Working By Torchlight

Labour, Literature, & Listening

Month: November, 2012

A desperate search for wealth

by Kit Munro

…it is far. But there is no journey upon this earth that a man may not make if he sets his heart to it. There is nothing, Umbopa, that he cannot do, there are no mountains he may not climb, there are no deserts he cannot cross, save a mountain and a desert of which you are spared the knowledge, if love leads him and he holds his life in his hands counting it as nothing, ready to keep it or lose it as Heaven above may order.

H Rider Haggard

The hogget shearing is done finally. After being held up by rain we got there in the end. The young sheep are now all shorn, every one. It will be a nervous few weeks until they have grown enough wool to be able to cope with cold weather. Until then they are kept in sheltered paddocks, with plenty of trees, so they can escape the elements.

So once again from this…

…to this

Punctuated with lots of these:

In keeping with my Victorian swash-buckling theme I moved on to listening to King Solomon’s Mines by H Rider Haggard. The story is kind of like Erewhon by Samuel Butler, but with less jurisprudence.

Alllan Quartamain is a great sort of hero. A chap who has nothing going for him except being a great hunter and an even better shot. Not that I am a huge fan of hunting myself but you can appreciate his stoicism:

It is a hard thing when one has shot sixty-five lions or more, as I have in the course of my life, that the sixty-sixth should chew your leg like a quid of tobacco. It breaks the routine of the thing, and putting other considerations aside, I am an orderly man and don’t like that.

I found my copy of King Solomon’s Mines by H Rider Haggard here. If anyone knows of another place this audiobook is available please let me know in the comments below.

[Guest Post from Garybuie’s Blog]

by Christine

I think that there’s nothing better than relaxing with a proper book, but obviously a day of normal pursuits doesn’t offer the possibility of such indulgencies. And then along comes Kit with his idea of ‘reading’ while we work! Admittedly, hurtling around at the height of the bed and breakfast season, tending to guests’, ducks’, chickens’ and vegetables’ needs, my brain is cluttered enough without listening to a story too! But recently, while taking up my paint-brushes once more as a winter pastime, although I’m a lover of the simple ambient sounds of life going on around me, I sometimes fancy a bit more of an accompaniment to my efforts. On the whole the radio irritates me, so I usually put some music on. I’ll maybe last for a couple of CDs then I’m back to square one. Except now there’s new potential out there!

I’m not one of those hi-tech people who are in possession of an iPod however, so how do I get to listen to a story then? There used to be story tapes when our kids were young and I know that there are CDs, but they’re impractically cumbersome. Lucky for me that I have a husband who works for part of the week in our local library, so who better to know what’s available on the audio book front; something called ‘Playaway’ apparently, a pre-loaded, digital audio book, about the size of matchbox. Perfect!

So last week, I hot-footed (Well, hot-carred at least) my way to the library to pick up a couple of these wee wonders, as well as several proper books too of course! So, whilst tackling my new painting of Hamie, one of our cats, I had a story to listen to; My Life with George by Judith Summers, recommended by an enthusiastic librarian. It’s about the arrival of a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel into the lives of a recently doubly bereaved family. Not my usual choice of book I have to say, being more of a cat person than a doggy one, but George’s antics are quite entertaining and there’s a cat briefly in the mix too!


Next I moved onto The Woodcutter by Reginald Hill. This is certainly a more absorbing story than the last one and has me gripped! I also completed my portrait of Hamie and have now moved onto a pencil drawing of a sheep’s skull with lots of fiddly bits which will occupy me for quite some time, which is great as this book lasts for almost seventeen hours!

Wolf Hadden’s life was a fairytale – successful businessman and adored husband. But a knock on the door one morning ends it all. Universally reviled, thrown into prison, Wolf retreats into silence. Seven years later Wolf begins to talk to the prison psychiatrist and receives parole to return home. But there’s a mysterious period in Wolf’s past when he was known as the Woodcutter. Now the Woodcutter is back, looking for truth and revenge.

[Garybuie’s Blog]

If only they had downloadable audiobooks in the 1940s…

by Kit Munro

Whether or not a mob of sheep can be mustered largely depends on the size of the mob. It is not often that a mob of sheep is too large. As a boy, when wool was king, I remember my parents moving a mob of nearly one thousand wethers. Even a fairly average musterer with a team of dogs can move a lot larger mob than that. However, a mob of sheep can be too small to move. One thousand sheep will behave much the same as one hundred. But 3 sheep will not behave the same as thirty.

As Murray Ball once wrote “the only thing harder than trying to control a mob of steers is trying to control one steer”.

So, it is easier if the numbers of sheep are particularly small to transport them rather than make them walk under their own steam. Take these two wayward rams today for example:

Carting them back in the granny lifter (the thing that a granny uses to lift sheep, not a thing used to lift grannies) is much easier than getting the sheepdog to try and control them.

Carting two sheep in the granny lifter is not as fun as mustering them

I don’t usually listen to a book that I had already read but today I have been listening to A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute. I had read it years ago, but my co-worker wanted an audiobook version of it so I thought I might as well make use of it. It has a bit of everything; war, romance, adventure, crocodile shoes, and poddy-dodging. The story jumps back and forth between London, Malaysia, and Australia.

A Town Like Alice describes two types of work that I think would have been perfect for audiobook listening:

Working in a rice paddy:

As soon as they became accustomed to the novelty of working ankle-deep in mud and water they did not find the work exacting, and presently they were seized with an ambition to show the village that white mems could do as much work as Malay women, or more….

Working in these fields is not unpleasant when you get accustomed to it. There are worse things to do in a very hot country than to put on a large conical sun-hat of plaited palm leaves and take off most of your clothes, and play about with mud and water, damming and diverting little trickling streams.

And working in a shoe factory:

The monotony was irksome to the older girls who had left school for some years, or who had never been to school at all. She tried to help them by ordering an automatic changing gramophone from Cairns, with a supply of records; the music certainly intrigued and amused the whole of Willstown and may have helped the older girls a little, but not much.

If only those poor folk had talking books. Still I suppose gossip and camaraderie would have hopefully kept boredom at bay…

I found my copy of a Town Like Alice by Nevile Shute here. If anyone knows of another place this audiobook is available please let me know in the comments below.

Kidnapping, shearing, and grinding. In that order…

by Kit Munro

Like most lads that have been country-bred, I had a great opinion of my shrewdness.

Robert Louis Stevenson

Another day shearing sheep. Today it was the hoggets. The hoggets are the sheep that are one year old. So they are pretty much the equivalent of teenagers. Of all the merinos on the farm, the hoggets have the finest wool. While the wool is better, the shearing is harder. They are never as fast to shear as the older sheep. Hoggets seem to grow wool in more places. They are also sticky, there seems to be more grease, or lanolin I suppose.

Today, while shearing I have been reading Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson. Just a little bit of Tartan Noir: Scottish Crime Fiction. In the preface Stevenson writes:

…it is more honest to confess how little I am touched by the desire of accuracy. This is no furniture for the scholar’s library….

Despite this, Kidnapped is still a good way to be introduced to Scotland and Scottish history; the Highlands, the Jacobites, and gratuitous use of the word daft. It is also, once I got used to the Scottish brogue, terribly exciting. People are run through. Murders are attempted, with some success. There is even kidnapping.

The tool I use to shear the sheep is called a handpiece. On the handpiece are fitted a comb and a cutter, these are the bits that cut the wool. The comb and cutter go blunt regularly. They do cut an awful lot of wool after all. A cutter will last about twenty minutes, a comb will last an hour. Although, how long the gear lasts does depend on how sandy, daggy or dirty the sheep are.

So, by the end of an 8 hour day, I have used 24 cutters and 8 combs. These combs and cutters all need cleaning since they are each covered with grease from the wool. They also need sharpening. I sharpen with a grinder.

Grinding a cutter

Grinding a comb

This all takes about forty minutes. While I can listen to an audiobook while cleaning the combs and cutters I do not listen while grinding. I have mentioned in earlier posts that some jobs are too much fun to listen to audiobooks, while others are too dangerous. Grinding the gear is one of the latter jobs.

It is not that grinding is that dangerous. It is just that the grinder spins very, very fast. I have a healthy respect for the grinder, which translates as; I am extremely bloody scared of it.

Despite my fear, while grinding I was able to mull over something that I read today in Kidnapped:

…I had not been many days shut up with them before I began to be ashamed of my first judgement, when I had drawn away from them at the Ferry pier, as though they had been unclean beasts. No class of man is altogether bad; but each has its own faults and virtues; and these shipmates of mine were no exception to the rule. Rough they were, sure enough; and bad, I suppose; but they had many virtues. They were kind when it occurred to them, simple even beyond the simplicity of a country lad like me, and had some glimmerings of honesty.

I found my copy of Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson here. If anyone knows of another place this audiobook is available please let me know in the comments below.