No camera – so you will just have to imagine me and my mum sitting in her car in a back lane in the borders on the way back from a fantastic little wool shop (this is what constitutes a ‘girls’ day out’ in the country at my age) completely surrounded by sheep. The sun was behind them and slanting under the clouds so it shone through their woolly heads and their ears as they flocked around us, one or two of them leaping up over the backs of their fellows to have a good look as they went. They seemed a little wary of us even inside our tin box (imagine if I’d been on my bike) so perhaps they knew we’d had the clothes off the back of one of their kin. Or perhaps it was because they could see me giggling through the window … there’s something very amusing about a flock of sheep.
Cycling back from Bigtown with my newly serviced bike (aah, order is returned to the world…) I noticed what looked like a sack of something lying in an empty field. Coming closer I noticed that the sack had a leg and was in fact a sheep and as I passed it I noticed the leg twitch and the sheep move and look up looking as startled as only a sheep can, as though it had just woken up suddenly from a heavy sleep.
Now I know that, realistically, this story is unlikely to be one that ends well for the sheep. But I would like to continue to believe that what in FACT happened was that the sheep had a hard night out with its drinking buddies and all the other sheep had decided to play a trick on it and had sneaked off into the next field while it was out cold to give it a shock when it finally came round and found itself all alone. And I’m going to continue to believe that, so please indulge me in the comments, mmmkay?
I’ve actually been working for my living these last few days, and it’s been something of a shock to the system – not least because it’s coincided almost exactly with the late arrival of the summer. I just know that the minute it’s over, the clouds will roll in and the rain will start making up for lost time.
So, this lunchtime, with the blue sky taunting me, I decided to abandon my laptop for an hour or so for a little pootle around the lanes on my bike, because I could. Sometimes, you’ve got to take advantage of these moments while you can.
As I rode out I stopped for a while to watch the progress of sheepdog school, and then I wandered on, down the road and over the river, noticing at all the melancholy signs that autumn is just around the corner. The roads were empty, except for a lone fisherman trudging back to his car, and the weather was just about perfect for a gentle cycle ride to work up an appetite for lunch.
A few miles later, refreshed, I turned and headed home. As I approached the field where the sheepdogs were, I heard a few distant whistles and shouts but saw neither man, nor dog, nor sheep. And then I heard a discreet cough and the sound of chewing. Looking over the wall, I saw the sheep, huddled quietly between the trees and the wall. The boss one gave me a look that clearly said, ‘shhh! Nobody knows we’re here.’
Looks like I wasn’t the only one who was sneaking off for a little P&Q today …
It’s that time of the year when the fields are full of lambs all busy learning what they need to know in order to grow up to be successful sheep. Which boils down to eating grass, and working out what to run away from
Lambs: Aiiiieee! Mum! Save us! There’s a scary roaring flying monster in the sky!
Ewe: don’t panic, that’s just the fighter planes. We ignore those
Lambs: Oh nooo! There’s a man, a scary man! With a black and white wolf! In our field! Run away!
Ewe: don’t worry that’s just the nice farmer and his dog. He’s the one who feeds us and looks after us and gives us haircuts. And when you’re all big and grown he’ll come and round you up and take you off to, um, university. No need to be frightened of him.
Lambs: Oh, what’s that quiet wheeled thing whizzing past us on the road? That looks interesting, let’s have a closer look
Ewe: OMG*! Tis the cyclist of doom! We flee in terror from her! Run! Run away!
Which is why I don’t have any good piccies of lambs to illustrate this post.
*Because sheep totally talk like they spend all their time on the internet…
For the past few weeks, the field opposite our house has played host to what we’re calling ‘sheepdog school’. Four or five dogs, all but one tied up waiting their turn, some rather pissed-off looking sheep, and a man with a piercing whistle, shouting endless instructions. It used to be held in the field further up the road, near the waterfall, but it has moved – perhaps those were the beginner sheep and these are the intermediate ones. If they’re the sheep I think they are, they certainly seem to like escaping.
The other day the other half was enjoying a cigarette and watching the show as usual. All the tied-up dogs were yipping and bouncing and doing the sheepdog equivalent of sticking their hand in the air and shouting ‘please sir, me sir, I know the answer sir, ask me sir’ while their hapless classmate went through its routines. The field is hilly, so depending on where they are, you don’t always get such a good view, and on this occasion all the other half could make out of its progress was this:
‘Come by, Robbie, come by, steady, steady, come by phweeeep come on, steady, steady, steeeeeeady Robbie, come by phwip phwip phwip, Robbie!*’
‘Now then. Where have the bloody sheep gone?’
*actual words may have varied. I don’t speak sheepdog, but that’s sort of what it sounds like
Heading out in a circuitous manner to check the level of the ford*, along what is probably the only footpath in the area that doesn’t lead the unwary walker straight into a bog, we found our way blocked by these:
Now, there’s nothing that makes me feel more the ignorant townie than coming across unexpected livestock. Sheep, to my London-born eyes, belong in fields or, if they’re out and about, trucks or, at the very least should be accompanied by a dog and shepherd. But these sheep seemed reasonably happy (at least until we came along) browsing on the vegetation along the track. Were they escaped sheep? Or were they supposed to be there? And how were we supposed to know the difference, our knowledge of sheep husbandry being confined to the Christmas special episodes of One Man and his Dog? So we did what all good townies do, and stood around for a while, hoping someone would come along who knew what to do. But the problem with the country – or rather, its defining characteristic – is that there never is anyone about. There was the distant sound of some machinery laying waste to something in the background, there was us, and there were the sheep.
I don’t know, what are we supposed to do in this situation? If we ignore it, and it turns out the sheep weren’t supposed to be there, then we’re just ignorant townies who don’t take responsibility for things that they see. And if we try and find someone to tell them, and the sheep are supposed to be there, then we’re just ignorant townies who don’t know how the countryside works and try and interfere all the time. So we just waited until the sheep found a field all by themselves – and who knows, it may even have been the right one – and then we continued our walk.
Anyway, if you recognise them, and you’ve lost them, let me know…
*Six inches, since you ask, such is the mysterious way of the ford