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The world of cute lambs and the tuna melt panini.


It has been said that the world is a magical place full of people waiting to be offended by something. This is probably true, but today, perhaps by accident, I might not offend anybody at all. I know it seems unlikely but in an infinite universe pretty well anything should be possible.

So this morning another hogg lambed. Working backwards on our fingers she wasn’t technically anyway near any of the tups when the lamb was conceived. So how had she managed it? All I can say is that she isn’t the first young lady who has wandered in shyly carrying a baby and hoping against hope that the overall atmosphere of cuteness will stop people asking difficult and embarrassing questions. So anyway the proud mum has brought her offspring into a parched world which is somewhat at odds with the world the other lambs arrived into. Instead of the ‘beast from the east’ we’re reliving the spirit of 1976, and the only green thing in the photograph is a thistle.

When it gets old enough to discuss things with other lambs, their tales of cold winds and driving rain are going to be met with stubborn disbelief. And of course, when you’re this age, grass has always been brown and crispy.

Still it’s happy and mum’s happy and everything’s fine.

Sal is also happy. Sal is a small Border Collie bitch with a taste for the finer things in life. We already knew she had a liking for pizza and warm sausage rolls. But the other day, through circumstances too complicated to discuss now, we acquired a very slightly time expired tuna melt panini.

Now I realise that the world contains many people who adore tuna. I admit to being someone who doesn’t particularly like tuna. So I sliced it as you would a loaf and dropped some pieces in the bottom of Sal’s food bowl before adding the biscuits.

Sal has added tuna melt panini to her list of foods that make for a superior dining experience.

So not long after feeding her I noticed that most of the sheep had moved from one field to the next. This is a good thing, tomorrow they’ll have to be fastened in the other field anyway so that we can take a fence down. So I collected Sal with the idea of moving the rest of them through and shutting the gate on them.

Sal shot off towards the sheep, screeched to a halt and ran back to her food bowl, grabbed another piece of her panini and then went to move the sheep. Personally I suspect that it’s the cheese rather than the tuna but even so, she seems to enjoy it. I can imagine the advertising slogan. ‘Border collies prefer our panini to sheep.’

Now amongst the sheep were our young mum and her lamb. They’d found a place in the shade, sitting in a cattle creep feeder. Sal rapidly moved the rest of the sheep through the gate and then came back to glare at the laggard. Time was wasting; panini doesn’t eat itself you know.

But the concerned mum wasn’t going out of her way to be cooperative. Sal slots nicely into the ‘wolf’ end of a sheep’s recognition chart and there was no way she was taking her darling child out there into the blazing sun with wolves prowling.

Sal couldn’t get in because our young mum nicely blocked the entrance and was perfectly happy to come out at speed, forehead first if Sal tried it on. So eventually I had to go in, collect the lamb and mum followed behind me, muttering under her breath about the fact that the world seems to be going to the dogs.

Sal trotted behind, moderately happy with the way things were finally moving forward.

Then with the last two in the field and the gate shut, she glanced briefly at me before running off to finish her tea.



Oh yes, and I got a book review, well two actually



A Measured Response

Benor the cartographer is offered a job away from home with unusually generous pay. It all has to be done on the quiet, too. Something’s up. Benor has a murder to solve. I thought he had, but there’s more to come. This story is a murder mystery and a comedy of manners, set in a world of fantasy. If you like a genre mashup, this is brilliant. The characters and their relationships and banter would make it worth reading even if it didn’t have a plot – but it does. Another winner for me.




A Licence to Print Money

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.


go on, treat yourself, because you’re worth it.


Pontifications along a road less travelled.  Shall they fold their tents and as silently steal away?



Let us imagine a purely hypothetical situation. Because it obviously couldn’t happen could it? I mean, not in a civilised country!

But anyway let’s assume you have a young man. In this case stress the young. Oh we not doubting the man part of it, but if he was any younger you’d probably call him a youth, but that’s verging on being an insult nowadays. Because youths are the ones who hang around on street corners and get into trouble with the police.

Still, accept the ‘man’ part of it but stress to yourself the ‘young.’

Anyway, just to make things difficult for him, let’s assume he’s been in ‘care.’ With several different local authorities; which screws up his hopes of getting much in the way of education.

Obviously I’m gilding the lily here for the sake of hypothetical example, because they say it could never happen.

“And Brutus is an honourable man.”


Then, just to put a tin hat on it, imagine that because of the complexity of the benefits system, he applies for the wrong benefit, doesn’t get his rent paid and ends up homeless.

So the local authority is asked to step up to the mark and do its bit to rescue one of our fellow citizens. They spring into action, and what do they provide him with?
A tent.


“I would not do Brutus wrong, and Cassius wrong,

Who, you all know, are honourable men:”


I suppose it’s a consolation to know that we’ve not got to that situation with young women yet.

And as one older chap pointed out to me, it never does any good coming to the attention of the authorities if you’re a young man. Some of his contemporaries were noticed and were given a rifle and are now buried somewhere foreign but exotic. To be fair, there are times when the state does want the services of young men, but they are thankfully few and far between.

But still, when you’ve got your tent, where on earth do you pitch it? Ideally it should be somewhere secluded where the kids won’t find it and torch it, perhaps with you inside. But close enough to the town centre to walk in to try and talk to the various agencies who between them might find you somewhere to live. Ideally a place with a door you can lock behind you, not canvas that might be burning even as you discuss your uncertain future.


At this point I can imagine people are gnashing their teeth and talking about wicked tories.

But actually the local authority who handed out the tent is labour controlled.

Yet, I hear you cry, it’s the wicked tories who robbed the local authority of the money to do anything.

Which is fine, but I’d ask another question. If you’re a councillor for this authority, how do you face yourself in the shaving mirror in the morning? (Or the appropriate female equivalent however you self-identify.) If there’s the money to pay attendance allowance to councillors, if there’s money to pay for ‘hospitality’ then perhaps, just perhaps, it could be used to ensure that young men get better provision than just a tent?


“Will you be patient? will you stay awhile?

I have o’ershot myself to tell you of it:

I fear I wrong the honourable men.”

One thing you notice when you get involved in this area of the charity world. Politicians have a very nuanced attitude to these charities. If they’re in government then the charities working in this area are a reproach. These bodies are proof that all is not well. Charities working with animals or foreigners are fine, but those who’re picking up the pieces after our ‘social care system’ has run amok through people’s lives are a pretty strident rebuke.

If the politicians are in opposition then the charities are handy. You can point to them as proof that your opponents policies are not working. Except that everybody knows that the need was there before and will still be there when governments change. Hence even oppositions tend to be nuanced. You don’t want to say anything that will be quoted against you when you eventually gain office.

And yes, there are honourable exceptions; very honourable exceptions. It’s a pity that they’re the exceptions.


And so the system grinds on, volunteers apply sticking plasters. Volunteers keep people alive, showered and even dressed in clean clothes so that when they have to go to an interview they can feel some self respect.

We’re getting it off pat, this church houses a Foodbank, that church houses a clothes bank, that church has shower facilities and can provide clean underwear.

But I’m afraid that we’re getting to the stage where we really ought to remember the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu who said, “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.”


“If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.”


Pontifications along a road less travelled. Kids today, they show no respect.



I realise I don’t count. Brought up outside town I was driving tractors at the age of eight. At the age of fifteen I just walked out of a whole class detention at 3:45pm precisely explaining that some of us had work to do. I’d promised my father I’d start milking because he needed to go to a farm sale to try and buy something. So I courteously told the teacher that if this was a problem they’d have to take it up with him. (They never did.)
But something is going wrong.
Let’s get one thing straight here. It’s not the kids that are going wrong. They only know the way they were brought up. So what are the parents doing wrong?
And how exactly did the grandparent generation screw up to produce the parents?
I was reading a post somebody had made on their facebook page which, thanks to the wonder of algorithms, turned up on my wall. Effectively what had happened is that he’d gone to the Britain First (or some other such facebook group he found nasty and unpleasant.) When you go to a new group, facebook tell you which of your friends liked the group. He’d discovered that he’d several ‘facebook friends’ who were in the group so he immediately unfriended them.

And then proceeded to brag, virtuously, about his deed.

So out of curiosity I went to the same group, and lo, it was true. There was a list of my ‘facebook friends’ who’d liked the group. I looked at the list, nodded and moved on.

Then below his post I commented that, yes, I’d done the same. He immediately replied with, “Did you ‘unfriend them.’

To which I replied, ‘No, they’re real people, I know them in the real world.”

I did. They were decent young men. The sort of lads who, if they found you’d dropped your wallet, would have raced after you to hand it back. They’re in work and they’re hard working. Some of them are in retail, putting up with a lot of gobby crap from people of their parent’s generation who’ll complain about them without even raising their eyes from their phones as they do it.

These are the ones who’ll be working to contribute towards my state pension should the government ever deign to pay me one. They’re the ones we send to unpleasant parts of the world to die because some muppet in Westminster feels the urge to ‘send out a message.’ I’m not sure any more of how many friends I have with PTSD!


But anyway, just a thought; if you want people to respect you, how about being worthy of respect?



At this point I’ll normally try and sell you a book. But you know what. Somehow I just haven’t got it in me. If you want to do me a favour, when you’re in the coffee shop or supermarket or whatever, just put your phone away and chat pleasantly with the young person who’s serving you. Show them how a proper adult behaves.

Pontifications along a road less travelled. Citizens, honest toil awaits


Gather round citizens and briefly rest from your labours. But not for long, our new society will not build itself. Refreshed by the stirring words of those who have so heroically marked out our path we shall strive to exceed what we have already achieved. Fellow Stakhanovites we must work without expectation of reward. ‘From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.’ Not for us the hoarding of petty pleasures, the grasping for ever more of the dross that the wages of a corrupt system will buy you. It is the duty of a citizen to pour themselves into the task the State has found for them and accept, at the end of the day, the few simple pleasures the State affords you.

Pot 1, for those who fall behind production quotas and the disabled, will comprise 600gm rye bread, 100gm kasha (buckwheat porridge), 500gm potatoes and vegetables, 128gm fish, 30gm meat, 10gm sugar and 20gm salt.


Pot 2, for those who fulfil production quotas, comprises 1,200gm rye bread, 60gm wheat, 130gm kasha, 600gm potatoes and vegetables, 158gm fish, 30gm meat, 13gm sugar and 20gm salt.


For Stakhanovites, those who exceeded the quotas; will be added 200gm bread, 50gm wheat, 150gm potatoes and vegetables, 34gm fish and 150gm meat.


Now citizens I have heard rumours that some counterrevolutionary elements have been whispering amongst themselves about ‘work-life balance, job satisfaction, career progression’ and other such nonsense.
Remember citizen the second of the sacred and fundamental laws! “Every citizen will be a public person, sustained by, supported by, and occupied at the public expense.”

The State will feed you; the State will provide you a simple bunk bed on which you may enjoy the slumber that comes to those who have truly laboured. The State will tell you what you must do to serve. Your job satisfaction comes from knowing that your labour is directed by those of your fellow citizens who are far wiser than you.

Take as your beacon the shining example of the citizens who laboured in the mines of Kolyma. Although many were class traitors and similar scum, they sought salvation through labour, and gave their worthless lives that the State could build the new world we have been promised.

Or take as your standard bearers the heroic prisoners justly cast into jail by our Chinese comrades. They have not baulked at making their very organs available for the good of the State. Ask yourself citizen, do you really need two kidneys? Is it not a sign of significant capitalist tendencies to want to hoard both of them when the State already knows of a worthy recipient?


No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again: but already it was impossible to say which was which.”


And if anybody asks you to sacrifice something for a cause, to ‘take one for the team,’ then you know it’s to their advantage, not yours. If it was to your advantage, they’d have told you.

Pontifications along a road less travelled, but it’s on the website.



A friend of mine was trying to get hold of her bank. The problem was that you cannot speak to a person, all you get is menus. You now have to email them. They promise they will answer the email after three days, but a week later she was still waiting.

She wanted to tell them somebody had died and obviously the account needed dealing with. Finally after searching the website for the umpteenth time, she found a note about bereavement and there was actually a phone number. The person she talked to was good, helpful and hopefully the matter is sorted.

Once upon a time, if you didn’t want to hand out information to somebody you had to hide it. To quote the late, great, Douglas Adams;-


“But the plans were on display…”

“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”

“That’s the display department.”

“With a flashlight.”

“Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”

“So had the stairs.”

“But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.”


But now, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, you merely have to stick it on the organisation’s website and it’s gone for ever. Obviously you have to be technologically competent. The last thing you want is for people to find it by accident using google.

So make sure it can only be accessed from a drop down menu, which itself drops down from close to the bottom of another drop down menu. If it’s at the bottom of the menus, it ensures that people looking on something with a small screen will struggle to find it. Not only that, but even with large screens the menus will disappear if the mouse moves a twitch in the wrong direction.

Oh yes and put it in with other stuff which is only vaguely related. Obviously you cannot legitimately hide it in with something totally unrelated. But let’s assume that you’ve got stuff you want to hide about Harrogate. Perhaps one of the staff in your branch there has been found guilty of miss-selling stuff. So obviously that’s a personnel issue and surely nobody can object if you file the Harrogate stuff in the personnel section. And because of GDPR you can make it password protected as well.

Even when organisations aren’t trying to hide stuff, some of them ought to realise that merely putting it on the website isn’t enough. I was once trying to find out something about Animal Health regulations and contacted our State Veterinary organisation. (Which keeps changing its name, which makes internet searching such fun).

The lady at the other end asked, “Have you looked at our website?”

Proudly I replied, “Of course not. Life’s too short.”

There was a brief period of silence and she said, “You’re right, it is isn’t it.”

If ever I get to the stage where I’m browsing that sort of website in my leisure hours, it’s probably time to up the medication!



Oh, but given that you’ve found this website, I thought I’d do the decent thing and suggest that you read a good book instead.


Personally I’d recommend



Yours for a mere ninety-nine pence!

Hired to do a comparatively simple piece of mapping work Benor should perhaps have been suspicious when the pay seemed generous.
Will he ever get to the bottom of what is going on?
How rough is the rough justice of rural Partann?
How to clean out a privy with a crossbow. Welcome to the pastoral idyll.


Pontifications along a road less travelled, blog that, darling.



Somebody pointed out this photograph to me with the comment that somebody had kicked off a row over the university offering a qualification in Mansplaining.

I just shrugged. I mean if they want to get upset about something to do with universities, perhaps they’d get upset about the fact that working class white males are such a rare beast in universities. Apparently young women who were on free school meals are 51% more likely to go into higher education than comparable young men.

Another mate looked at the photograph and commented that he assumed it was the common room in his daughter’s primary school on ‘dress down Friday.’ The man is the janitor. (26% of teachers in England are men – accounting for 38% of secondary and 15% of primary school teachers.)
Also next time they give out the A level or GCSE results, just check the photos in the local paper. After looking at the photos of successful candidates in our local paper I was left to conclude that boys no longer did A levels. Certainly they rarely seemed to get their photos in the paper over it.

But never mind. Perhaps I should point out there are times when the State decides that there aren’t enough men entering a certain occupation. If the State decides it’s important enough, it just conscripts them, hands them a rifle and a uniform and leaves them to get on with it. Perhaps in the interests of fairness we ought to merely conscript into some trades and professions to get the gender balance correct. At the age of 16 you’d get assigned, based on a quick physical examination, to the trade and profession the computer has assigned you, taking no account whatsoever of anything so gender based as your interests or aptitude.

Do you get the impression I’m not taking this whole debate entirely seriously?


But anyway the Southern Universities Network did a survey of what we might call young working class males and asked them why they didn’t go to university. Some of the things they discovered were ;-


  • Males from low HE (Higher Education) participation areas appear less motivated by financial rewards than their peers from areas with higher HE progression rates, and more motivated by finding a career that suits their interests and skills.


  • Males from low HE participation areas were less convinced in terms of their interest in HE at the pre -16 stage of education.


  • They were also less likely to say that they would enjoy being a university student and that university is necessary for the career they have in mind. They were much less likely to view HE as affordable and post -16 learners were concerned about their ability to get in and fit in. Overall, HE is perceived as a risky strategy.


  • Alternatives to HE, including progression to apprenticeships, were frequently viewed as a ‘better’ option by vocational learners, although this may well reflect the increased understanding they had about this route compared to HE.


And the Southern Universities Network response, to find ways to encourage more of them to go to university. After all that was the whole purpose of the exercise. If people stop going to university some of the people working in Universities might have to get a job.


Actually it strikes me that these lads had their heads well screwed on. I know too many people with degrees who are asking the age old question. “Do you want fries with that?”

But then I’m wary of being accused of mansplaining if I go on for too long.

But anyway, if you think somebody is mansplaining to you, then you can get upset about it and make a fuss.

Or you could do what men have been doing for millennia in similar circumstances when a lady is talking to them. Just get on with thinking about whatever it was you were thinking about, and say ‘yes dear’ at appropriate intervals.

(In reality the ladies I know have long ago mastered their coping strategies for both ‘mansplaining’ and inattentive husbands. I shall say no more more.)


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




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. 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.

Lambent Dreams Cover5



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


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.