheadle

The writers’ Co-op

Colleen Chesebro

Chris Graham

Ashlynn Waterstone

Ken Gierke

Willow Willers

Ritu Bhathal

Anita and Jaye

I’d advise anybody to check these blogs out. I’ve just done a blog tour with them, during which I released a novella, and each blog had one chapter. It was a lot of fun and I hope they enjoyed it as much as I did.


  1. Comment (or pingback) on each blog to let them know that you’ve nominated them and provide a link to the post you’ve created.


Must remember to do this one.


And if you were wondering about the novella we published together, it’s available here


Life for a jobbing poet is difficult. You have to be flexible with regard to your art. One day you’re organising an elegant soiree, the next a pie eating contest. Yet all the while you are striving to raise the tone and to ensure that decency, dignity, and an appreciation of the fine arts prevails.
And sadly it appears that the more honest your attempts, the more noble your endeavours, the more likely it is that you end up making enemies. Tallis helps out the family of an old friend, obliges a patron, and does his best to aid the authorities in the administration of justice. Each time he merely manages to upset the powerful, the petty, and the vindictive.

What happens in school stays in school?

what happens in school stays in school

Teaching is my families other profession. My mother, sister and various cousins all taught for a living. So by adding their memories to mine I’ve seen schools evolve from 1948 to now. The world my mother entered is probably unrecognisable now. At teacher training college after the war, the college held one dance per term. The RAF officer cadets from a nearby training school were invited.

Young ladies sat along one wall of the dance floor, young gentlemen sat down the opposite wall. The RAF officer commanding and the Lady College Principal sat on the stage, each with their second in command to act as a runner. Should a gentleman wish to dance with a lady, he would go up onto the stage, ask his officer commanding, who would in turn ask the principal, who would send her second in command to collect the young lady in question. They would be formally introduced and thus were allowed to dance together.

The college also has a small number of sitting rooms. If a young gentleman arrived and was either the brother of the student, or came armed with a strongly worded letter from the young lady’s parents, she was allowed to entertain him to afternoon tea. The sitting rooms of course had no doors.

My mother and one other teacher (neither over twenty) with the assistance of an elderly single lady who was the ‘infant help’ used to take two classes of the youngest children on a farm visit. They walked the three-quarters of a mile. One hundred children, three adults, children in column of twos, holding hands with a teacher at the front, another at the back and the help in the middle.

Obviously time moves on. One of the ladies of our family taught at a school where there was a ‘safeguarding incident’. Both the union and the local education authority closed ranks to blame it on the headmaster who had a nervous breakdown and had to take early retirement. Apparently (and remember I was not there at the time) in the meeting after to formally smooth over any cracks, my kinswoman told them what she thought of them. In short sentences. One can see the influence of my maternal grandparents at times. In our family we rarely take prisoners and if we do it’s not for peaceful purposes.

My own schooldays lacked drama. I always felt semi-detached from the classroom, almost like an anthropologist who is studying a strange indigenous people that has recently been brought to his attention. I think one of the few times I attracted attention was when it was discovered I had no idea about the rules of soccer. I was perhaps six or seven at this time, and the only sport I’d really seen was rugby on the TV, because there was a spell of televising evening games. These happened to be at a time when my father had finished milking and so could get to see them.

But the reason for all these reminiscences is that a friend and fellow blogger has published a book set in the world of education. Given she comes well recommended (and not just by me,) I thought I’d mention it.


It’s called, “Examining Kitchen Cupboards” by Stevie Turner. Buy it today because it’s on offer at just £0.99/$0.99 for the day of launch.



As a reviewer commented, “Stevie Turner never disappoints. From her fictional family sagas to her nonfiction, and mystery/thrillers, she knows how to keep a reader engaged. In this telling book, Turner takes us into a story, which begins with Jill Hayes – a college examinations admin whose curiosity leads to her discovery that something is awry with the exams given to high school students for their college entrance exams – the questions are much too junior for the high school age level students, making it a cinch for them to get accepted to college. As Jill delves deeper into the basis for such juvenile questions, her life becomes threatened and we’re taken into a whole other world of corporate greed at the expense of students’ education and government funding.

Jill’s personal investigations lead right to the higher ups involved in the ring, and through the unveiling of her findings, we are led into the private lives of these criminals and colourful characters, spreading beyond the discoveries into international crime, lies, affairs and ultimately, murder.


Based on a factual occurrence of the exam findings, this book had me engrossed on the topic itself, but Turner takes the situation to a whole new level with the plot and intrigue created in this story. A fun, short and engrossing read for a cosy thriller reading escape.



Headbutting a rock, and other hobbies

I love his stories, but I’m never going hang gliding with him 🙂


Headbutting Rocks is a strange hobby

Both my publicist (doesn’t that make me sound upmarket?) and several former publishers have encouraged me to write blog posts in which I ‘interview’ the main character, and perhaps a few other characters, from a forthcoming book. With Galactic Fugitive launched, and Star Spy -the final planned book in this first Space Opera collection – now in editing, I have been reminded by them again that this would be a brilliant idea.

There is a problem. A big problem. You see, and I haven’t admitted this before: there is something about the main character, the hapless Frank Eric Russell. Now the name may be vaguely familiar to some of you. I make no apology for thoroughly enjoying the 1950s and 1960s sci fi scene. One of the writers then was Eric Frank Russell, and I would commend all his works to you. If you…

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You cannot get the staff


A young city couple are driving down a country lane on their way to visit some friends. They suddenly came to a muddy patch in the road and didn’t stop in time, so the car got bogged down and stuck. After a few minutes of trying to get the car out by themselves, they saw a young farmer coming down the lane, driving some oxen in front of him.  The young farmer stopped when he saw the couple in trouble and offered to use the oxen to pull the car out of the mud for £100.  (It’s cheaper using a tractor but oxen are more culturally appropriate.) The couple accepted and a few minutes later the car was free.

Afterward, the farmer said to them, “You know, you’re the tenth car I’ve helped out of the mud today.”

The husband looks around at the fields and asked the farmer, “When do you have time to plough your land? At night?”

The young farmer says, “Oh no. Night is when I put the water in the hole.”

Nowadays we call that diversification. But still over the years there have been trends in farming that have been paralleled in life around us. I remember back in the late 1960s my father commented that we’d build the herd up to thirty milk cows and it would support us both. Now ninety milk cows on the same farm would struggle to support one family. At the same time, the number of people employed in farming has fallen. Indeed looking back to the early 60s, my Grandfather, on this farm and the next, had three men and a lad. He was supporting four families at least. Now the same land would struggle to support two.

There are two reasons. One is that food prices have been driven down over the years. Cheap imports and government policy have combined to ensure that the proportion of their income a family spends on food has fallen. Back in 1957 a family spent 33% of the family budget on food, by 2006 it was 15%.

In agriculture it’s been interesting to watch. Rather than mechanisation driving people away, it looks as if it was a case of mechanisation coming in to replace the men who’d left. First during the war, but then when they came home, a large proportion of men who had worked on the land decided that they’d move into the towns and enjoy the far higher standard of living.
The problem with mechanisation is that it lacks flexibility. The robotic milking stall can replace a cowman, but it cannot drive a silage trailer which the cowman used to do when he wasn’t milking. It cannot put in a couple of hours a day hedging or fencing. So the tasks which ought to be done for the look of the thing and the good of the environment don’t get done because there’s nobody to do them.

Generally it looks as if fuel and clothes have got comparatively cheaper whilst housing, transport and ‘leisure goods and services’ have become more expensive.
The problem is that money has been sucked out of other sectors to fund housing.




But the effect of housing costs has had an impact on the rest of society. When I was at school some of my friends had mothers who worked, mine did, she was a teacher. But the proportion of families with two people working has increased massively.

This has advantages. Some men and women now in the workforce have fulfilling jobs or careers they enjoy and they get immense job satisfaction. Unfortunately for a fair proportion, the job is just a way to earn money to ensure that they can pay the mortgage and feed the family, and roll on weekend.

Capture 2


What society did was totally undervalue the contribution of those who decided to prioritise child-rearing instead of employment. The ‘stay at home’ parent rarely ‘stayed at home.’ These people were the ones who brought the new blood and enthusiasm to so many village and community institutions.


So now in village communities we see communities struggling to survive. Ignore those blighted by second homes where the house could stand empty for months at a time, we now have the villages which are reduced to dormitory status. Both parents leave first thing in a morning and return late at night. By the time they’ve managed a little family time with the children there genuinely isn’t the time (or energy) left to take part in planning the village Christmas party or concert.


There again what do I know? Tell you what, cheer yourself up with a good book.

As a reviewer commented, “Benor Dorfinngil learns new skills in this story. He sets out to help a friend and he definitely gets into deep water. I always enjoy these little tales which sometimes take a surprising turn. If you’ve not read any before I think you could just dive straight in.”