Tag Archives: Justice 4.1

Tis the season (to be offended)

full of people

You can tell it’s winter, there’s a chill in the air. It’s so cold that two brass monkeys knocked on our workshop door and asked if I did any brazing. In fact it was so cold that several ‘newspapers’ stopped printing pictures of topless models because it couldn’t find any girls willing to take their clothes off. OK so perhaps not quite but you get the idea.

Today I was out looking sheep and it was a bit on the cool side. There’s still grass for them, and when Sal and I went into a field, each bunch would glance at Sal and pattern recognition would immediately take over.

Teeth?   Snap

Teeth mounted in long muzzle?   Snap

Ears, two, cocked up?     Snap

Is it watching us?     Watching us, it’s never taken its damned eyes off us!

With this the sheep begin to move away, forming a defensive huddle and then turn and stare accusingly at their potential tormentor.

But today was different. You see, because it’s cold, we’ve got the fire lit. (Just don’t even think of trying to get central heating into our house). So of course I’m recycling wood as heat. And whilst looking sheep I’ll take a bag with me and any suitable bits of wood will be dropped in it for burning. And as I walked across the field, I moved the bag from one shoulder to the other. This produced the distinctive sound of a cake bag being moved. Within seconds the sheep that had formed the huddle fifty yards away were running towards us. Sal, her teeth, ears and whatever was totally ignored, it was winter and here was man with a feed bag. It had to be lunch time.

They were sadly disappointed but still, winter is drawing on and sooner or later we’ll have to start giving them supplementary feed.

But I quite like this season. It’s November so obviously it must be Christmas. According to some enthusiasts Christmas now starts on the afternoon of Remembrance Sunday! But along with Christmas we get those who demand that we don’t wish them merry Christmas, and those who remand that we only wish them merry Christmas, and a score of shades of opinion in between.

Indeed, tis the season to be offended. And this year, we’ve got a real gem here in little old England.

The Church of England produced a short advert, people saying the Lord’s Prayer. I’ve heard it but never seen it, and it lasts a full sixty seconds. This was to be shown in cinemas. Except that Digital Cinema Media (DCM), which handles adverts in all the big cinema chains, has refused to allow it to be screened.

DCM has told the Church that this advert risked “upsetting or offending audiences.” Further more (and doubtless with much pious finger wagging on DCM’s part,) it has pointed to its policy document. This bars commercials that advertised “any religion, faith or equivalent systems of belief” or “any part” of any such religion or faith.

So that’s perfectly clear then.

Except email correspondence between the Church and DCM which has been released to the media shows that in July a member of the company’s sales team offered the Church a 55% discount if they signed a deal for the ad campaign. What the blue blazes did they think the Church of England was going to advertise? Car sales? Sofas? Time share holidays? You really would have thought that the clue was in the name, ‘Church of England.’ Call me old fashioned but I’d have suspected they were a religious organisation with a name like that.

So at the moment matters might well rest in the hands of lawyers. The problem is, DCM is going to be awfully short of adverts this December. After all they cannot mention Christmas (or any part of any such religion or faith), or the solstice, or have Christmas carols in an advert sound track, or pictures of yule logs, holly and ivy (because paganism is a religion too you know and they might also be offended.)

As far as I can work out, those advertising with DCM are restricted to wishing viewers, “A festive mid-winter commercial festival”.

Anyway I’m quite enjoying this one. I do rather like it when the ‘oh so correct’ brigade end up wiggling on the skewer they’ve managed to hurl themselves onto.

But it struck me that I am failing in my duties. Christmas is coming. I notice that there are not many who are mean enough to use lack of belief as an excuse for not giving presents. In my more cynical moments I suspect there is an even smaller group who use their lack of belief as a reason for not receiving them.

But still, when you’re buying presents, I have paperbacks available. These are the perfect present to give if you wish to offend anybody with no sense of humour, no imagination, and a far too precious regard for the sanctity of great literature.

Go on, you know you want to. Available from all good on-line book shops and you can order them from real bookshops as well. Or you could just buy them for yourself and ensure you do have a good Christmas. (Or insert any other festival/non-festival of choice here)

four books





Moving through at speed

unnamed (1)

Lambs always look sweet frolicking on the grass, kicking up their heels and jumping about. What people forget is that the same animal will often try the same tricks when it weights the best part of forty kilos.

Moving a group of weaned lambs can at times be an interesting experience. If they’re all sort of going in the right way together then it’s not a problem. The problem comes when one has somehow got separated. It’ll look for its friends and run toward them. If it’s standing half way up a bank eating hedgerow plants, the run might well start with a jump. Having 35kg of lamb heading for your chest at about 33km/hr because you’re between her and her friends can spoil your whole damned day.

I got a phone call from a neighbour; one of our lambs had got out and was in his yard and garden. So I nipped down on the quad to see what was going on. The lamb, 40kg of superbly toned muscle, had panicked. She didn’t know where she had left her friends so every time the neighbour approached her; he was obviously trying to cut her off from her mates. So she went everywhere at maximum speed, often at low altitude.

Now it you know what you’re doing and you’re fast, rather than trying to stop them in mid air, you can divert their flight. I’ve seen one person catch one in the air and let it spin him so that when he let go the lamb crashed back into the bunch it had just left. To be honest that falls very much into the ‘do not try this one at home’ category.

But anyway when I got there the lamb had spotted a door open into a shed and had gone in there. So with a piece of rope in my pocket I went into the shed and the neighbour held the door shut. Whilst the shed was a bit cluttered, this was to our advantage as she needed open space to accelerate in. As it was when she did try to run, it was from a standing start and she never got more than a foot before she was caught. Then with her feet tied we whisked her back to her mates. Job done.

Actually there’s been a lot of that sort of thing recently. I’ve spent a lot of time fixing fences, sorting sheep, and generally trying to keep on top of the job. I’m not complaining, I’m just trying to think up excuses for why I’ve not kept up with the blog. I’ve been busy.

On top of that I’ve got back into the writing again. I have a project that is almost finished. The year before last I wrote and published ‘The Cartographer’s Apprentice.”


It was something of a change of direction. Rather than a full novel, it’s more a short collection of stories, all about the same protagonist. They’re tales from the career of Benor as a young man.

This slim volume (can you say that about an e-book?) has been well received so I decided I’d repeat the process. The cunning plan was to release three of these a year. But timetables and life being what they are, I’ve written six, the first is due to be published on the 1st August, and the other five are virtually ready, so they can reliably appear at four month intervals.

Also I’ve produced a slim volume of poetry and literary criticism. Lambent Dreams is a cooperation between various people, both real and imaginary. I’ll let you decide for yourself which is which.

There are Poems based on the work of Tallis Steelyard, friend of Benor with commentary by Benor, and an introduction from noted fictional poet Lancet Foredeck. Cover design by Esther van Raamsdonk.


As a reviewer commented, “This short book really amused me. If you’re familiar with the stories of Benor the Cartographer from the author’s Land of the Three Seas then you will have some idea of what to expect. Tallis Steelyard is a poet. He makes his living that way. Lambent Dreams is a collection of some of his works and his friend Benor comments on them to give some historical or geographical insight. Then there is the commentary from fellow poet and critic Lancet Foredeck. These remind me of the notes you get on wines from some of the ‘experts’ and I chuckled along with them. Perhaps funniest of all was the fact that, somehow, the footnotes inserted by one of the typesetters were left in by accident; a much more refreshing view is revealed!

This won’t take you long to read but I guarantee you’ll smile a lot while you do. A little gem!”

There ain’t no justice any more?

Tricky one this, what’s Justice and where is it? It’s something I’ve thought about, on and off, for a lot of years. I even wrote a story, Justice 4.1, about it. Yes it’s Sci-Fi and yes it’s an adventure story. But the question that has to be faced is Justice and how to make sure it happens. And then is what then happens, just?

Sounds awfully pious, sorry about that, because it isn’t.

restorative justice

But still, I picked the name ‘Justice 4.1’ because it hints that Justice has been through an awful lot of versions and they’re still trying to get it right; which sums it up for all of us really.

What brought this about? A Canadian friend posted this link


Now I’ve never heard of the chap before, he’s a Canadian on trail in Jakarta, it would be unusual if I had. I don’t know the rights and wrongs but I do know that in today’s paper it mentioned in passing that in the UK one in five teachers are wrongly accused by pupils, and one in seven are wrongly accused by parents.

And today I also read piece by Charles Moore. He had taken Easter as his theme and he commented “But the essential point is that people like punishing and killing other people, and they particularly like doing so in a form that clothes this desire in the righteous robes of justice.”

There does seem to be a culture of ‘Cross me and you’ll suffer.’ If you’re the teacher a pupil doesn’t like, or whose opinion of a pupil doesn’t suit the parents, then they’ll make damn sure you’ll suffer.

The culture now seems to dictate that the person whose belief clashes with that of a dominant group is automatically written off as Untermensch. They’re ‘red necks’, ‘that bigoted woman’, little Englanders’, worshippers of the sky pixie, whatever.

And if that belief undermines theirs, casts doubt on the rationality of it, then the believer must be eliminated. A hasty kangaroo court and a swift and vicious execution is too good for them.

That’s probably why I feel that Christianity is best when it’s not the belief of the dominant group. The whole concept of servant ministry is undermined by dominance. You cannot speak for the voiceless when you’re the one with your foot on their necks. A pilgrim people cannot rule and keep moving.

If you believe that the culture is wrong, then you have to be counter-cultural. There is a price to be paid, but hopefully it only had to be paid once.

Have a Happy Easter



I just thought I’d sort of describe ‘lambing’ for people. I know there’s ‘Lambing Live’ on telly (or was, I haven’t a clue whether they’re doing it this year or not) but I thought people would like a peep behind the curtain.

Lambing ‘starts’ when you put the tups in. (Tups is the Cumbrian term for rams, male sheep). This year we were cunning, we split the ewes into two groups, each of two hundred. We put the tups into one group, so they’d start lambing in the middle of February, and then three weeks later we put the tups into the next group as well. The idea was that lambing would be spread out a little bit and wouldn’t get totally manic. By and large it worked.

Round about Christmas we had sheep scanned. This told us who was carrying a single, twins or triplets. They were split into groups because they’d all need different diets.

The middle of February arrived. Prior to that we’d been taking hay and silage out to the ewes in the fields, and those carrying triplets had been really pampered getting ewe rolls. All got molasses as well because they really need the energy.

Then as the first ewes started lambing we went through them, pulled out those who were nearest to lambing and brought them inside. We have three old cattle sheds and we just bed them with straw, but along the sides we have some individual pens made out of hurdles. When things were busy somebody would go through every hour or so and if a ewe was lambing or had just lambed you’d quietly escort her into one of the pens and let her lick her lambs down in peace and generally give her a chance to get to know them.

One problem you can have during lambing is when you find three ewes surrounded by anywhere from five to seven lambs, and nobody (including the mothers,) has the faintest idea who belongs to who! So whisking them off to their private maternity suite as soon as you spot them doing anything saves problems.

There are other issues, large lambs that need help out into the world, lambs coming backwards, lambs lying across the birth canal they’re supposed to be going down, but most ewes manage this sort of thing entirely on their own. After all why not, it’s a perfectly natural process; the species has been doing it for millennia.

Once the ewe has lambed she and her lambs are whisked into another building, again in individual pens, where she can bond properly with the lambs and we can check that she’s got the milk to feed them.  If she’s the mother of triplets then she cannot really feed three properly so one is quietly removed. Ideally it goes straight onto a ewe who has only had one lamb. In the perfect world you catch your single actually lambing, and rub the ‘spare’ lamb down in afterbirth and fluid so the doting mum takes it as her own. (This is what we call round here Wet adoption.) Otherwise you can go through up to three stages. Some, a very few, will just accept the extra lamb. Some you put a halter on so that they cannot drive the lamb off, and so eventually, after a couple of days it smells of them and they accept it. Some have to go into a formal lamb adopter where the ewe’s head is held and she cannot see the lambs at all. So she forgets which is which and they both smell like her. But with this system, once she has accepted the lamb you’re best putting the new happy family into a single pen so that the lambs learn to recognise Mum’s face.

lamb adopter

But across the board, once you know mum has accepted the lambs, and each lamb has a nice full tummy which shows that she’s feeding them properly; then they can go back outside.

And this is where the weather is crucial. We’ve got fertiliser on, grass should be growing but because it’s cold and wet we’re feeding them as much silage and hay as we were back in January. There just isn’t enough grass yet to allow the ewes to produce enough milk to support their lambs. Obviously they’re also still getting their ewe rolls to make sure they are getting enough quality food so they can feed their lambs.

Ideally, the sun comes out, the mixture of rain, sleet and snow stops, and the grass starts growing. As the grass grows we can slowly withdraw the extra feed until finally mum is feeding her lambs solely off the grass, and the lambs are also eating grass as well.

As you can imagine, things get hectic. You have anywhere between a month and six weeks flat out. Our busiest day saw fifteen lamb within twenty four hours. Actually that is quite civilised and a result of us spreading tupping.  But ideally you don’t plan to do anything else much during lambing. Social events are just not booked for then and friends have to accept that you might just disappear for a month.

You certainly don’t plan a book launch for the middle of it!


But never mind.

Oh and a treat for you. Did you know that the Tsarina Sector series of SF novels is finished and all published?


The first one is available here


Ode to the auld white faced witch with her head stuck in the dike

There was something I was going to tell you, but blowed if I can remember. But anyway, for those who’re following matters of international importance, one of the six ladies with their legs crossed waiting for spring has finally decided to lamb.

She had two large twin lambs rather than the triplets she was scanned for, but even she couldn’t have coped with three lambs the size of these two.

But anyway we had a real Luke 15:4 moment yesterday. We’d stuck four ewes and their lambs on the lawn. (Yes, our lawn is fenced for sheep.) It’s an intermediate destination for those ewes and their lambs who aren’t quite 100% but really ought to be outside.

Except that one ratching auld witch wiggled her way through the dike and the others followed her. Anyway we found them and fetched them home. All bar for one lamb who seemed to have got lost.

So whilst I put thorns in the gap, people went to look for the lamb but still no sign. Finally I took Sal and walked along the route the ewes had taken. At one point I heard a bleat. By the time I heard the second bleat Sal was hurtling at about mach three in the direction of the bleat. When I arrived on the scene Sal was dancing round the lamb who was looking a little put out by the performance.

So I caught the lamb. In this case I didn’t “lay it on my shoulders, rejoicing” because frankly the poor little mite wasn’t big enough. It tucked nicely under my arm whilst Sal trotted behind with the professionally ‘keen’ expression worn by Border Collies who’ve achieved something.

This morning on the other hand she was less successful. I was feeding hay to one lot of ewes and noticed one was staying by the fence. I drove across on the quad and discovered that, yes; the white faced auld witch had been pushing through and had got her head stuck in the netting. Unfortunately her way of resolving this was to keep pushing forwards. Sal was entirely in agreement with this approach and the two of them seemed to be working on the principle that if the head got through, the body will follow.

I confess at this point I was forced to remonstrate with both of them; indeed I may even have descended to vulgar abuse.

But eventually, after a frank and open exchange of views, I managed to get her head out and she trotted off to join her lambs and then glared at me in a most affronted manner.

And all this totally put out of mind what I was intending to tell you. But at last, I’ve finally remembered

The e-book version of Justice 4.1


is going to be available for free download, from the 31st March to 2nd

As the Bishop said to the Actress…

It’s just that Cumbria has got a new Bishop, ought I to dig out this old blog and send her a link to it?

Oh, before I start, a number of people have asked me about the six ewes scanned in lamb with triplets who have their legs crossed and are hanging on waiting for spring and some nice weather before lambing.

As of twenty minutes ago, they have all still got their legs crossed and are still hanging on.

But anyway now I’ve passed on the important news, is there anything else worth talking about?

Well somebody asked me about a joke about the Bishop and the Actress.

Now I was pondering this. One of the joys of the Church of England with its fine tradition of clerical eccentricity is that there are almost certainly bishops who’ve married actresses, and now after the latest round of reforms, give us a while and we’ll have bishops who were actresses.

Well we’ve had bishops who’d been professional Cricketers, David Sheppard, Bishop of Liverpool was. He’s the one who said something along the lines that, “When Saint Paul went anywhere; they stoned him and drove him out of town. When I visit they give me a nice cup of tea. I wonder if I’m doing it right.”


So perhaps bishops are supposed to stir things up and cause trouble? I looked at the salary scale. Effectively if you’re a bishop you’re on a similar salary to a Civil Service Grade Eight (Senior Executive Officer.) This is about two thirds of a MPs salary, and you don’t get their generous expenses. However you get a tied house to live in, but obviously you’ve still got to buy somewhere so you have somewhere to retire to.

The other advantage Bishops have is their background. If you want to find people who’ve done a variety of jobs in the ‘real’ world, you’re probably better off looking in the House of Bishops than in the Cabinet or Shadow Cabinet. And as all Bishops have been ordinary clergy on less than the national average wage they’re probably more in touch with the economics of the average household.

But is the purpose of a Bishop to say things that ensure people stone them? Perhaps it’s a case that they ought to ask the questions that force other people to ask themselves questions? I’d suggest that if they’re under attack by senior politicians and business leaders they’re doing their job properly. Even if the bishop is wrong, they’ve still forced people to think about the question and produce a coherent justification.

But it also occurs to me that it’s up to all of us to ask questions that make people stop and think. Some of the toughest questions are best made without a lot of fuss.

Some of the toughest are,

“Are the methods you want to use doing more damage than the problem you’re attempting to solve?”

“How immoral are you entitled to be to restore morality?”

“At what point will your defence of freedom destroy the freedom you are trying to defend?”

Look, I’m currently a mixture of maternity nurse and lavatory attendant. Others might call me a farmer. When I turn my back on my proper jobs I write a bit.
A book should have a good story, it should make you want to turn the page, you should really enjoy it.

But when you finally put the book down and walk out to meet the day, I don’t think it’s a bad thing if, at the back of your mind, there’s a small voice asking you a big question.


As a reviewer commented, “50 year old Benor is back in his home city of Toelar, enjoying a quiet life of roof running, paramouring, etc, when one day his routine gets disturbed, making a fast getaway necessary.
However, his escape route is blocked by an Urlan Knight.
Fortunately, the said Knight saves Benor’s life, without even unsheathing his sword, by just being there.
Unfortunately, the said Knight has been looking for Benor and has a little proposition to make.
And so it begins…”

Echoes of war.

There are times when I feel especially close to my father and grandfather. Given that there are days when I do the same job at the same time as they did, often with equipment they’d recognise, it’s probably not surprising.

But after all these years they can still manage to surprise you.

My Grandfather was born the son of a dairyman who milked cows in Cheltenham Street in Barrow in Furness, and walked them down Abbey Road to graze on the fields where one day the Grammar Schools would be built. When I was at the school, the remnants of hedges my Great Grandfather probably laid were still there.

My Grandfather inherited debts greater than his assets but still managed to build up a business. I can still picture him, tall, thinnish faced. He wore the old fashioned shirts with separate collars, which were a sensible length. A proper man’s shirt tucks so far into his trousers that he sits on it when he sits down.

I was his first grandchild. He’d had five daughters, and the first thing the oldest does is present him with a grandson. Apparently I’m a bit like him in some ways (or so some members of the older generation used to say, somewhat darkly, without going into details.)

As a child I remember ‘looking stock’ with him; sitting in the passenger seat of an old Morris pickup as he drove across fields to check on yet another batch of cattle.

Before I started school, I also remember getting a ride out when he took milk to the dairy. This he did every day, with ten gallon steel churns (or Kits) in the back of his old pickup. That was a real treat; not only did I get so see the dairy, but I have a vague feeling that at least one of my mother’s younger sisters worked there at the time. So I always remember being made a fuss off by a crowd of glamorous young ladies who kept giving me orange juice to drink. Life never really gets better as you get older does it. Then if the day was going really well, Granddad would stop the pickup as we crossed Roose Bridge and take me into Ernie Hayton’s sweet shop. There he’d buy me a Raspberry Split.

Raspberry Split

He could be a bit irascible. Personally I’d blame the fact that he had five daughters and a wife to keep him in order. I do remember hearing him use the phrase, “Oh hod tha whist woman.” This, freely translated, means ‘Please be quiet my dear.”

He had other phrases as well. One I managed to work into my first SF story, ‘Justice 4.1’

“Eventually people finished and the bowls were passed down to the end of the table. Then a young girl disappeared into the galley and came back carrying a cake. She placed it in front of Tongo. “This is the dessert, Tongo,” she said, with intense earnestness.

 Tongo contemplated the cake. “Would you like to cut a slice young lady? Then I can try it; see if it’s fit for guests.”
She nodded, realised there was no knife and bolted for the galley. She came back with the knife and with immense care cut a slice of cake and manoeuvred it onto a plate. The plate she passed to Tongo, who cautiously picked up the piece of cake and studied it. He was holding it carefully; it had been cut remarkably thin. He bit off a piece and chewed it meditatively. Without comment he ate the rest. There was silence round the table. The children especially were watching Tongo like hawks.

Eventually, the masticated cake swallowed, Tongo spoke.

“Well it’s very good, but…” With the ‘but’ the girl started to look very serious.

After soaking the pause for its drama Tongo continued. “It tastes of knife.”

The girl looked perplexed and studied the knife blade carefully. Zenobia reached across the table and tapped the girl on the arm.

“What the great loon means is that next time, cut him a thick piece, not one so thin he could read a newspaper through.” She smiled at the girl to encourage her. “Now cut the cake into sensible pieces and pass it round.


The ‘tastes of knife’ comment was one my Granddad made when my sister cut him a piece of cake to try.

But anyway, you think you know a person, and then somebody tells you something.

Last Wednesday I was talking to a lady who had been brought up as a girl with my mother. Her father had worked for my Grandfather. It was during the war and Barrow was being heavily bombed. Because we’re a naval shipbuilding town, we did suffer a lot from bombing.

And then a German plane gets shot down over my Grandfather’s land. Stopping only to grab pitchforks my Grandfather and the chap working for him run to the crash site to deal with the pilot. Apparently watching the young German get out of the plane, my Grandfather had said, “He’s nowt but a lad.” But anyway they’d detained him and kept him detained until the village bobby from Rampside had cycled out, arrested him and then walked him the three miles into Barrow to the main police station.

And it’s funny, the picture of the big chap with the pitchfork, looking at the young German, shaking his head and saying ‘He’s nowt but a lad’ fits in well with the Grandfather who bought me Raspberry Splits, or who teased my sister when she cut the cake too thin.

You know, whilst war brings out the good and the bad in people, it only brings out what was there in the first place.

And on the desk near me is a .50 cal round one of the metal detectorists found on our land. It was probably fired either at or by an aircraft. A big numb lump of a thing, if it hit you, it’d spoil your whole afternoon one way or another. And now when I see it I can see my Grandfather with his pitchfork as well.

And I suppose I ought to mention the second Science Fiction book. My Grandfather doesn’t figure in this one, although other Barrow people I know inevitably do. My Granddad was a man who built up a business; he’d never forgive me for not taking the chance to mention that the entire Tsarina Sector series is now available

Chuffed to bits I was.

Every so often good things happen at random

So there I was. Every couple of hours, if nobody competent is about, I have to walk through the three lambing sheds to check nothing is happening.

Actually they’re pretty slow at the moment, so at some point everything is going to happen at once and we’ll be swamped. But at the moment we’ve got a couple of ewes lambing a day. This isn’t a lot when 400 have to lamb by the start of April.
Anyway I was walking down on shed and a ewe had just dropped a lamb. Great, open a pen gate, whisk her and her lamb into the pen.

Now according to her mark she’d been scanned for a single. So at this point it’s worth trying to ‘wet mother’ another lamb onto her so she’s got two.

So I go into the other shed where the triplets are and borrow a ‘spare lamb’ from one of them.

This is because a ewe has two teats so really can only feed two lambs properly, so a third lamb tends to be fostered onto a ewe who only has one.

So I collect a lamb, who isn’t entirely impressed by the fuss, and a disposable plastic glove. This is because the lamb is about to be drenched in afterbirth and similar so it smells like its new mother.

Everything prepared I walk back into the first shed, and as I’m about to climb into the pen, I notice that the lady in question has just dropped a second lamb and is contentedly licking that one down as well.

So the ‘spare lamb’ goes back to mum for a little while and I get on with the rest of the day, whistling cheerfully.

It’s funny how such little things do make your day isn’t it.

Like today I got an email from a chap who’d bought Justice 4.1


It read

“You just ruined a day’s work for me. I couldn’t put it down! Please press on with the series – I can’t wait!

My first impression was that it was rather a slim volume, the size would have been normal 30 years back, but 450 pages seems to be the average now. However, I do not feel cheated. The insights into future farming and insurance are breath-taking. I do hope your own insurers don’t get a copy…”

Chuffed to bits I was


Anyway the whole series is now out


 Sheep, a socket set and a dog that howls back at police cars.


For simple country folk we lead complicated lives. It started when I let the dog out. Or perhaps it really started when the wheel bearing went on the quad trailer? But anyway, it was obvious the bearing was going so there was a replacement bearing sitting, pristine and jewel like in its wrapping.

Before I could get hay to sheep I needed the trailer and before I could use the trailer I would need to change the wheel bearing. And Sal, the dog, was getting bored and wanted out. So I let her out and started on the wheel bearing.

Now I like to take the wheel off first. Then I can put the hub in a bucket of hot water and detergent and clean it. So that way I know what’s happening. And then obviously it makes sense to clean off the axle as well. But as I’m doing this, I glance up and notice Sal walking backwards and looking distinctly unhappy.

Now it occurs to me that some explanation is called for. We’re lambing at the moment and the minute Sal is let out in a morning, she goes straight to the lambing shed. Not only is there the off chance of a bit of afterbirth, but joy of joys, there might be a bit of skin. Because sometimes if a lamb dies you skin it, put the skin on an orphan so the mother assumes that it’s the same lamb. That way she’ll let it suckle, and once it’s successfully suckled for a couple of days it smells like its new mum anyway and you can take the extra skin off.
From the point of view of a Border Collie, this is dog-chew heaven!

But if you remember an earlier blog, a common term used to describe mule ewes is ‘ya bluidy auld witch’. Apparently this isn’t a dialect term, as it is used by Shepherds from Somerset to Shap.

And this morning, one bluidy auld witch had got out of her lambing pen, and with her two lambs in tow, was taking the morning air. I don’t think she had any set destination in mind, other than ‘out’.

So as she came out of the shed in one direction, she met Sal going into the shed in the other direction. Now normally this would have had one result, the ewe would have retreated back into the shed. But this ewe had two lambs.

Now the maternal instinct can be strong in sheep. It seems to vary between individuals, and it’s something that has been bred for over the years. Indeed when ‘mothering on’, or trying to fit the third lamb from a set of triplets onto a ewe who only had a single, you depend heavily on this maternal instinct to kick in.

Indeed our previous dog, Jess, was encouraged to drift round the lambing shed on the grounds that her presence could arouse the protective maternal instinct in a tup!

So Sal, a dog so open and helpful that she howls back at the sirens on emergency vehicles, had run into a ewe, tooled up with lord alone knows how many millennia of selective breeding for maternal instinct.

At this point we had a communications breakdown. Thinking about it, probably a three species communication breakdown. I just wanted them to sort themselves out so I could change the bearing. Sal was just interested in anything she might find to nibble on. The ewe had taken one look at Sal’s teeth, a silhouette which doubtless matched perfectly the one marked ‘wolf’ in ‘A sheep’s guide to the predators of the world’ and suspected that this nibbling might involve her lambs.

So she stamped her foot.

Other species can be more spectacularly demonstrative. The roar of the lion, the snarl of big dog; they’re all pretty graphic warnings.

A sheep has a bleat that never sounds less than plaintive, and dentition that threatens nobody. So they stamp a front foot.

From the human point of view this doesn’t work well. It places them very firmly into ‘petulant infant’ territory.

What you must remember is that sheep have one good attack. Head down and hell for leather at whoever is the problem. It actually works best with bigger targets like people. Dogs are a bit nippy and unless the sheep can get the dog in a corner, the dog will probably escape.

But Sal wasn’t looking for trouble. She was walking backwards looking nervous and the ewe, her two lambs clustering round her, had a triumphal gleam in her eye.

Unfortunately I didn’t have time for all this. A hot date with a socket set and a wheel bearing called, and after that I had work to do. So I just walked past the dog and up to the ewe. Who stamped her foot!

At which point I called her a bluidy auld witch and told her to get back in the shed. This she did, her lambs leading the way as she kept turning and looking past me to keep an eye on the dog. Sal just slunk about looking embarrassed.

So I tied the hurdle back up and got on with the bearing. At some point in the day I’d vague hopes of writing some more deathless prose.


Whilst we’re talking about deathless prose


As the reviewer mentioned, “Benor is a cartographer and he’s come to Port Naain to produce a handbook. He makes a home with Tallis, a professional poet and his wife Shena. She’s a mud-jobber or as we might say, a beachcomber. Some of her combings include bodies. Everything has a price and families will pay for the privilege of burying their dead and, if possible, finding who caused it. Benor is a natural. He’s a nosy person and, with the aid of the wonderful Mutt, a ten year-old wise beyond his years, he sorts out the villains from the corpses. This first short story from The Port Naain Intelligencer bodes well for the rest of the series. A really great Whodunit.”

A Great Leap Sideways

Apparently it was Al Boliska who said, “Do you realize if it weren’t for Edison we’d be watching TV by candlelight?”

Well as you know I’ve got this interesting relationship with technology. Not so much ‘love-hate’ as ‘apathetic’

The fact that mobile phones have largely passed me by is well known. I carry a cheap old nokia mainly because the authorities get upset if they realise you’ve got a loaded Verey pistol on your person. But I use the phone as a Verey pistol. It’s almost as good but you don’t get the pretty lights.

Same with e-books; I write them but I’ve not got anything to read them on other than a desktop PC.

So I thought I’d do something about this.

Now I suppose the easy thing to do would be to get a kindle or something similar. But actually, after discussion with publishers etc I’ve decided to do it differently.

You see, when Safhket published Justice 4.1 the decision was taken to produce a paperback as well as an ebook. The paperback reached a lot of people who otherwise would never have seen the book.

When the next book in the series comes out in March, it’s going to get launched twice. In March it’ll come out as an ebook, but then later in the year, it’ll be launched as a paperback. This is because that launch will coincide, hopefully, with a range of miniatures to go with the books.

And then I’ve had a look at the fantasy.  They’re all ebooks, and weighing things in the balance, looking at sales, and the reception the books have had; we’ve come to the decision that they ought to be published in paperback as well, so the process is now underway. No dates yet, just vaguely ‘Summer/Autumn’ before they’re all out there.

And to coincide with them coming out in paperback I have bowed to pressure to write more about Benor Dorfinngil and his adventures. There are now six Benor short stories written and they’re with the editor. Together their common title is ‘The Port Naain Intelligencer’. Each is a ‘stand alone’ detective story/investigation. Each is about 16,000 to 20,000 words and the idea is they’ll appear as ebooks, priced at £0.99.  They’ll come out, on a regular basis, one a quarter, and at the end of the year, if they’re well received, the year’s stories will be published together in a paperback, probably with a few bits and bobs of other stuff.

If you’ve not come across Benor, then The Cartographer’s Apprentice is as good a place to start as any.


All this is ready to roll, but dates and suchlike are inevitably tentative because there’s a lot of work for a lot of people and they’re all busy people.

I’ve even got a couple of 8000 word Benor short stories, set in Port Naain, that will appear, free, at some point. I know, wash my mouth out with soap and water, but it’s both a way of saying thank-you to those who have been so loyal buying the books, and also it’s the ‘crack-dealers gambit’ to hook new readers who haven’t somehow ever got round to trying the Benor Dorfinngil experience.

So you have been warned, Port Naain awaits.