Dulce et decorum est

 

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This time of year can be difficult for the diligent Border Collie. All these charming lambs scampering about might look delightful but they’ve got no respect. As old Jess would doubtless have said, if she could be bothered lowering herself to communicating verbally, “If you haven’t got respect, you’ve got nothing.”

From the working canine viewpoint lambs are a nightmare. They don’t know the rules; they are as likely to walk up to the dog to see what’s going on as they are to run away. Then when they do run away they do so apparently at random and at speed.

Added to this, when they’re still young, if the dog gets too close, Mum is going to march up and stamp her foot at you. It’s not the foot stamping that’s the problem; it’s the fact that she too is now moving in exactly the opposite direction to that intended, or not moving at all.

Once lambs get to a certain age Mum seems to relinquish her defensive role. Whether she reckons they’re big enough or fast enough to look after themselves I don’t know.

The other problem is that lambs play. One time we were fetching a mixed batch of ewes and lambs down a lane. One of the lambs (twenty kilos in weight so no longer winningly cute) kept running back the way the flock had come. Nel, who was a properly trained sheepdog, would run after it, turn it, and bring it back. The lamb did this three times, running poor Nel ragged. On the fourth attempt the lamb found old Jess standing in front of it. Jess merely snapped, her teeth meeting so close to the lamb’s nose that it must have felt the draught. The lamb stared at Jess, shrugged, turned round and trotted on with the rest. You got the feeling the lamb felt it wasn’t fun any more.

But let’s just run through today’s simple task ‘looking sheep.’ First I have to take some feed to the ewes and lambs in the field behind the farm. These are a mixture of the ewes who lambed last (so still need a bit of feed) plus ‘pet lambs’ who somehow misplaced their mother. Or perhaps their mother misplaced them. Either way they’ve been bottle reared and are now out on grass but are too small to play with the grown-ups. They also need something to make up for the fact that they’re not getting any milk from mum.

This is easily done, I walk into the field and they come across to see me and I just put the feed down in small piles. Sal, providing as she does, the canine oversight, has nothing to do and just wanders off to one side, nose to the ground, working out what happened last night.

Then I have to take slightly more feed to the rest of the sheep. This means I have to pass through those I’ve already fed. They’re still eating so aren’t interested. Except, that is, for two of the oldest ‘pet lambs’ who immediately abandon the others and follow me. They’ve worked out that if they look suitably pathetic then I’ll give them something out of the bag I’m carrying. These two are both ewe lambs and are being reared with the idea of them joining the flock and having lambs of their own. Because they’re hand-reared they’ll be a little more domesticated than the rest, which is a mixed blessing. Yes they’ll be easy to handle, but because they’ll follow when they should be driven and doubtless give cheek to the dog, they can also confuse the rest of the flock. Still I give them a little more feed and go into the next field.

At this point the others see me. So far things have been pretty decorous. I think the sheep in the smaller group have worked out that I’m leaving them plenty. In the big group they’re only getting a handful each. They’ve worked out that the last sheep to Jim isn’t going to get anything. So I’m making my way through a surging sea of sheep who frankly don’t care. They’re banging against me and ricocheting off each other. When you get a really large number of sheep being fed it’s not unusual for people to be knocked down. This tends to happen when a ewe moving at speed hits you on the back of the legs at knee height.

Still I keep my feet. Sal watches this from afar. She’s going wide, bimbling about out on one flank. Occasionally she’ll find a ewe or lamb who is either fast asleep and hasn’t noticed my arrival, or alternatively is feeling under the weather and doesn’t care. In the latter case you look them over and perhaps come back later with quad and trailer if they need catching and treating.

Then suddenly we have a problem. Sal wandered through a gate and across the bridge assuming I was going that way. But I’m not. So she has to get back through the gate to follow me. Unfortunately there’s a mob of ewes standing near the gate watching her suspiciously.

For Sal this presents a problem. A Border Collie has no problems slipping through the bars of the gate. It’s just that you don’t want to be squirming through them with a rabble of belligerent ewes present. Sal is in a similar position to the young lady in a short shirt, trying to exit the sports car with dignity under the eyes of the drinkers in the pub beer garden. I can see her pondering the situation. Eventually she abandons the idea, makes her way down to the next bridge and wiggles through that gate before catching up with me. Job done, home for the next job.

 

I don’t know whether you know, but a collection of similar stories appeared under the name ‘Sometimes I sits and thinks.’

 

Available as an ebook for a mere 99p.

 

A gentleman could do no less

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Every so often a man must do what a man must do. Or something like that anyway. I was browsing through the books in a charity shop when I became aware of the presence of two ladies. From their comments they were mother and daughter and I’d guess the mother was about my age.

Mother was haranguing daughter because she felt that daughter was going to vote for the ‘wrong’ political party. Daughter was growing more and more hacked off by this but did remain civil and just squirmed a bit. The mother’s monologue was pitched at a volume that indicated that it was in no way intended to be a private conversation, being directed metaphorically over her daughter’s head at the entire shop. Have you noticed how the politically incontinent do this?

So I confess I weakened. Now I’ve shunned electioneering on the web, because it’s boring, irritating and an utter waste of everybody’s time. But here in the presence of real people I was tempted. So I turned to the mother and asked, in all innocence, a couple of questions that the party whose virtues she was trumpeting was having difficulty answering. Mother shut up briefly and daughter flashed me a smile and gave me a ‘thumbs-up’.

Mother relaunched the harangue so of course I just asked a few more innocent questions, when gaps appeared in the flow, mainly because she stopped for breath.

This discourse continued out into the street and when I turned one way and mother and daughter turned another, daughter gave me another smile and thumbs-up with both hands. Then she went on her way happily whilst mother chuntered about me instead of haranguing her daughter. Surely something I can mark up as a success.

Actually given the length of time I’ve been exposed to UK politics, it doesn’t really matter what the opinions of the mother were and what party she advocated, I’d still have been able to ask embarrassing questions to put her off her stride. Politicians and those who regard politics as a participation sport seem to forget that we, the great unwashed and unlearned, aren’t entirely lacking in observational abilities. We don’t just sit in a hole eating worms waiting for the wise to open the lid, let a little daylight in, and generously tell us what to think.

So when somebody starts spouting off as how their favoured party, be it Labour/Conservative/Libdem/UKIP (delete as you feel appropriate) has all the answers whilst conversely Labour/Conservative/Libdem/UKIP (delete as you feel appropriate) is the party of the anti-Christ they run into problems. Especially if they do this in the presence of people who’ve actually lived in the same country for a couple of decades and have a sense of humour. Although in my case I’m hoping to hold out for ‘determination to do my Chivalric duty’ as opposed to ‘sense of humour’ or ‘being a stirring beggar who just likes winding people up.’

But the whole thing started me thinking, which is always a dangerous situation to get into. There are various bodies, be they charities, political parties or churches which attempt to get our attention and win our support. Now the political parties largely seem to work on the principle that for most of the time they can get by with just hectoring us from afar, just so we don’t forget them. Then when they actually need us they deluge us with junk mail and candidates. The problem with this is that it doesn’t seem to work too well. People remember the hectoring as they drop the junk mail into the recycling.

The churches, perhaps because they’ve been doing it for longer, have tried a wider variety of stances. Yes some harangue you and thrust tracts through the door but don’t say hi when they meet you in the street. But the best have picked up on what Christ said about generally helping out and being nice to people.

Now in all candour, being nice to all people, the good, the bad and the politically incontinent, is tough and faced with a lifetime of it; most people would probably accept martyrdom as a preferred alternative. But we can see where in some congregations they find they have individuals who have a gift for dealing with people and a real determination to do something for the homeless, the dying, the prisoners. The successful churches get behind these people, providing them with the support they need to do the work, and those church members who like me find loving my neighbour damned hard work at times can still do our bit to support them and help keep the show on the road.

It reminds me of the quote, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Perhaps if our political parties tried to reach out to us through their good works rather than their speeches and promises, then we’d take them more seriously?

But frankly I don’t see it catching on. It’s not the easiest road to walk. The Christian church has been trying it for the last two thousand years with mixed success.

 

Oh and back to the real world, we have this blue faced ewe who lambed for the first time last year. It was a nightmare lambing and she had all sorts of problems after it. We weren’t even sure if she’d get in lamb this year. Anyway she did but it seems to have taken some doing because she was obviously going to be the last to lamb.

The others finished lambing at least a fortnight ago and our blue faced lady has remained in the pen, accompanied by another ewe who has lambed a while back but has metabolism issues. She was fine, unless the weather suddenly went cold, at which point she collapsed with severe low blood sugar.

Anyway, yesterday the decision was taken that this was getting silly, the blood sugar lady seemed to be sorted so the decision was taken to let them both out, into somewhere handy. We’d just have to hope that our blue faced ewe would be easy to catch and help if there were any problems.

This morning I went out to check sheep and the blue faced lady was there with her two new blue faced lambs, happy as larry and wondering what all the fuss was about.

Sometimes a lady can do no less either.

And farewell to all that!

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This morning those lambs remaining from last year’s crop were loaded and left. They were by and large those who had perhaps not shone in the past. Still when the weather got cold they were considered a bit delicate and whilst the rest stayed outside these were whisked inside and pampered a bit. Having sheep inside brings its own problems.

Wearing a thick woolly jacket they have problems with temperature regulation, they can get too hot, sweaty and can go down with pneumonia and all sorts of other problems. Then because they’re on bedding, their feet get soft and overgrown and they go lame. So it’s a relief for everybody when they can go back outside as nature (cruel mistress that she is) intended.

We had one who did suffer from its feet. When it came inside we trimmed them because they were a bit overgrown. It seems to have a genetic predisposition to rapid horn growth because I had to trim the feet whilst it was inside and when we put them outside again; I trimmed them for a third time. But it kept hobbling around like an old woman with bunions.

So obviously we kept up the treatment. I would go in with both quad and Sal and I’d catch it. This involved Sal dancing in front of it. The lamb, (about thirty something kilos so we’ve long past the cute stage.) would be far too busy keeping an eye on Sal to worry about me and I’d catch it, turn it onto its back and spray its feet with the magical green spray which clears out various infections.

I did this twice and whilst it got rid of the infections, it didn’t seem to improve things much. So next time I caught it I put it in the back of the trailer and fetched it home. I then stood it with its feet in a bucket of Zinc sulphate solution. So Sal stared at the sheep, the sheep stared at Sal, and I held the sheep in place for twenty minutes and read a little of ‘Three men in a boat,’ by Jerome K Jerome. (Highly recommended if you’ve never read it.)

 

www.amazon.co.uk/Three-Men-Boat-Jerome-Klapka-ebook/dp/B004UJL1KK

 

I then turned the sheep back out with its mates. When I looked at our patient next day it seemed to be much improved. So the following day Sal and I caught it again and gave it another couple of chapters of Jerome K Jerome.

Since then it’s been walking well; so that’s one I can mark down as a success.

But bringing sheep inside always does seem to lead to problems. Ideally lambing ewes stay in for as short a period as possible. Being inside doesn’t do sheep any good.

In another life in another world I had to help somebody who was having trouble with their local trading standards department. Apparently the previous winter they’d had a blizzard and lost ten or a dozen Fell sheep to the weather. Given there were a couple of thousand sheep in the flock my first thought was that they’d done pretty well, and deserved congratulating on the high calibre of their shepherding.

But their local trading standards department seemed to think that it was cruelty because they hadn’t brought the sheep in for winter. So I suggested they got their vet and breed society to write polite letters to trading standards explaining why you don’t house sheep over winter. Indeed if you did, you’d be damned lucky only to lose ten or a dozen.

The letters were obviously written and sent because I got another phone call from the farmer. Apparently trading standards had given up on that approach, instead they were insisting that once it started snowing the farmer should have gone up onto the mountain and brought the sheep down until the snow stopped.

At that point I phoned a few people and discovered that on the day trading standards had demanded a farmer and his children (his only staff) go out onto the mountains to fetch in the sheep, they’d closed their own office as they felt it was too dangerous for their staff to travel to work at sea level! I suggested the farmer point this out, and he heard no more about it.

 

If you made it up, nobody would believe you.

Just follow the money!

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Now it has to be confessed that I have a real ability to somehow get myself tangled up in dying industries. Look at agriculture. I know one year in the 1990s I discovered I’d been working over seventy hours a week at the princely rate of 9p an hour. But thanks to the internet, freelance journalism is going the same way.

When I’m doing proper freelance journalism, serious articles for trade papers, I reckon of getting £200 per thousand words, or 20p per word. For our American cousins that’s about 26 cents a word. For that you get a competent, literate and knowledgeable professional whose article will not merely be a rehash of wiki. As part of gathering the information I’ll probably end up phoning and talking to people just to make sure what I’m saying is absolutely up-to-date and as right as I can make it.

Anyway as a freelance you’re always looking for new work. Editors leave, magazines are sold, bought, disappear owing you serious money. Trust me in this, being a freelance isn’t what I’d call a steady source of money.

So when I saw a website called Custom Content offering freelance work I took a look. Their idea isn’t bad, they act as a clearing house, but unusually they don’t exist to put writer and client in contact, they have writers deliver content to the client via the website. Also the writer has to use a pen name so the client never really knows who it is who has done the work for them, and therefore cannot ‘poach’ them to do more work without paying an intermediary.

So what did this site pay their writers?
Well there are four grades of work.

 

The idea seems to be you start off on the lowest grade and as you collect more work and your clients seem happy you get promoted to higher grades.

 

 What the writer gets per word

1 Star: 1.2 cents

2 Star: 2.0 cents

3 Star: 4.4 cents

4 Star: 6.6 cents

 

Tweets and facebook posts are priced differently.

 

So having looked at what I, as a writer would be paid, I then looked at what I would have to pay if I decided to be a customer. Here they have the same four grades but with somewhat different names

 

What the client pays

Entry level   2.2 cents

Freelance      3.5 cents

Professional   8 cents

Expert    12 cents

 

Just out of curiosity, how much was our website making on this? What’s their cut? Simple arithmetic comes to our aid.

 

Company share per word

1 Star: –    1 cents

2 Star: –    1.5 cents

3 Star: –    3.6 cents

4 Star: –   5.4 cents

 

So for providing their service they were taking nearly half the money the customer was paying. Good work if you can get it.

So let’s put this is perspective. Firstly I’m looking for 26 cents a word. That obviously puts me well out in front of their expert category.

So what are you getting for your money as a customer?
I mean, for 1 cent a word you can hardly expect somebody to check their spelling after hastily rewording the wiki article for you!

 

But we can also put things in a historical context. In ‘Astounding Wonder: Imagining Science and Science Fiction in Interwar America,’ written by John Cheng he discusses the old pulp magazines. In the 1920s writers were paid between 2 cents and 5 cents a word with one publisher of ‘Westerns’ paying 10 cents a word. Rates dropped a bit during the Great Depression, but still the comparison doesn’t exactly flatter. Custom Content is paying writers less than they would have earned in the 1920s. They are assuming that writers can cope with a rate of pay that hasn’t changed in a century!  According to one web page, $100 in 1920 has the spending power of $1,200.04 in 2016.

 

Apparently the big market for this stuff is blog posts, tweets and facebook posts.
Well you now know how much stuff is worth when you read it on facebook!

 

 

Which side is your bread buttered

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It’s amazing how rapidly moral principle can be overcome with simple greed. In a morning I go to feed sheep. I drive into the field on a quad bike towing a trailer and accompanied by Sal. Sal, as a border collie, has the silhouette of a small wolf and dentition any of the Canidae would be happy with. If sheep have in instinctive photofit of the apex predator to beware of, it’s got Sal’s paw prints all over it.

So the first time I do this we see sheep moving off at speed surrounded by their lambs. The second time I do it, some of the smarter ones have realised what I’m there for. By the end of the week they’ll tread Sal (and me) underfoot to get to the feed first.

It’s the same with the lambs. When you drive into the field, there’ll be a ewe grazing quietly. She’ll look up and bleat and her lambs will slowly disengage themselves from whatever they’re doing and make their way to join her. All except for the lambs of Number 39.

Number 39 had triplets. Now normally we take one lamb off and give it to a ewe who just had a single. This is because a ewe only has two teats, and even without this issue, frankly struggles to produce enough milk to feed three lambs. In the case of Number 39 there was a run of triplets and she was the one giving the most milk so she was left with hers.

So whereas other lambs wander off to do strange and interesting things, Number 39’s lambs stick with her, so they’re first at the teat should they feel a tad peckish.

Mind you it’s not something that is limited to sheep. My late mother and her two younger sisters would be invited to parties (we’re talking before the war here.) And hostesses were always touched and delighted by the way the two younger sisters wanted to sit next to their big sister. This was always pointed out as a charming example of sisterly love.

In reality the reason was that my mother never liked marzipan or almond paste. So whenever we had fruitcake with icing on it, she (even in her seventies) would quietly slip her icing and marzipan to her neighbour. Her two little sisters were just making damned sure that when that happened, they were going to be the recipients.

The fast that I have chosen:

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I’ve spent the last forty-eight hours pondering social media. To be honest all I’d achieved is a growing level of despair, until I had a moment of revelation.

Instead of giving up stuff and fasting for Lent, I’d say the way forward is to give up stuff and fast for the election campaign!
So it struck me that I’d give up political discussions on social media. If a real person raises the topic when we are met together over a drink then that is fair enough, but no political discussions on social media. There are several reasons for this. Firstly they’re a total waste of time, effort and electrons. (The latter could be better used elsewhere.)

Secondly the whole reason I started this social media stuff was because, sadly, I have books to sell. Screaming at somebody that they’re the spawn of Satan because they’re going to vote for the ‘wrong’ party doesn’t strike me as one of the better sales techniques. Well at least I’ve not had a lot of success with it so far.

Finally, life is too short to get wound up over arguments with people you’ll never meet and care little for.

So far, and it’s early days, things are going well. I’ve just avoided stuff. Indeed I have been a little cunning. I’ve not had to block anybody yet. But where they’ve merely shared a post by ‘Sad politically obsessed loonies.com’ I’ve blocked that page.

After all I don’t mind people I know having opinions, but be damned if I’m wasting my time over websites created by political parties and their HQ black propaganda teams in an attempt to sway people to their way of thinking.

Now obviously I’m not going to be hard hearted about this. If ‘Sad politically obsessed loonies.com’ ever showed any signs of trying to relate to me, engage me in discussions about matters of importance in the real world, then I’d be more open to them.

Obviously this demands a change of track from them. Their normal output tends to be ‘Our glorious party is composed entirely of persons who give their income to the poor, kiss the sores of lepers clean, and help infirm persons of all ages, genders and ethnicities across the road; while the other lot eat babies, sacrifice kittens to the dark gods of their ideology and if they win, then this is the last election you’ll ever have.’

If instead they were to post something along the lines of, “We believe that it is vitally important for the economy that people support our creative industries; thus we both urge and exhort you to purchase Jim Webster’s fine story, ‘Keeping Body and Soul Together’.

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Keeping-Body-Together-Naain-Intelligence-ebook/dp/B06XRKQBLQ/

 

Should they do this I would certainly re-evaluate my approach. Not perhaps enough to vote for them, but certainly I’d give serious consideration to unblocking them on facebook.

Indeed if they were to go so far as to promise that in their efforts to improve literacy they would purchase a paperback copy of ‘Swords for a Dead Lady’ for every household,

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Swords-Dead-Lady-Jim-Webster/dp/184989809X/

 

then I’d not merely no longer block them, I might even be prevailed upon to share their posts.

 

Still when I stop to think about it, there may indeed unforeseen advantages to my policy. By eschewing politics my facebook wall will become a place of peace and joy. Let others turn their social media shop window into a battleground for crazed warring factions, with barely literate political nonentities spluttering marginally coherent insults at each other.

My wall will be a tranquil oasis, tempting the war-weary traveller to rest awhile, allow the bitter anxiety to drain from them, and perhaps even relax into a good book that takes them away for the insanity that rages in less salubrious areas.

Ride a white swan

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The maiden wasn’t in distress as such, and she was probably a fair bit older than the girl in the picture. (But perhaps not old enough to remember Marc Bolan and T Rex?) But she obviously cared, which means a lot. Not only that, she didn’t just care in the “click ‘like’ on facebook with crying face emoji” sort of way. So she got on and did the job. But I suppose I’d better tell the tale in some sort of order.

I was just walking on my way from somewhere heading for somewhere else. I was just getting from one part of town to another to be honest. Time wasn’t particularly pressing, but it was probably going to rain so I wasn’t dawdling. Anyway, for no particular reason I took the path along the side of the reservoir.

Said “Hi” to the fishermen who were a bit fed up from the noise coming from a bunch of kids gathered round the back of a bar on the other side of the reservoir, picked my way along the muddy bits of the path and then came upon a lady with a dog who was feeding the swans.

So I said ‘hi’ to the dog as I normally do when they bound across to say ‘hi’ to me. It seems rude not to and once they’ve been acknowledged they’ll often bound off to look at something more interesting. But this led to saying ‘hi’ to the owner.

Now this conversation was taking place against a background of swans, one of whom wasn’t walking right. The maiden not actually in distress gestured to it and explained it had had some fishing line caught round its leg. She’d cut the fishing weight off with nail scissors but the line was still caught.

I asked, “Have you contacted the RSPCA.”

“Yes, a fortnight ago. They said they couldn’t do anything.”

So she’d taken to feeding the swans, and after two weeks she’d plucked up the courage to go near enough to cut the trailing fishing weight off.

But it was obvious the rest of the line was still entangled. Now given she’d cut the weight off, it struck me that she was obviously used to handling them, so I suggested that, because it knew her, the swan would let her catch it, and then we could get the line off its leg.

At this point I might interrupt myself to rant about health and safety. People talk about how dangerous swans are. Trust me; they’re smaller, lighter and less dangerous than cattle. Not only that but at the time I was standing three feet from several of them and they didn’t seem to regard me as a problem. End of rant.

So together we caught it, which was as simple as her putting her hand down and gently enfolding it in her arms whilst ensuring she held the top of its neck. I looked at the line, couldn’t untangle it but luckily cut it with a door key. Three minutes later we’d got rid of all traces of the line and the swan was back in the water and swimming off.
At this point a young couple with four children, a dog, and a bag of bread arrived. Husband asks if it was the swan with the tangled foot. Maiden no longer in distress explained it was and a discussion ensues.

At which point Maiden comments, “Until he asked me to, I’d never so much as touched a swan in my life.” (Apparently when cutting off the weight she’d crawled up to it on hands and knees.)
Anyway, all I can say to that is ‘The lass done good.’ Anyway I made my farewells and left them all chatting happily, watching the swan swim away in the distance.

But it’s nice to know that there are people who care, and not only who care, but care enough to crawl through the dirt on their hands and knees, equipped only with a pair of nail scissors, to do what they feel has to be done.

And still have the self belief necessary to blithely pick up an adult swan when some wandering idiot asks you to, because it needs doing.

And as for the swan? Well it’s got two chances, same as the rest of us. It’ll either live or it’ll die. Mind you, it would have a better chance of living if somebody had done the job a fortnight ago.