The ducks have gone

Well it’s almost exactly two months since two orphaned Mallard ducklings were left for us to look after.

And a few days ago the first one decided it was time to leave and flew off. The second one flew away yesterday. They can fly well at 50-60 days and since we have large bodies of water very close I presume that’s where they’ve gone.

We didn’t keep them caged (although we gave them somewhere to hide in case foxes, weasels or cats came around) and they were free to leave whenever they wanted.

Luckily they didn’t seem to imprint on us and although they were very friendly and would sit on a blanket in the garden with us, and regularly came into the house looking for something to munch, we never picked them up and slowly fed them less and less so they learned to forage for their own grub.

They got along fine with the chickens (in the pic you can see them noseying around my wife’s workroom) and free-ranged in the garden all the time.


The kids were a little upset but always understood they were never pets or anything, but it is a little sad to not have them waddling around any more, even though it’s MUCH better that they leave.

Great experience though – wouldn’t have missed it.

Good luck ducks!

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Caring for orphaned ducks


So now we have two wild Mallard ducklings

They’re possibly the cutest things I’ve ever seen and my wife and chidren are smitten, yet we have a strong sense of realism about having them (temporarily) living with us

I won’t go into too much detail about how they came to be here except that I wasn’t entirely happy about it (people thinking they’re doing the right thing often get it badly wrong) but they are now definitely orphaned and have nowhere else to go.

They were cold, bedreggled things when they arrived but now they’re putting on weight nicely, are swimming and seem to be happy and in perfect health. They haven’t got their own waterproofing just yet but a fluffly towel and a good heat source means they can practise in the water and keep warm immediately after.

They need to reach certain stages when we can remove their heat lamp (we’re already slowly doing this), let them live outside for longer and longer periods…right up to the point where they’ll fly away to do their own thing.

We have a tiny pond but it’s not really suitable for fully grown ducks but it just might suffice until they feel it’s time to go.

They’ve probably already imprinted on their mother (they were only a day old or so when they came to us) and they’re being treated very much like the wild birds they are although they do seem to like a snuggle once in a while. We’ve got the right food for them and as good an environment as possible excepting of course being in the wild with their mum.

The first few days were touch and go but now it’s pretty obvious they’re going to reach adult duck-hood unless something unforseen happens. We’ve taken expert advice and all seems well.

They get loads of care from the minute my daughter and I get up to let the chickens out in the morning,  right through until we go to bed so we’re keeping an eye on them most of the time.


It’s an amazing experience for our children and I’ve no doubt there will be tears when they leave, but all in all it’s a far more valuable educational experience than the sodding SATS tests the government are forcing on kids under 12 in the UK at the moment (kudos and support to all the parents who decided to keep their children off school today in a protest about how much stress the government is putting our children under)

So that’s it.

We are playing hotel to two Mallard ducklings.

Gorgeous creatures.

Didn’t stop me getting a large portion of ‘Chinese-style duck with egg fried rice’ from the Cantonese take-away last night though 😉




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Please do not touch the head

…yep… ‘head’ as in severed, pickled, 270 year old head (see photo below)

Please do not touch the head


It’s the head of a bloke called Francis Towneley (I took the kids to visit Towneley Hall in Lancashire one day when they were bored over the Easter hols) and he was a Catholic Jacobite who fought with Bonnie Prince Charlie to overthrow King George II

It didn’t end well. Francis was caught and sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered.

(This next section is a bit grim)

So they hung him for SIX minutes (that’s as long as it takes to boil an egg), kicking spluttering and worst of all knowing that WORSE was to come because the hanging bit was ‘only’ for pain not execution…

…then cut him down, and while still alive, started to slice him into quarters.

Being a tough bloke – he was called ‘gay and volatile’ at the time but I’m pretty sure the meaning was different back then 🙂 – he was STILL alive so the ‘merciful’ executioner (great name for a band) cut his throat.

After being briefly buried, his head was then dipped in preservative pitch and rammed on a spike at Temple Bar in London, which was the gate between Fleet Street and The Strand and used to mark the entrance to the city.

(See what happens to northern lads on a night out in London eh?)

It remained there for over twenty years and in fact Dr Johnson (the poet, writer and essayist) saw it in the late 1760’s.

Must have been a bit mushy by then.

To cut a long story short, it ended up behind the chapel wall at Towneley Hall in Lancashire via a London townhouse, a hat box and the indignity of occasionally being passed round the dining table by pissed-up members of the Townely family for a laugh.

So when we saw what must be the BEST sign ever in a stately home ‘Please Do Not Touch The Head‘, I couldn’t resist sharing.

The photo is difficult to see but if you zoom in his nose looks to be in remarkably good condition, and you can see the hole when the head was rammed on the spike at the top. There’s still a bit of hair there too, in fact more than my accountant has.


Interesting story don’t you agree?



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New arrivals – chickens.

We got chickens.

Two Silver Sussex and two Black Rocks.

Just getting them used to the run for a few days before they venture into part of the garden.

Kids totally smitten.

Four eggs so far…

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We have randy frogs

Spring is definitely here because while cleaning my teeth this morning with the bathroom window open, all I could hear was froggy croaking.

A quick investigation of our tiny pond revealed an orgy that could have been hosted by a froggy Caligula. They mostly scarpered when I came close with my camera (who wouldn’t) but these few hardy amphibians decided to put on a show.


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How to get paid when you hate asking for the money

Freelance consulting


If you build websites or sell from an online shop it’s easy to get paid – you just make sure you have plenty of payment buttons for your customers to click (although you’d be surprised how many people I work with who complain they don’t make any money yet don’t actually have any payment buttons out there!

But if you deal with people on a more personal level, for example as a freelance writer, a coach, a coder, designer or webbie it can be a lot harder than you think to actually ask for the money.

Sure, if  you’re done the work and your fee is now due, you can follow up with an invoice and then a series of emails or phone calls if the payment doesn’t arrive.

But what happens when you’re actually striking the deal?

How do you broach the subject of getting paid in that situation?

As a freelancer you’ll know that discussing the project is 90% about what your client wants, and when it comes to discussing ‘awkward’ things like your expenses, your duties and (heaven forbid) the FEE you’re going to charge it can be a lot harder to broach the subject.

Here are a few tips that might help:

1. Realise that when you talk about money your client will see you as professional not annoying. If you hire someone who doesn’t agree an hourly rate or price for a commission or project then you feel as though you’re working with an amateur, or worse, someone who is desperate and will work for any fee.

Make sure you choose a moment to discuss your rates and what you will provide. It makes things clearer for both you and your client and will help them to feel they’re dealing with a professional.

2. Use silence and don’t make excuses. When it comes down to discussing your fee, or slightly easier, when your client asks for your price say “For this project my fee is £XXX”. Then shut up. Don’t make excuses or start to mumble and excuse as to why the fee is so much. Tell them the price, smile, look them in the eye and then wait. Nine time out of ten your price will be accepted without question, but if negotion is needed, you’ve started from YOUR price, not theirs.

3. Make it easy to actually get paid. Today there are apps, plugins and card readers than mean your iPhone or tablet can become a point of sale terminal pretty much anywhere. If you find it uncomfortable to ask for your client’s card details during a meeting, DO make it clear how and when they should pay.

Tell them you’ll send them an email with payment details in it. Give live (clickable) links in your email explaining how they can pay you – BACS and Paypal are pretty much instant these days and if you include a 24 or 48 hour deadline ‘Pay by XXXX date to lock in my services’ and you’ll really stay on top of your cash control. Most of all make it really clear to your client, so there’s no confusion about payment method and terms.

By becoming confident that you’re good at your job and realising that a big part of what you do is money management, you’ll keep the cash flowing and avoid those nasty broke periods…

…and don’t forget to politiely confirm that you’ve recieved payment when it arrives!


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As a freelancer, why not profit from the fact that other people want to do what you do?

Freelance consulting

You already know that earning your living as a freelance writer, coder, webbie, proof-reader, copy writer or whatever is nowhere near as glamorous as many people think it is…

…but there’s no getting away from the fact that many 9-5 employees regard your working-from-home, pyjamas until 10am lifestyle with envy, and decide that the grass is most definitely greener on the freelance side.

Unfortunately most wannabes don’t see the reality of working 60 hour weeks to earn enough to keep the wolf from the door, chasing late payers, enduring dry spells when work, ideas or commissions are think on the ground or those days when just everything goes wrong.

But there’s no convincing someone who hates their job and wants to become a freelance that it will be like that for them too…

…so you might as well profit from the idea that they want to do what YOU do, while helping them at the same time.

If you’ve been making a living as a freelance for any amount of time then you know the ropes. You really do.

You know where to get work, how to submit briefs, how to structure your payment rates, where to find help, support and professional communities, how to pitch for jobs, how to avoid pitfalls and so on.

And all this is extremely valuable information for anyone wanting to become a freelance in your field.

So why not offer your expertise as an extra service?

You could offer to coach new freelancers through the quagmire of getting started either on a personal one-to-one level, on a group level or even via email consultation.

Many people (me included) would have happily paid a consultant to shortcut past many of the beginner mistakes and the whole ‘learning the ropes’ period that every new freelancer has to endure.

You might not think you’re qualified to do this but as I said earlier, if you’re making a living as a freelancer in your chosen field then you mist certainly ARE.

Why not profit from your experience and help others at the same time?

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How to get hired as a freelancer (speaking as both a writer and a hirer)

How to get hired as a freelanc


As a Freelancer your qualifications don’t matter much any more

Times have changed and when it comes to getting hired your list of qualifications is now at the bottom of the pile – below experience, reviews and the ability to deliver.

Speaking as both a freelance AND a hirer, I can tell you that the main two things I want when I hire someone to write, code, design, interpret or whatever for me are these:

1. The ability to understand what I want

2. The ability to deliver what I want.

I don’t care where you went to school or how many qualifications you have. I might notice you have a first class honours degree or a Masters in English Lit but chances are I’ve hired people with similar qualifications and while it’s certainly not a bad thing…

…it doesn’t cut much mustard with me because I’m looking for results above everything else.

I’much rather hear about the project you completed for someone who is in the same field as I am and who is delighted with your work or the results you got for him

Whether I’m an editor, project manager or entrepreneur I want to know what you can do for ME.

I’ve been on both sides of the fence and the biggest lesson I’ve learned (actually it was a life changing mind shift rather than a lesson) is that to be a successful freelancer you MUST see yourself from the point of view of the person who is considering hiring you.

You have to sell yourself based on what you can do for me, not how proud of your achievements your mum and dad are.

Tell me what you think you can bring to the party.

Don’t tell me my job of course – I already know my readers, my target market, my product or my visitor demographic.

But when I hear from a freelancer who understands how their skills can complement my existing set-up, then I’m already getting out my cheque book.

But how do you know what I want?

Go back and look at the content or services I’m already providing. Have a look at what I do.

Get your head around my style. Or even easier, if I’ve written a brief or job description go and read that four or five times, because the chances are that I’ve already told you exactly who I’m looking for within the description itself.

If you are looking to be hired by someone, or work with someone as a freelancer, affiliate or partner, spend a week getting to know what they actually DO before submitting anything.

You’ll find your success rates go up by 80% because most of your competition will just fire off an email without much thought…

…and it’s the thinkers I want to hire.

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Business Development in action

Went out for lunch with my wife yesterday to a popular foodie type pub and saw a lovely example of how you can make your business processes more efficient by keeping an eye on what tasks you have to perform over and over again and automating them.

The girl behind the (very busy) bar had been interrupted at least half a dozen times while we were were waiting for our food to arrive by people asking for the pub wifi password.

So as soon as she had a spare moment she grabbed a spare specials board and placed the following message on the bar (this is also the reason you should have an FAQ section on your support page or ticket desk)

tony shepherd bar

She’d be my bar manager now if I owned the place!

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