“They’ve got no Viscount left,” came a desperate cry from the kitchen where John was ringing our friendly seed corn supplier.
Well he was our friendly supplier until he had no Viscount seed left. This is the winter wheat we have been growing for the past five years and, as John admits, it is probably time for a change. John dropped on this variety, a good feed wheat, after visiting seed trial events in the area.
It has done very well for us. Now after a rapid research of other alternatives we are to grow Horatio, which we are assured will give the same yield and stand well.
But first we need to get the seed corn drilled. This is the last field to be worked up and for several years it has grown a grass crop for silage. With a dry forecast coming up, the last cut can be taken and John can then get on ploughing and take the field back to an arable crop. Although many of our neighbours work off the top and do not deep plough, on our heavy land ploughing works well, albeit at a slower pace.
So while playing the waiting game for the grass to be cut, there has been a drastic reappraisal of which ewes can stand – literally – the annual onslaught of passion from the tups at the end of the month.
The others will have to go to meet that great shepherdess Bo Peep in the sky. Of course, most sheep would prefer to pass away peacefully in a roadside field in full view of passers by, a mute testimony to their owner’s incompetence as sheep farmers. But no time for sentiment here.
Despite frequent requests from the ewes substantiated by pitiful limping gaits to be sent to a residential home for aged and incapacitated sheep, it is I am afraid a one-way trip to the abattoir for them.
But in order to pique the interest of our tups at back end, we needed to go and buy fresh stock. The tups themselves are already practising their chat-up lines for their late October rendezvous.
Preening and demonstrating one-upmanship with each other, which for our oldest tup has meant a show of strength butting a drain pipe. Not recommended yet. There is plenty of time before he needs to plead a headache when pursued by a demanding flock of shearlings.
At the sale, competition was fierce to buy up every available ewe and shearling with a reasonable set of teeth. Our sheepdog Fizz came along for the ride. She has a totally different approach to moving a flock along than any other dog we have had.
Instead of a swift dash in and nip at the heels, she trots up quietly to a bunch of sheep, wags her tail, eyeballs them respectfully then appears to make a polite request that they form an orderly queue and move along quietly. And they do. Maybe she has been attending finishing lessons on the quiet and learnt that persuasion, rather than commands, will succeed with a truculent flock
Despite the rivalry to buy the best sheep, once sales are completed, folk are friendly and helpful when it comes to loading up the trailer. Complete strangers will push stock up onto the top deck, and close gaps off along the way through the sheep pens. Most likely they have seen his assistant – me – and feel sorry for John.
Recently, coming back home from a sheep sale in Wombleton, the rattling and bumping of the trailer behind the Land Rover seemed no different to normal. Overtaking cars gave us a wave and seemed to mouthing us pleasantries as they sped by.
But gradually we began to interpret the waves and silent messages as indicating something was wrong. It was. A puncture in one of the trailer tyres. The frantic signings had been telling us that. Our tandem axle had maintained the stability of the trailer, but we required a specialist firm to change the tyre.
Unloading the sheep by the side of a busy road to attempt the job was not an option open to us. Tyre flapping, we negotiated our way to a lay by.
A trailer-load of sheep which have been pushed around all day and now just want out into a lush field of grass, do not make for happy listening. Plaintive bleats assailed the ears of passers-by along with that excruciating grinding noise that bored sheep make with their teeth. It all sounded as though we were putting them through extreme torture. The sheep liberation front was probably alerted.
To add the final touch to this chaotic scene before the arrival of the cavalry, a sleepy wasp investigating the last of our sandwiches, stung me on the throat. It was my first encounter with a wasp attack and all the reports I had heard of allergic reactions flooded into my mind.
While I still had my consciousness (I thought), I reminded John where the hospital was, where my insurance policies were, that if this present experience had not been too awful he could marry again, where the few pounds of housekeeping were hidden,and that I wanted Rutter’s Requiem at my service.
John regarded me reflectively. “Hasn’t got your vocal chords then,” he said. “Do you think it would speed you on your way if I gave your throat a good squeeze.”