I've always approached anything mechanical with some trepidation. I generally distrust any machine, including my car, if I don’t know how it works. So it was with unusual recklessness that I decided to try a ride-on mower to keep down the grass in my half-acre paddock. It was a second-hand mower, hence it came without instructions. I assumed it would work like my car; turn the ignition, the engine will start; let your foot off the clutch and away to go. All of which happened, but it was only when I found myself hurtling towards a tree with no room for manoeuvre that I realised I didn't know where the brakes were and didn't have the luxury of time to find out. I leapt from the beast and hit the ground running. I’m guessing I’m not the first person to have abandoned ship in this way because someone invented a mechanism which automatically cuts out the engine when the seat is vacated; thus the mower was saved from being wrapped around said tree.
Following this experience, I decided what I needed to keep the grass down was a more manageable kind of beast, and I set about a quest to buy myself a couple of sheep. After all, I’d grown up on a farm, what could possibly go wrong? I asked one of my brothers, Phil, to come along with me to a forthcoming sheep sale, based on another wrong assumption; that he would have more idea than me. Off we went to the sale. I’d set my heart on a couple of Welsh Black Mountain sheep, though heaven knows we had more than a couple of ‘black sheep’ in the family already, including me.
To be fair, since leaving the farm of our childhoods in our teens, neither of us had been involved in farming in any way. It’s astonishing how much one forgets over forty years; this lapse of memory was to become more evident over the coming hours.
With receipt of my payment in hand we go off in search of my lambs. They are not in a pen of their own, all ready and waiting for me as I expect. What we are faced with is a large pen of thirty black lambs all huddled together in a corner with their backs to us, and all seemingly identical.
“Which two are mine?” I ask Phil.
He gives a nonchalant shrug of his shoulders, “I suppose you just take your pick?”
“Oh! Great! Those two look sweet, I’ll have those,” I say, pointing out two from the indistinguishable crowd.
Welsh Black Mountain lambs are WILD. They race, they kick, they bleat, and they buck like untamed horses. After chasing these beasts around the pen for some minutes, we decide to grab hold of whatever we can and hang on for dear life. They are so strong; it takes all our strength to carry them, kicking and writhing, out of the pen and down into the waiting trailer.
“Phew! A bit wild, aren’t they?” Phil says, as we bolt the trailer gate behind them.
Job done. Off we now go to the supermarket because Phil needs to do a bit of shopping; all the while, the lambs are trying to kick and buck their way out of the trailer. On returning with his shopping, Phil takes a peek inside.
“Oh! Come and see this!” He says. “Look! They’ve got numbers on them.”
So they have. Buried in the wool under their chins are paper tags with numbers penned on them; eight and twelve. The penny drops. Phil looks at me. I look at Phil. We hadn’t seen the numbers earlier because while we were chasing and catching the beasts, they were naturally facing the other way.
“Oops,” Phil says.
The two lambs I should have taken were the third and fourth of the group of thirty that were brought into the ring, and so would have had the numbers three and four attached to them. It was obvious now we see they are numbered.
“What a stupid idea. They could at least have put the numbers where we would have seen them,” says Phil.
No doubt the auctioneers weren’t expecting two complete novices to turn up or they’d have stuck the numbers on their backsides.
“I thought you said you’ve done this before,” I say to him with an accusing glare.
“Oh, well, we can’t take them back now. It won’t make no odds, anyway, they all look the same,” he says.
We head for home, accompanied by the loud bangs of our wild companions trying to kick their way out of the trailer. Perhaps they sensed they had been wrongly abducted.
By the time we get to my place, some two hours or more have passed since we had abducted those lambs. We back the trailer up to the open gate leading into my paddock and unleash the beasts. They race across the paddock and do something I’ve never seen lambs do before. They hop, skip, jump, then take a flying leap over the stone wall boundary straight onto my neighbour’s hill.
“Well! Ruddy hell!” Phil says in his most infuriating laid-back style, while I am wringing my hands with angst.
“You’ll never catch ‘em now, they’ll be gone,” says he, stating the bleeding obvious.
I go indoors to make a cup of tea; the only thing to do when you don’t know what to do next. A light is flashing on my answerphone. While we wait for the kettle to boil, I play back the message. It is a woman’s voice and she sounds furious.
“Please phone the auctioneers immediately you get this message.”
“She doesn’t sound very happy,” Phil says with hearty cheer and I give him The Look that tells him this is not in the least bit funny.
When I phone the auctioneers I discover the mayhem we have left in our wake.
“The sheep are numbered for a reason!” I am informed in an officious voice.
“So buyers get the sheep they have bid on, not someone else’s sheep!” The woman goes on, her voice rising higher with each word.
“You have caused a great deal of confusion and trouble!” She says, her voice rising to a crescendo.
“I’m ever so sorry,” I squeak.
“And so you should be! Well! Someone else now has your sheep!” she says with a note of triumph in her voice which makes me suspect the ones which have gone to someone else must have been the better pair.
“We’ll never be able to go there again,” Phil says when I put down the phone.
My neighbour and his dog eventually found my two on the top of his hill, a couple of days later, and brought them home to me after I’d erected a fence above the wall to keep them in.
Not surprisingly, it took them some time to settle in and grow to trust me. They are the best of friends, their relationship cemented during their shared trauma of being abducted by a couple of ne’er-do-wells. At first, their capacity for jumping walls and fences knew no bounds. They had a few adventures over the following months until I made all the fences high enough to restrain llamas. On one of their adventures they ended up a mile away after taking a trip down the country lanes. I suspect they were going in search of their rightful owner.
Jenny Lloyd is the author of Leap the Wild Water, a literary historical novel set in early 19th century, rural Wales. Jenny lives on a remote hillside in Wales with her two black sheep and two springer spaniels. Loves; writing, nature and animals. Writing influences and inspirations; ancestors and social psychology.
Jenny Lloyd's Website
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