Ah, but the problems of body image. In spite of all the advertising by organisations like Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Loxottica, Versace, or Yves Saint Laurent, what sticks in mind is a comment made to me by an old farmer looking at a pen of bullocks. “If it’s got a backside like your mother and shoulders like your father, it’s doing alright.”
But we were shearing sheep the other day. Sheep have been wearing the same jacket since last June. Some of them are starting to look a bit ragged around the edges. Others still have a full firm fleece and look like a big solid sheep.
So buggerlugs here pushes them into the race. This leads up onto the shearing trailer where two lads, younger and fitter than me, are doing the actual shearing.
If you get it right, some nearly knock you out of the way in their haste to keep up with the rest of them, running up the ramp without me having anything to do with it. Others dig their feet in and have to be pushed up.
And then they meet the shearer. Up until this point they’re almost defined by their fleece, at least to a non-shepherd like me. The amount of wool, the way it hangs, the gaps, the smit marks, produce an image which might just mean I can recognise the animal.
Then, a short while later, sheared, the animal leaps down off the trailer, a lighter and somewhat different animal. Some of them are revealed to be big, thickset ewes, solid, even plump. Others are less well built, some are even scrawny. At this stage in the proceedings I suspect even the lambs are a bit nonplussed by it all and check first before making any assumptions as to just who is mum.
And as we’re taking them back out into the field, the scrawny one at the back stops to check that it still has two lambs. And the shepherd points to her and says, “Bluidy good ewe that. Two damned good lambs every year and she rears them well.”
Others obviously have their opinions as well
The fourth of these collections of anecdotes, rants, pious maunderings and general observations on life. Yes we have dogs, quads, sheep and cattle, but in this one we follow the ‘lambing year.’ It starts with ewes being put to the tup in late autumn and finishes in summer with the last of the laggards lambing.
But as well as this we have endless rain, as well as sleeping in a manger. Be brave and you’ll meet young ladies in high heeled cowboy boots, Sir John Moore of Corunna, brassieres for cows, and, incidentally, David Essex.
As a reviewer commented “This book charts a year in the life of a Cumbrian sheep farmer. It’s sprinkled with anecdotes and memories of other years. Some parts (especially when featuring Sal, the Border Collie) were so funny as to cause me to have to read them out loud to my husband. It’s very interesting to read these things from the pen of the man who is actually out there doing it – usually in the rain! A very good read.”