I’m a worried man. Hazel is thinking of buying a sheep dog.
You see, we’ve reached a rather odd stage in life. Child number one is giving it large at Leeds Uni, child number two plans something similar come the autumn. We’ll have two spare rooms, a full fridge, a drastically reduced electricity bill, and, most importantly, a whole bunch of time on our – or, I should say, Hazel’s – hands.
So what do we do? My suggestion of a B&B was quashed. We’ve still got one child at home, so gallivanting around the world is out of the question. Hazel would dearly love to restart the suckler herd, which was her pride and joy in 1995, just before all these children – and BSE – came along. Since then we’ve had the added curse of bTB – was there ever a more melancholy opinion column than Steven Carr’s a couple of weeks ago? And here’s a query about bTB issues: if badgers were rats, would Brian May care?
Then there’s the slight problem of farming next to an incredibly successful National Trust house. Many of the hundreds of thousands of visitors seem unaware of the boundary between NT gardens and our pastures, and can be found merrily picnicking, running loose dogs, snoozing and even getting noisily amorous in the long grass. I’m not sure they would appreciate a couple of dozen inquisitive Herefords getting involved. “Did the earth moo for you, darling?”
Sheep are Hazel’s second livestock love. When I was a spotty yoof, nerdily making Airfix kits (and then shooting them up with my BSA Meteor), she was out on the hills of the Armagh/Down border, running flocks of sheep on the family farm.
And then, some years later, after we’d met and were a-courting, I would travel to Ulster with great trepidation. There were two very strong characters over there who I felt didn’t quite approve of me. I was going to have to work hard to win their approval: there was my potential father-in-law and Sheila, Hazel’s faithful, if rather aged and blind, sheepdog.
Father-in-law was converted when I went out to Newry on a pub crawl, got outrageously drunk and ended up (I’m told) standing on a chair in a burger bar, wearing a plastic policeman’s helmet, directing locals to spare seats in my finest and loudest posh Hampshire accent. And survived.
Sheila was somewhat less easy to win over. For years she would sit and glare in my direction. All attempts to casually stroke her were met with a fierce growl. It took years before, one day, while we were out doing some fencing, I casually leant over the side of the trailer and caught her by surprise with a quiet stroke. Finally, I was OK with Sheila.
Thirty years on, (30!), I found Hazel browsing the collie pages. It’s not as if we haven’t got enough dogs already – two huge flatcoats and a neurotic Belgian shepherd seem to cost as much to run as a couple of teenagers. We’ve tried a collie once before – but when we had toddlers. Fantastic family pet, useless worker.
It’s certainly true that sheep would fit our pastures and circumstances better, but I do worry about Hazel finding another hard’n’fast sheepdog – another Sheila – and vanishing off into the rolling hills of Hampshire. I suppose I can always get the B&B up and running. Flindty Towers has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? “Coming, Major……”
Charlie Flindt is a tenant of the National Trust, farming 380ha at Hinton Ampner, in Hampshire.
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