Wednesday, February 20, 2019

You have to be Carefully Taught

Sometimes in life I've been confused by my upbringing.

Tory, middle class, religiously inclined mother (who would help almost anybody) and Labour, working class, officially-atheist father (who spent his life criticising everybody, including himself).

I've just found myself quoting Hammerstein's lyrics from South Pacific:

You have to be taught, before it's too late
Before you are six or seven or eight
To hate all the people your relatives hate
You have to be carefully taught...

Maybe I should be grateful for the confusion.

Friday, February 8, 2019

I fell for the Fells

I fell for the Fells

When I first holidayed in the Lake District, in 1968, I was determined not to like my mother's choice of venue. The thing that swung my acceptance was the promise that she would come pony trekking with me if I accompanied her planned "little toddles" up the fells.

I enjoyed the holiday, plodging in the rain over Catbells and round Stonethwaite and Watendlath, but the highlights were always going to be the pony treks. I fell instantly in love with my mount. He was a Fell pony, brown, rounded and muscular, with a long black tail and a massive curtain of mane that entirely hid his face. Nonetheless, the eyes underneath were friendly. He carried me up Latrigg with an eagerness I hadn't met before in ponies of his size.

I didn't know it then, but the trek leader was Betty Walker, a leading light of the Fell Pony Society. She rode another brown Fell pony, Angus.
She fed me snippets of Fell pony lore at every opportunity. Did I know the Fell ponies had been in the Lakes as long as the Herdwick sheep? No; I was much more impressed by the ponies' strength and willingness and the fact that they were capable of living free, all year round, on the fells where I'd been walking. I was 16, and freedom was a magnet.

Because of those Fell ponies I spent every university vacation in the Lake District, working with them. When I married I moved here permanently (and bought a Fell!).

Over the years since then I've done a lot of background research about Fell ponies, and their spell over me has grown stronger. They are a distinctive part of our farming and industrial history. Until the 20th century they were the mainstay of local transport: hardy and hard-working, they took the shepherd up the fell, carried hay to the stock in winter, pulled the trap to market, or walked hundreds of miles as pack-horses with wool destined for Europe.

For thousands of years we'd have gone literally nowhere without them.

Sue Millard is a writer, Fell pony owner and amateur historian who lives on a small farm in the Westmorland Dales section of the National Park. She serves on the Fell Pony Society's Council as its webmaster and Magazine editor.

The Fell Pony Society
The Fell Pony Museum at Dalemain
Jackdaw E Books

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Strutting my stuff again

Having completed and published SCRATCH, the sequel to Against the Odds, I am quite chuffed with having both books in Kindle's top 100 in Sport this week (despite not having any bare chested men on their covers!)
There's a Val McDermid and a Dick Francis lower down the order

Against the Odds

Against the Odds paperback coverLeaving home to work in a racing stable, Sian finds that the long hours and hard work are more than she bargained for. The only compensation is her responsibility for her favourite filly, Double Jump.
Sian is badly treated by her boyfriend, the trainer's arrogant son, Justin. When Double Jump's owner moves the filly to another yard, Sian decides to follow so she can escape him.
At the new yard she meets stable jockey Madoc Owen, who is battling to make a National Hunt winner out of Cymru, a bored flat-race stallion. Sian and Madoc may have a future together but there will be more than steeplechase fences in their way – Justin will see to that.


novel, Cover image of Fell pony, mountains and cloudy sky, SCRATCHA Woman. A Family. A Farm.

Sian and Madoc have borrowed heavily to buy a neglected farm, Stone Side, in the beautiful countryside of east Cumbria. They are land-rich now but short of cash and indebted not only to the bank but to members of their family.

Racehorses and Fell Ponies

In this sequel to Against the Odds Madoc has reluctantly had to give up his ambition to breed thoroughbreds, and instead runs the sheep farm and pre-trains young horses for National Hunt racing. Sian is a fierce mother of their three teenage children, Robbie, Cerys and Jack, but in what free time she has, she buys and trains Fell ponies.
Although it will be a long haul before Stone Side begins to pay, with the children growing up and helping it looks like it just might work. But...

Someone is Out to Destroy Them

When Madoc’s brother calls-in a big loan, the tensions begin to mount… and on the wild fellside, for someone the stakes are as high as murder. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Very Merry Brexit

So St Theresa of May has finally signed the dratted letter to invoke Article 50. We’ll be into that Red-White-and-Blue Brexit any time this afternoon, then. Possibly even before cucumber sandwiches are served in the Hice of Commons, accompanied, or not, by a handsome silver pot of Earl Gwey.

Even now, despite That Letter having been signed and ritually hand-delivered, the UK is still part of the European Union, and we will still be a member for something like another 2 years. All the directives and regulations voted on by our MEPs (sometimes even by N. Farage) that have been adopted by our British Parliament, will still be in force, even after the EU agrees to the terms of our exit from the Union. There will be years of legal work to be done to extinguish those laws and replace them with solely British ones.

Until the boot finally hits our red-white-and-blue backside:

We still have a rebate on EU membership fees.
We still have a say, via our MEPs, about what directives and regulations are passed by the EU Parliament.
We are still not in the Euro.
We are still not signatories to the Schengen agreement (ie, – we ALREADY have the tight control of our borders that many Leavers shouted for).
We still don’t have to give benefits to immigrants who’ve just arrived here, even if they are from the EU – not until they have worked for some years and paid into the system (and we then give them less than many other EU countries do).
We still share information with EU states about criminal activity and terrorist organisations via the European Criminal Records Information System.
People still have the right to time off and limited working hours, parental leave, and equal opportunities for men and women.
We still have the right to live, work or study abroad in any of the 27 other EU member countries.
UK students can still (just) study or work in Europe on the Erasmus exchange programme.
Academic research projects are (still, just) funded by EU subsidies.
Rural and deprived areas could still be supported or funded by EU subsidies.
There are still Common Agricultural Policy subsidies for farming (~55% of farm incomes), and green incentives for adopting environmental measures such as tending to wild grassland.
We still have laws to ensure clean seas and beaches, good air quality, protection for endangered species and strict guidelines on the use of genetically modified crops and certain chemicals.
Using a mobile phone doesn’t cost more in fees in other European countries.
20% of our energy should come from renewables by 2020.

What could we be going back to?

Signs saying “No Blacks, No Polish, No Irish, nofuckingimmigrantsofanysort”? We already HAVE tight control of our borders for legal immigration. If what Leavers want is simply No Immigrants at all, umm, the word you need to worry about there is ILLEGAL. Leaving the EU isn’t going to stop illegal immigration.
No EU nationals working here, for instance, in our health service? Or no non-EU nationals? (See the same link.)
No legal equality for LGBTQ and disabled people?
No right to residency for EU born partners of British citizens?
Restoring the use of Imperial measures? I’m of a generation that learned originally to use them, and then had to convert everything to metric (including understanding distances in kilometres and metres for sporting competitions, although car drivers even now still get away with odometers and roadsigns labelled in miles). But we’d already begun metricating before we joined the EEC and we’ve rubbed along all right under a mishmash of measures for the last forty-odd years. It’s hardly worth falling out with the EU over them. Are we now going to re-adopt 240 pennies to a pound and 12 pennies to a shilling; ounces, pounds, stones, hundredweights; acres, rods, poles and perches; pints and gallons; Imperial (or even Whitworth) specifications for engineering? Even I am not old enough or daft enough to try re-imposing that lot on a decimalised population.
Restoring the death penalty for murder? I’m not kidding. A straw poll suggested there are Leavers hankering for its reinstatement, even though we’d already got rid of it well before we joined the EEC (1965).  
All right, that one was silly... but...

But...We Want Our Country Back!

See above...I haven’t been able to fathom out exactly what “our country” might be, that the happy band of Leavers expect to get back. Asking the question of them usually elicits remarks about escaping the rule of “unelected Eurocrats”, ignoring the irony that in Britain our Parliamentary system is topped by an unelected Monarchy and an unelected Hice of Lords, and the fact that all British voters have the right to vote for the MEPs who will represent their region in the European Parliament. If you don’t know who represents your region there or how to ask them to work on your behalf, or how the EU structure works, whose fault is that? 

At the moment, the lack of precise, detailed forward vision in our national policies worries me quite a lot. St Theresa of May needs to do more, for me, than to attempt Churchillian rhetoric at PMQs.

This space is intentionally blank for your notes and comments... 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Be Seen, Be Safe

Published by Carriage Driving Magazine in 2008

Be seen, be safe

Darker nights are coming. I have to say the weather this summer (2008) has been so appalling that many daylight hours have been pretty murky too. While out driving my car today I was startled not only by the increased number of Bank Holiday cyclists on the road but by the difficulty of spotting them when they weren’t wearing high visibility clothing or displaying lamps. On major roads, when traffic is travelling up to the 60 mph speed limit, it seems crazy not to give cars as much notice of your existence as possible. Anything that makes you, as a vulnerable road user, more visible, will help to keep you alive. The further ahead car drivers can see you, the more easily they can slow down and give you room as they pass. This doesn’t just apply to cyclists. You as a carriage driver are highly vulnerable, and your horse even more so.

I know that traditionally the appearance of the private carriage was quiet, almost understated. But think about it; when we’re out exercising today do we use our good holly whip, our show harness, our glossily painted and patent-leathered gig and our candle powered lamps? No, we drive battle wagons and exercise carts, for practicality not tradition. We share the roads now with cars and heavy goods vehicles, not to mention tractors and farm implements, and they all travel much faster than we do and are very much more likely to hurt us than we are to hurt them. We need to make our working carts and carriages as visible as possible, and reserve our sober traditional turnout for ceremonial occasions.

Adding visibility is not difficult. A visit to any cycling web site will give you lots of tips. For a start, the driver (or cyclist) who wears a high visibility waistcoat, fluorescent yellow with reflective strips, will be seen from a greater distance than one who blends into the landscape in grey, dark green or brown as many of us do in winter waterproofs. My coat’s pillar box red but I still put a waistcoat over it, and that only cost me £3.

You’re lucky if you have a grey or a piebald or skewbald horse, whose white coat will be readily seen out on the road. For those of us with darker coloured animals, reflective leg bands for the horse will be highly visible on account of their rapid movement, while a reflective noseband or browband sleeve should make it obvious where the front of your turnout is!

Many carts and carriages are painted very soberly in green, black, maroon or dark blue, which again blend too easily into their surroundings. My everyday cart has a black body but I’ve redone the wheels and shafts in Hammerite scarlet. Yes, it’s loud, but black and scarlet is quite a traditional combination, and it gets seen. Cost, about £7. Tip: avoid blue, which is a “receding colour”, in other words less visible than the red end of the spectrum.

Down narrow country lanes, a fluorescent flag displayed above hedge height may well be useful to warn oncoming traffic of your presence, and there’s no harm either in hanging a fluorescent banner of some kind, possibly with a warning triangle on it, from the back of the carriage. However, legal minds in America have sometimes advised against also displaying messages or advice, such as “Caution Young Horse” or “Please Pass Wide and Slow” reasoning that in the aftermath of an accident (which God forbid) these might be construed as an admission that you were not in control. Concentrate on being visible.

Does your vehicle carry lamps, or reflectors? In the Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989[1] most of the attention is focused on the lamps and reflectors of motorised vehicles, while the poor old carriage horse is pretty well ignored. However, we’re told that “Nothing in these Regulations shall require any lamp or reflector to be fitted between sunrise and sunset to - (e)  a horse-drawn vehicle”. It doesn’t say you can’t carry working lamps in daylight though, and it certainly helps your visibility to do so.

I’m not supposing you intend to drive on the roads in darkness, though having once been overtaken by twilight when hacking back from a show in the 1980s, I can say it was a very pleasant experience to drive a trap with the lamps lit – but only so long as the roads were quiet! You probably wouldn’t want to use your good carriage lamps for everyday work, and even the best traditional candle powered lamp only gives 25% of the minimum required light (4 candelas) legally required for use on the roads at night.

Cycle lamps, however, are not expensive, and they come with mountings that adapt very kindly to the metal frames of modern carriages. All you need is a screwdriver;  they don’t require any drilling and they don’t damage paintwork. I carry a red lamp on the rear of the cart, and a white on the front. I put the white lamp well out to the right, at car headlamp level, by fixing it on the stem of the front step. Two would probably be even better. Bike lights using LEDs are surprisingly powerful, and by using rechargeable batteries – about £8 for a set of 4 AA NiMH – you don’t have to keep on forking out for fresh ones. They last pretty well; I’ve only recharged mine twice this year, and I drove for over 50 hours between May and the end of August. A pair of cycle lamps, a front white and a rear red, will set you back anything from about £12 to whatever you feel like paying (some are very expensive). They stand up to weather and cross country work without complaint, and they do get you noticed. Neighbours who see me regularly on our rural roads tell me they spot the pony and me from much further off when we’re carrying lit lamps, even though we’ve always got the red wheels and the yellow waistcoat.

Up to 2005, flashing lights were reserved for the emergency services because of their high visibility, but cyclists may now ride with flashing lamps provided that the “light shown by the lamp when flashing shall be displayed not less than 60 nor more than 240 equal times per minute and the intervals between each display of light shall be constant.”[2] So now you know. Flashing lights are particularly noticeable when the light sequence is “chaser” mode. This rapid sequence is very different from the binary flash of the emergency services, but it’s highly visible and motorists certainly associate such LEDs with a vulnerable road user. Flashing lights are not discussed in the Statutory Instrument as a mode of lighting for carriages, but I often flash when I’m out driving, and I haven’t been told off by a policeman yet!

NB I make these observations as a regular carriage driver, NOT a lawyer.

[1]  Statutory Instrument 1989 No. 1796, Part I, The Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989
[2] Statutory Instrument 2005 No. 2559, The Road Vehicles Lighting (Amendment) Regulations 2005

Monday, September 5, 2016

Cold calls

I disengaged the phone call blocker this morning in case the hospital Waiting List secretary tried to call. (My call blocker doesn't like switchboards because they are, de facto, Number Withheld.)
Immediately I got a cold call from an unintelligible lifestyle survey man, on a spoofed "local" number that has already called twice today (well, Blackpool is more local to Cumbria than wherever this call really came from).
-Good monning Ma-am, how are you todday?
-I'm fine, how are you?
-I am calling from Life Style Survey.
-Ma-am, ve are recodding dis call for training pupposes
-Oh goody. (Well, it's lunchtime and the Waiting List secretary has returned her phone number to switchboard, so I'm not missing anything there.)
-Your telephone number is: o von fife tree six tree six nine...
-Dear me, no, you've got that all wrong...(I give him the correct number)
Long silence punctuated with an occasional Um...
-Your telephone number is: o von fife tree six tree six nine?
-No. (I give him the correct number again.)
Long silence...
-What number are you trying to call, dear?
He gives up trying to correct his data.
-You are Miss Christina Millud?
-No, there's nobody here called Christina Millud.
-You are family member?
-No, there's nobody here called Christina Millud.
Long silence...
(I give him my real name out of pity.)
-You are living at Dee Back, Grin Hom?
-Certainly not.
-You are living at Dee Back, Grin Hom?
Another long silence.
-You post cud is CA tin tree TA?
-Well done, have a coconut.
-Ma-am, you post cud is CA tin tree TA?
-Yes, dear.
-You are owning your house? renting?... (to be honest I couldn't actually tell what he was rattling off, but the list is so predictable I know what he's asking, so I tell him I own it.)
-What age bracket do you fall into? tventyfive to tirtyfour, tirtyfive to fottyfour, fottyfive to...
-I don't.
-Ma-am, what age bracket do you fall into?
-I don't fall into anything. Such a trial to get out.
-What age bracket do you fall into? tventyfive to tirtyfour, tirtyfive to fottyfour, fottyfive to...
-Ma-am, what age bracket do you fall into? tventyfive to tirtyfour, tirtyfive to fottyfour, fottyfive to...
(At this point I lie. Doing my best shouty voice.)
-Ma-am, what newspaper do you rid?
-I don't.
-You don't rid newspaper?
-Are you smoking any cigarette?
-I don't smoke.
He's getting the idea now.
-What is your annual incom? fifteen to tventy thou--
-What the hell do you need to know for? I'm not going to tell you that.
Long silence.
I'd kept him on the phone a good ten minutes by the time I hung up.
The bloody system called me from the same number five minutes later.
I've reconnected the call blocker. I will call the Waiting List secretary instead of waiting for her to call me.
The bloody system has just called me AGAIN from the same number.
I have blocked it. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Trying to make head or tail of political schisms

 I have not been a very political animal until this year. I felt - in common, I suspect, with many of the populace - that "all politicians are the same".  I live in a safe Conservative constituency, where an earthquake of Richter-scale 7 proportions would be necessary to unseat our current MP. He's a nice chap, but without exception he votes the Party line in debates. So although I have always dutifully gone to vote I never had much hope that it would change anything.

2015 UK Labour Leadership election

Ed Miliband resigned as leader due to poor Labour results in the 2015 General Election, and a leadership contest ensued.
Following the Collins review, the party's internal electoral system had been revised to a pure "one member, one vote" system:  previously one-third weight was given to the votes of Parliamentary Labour Party members, one-third to individual Labour Party members, and one third to the Unions and Affiliates. (1)
Now, members and registered and affiliated supporters all receive a maximum of one vote and all votes are weighted equally. This gives the grass-roots membership far more influence.
Jeremy Corbyn stood for the leadership at the last minute with the support of 36 MPs. A number of prominent Labour figures, including Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, Jack Straw, David Miliband and Alastair Campbell, claimed that Corbyn as leader would leave the party unelectable in another General Election. However, Corbyn was decisively elected by Labour Party members in the first round, with 59.5% of the votes.


What is it about Corbyn's policies which have triggered such a huge response in voters?
Return of the NHS to complete public ownership?
Free education from primary to tertiary level?
Re-nationalisation of the railways and nationalisation of some heavy industries (eg steelmaking)?
I think it is primarily his principle that political decisions need to serve the best interests of "the man or woman in the street" rather than those of large businesses and economic interests.

Party response

This is where it gets dirty. We as a nation have got so used to right-wing policies over the last 30 years (even with "New Labour" in Government) that this shift towards traditional Labour values has been dubbed "Trotskyist". Although I don't think Corbyn's policies are those of communism, but of democratic socialism, clearly the elected Labour MPs don't feel he's got what it takes to win a General Election. A leadership challenge was first discussed in the British press in November 2015 when the PLP was split over Britain's participation in air strikes in Syria.  Another challenge was predicted in April 2016 after Ken Livingstone's allegedly anti-semitic comments led to his suspension; Shadow Cabinet members allegedly held talks with plotters.

The EU Referendum on 23 June

Corbyn spoke to Labour rallies throughout Britain advising that we should remain in Europe. He had previously been critical of the EU, and this didn't change, but he advised remaining in the Union to reform it from within. However, the position he took, and his reasoning, were not susceptible of use in media soundbites - and such a position was easily construed as weakness by both Remainers and Leavers. It was very little reported compared to louder, brasher mouths uttering promises that, immediately after the Leave vote, were admitted to be lies.
Journalists at The Guardian reported that a small group of Labour MPs and advisers had been talking about a 'movement' against Corbyn to take place on 24 June  ie, immediately the Referendum was decided.
On 25 June, a 'Saving Labour' campaign website was created, to encourage members of the public to email MPs to urge them not to back Corbyn. Hilary Benn, Shadow Foreign Secretary, contacted members of the Shadow Cabinet to inform them that he had lost confidence in Corbyn. Corbyn sacked him. At least 20 MPs resigned or were dismissed from the Shadow Cabinet over the next few days. A vote of no confidence in Corbyn was made by the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) on 28 June, with Corbyn losing the vote by 172 to 40. He however insisted that his mandate came from the party membership, and he refused to stand down. On 8 July he challenged the rebels to put up  candidates against him.
Over 100,000 new members were reported to have joined the Labour Party by that date, taking membership numbers above 500,000.
The party's National Executive Committee (NEC) met on 12 July 2016 to set a timetable and procedure for the election. They decided by secret ballot that the incumbent leader would automatically be on the ballot in any leadership election. They also decided, contrary to usage over the previous 7 years, not to allow the members who had joined the party in the past six months to vote in the leadership election. Approximately 130,000 new members who had joined since the EU referendum would be unable to vote - unless they registered as "Registered supporters" at a fee of £25. This angered me more than the resuscitation of the six-month rule; it looked like a cynical attempt to prevent the poorest of these new members voting, on the assumption that they were the ones likely to support Corbyn.
Angela Eagle (MP for Wallasey since 1992) and Owen Smith (MP for Pontypridd since 2010) stood against Corbyn. Nine other Labour MPs declined to stand. Eagle withdrew from the campaign after a short time leaving a 2-horse race between Corbyn and Smith.
Labour donor Michael Foster brought a High Court legal challenge to contest the NEC's interpretation of the rules that allowed Corbyn to be a candidate without having to secure nominations from Labour MPs/MEPs. On 26 July 2016 the High Court ruled that there was no basis to challenge the NEC's decision.
The Collins Review of leadership elections had concluded that the eligible electorate would include members without qualification; so Christine Evangelou and others brought an English contract law case against its General Secretary, Iain McNicol on behalf of the whole party, concerning the eligibility of members to vote if they joined the party after 12 January 2016 (i.e. less than six months before the start of voting). An initial ruling that these members could vote was overturned by the Court of Appeal a few days later. The "£25 for a vote" arrangement however still stood...
The latest is that the Labour Party appears to be stripping people of the right to vote - in a somewhat selective manner. "The compliance unit is working through applications to check whether the 180,000 new registered supporters who signed up to take part in the vote are eligible, or if some are members of, or public advocates for, other groups."..."[John] McDonnell claimed the party was exercising double standards in suspending [Ronnie] Draper while allowing long-time party donor Lord Sainsbury to remain a member, despite having given more than £2m to the Liberal Democrats." (2)
What the actual F does this political party think it is doing to itself?

The Other Lot

While all this internal strife was going on in the Labour Party, the Conservatives also fell apart. After the EU Referendum David Cameron resigned because the vote went for Leave rather than Remain. Smartest move he ever made. We had a brief nightmare vision of Boris Johnson (3) as a possible Prime Minister - and woke to the reality of Theresa May. And, despite her support for the Leave vote, she's showing a canny reluctance to invoke Article 50 (4) which would trigger the UK's actual exit from the European Union. But by contrast with Labour, the Conservative party has had no challenge to its basic policies, and so it has rapidly glued itself back together.