Tolerance is in short supply these days. If something upsets us we expect ‘them’ to do something dramatic – forbid it, punish it, vanquish it, dissolve it, arrest it, ‘ASBO’ it, or shoot it. The 10:10 film showed how remarkably mainstream this reaction is, the makers saw nothing wrong in showing children how dissenters should be dealt with in explosive fashion. In Beccles, Suffolk, unnamed and un-quantified ‘objectors’ were disturbed by some cockerels crowing in the countryside. The council responded by employing a number of men to spend four months catching, baiting, and removing the cockerels from the village – when three of them quickly learned that the higher up the tree they were, the safer they were, they employed a sharpshooter with a torch gun to shoot them out of their roost in the middle of the night. They had ‘upset’ someone by, well, by being themselves really, but we don’t do tolerance any longer.
Town folk have some quaint ideas about the countryside, they imagine that it can be ‘tamed’ in the same way that their city landscape had been, but retain the bucolic views. So they demand that the pile of manure be put somewhere they can no longer see or smell it; they complain when the Turkey catchers turn up in the middle of the night to take their Christmas dinner to the supermarket in the least stressful time for the Turkeys; they moan endlessly when the village ‘clock’ strikes on the hour every hour and wonder why the farm workers can’t have a digital watch like every one else these days; they curse when caught up behind a tractor moving the combine from farm to farm.
We sold our small holding to a city lad. He arrived, unshaven, collar turned up, looking thoroughly hung over, in his ‘agents’ Bentley. Truth be told – and we had sold four of the five previous homes to gay couples – we made assumptions regarding the relationship between him and his portly agent that turned out to be erroneous. It seems he had managed to impregnate a rather beautiful young lady and she demanded pastoral placidity to raise the young sprog. Eventually we were at that stage in the proceedings where you have to declare the nitty gritty without alerting the potential buyer to matters which might be off putting.
The six acres that went with this Arcadian paradise were steeply sloping – the better to appreciate the views down 50 miles of Welsh valley, looking their best at this time of year. It was no time to point out the vicious winds which came back up that valley from the Cambrian Mountains every winter…..
She was entranced with the wild orchids that grew there, not sufficiently educated in country ways to appreciate that they grew there because the land was too steep to allow any tractor to roll down them spreading fertiliser as it went…..
We had a flock of pedigree Black Welsh sheep to keep the land under control – would they like to keep them?
The question never got as far as his brain for analysis – she saw herself as a modern day shepherdess in flowing Laura Ashley – captivated by the thought of the girls running to her side, as they did to mine. I didn’t like to point out the hours in a cold windy corrugated iron lambing shed with half a dozen bottles every two hours day and night which had persuaded the girls that running towards me was likely to be rewarded with a full stomach. They were ‘amazed’ to learn that these fluffy creatures would keep the grass under control for them – ‘do they eat grass’ they said.
They didn’t however, much like the look of Tarquin. Who could blame them? We had grown to hate him too; from every inch of his curled horns to his bullying demands for the signal that he had learnt was a precursor to a full stomach.
Tarquin had grown up amongst the dykes of East Anglia, two rather too well upholstered specimens of that genre, Jane and Felicity, who between them had an unhealthy interest in relieving male sheep of their semen. Rather than buy semen, we had opted to buy Tarquin – he had seemed so tame, running to Felicity’s side as she bent to tickle him under the chin and reward him with some sheep nuts. A price was agreed, and Tarquin loaded into our sheep trailer. A trailer that bucked and rocked wildly all the way back to Wales – Tarquin was not a happy boy, not at all.
We unloaded him with a bucket of sheep nuts at the ready and some trepidation. He promptly head butted my husband and stood over his stunned body waiting to be tickled under the chin, refusing all entreaties to eat first. Tarquin was a stickler for the formalities. Tickle first, then food.
I was terrified of him. Mr G, constructed in the manner of all sensible Lincolnshire famers, with a low centre of gravity and a solid body mass – the better able to withstand winds that would remove not only your carrot crop but all your top soil and deposit it in your neighbours field down the road, fared somewhat better – but even he took to carrying a ‘may the force be with you’ heavy stick. Tarquin was the originator of the term ‘battering Ram’.
He would spend all day, when he should have been preparing himself for his duty to ‘his girls’, beating his brains out on a gate post; eventually the rhythmic ‘bish, bash, and bosh’ became part of our aural landscape, so much so that neither of us noticed when it stopped one day. Nor did we notice when Tarquin crept out through the gap where the gate post had once been, made a beeline for Mr Gs workshop, and nimbly nipped up the dozen or so stone steps to the first floor where Mr G was working. Once there, he dutifully upended Mr G for the umpteenth time, and as he lay prone on the floor gasping for breath, Tarquin presented his chin for tickling in the approved manner. Had Mr G had a mobile phone, he would no doubt have texted me ‘bring sheep nuts urgently’ – but he didn’t. He could only roll himself under his workbench until salvation presented itself in one form or another.
Our neighbouring farmers were all agreed – it might not be the right time of year, but Tarquin had to be put in the field with the girls before he killed someone; he had been used to being regularly relived of his semen, and since none of us was about to oblige him, lambing in February was the better option. The group wisdom was that opening the gate at the bottom of the field and letting the girls join him was the better option than trying to move him. So the girls gambolled gracefully up the field, and Tarquin thundered downhill to join them, full of anticipation, and clambered on top of Molly – only to fall off two seconds later.
Tarquin, you see, had been used to a personal service, delivered on the flat, dead flat, plains of East Anglia; he had never mastered the art of ‘sex on the slopes’. Our fields became the preferred local entertainment value as wizened Welsh farmers gathered to watch the cabaret. The girls soon learnt to roll their eyes in exasperation as Tarquin thundered up behind them, knowing that within seconds they would be free to resume peaceful grazing. There didn’t appear to be any danger of us lambing in February.
Just as well because we were due to complete the sale in October. So, we duly disposed of Tarquin, thoughtfully, and completed the sale. We asked our neighbours to keep an eye on the girls, since we were not convinced that our City buyers had even half a clue when it came to the countryside. A perspicacious request as it happens, for the girls did lamb in February, Tarquin had achieved a minor miracle. The neighbours did all the work – city folk sleep sound in their beds in the middle of the night, but they ‘loved the lambs skipping around’ in the weak February sunshine. Until someone pointed out that they now had too many lambs for the fields and some would have to be turned into lamb chops.
Quelle horror! The new owners were of course, vegetarian. What else?
It was arranged that other farmers would take them to have their toenails cut first – ‘you have to cut their toenails?’ – then onto market. Just one small problem. We had enquired whether they would like to buy our specially-made-to-fit-through-our-ancient-gateposts sheep trailer. ‘No, they wouldn’t need it, they thought they would probably get a farm manager’ – on six acres????? All the local farmers had huge modern sheep trailers that could not get onto our small holding. There was nothing else for it; the girls would have to be ‘walked’ round to a neighbour.
Now anybody brought up in the country knows that you arm yourself with the bucket that normally contains the sheep nuts, fill it with a handful of gravel, and walk in front of the sheep, rattling the gravel as you go. They are creatures of habit, will follow you anywhere if they think you are about to give them food. Not these two, they opened the farm gate and shooed the girls out onto the road.
Some went left, some went right, some went straight ahead through the hedge, a few doubled back the way they had come. Some made it as far as the village; some came to rest in distant fields. It took the combined efforts of all our neighbours 48 hours to get them all in one place again – and it wasn’t our old farm!
Now all the City boy has to do is figure out how to cut the grass on his death defying six acres slope ….fantastic view though. Shame about the wind.