I was out on the quad bike this morning, amid the bogs and outcrops, hills and vales of the fens and dales, the cold winter wind whipping my cheeks as the engine scrawled and spluttered. In the low winter sun, the shabby flanks of the sheep seemed camouflaged against the tired landscape, inhabiting, as they are bound to do, the marshy low valleys where the wind is only occasionally funnelled. These winter inspections are a necessary part of life on the moors, that I may gauge the state of the flock and their general demeanour, for an unhappy flock seldom procreates. Sheep get headaches, too.
The sheep were dotted around the countryside and everything looked fairly normal. It’s true that you can’t really tell if a sheep is happy, but you can certainly tell when they’re not happy, or dead. A miffed sheep is often a sign of trouble in the flock as a whole, and this means less lambs come the spring. I have my own theories on what keeps a sheep happy, but this philosophy, which I have often described to other friends in the farming community, has been called an example of woolly thinking.
I stopped the quad bike for a bit and turned off the engine, letting my shoulders relax, such had been the effort of riding over the rough terrain.
“Oi!” someone yelled.
His voice echoed across the dells, fens, bogs, dales, vales, moors, and hillocks.
“Is this your doing?” he asked.
I recognised him at once. Farmer Palmer, the llama farmer, skulking with purpose across the marshy bogs.
“What have I done this time?”
“‘Tis against nature, is all!” he bellowed. “And it’s putting the frighteners up me llamas!” He approached me, and his eyes narrowed. “I’ll get the authorities involved, Dale Fenn-Farmer.”
“You’re going to have to show me what you’re talking about.”
Farmer Palmer seemed a bit calmer.
“Follow me,” he said.
I hopped off the quad bike and together we rounded the next hillock, and I must admit I let out a gasp. For there, in the next vale, dip, hollow, glen, was a sheep up a big stick.
Thirty feet off the ground, it must have been, balanced precariously, its four hooves on the end of a telegraph pole, silhouetted and outlined against the overcast sky.
“Mr. Fenn-Farmer, this is against all known laws of nature.”
“I assure you, Mr Palmer, I did not put it there myself.”
“It’s spooking my llamas, and I want an end to it.”
I let out a big sigh, the subtlety of which was lost as a vicious cold wind funnelled through the valley, carrying with it sharp specks of sleet which stung my already aching cheeks.
“Reginald,” I shouted, “get down! Get down this instant!”
The sheep just looked at me and bleated in the sleet.
“‘Tis against all known thinking!” Farmer Palmer conjectured. “And I tell you what happens if he slips. If he slips and spears himself right then and there, you’ve got yourself one of them kebabs. And that’s gonna give my llamas the willies good and proper. How did it ever get up there?”
I stood at the bottom of the pole and held out my arms.
“Just do it, my boy! Jump!”
Reginald turned his head and looked the other way.
“He’s giving the evil eye to me llamas! I tell thee!”
Another blast of wintry windy across the heath and the moors.
“Reginald! Stop this now, okay?”
Reginald stuck out his tongue.
“Did you see that!” Farmer Palmer bellowed. “No bleeding respect!”
“I do apologise.”
“Thought I was hallucinating, I did. Last time I hallucinated was that day I fell in the sheep dip.”
“Reginald! Get down!”
All of a sudden, there was a bit of a wobble and a muttered blest as the pole began swaying to and fro. Reginald scuttered for grip, and then the pole began to fall.
“Bloody hell! Run!” Farmer Palmer suggested.
And run we did, which was quite hard with Wellington boots on the marshy peaty soggy earth, and the next thing we heard was the hollow sound of the wooden pole hitting the boggy pungent swampy earth, accompanied by Farmer Palmer’s admittedly rather inventive and surprisingly eloquent cursing, followed by a sudden pain and force across our shoulders as Reginald came crashing down onto both of us. I watched the marshy oozing peaty boggy earth coming up to hit me in a flurry of mud and sheep and clumps of grass, and my tweed flat cap went flying. And then all was quiet, save for the wintry sleety wind funnelled through the vales, dales, valleys, hollows, dips, and crannies of the moor.
We all three of us got up, brushed ourselves off, and then became aware of another sound.
On a distant hill came the sound of the llamas, laughing at us and the drama that had just unfolded.
“You ungrateful bastards!” Farmer Palmer yelled at his llamas, while shaking his fist.
Yet still they laughed.
The wind howled as it funnelled through the valleys and hillocks, as I squelched back to my quad bike.