Tuesday 29 June 2010

The rugby scrum

"What the hell are they doing!" I thought to myself as I looked at the sheep. All in a huddle they were. Which was most unusual. 

I   had been strimming the grass to the gate area of the Side Field,  meanwhile the sheep had been having time out from eating and had parked themselves the other side of the gate. Now I thought that they would run away from the noise of the strimmer, but they didn't. But when I had filled their water container by aiming a bucket of water over the fence into the container, (a good aim and without any splash), they raced off in one unit as if I was the most dangerous of all things to them.  But the noise of the strimmer didn't seem to worry them at all.

As I lunged this way and that way with the strimmer, frequently having to yank hard to stop it from becoming entangled in the tallest and most elegant of grasses which was inclined not to want to be cut, preferring to become cosily wrapped around the head of the strimmer instead, I kept an eye on the flock to make sure that I wasn't disturbing their siesta. All was well. Most were lying down, some obviously sound asleep. 

Then the elegant grass did a really cosy wrap, stopping the strimmer dead. And dead it stayed, despite my best efforts to get it started again. So I gave up. Hubs was cutting the Back Field with the lawnmower, him not having a tractor to cut it with nor even a sit-upon lawnmower but a trusty old friend of a lawnmower which is petrol driven, chucks up a stink as it goes along, but nevertheless somehow manages to cut the field. Because that is what it is: a field. With ruts, and tall grasses (the 'elegant grass' as well), loads of dock weeds, thistles and anything else which can take root. It takes him three days to mow that field. Frequently he daydreams about a tractor. But for the moment, it is the hand pushed petrol lawnmower that has to do the job. 

The ancient lawnmower

The Back Field. If you enlarge the photo, on the left is where Max lives, and behind that is the Veg Plot. Behind the tall oak is the Front Field. To the left of the main house is the Half Barn, and to the right of the house is the Middle Barn, untouched and unroofed, and behind that is the Tall Barn which is being roofed. 

Anyway, Hubs was busy upping and downing the field, so I didn't want to disturb him, so I parked the strimmer up, and got the hand shears. Over the to the gate I went, positive that this would not cause any disturbance to the flock. Clip. Clip. Clip. It was hot. I clipped on. 

So then I glanced at the sheep. Two were still asleep, but the others were standing up and huddled together in a similar way to rugby players in a scrum. Their shoulders were hunched over, their heads tucked right down in between each others back legs. OK, so not quite like a rugby scrum, but then I have never been in such a situation so wouldn't know exactly how close one gets to one's fellow players' posteriors, although I am sure that one does not put one's head in between the back legs of the player infront. Or maybe one does. Excuse me a moment while I remove that image from my head. 

Now where was I....ah yes, the rugby scrumming sheep. I stood for ages trying to suss out what exactly they were supposed to be doing. It being a hot day one would have thought that the last thing they would have done was pack themselves so tightly into each other, and they surely could not be in a fright because there was nothing to threaten them. Only me the other side of the gate clipping with my hand shears. 

Anyway, time for lunch, grass clipping project held over to another time. But my mind kept on thinking about what the sheep had been doing. Possibly by putting their faces down beneath the buttocks of the sheep in front this would protect them from flies. And that became my solution. 

However, an Internet search said that they were afraid. That they can do two things when having a startlement: gallop off en masse, as in a shoal of fish, or go into a rugby type huddle. That is all they can do to prevent attack because they lack the defences other animals have. For instance, that they can't bite because they don't have the teeth to take a chunk out you, and they don't have claws to scratch you and can only stamp their foot which, since they are cute and fluffy creatures, is not likely to intimidate even an ant. So all they have is numbers. So they can run en masse, turning this way and that as one unit, like a shoal of fish, which enables them to hopefully out manoevre any would be assailant, or they can stand still and go into a huddle, which makes them look overall like a large white blob, therefore bigger than their individual selves. Clever heh? Who said sheep were daft? Certainly not us!

And so why, therefore, did they do a rugby huddle when they were waiting for the gate to the Paddock to be opened this morning. I think this time it was to ward off the flies. I think our flock is developing a team spirit, and I think this is being inspired in them by the routine of the day. Instead of spending all the time eating grass in a field, they wake up, keep an eye on what we are doing and nudging us along if we are late in letting them across into the Side Field, then they do whatever they do out in the field (still too many tall dock weeds in it so they sort of vanish as if into a jungle), then if it rains they head back to the gate and holler to be let back into the Paddock and the safety of their Arbre (Sheep House), or if they are in the Paddock they holler to be let over into the Side Field, and then in the evening they come into the Paddock, charging to the food trough in which will be some grain, then doing community activities until bedtime. Always they sleep in the Arbre or against its external walls. Last night they were all tucked up down one end instead of being spread out because a fox spent much of the night kicking up a racket. 
Possibly this would have been another rugby scrum time. Bless.

And an unfortunate accident:

And this, my friend, must be the most used implement in Hub's 'toolbox', and that is his flyswat. But an over zealous swipe at a seriously fast flying fly, in which his aim was not up to standard and the fly was missed but the wall was not, has now killed the flyswat. The fly lived on. But not for long. A quick hunt in the kitchen for a replacement to the flyswat led to the demise of the fly. The replacement? My teatowel. 

Things I have learnt: that if given an interesting life, then sheep actually do have characters. They are  not stupid or daft. Just themselves. The same as we are ourselves, but different.
That one must remember to wash flyswat teatowels before they are used for drying up the dishes.  

Saturday 26 June 2010

On the subject of the disappearing poo

And it came into my mind that I ought to clean out the Paddock and Sheep Arbre (the house of our sheep), it being a quite a few days since this task was done. So wheelbarrow loaded with rake, shovel, and hoe, and with the Bools and Gus trotting along behind into the Paddock I went.
Now why is it necessary to gather up the poo? Because we need manure for our land.  Oh I know that in comparison to a healthy dollop of horse poo, that what the sheep evacuates is tiny and hardly worth bothering with. But a little bit of poo can accumulate into quite a nice pile over time, and our veg plots need the manure, even though Max, our Tamworth pig, is assisting us as best he can. 

So one of my allotted tasks per day, was to gather up the poo from the Paddock and Arbre. It kept the place looking cared for, made me feel a real farm-girl, was good for my bust line (the lifting of the shovel with my left hand after my right hand had scooped the poo onto it with the hoe has proved a marvelous exercise for the lifting of the bosoms), and the growing pile of manure was satisfying to behold. 

But then I stopped for a few days because other things took priority, mostly in the garden. And then I thought it time to do a clean up, only there wasn't anything to be cleaned. No poo could I see anywhere, apart from a few scattered patches of droppings. And I felt quite robbed of this much needed commodity for the garden,  plus confused as to where it had vanished. 

So I made a watch on the Paddock and Arbre. Blackbirds, magpies, and assorted other smaller birds, that is who were helping themselves to what they saw as food supplies. Like a free supermarket. In they came, gorged themselves full, then off they waddlingly flew.

Nothing for it, but to get into the Paddock and Arbre as soon as the sheep were off into Station Field for the day, to get my rations of sheep poo before those others took theirs. And today, I got two barrowloads to add to the manure heap. 

I suppose I should be grateful that the feathered community see fit to help themselves, after all they are only cleaning up what the sheep have finished with. Like Hubs says, 'Nothing is wasted', and I agree. It is just that manure is a 'must have' requirement, and the sheep and Max are the only two helpers with this task at this time. So the feathered community will have to wait their turn.

And I got an email from a French lady who we met at a Fete last week, inviting us to join her music group. Hubs plays violin, and I play the piano. But the violin was damaged during the hurricane of January 2009, and had to be subsequently burnt, so he has no instrument at the moment. And my piano was left in the UK, but I did bring my electronic keyboard which has somehow magically survived. So Hubs is looking out for a violin, and I am practising the keyboard. It feels like the piece of a jigsaw has fallen into place. I didn't realise how much music was a 'must do' for us until we went with friends to a musical evening at one of the local villages. 

And the fun of listening to the men of the village sing their warrior songs, which were mostly aimed at making fun of the English, but all done in good humour. And the French lady who played the flute, accompanied by a Dutchman on the electronic piano, with an English woman doing a duet with him, and the jolly round Frenchman who thumped out stirring old French songs on the accordion, they all had a go at making music. It was a grand night. 

 The builders are elsewhere at the moment, for which we are relieved. The tall barn is ready for the roof so it won't be long before it is put on, but Team Coe needed a breather from the noise and hubbub and that we have for three weeks or so. Gives us time to catch up with ourselves. We have both been feeling rather winded with the pace of things here, so it is good to have the place to ourselves for a while. 

Things I have learnt: that if I want to have a good quantity of manure, then I have to go pick it up after the sheep have done their bit, and not be diverted into doing other things, like practice on my keyboard.
That I can do a road trip by myself, after having had to go to the Chambre d'Agriculture at Tarbes to sort out about registering the sheep and Max. OK, so I didn't actually drive into the town centre, but parked on the outskirts and walked in. It only took half an hour to do so, and along the way I found a second hand shop from which I purchased some material, and also, oh joy of joy of joys, a shop which sold new fabric. For two years I have been denied the pleasure of running my hands over roles of fabric, and I didn't realise I missed doing so until I was able to do it again, the same as what happened to the music. Anyway, didn't purchase much fabric because my sewing machine is on a go-slow (hardly any wonder since it spent most of the last two years under a tarpaulin) and funds were low, but at least I know where I can go when the need arises. 

And I am off to make Hubs a cup of tea, and give him a kiss. For no reason, other than that I an glad to have him on my team.

Friday 18 June 2010

The morning queue

So here they are, still in their early morning fogginess. They know that we are up and about because they have heard us, but they are in no hurry to get going today. Sometimes they are still in bed in their house, sometimes up at the gate moaning about wanting to get out into the field. Today, though, they are calmly drifting about in a state of mental fogginess, watching to see what's going on, interested in the world outside of theirs, but feeling safe within their own.

"Come along everybody" Hubs says, as we walk along the drive beside the Paddock. Up they get, trundling towards the gate.

Time to move. Bools and Gus are inside the Courtyard, their help not required at this particular moment, because it is time to cross the lane. The ones in the front group are this years youngsters, all wanting to be first to get through the gate. The back group is led by Mr Sheep, with his girls standing behind him. They are patient creatures, unless it is raining and they are still out in the field. Then they will make endless complaint until we bring them back in again. 

Now it might seem strange that we bring them to and fro across the lane, so that they spend the night in the Sheep Arbre. Most flocks are left out, some all year,  so why go to all this effort?  Because we will be slaughtering some of them ourselves. By our own hands will we be doing this, although this year we were going to take them to the local abattoire which we can't do now because the Vet said it was closed and the nearest one is Tarbes, and no way are we going to subject our animals to a longish road trip before going into an environment which is hostile to them. 

So we are going to recycle them ourselves. Hubs is familiar with the process, me not so. But I will not absent myself when the time comes. Out of respect to the animal, I will stay close by to give it ease as it breathes its last. And the routine contact they have with us ensures that they will be calm, hence the toing and froing across the lane each day. It makes us all a team.

A car whizzes by as Hubs starts undoing the gate, but not too fast because it is a neighbour. 

And this young female always says hello to Hubs, sniffing his hand as he continues to undo the gate.

Yippeee! Across they go, at quite a trot today. Sometimes they meander slowly across still half asleep and not really interested in getting a move on, but today they are keen to get into their day.
Nearly across......

And through the gate, with Hubs chivvying up the last ones. Sometimes  the leading sheep get seduced by the grass growing near the gate and stop to have a munch, thus creating a traffic jam, or should I say 'sheep jam', which is not the best of situations to have given the speed of some of the cars which pass by. 

And off they go, into Station Field. The green swathe in the centre, through which they are walking, is minus dock seed heads. This is the part I have been working on before they get up, before anyone gets up actually. The other day I was doing my 'three wheelbarrow loads' target, which has to be done before the sheep come into the fields, so it was  about 7am. Bools and Gus had gone back to sleep under the caravans, Hubs was still in bed, Max the piggy had got up to have a chat with me and then had gone back to bed, as had the sheep.  The rabbits had not even bothered waking up. And so I had the early morning all to myself. Apart from Claudine, over at the Chambre d'hote, halloooing to me as she opened her bedroom shutters. 

And did you know that sheep's ears go floppy in the rain? Well they do. We have been under orange alert here for a couple of days, as monsoon-type rains have hit the south of France. Yesterday afternoon we were working in the office, listening to the torrent of rain hammering down, when Hubs realised the sheep were still out. Huddled in misery they were, waiting by the gate to come back in, all droopy and forlorn and unloved and letting Hubs know that they were soaked right through by shaking themselves as they passed  him, to let him know how wet they were just in case he didn't already know because by then he was as wet as they were. It was a hell of a downpour which lasted for hours.

But at least their coats are growing after the shearing a couple of weeks ago. Only we had hot weather straight after the shearing and some of them got a little bit sunburnt. Bless. Unfortunately applying sun factor was not an option.

Last night I stood for ages in the Arbre when they came in from the field, watching them as they bedded down for the night. It was magic.

Tuesday 15 June 2010

Our first roundup

And oh wasn't Hubs piddled off with me after I had visited the Vets to ask for some worming medicine for our flock of sheep, only to have the vet sort of book himself in for a visit. 'Blood test' was mentioned, which equated to 'megga bucks to have to pay out' in the mind of Hubs. 

And then there was the minor difficulty of actually catching the sheep for the blood test, our sheep not being particularly willing to oblige in terms of capture at the moment, although are now generally calmer around us. 

Now I knew we would manage the flock. In my heart I knew. But Hubs was nervous. This was his first time of flock management, and it would be infront of the Vet of all people. 

Anyhow, it has been on his mind all weekend, and yesterday saw him hammering and banging about at the back of the Sheep House. Et voila: His first homemade gate, made entirely by himself. Plus boards on the fence to stop the sheep from hurting themselves on the wire. 

Nervously he reviewed the plan: to herd the sheep into the little run at the back of the Sheep House, then close the gates at each end of the run before they escaped back out into the Paddock. 

Now I am a 'watcher', and I had closely observed the sheep shearer man when he had herded the sheep. Stay calm, don't panic, be firm, move quick. Should be able to manage that. 
Hubs still worried though. Laden down with work from all directions, he is suffering from 'head tiredness'. To have the vet come first thing Monday morning virtually erased all possibility of him recuperating his energies over the weekend. 

5am: an early rise for me this morning. 8.30: Hubs up. Grumbly. Nervous about the imminent arrival of the Vet. Worried about how much it would cost. Worried about catching the sheep.
9.15: Vet arrived. Nice man. French and friendly. Grabbing my walking pole to act as the shepherd's crook which shearer man had, down to the end of the Paddock I went. Hubs stayed at the rear. Vet in the doorway of Sheep House. And in the manner of a true Shepherdess I strode over the grass, with my arms open wide and the walking pole acting like an extension to one of my arms. "Oopps. What's she up to" flickered across the faces of the sheep, who up to then had assumed that they would be crossed over the lane to go spend the day in Station Field as usual. 

Then en masse they charged leftwards. I responded with a quick lurch leftwards to counteract their move. They stopped. Turned. Dashed the other way. Then followed the fence line towards their house. I followed as fast as I could. They were, by now, at full gallop. 
Into the safety of their house they were heading. But no. Couldn't  get in because of the Vet. Had to carry on. Problem: Head Shepherd in the way. 'Oh gotta go round here' was the collective thought as they swung in an arc. Straight into the run at the back of the Sheep House. Easy! Hubs and Vet shut one gate, I was at the other, putting my weight against it to stop the flock from pushing it open. And bless those sheep, but they were all facing my way, and listened as I chatted away to them. Plus the front ones let me stroke their heads, even Mr Sheep who up to now has been untouchable. He could, if he had a mind to, have used his considerable weight to get past me. But he didn't. He stood and let me fondle his head. Bless. 

Hubs and the Vet worked from the rear of the flock, turning round the last one in the queue for the two jabs and blood test. Then through the gate and off out into the Paddock when that one was done. All was done with good humour. No bad temper from any of us, just a bit of a panic from the last ewe. No cussing, no shouting, no roughness. Just teamwork. It was a grand experience. 

And we are pregnant. Not me! One of our girls is. Thought she might be, but not sure. But she is. And here she is, the one right in front, and Mr Sheep is the one next but one beside her. Looking calm aren't they! And this is only ten minutes after their Vet experience.

Things I have learnt: That sheep who are frightened have white rings in their eyes. Thought that is how sheep's eyes normally look, our flock having those rings up until a while ago. But now they look at us with warm brown eyes. Even in the run at the back of the Sheep House their eyes were still brown. No white rings. And it came to Hubs and me that the sheep trust us and that there is a bond starting to come between us, which is priceless.
Hubs has learnt that he can make a gate, that he can confidently handle the sheep, that he can be a Shepherd. I knew he could be. And I have learnt that sheep will be calm if I am calm, that how they behave towards me reflects my attitude towards them. That animals respond to teamwork. 

And at after all that, they happily went back to queueing up at the gate to cross over into Station Field, only to be brought back over an hour or so later when the heavens opened up. 

And the Vet didn't charge much.

Sunday 13 June 2010

Experiment Number Two

And here we are, in the river, Bools on investigation duties.....

Gus as well....

And me.  For these are my legs, in my wellies, in the river.
"So what", you might ask, "are you holding in between your legs?" 
An ex-potato sack with a handful of fleece in, that's what. 
"For why would you be doing that", again you might ask.
"To wash it", would be my reply, for it has now become time to do Experiment Number 2 of the Sheep Wool Project, which is to clean the fleeces recently sheared from our flock of sheep. Some of it is very mucky, some less so. But being a novice shepherdess and  trainee spinner of the fleece, I need to make an investigation as to whether it is best to  try spinning with the lanolin still in the fleece, or wash it, thus removing the oil plus any other detritus such as bits of straw and lumps of poo.

A quick mention of Experiment Number 1: This involved a bucket, a squirt of washing up liquid, and the kettle. So: Two kettles boiled, water into bucket, cooled down by some cold water, some fleece put into bucket, left to soak, bucket upturned on the garden table so fleece could drain, more water of same temperature into bucket (2 more kettles boiled), left for another soak, then bucket upturned again so that fleece could drain. And what a palaver that was, especially because Googled instructions said not to prod at the fleece. Makes it 'felt' apparently. But does it not look deliciously inviting, that open bucket of wet fleece,  such that one can hardly resist the temptation to plunge ones rubber-gloved hands into that water to prod at the soaking wool?

So I did, but gently.  And did the wool 'felt'. Not sure. Don't know what 'felting' actually looks like. The wool did look crinkled, but that have been because one could see the fibres once the muckiness had been removed. 
The conclusion of Experiment Number 1: Surely those in days of old who had a similar task did not boil up loads of hot water on the stove, or fire - what a waste of fuel. And they didn't have rubber gloves either. And the fleece itself: robbed of its lanolin it felt  sort of 'emptied out', and lifeless. So: hot washes in bucket not do-able.

Hence Experiment Number 2: washing the fleece in fast running river water. Container needed, so plastic potato sack recycled. Fleece put in. Rubber gloves replaced by rubber wellies. Off to the river. Then into the river, Bools and Gus staying in the quieter water, me into the faster flowing current. Dunked the bag into the water. A few minutes later, (the time dictated by my ability to keep bending over holding the bag) out it came again.
The conclusion of Experiment Number 2: The fleece still felt 'alive' so some of the lanolin remains. Some of the detritus also remains, but has been reduced. 
But would those in olden days have washed the fleece like this? Would they have stood in the river, bent over, getting splashed? Did they even have wellies? Such questions I will continue to peruse on. 

The result of these experiments? Probably best to spin the fleece into yarn and then clean it, a skein of yarn being more manageable. Presumably any bits of straw that escape inspection during the spinning will come out in the washing, as will any remnants of poo. As for the heftier bits of soiled fleece, am going to try Experiment Number 3.

Have I inspired you? Are you feeling a surge of enthusiasm to have a go as well? No? Are well, you are probably more sensible than me! This smallholding lark, while it is good for the soul, is time consuming beyond belief. No time to watch the telly. But then don't have a telly anyway. 

Smallholding is a way of life. It is not nine to five. It is about going with what the weather offers, what the day brings. It is about physical activity, and the staying power not to let things get you down. It is about becoming sensitive to the natural environment of nature, and desensitized to the un-natural environment of twenty first century urban living. It is about feeling the beat of the rythms and cycles of life. It is about feeling alive. 

Things I have learnt: that it is good to have that 'alive' feeling even if the days are long.

Sunday 6 June 2010

Twenty minutes, times by three

The Dock Weed Battle: I have stopped cutting the seed heads of the docks in the Front Field because it has become a jungle and I find it too spooky working my way through the now head high vegetation. Keep expecting creatures to jump out at me, like serpents and lions and suchlike. So have given up for the moment with trying to keep the dock weeds under control in that field, Station Field having been given up on a while ago because it is so heavily infested with the weed.

Now last night some of the sheep decided to deaf-head us when we called them from the gate of the Station Field.  No amount of shaking the maize-pot could encourage them  to stop doing  whatever it was that they were doing, hidden as they were amongst the profusion of docks which have now thrown up high spikes of well laden seed heads, all of which carry the promise of  millions more dock babies. And there was a very delicate moment when the sheep who were already in the Paddock did decide to make a response to the maize-pot, and started making a charge towards the still open gate onto the lane. But quick footed Hubs managed to divert them away from their intent to get to the maize before the others. Good that he did. Might have had the flock scattered up and down the lane. Not  great to have that happen just as night falls. 

Anyway, into Station Field I had to go, following one of the trails the sheep have been making as they munch away at the grass. And I was surprised at how much effort they have put into doing this, both in trail-making and grass-eating. For one: it is easy to walk over the field. For two: they have kept the grass relatively short, so that the seed heads of the docks stand clear of the grass, and are not tangled up in the grass as in the Front Field. 

Therefore: It is much easier to get to the docks to cut those seed heads off before they drop those seeds onto the ground. Hooray! The Dock Battle can continue!

So: at six this morning, with assistants Bools and Gus who were not pleased that we were off into the field rather than continuing on down the lane for a doggy walk, I began The Attack, my machete being the bread knife from the kitchen. Twenty minutes to fill the wheelbarrow. Did three barrow loads. 'Oh well done me', I thought. Now another twenty minutes times by hundreds more barrowloads should see the dock problem contained. For this year at least. 


That's not supposed to be happening! 

Hubs/ Head Gardener: "Need to start fencing the Kitchen Field. Got to cut the grass first. It's head high. Can't get near the fence posts", he said. So out came strimmer number 1. But today it threw a 'sicky'. Has been getting increasingly awkward about working for some time. Shed its safety hood a while ago, but we kept on using it despite ending up being plastered all over with green mulch. But today, no. It was not going to work. So strimmer number two, which is a hefty brute of a strimmer, was woken up. And it started. Great. Not so great was the way in which the strimming wire unleashed itself from its interior coil.

But, Jean Pierre (our roofer) to the rescue. But no. The strimmer's head is sick. So hand shears it is then. Good for the muscles. Not so good for the back. Not to worry though, strimmer 1, strimmer 2, and ancient lawnmower which is also having a 'sicky', all of these most vital of implements have been taken into a shop in Plaisance which fixes these things. France being France, we are optimistic that they will be available for use this time next  year. But we have hand shears, which is good. 


"Those damn crows have stolen the cherries!" yelled Hubs / Chief Fruit Grower.
"Put some netting over them then", says me / Trainee Fruit Grower. 
"Can't", says Hubs / Don't Want To Be A Fruit Grower Anymore, "They've eaten the lot!"
And oh what a sad moment this was for Hubs, who has nurtured our fruit trees since he put them in. There were no fruit trees when we arrived, and Hubs has planted loads, all of which he waters with watering cans he fills from the river. By hand. And the reward is to see the fruit ripening on these little trees. Not much fruit for sure, but  sufficient to be encouraged to keep on looking after them for future years.  It was a sad and frustrating moment for Hubs, when he realised he had contributed to the food table of the local bird population. But not to worry. A cup of coffee and a piece of homemade cake soon had him fixed up, plus giving him John Seymour's 'The New And Complete Book Of Self Sufficiency' to read which always cheers him up, and enthuses him with inspiration.

Rabbit Project:

Here is Vincent and Melody come to collect the first addition to their family, which is one of our baby rabbits. Hubs is keeping the only white baby rabbit:

.....which means four left for the table. Will we be brave enough to eat them? Only time will tell. 

Things I have learnt: Not to be lazy and wear soft indoor-type shoes, instead of making the effort to put on my boots, when cleaning up the poo in the Sheep House. The reason being that these evacuations tend to have a glue-like tendency which enables  them to stick to the shoes if stood upon. Therefore,  in an endeavour to be a super-duper efficient smallholder, one must not  give in to such laziness. Boots on for outside tasks relevant to poo clearing. Soft shoes  on for indoors time. To not bother  with changing one's footwear will only lead to more work, because that which is glued to the soles of one's footwear will be surprisingly keen to transfer itself onto other things, like the cushions onto which one puts one's feet up on for a quick five minute rest after the sweaty and aromatic activity of cleaning up after the sheep.

I thought this stick, found by Bools but commandeered by me, would make an ideal shepherd's crook for Hubs / Chief Shepherd, a shepherds crook being a requirement for catching hold of an individual sheep. Looking at me in the usual long-suffering way  he does when I come up with Marvelous Ideas, he said no, it was not strong enough, but that it might be useful for grabbing hold of me! Aw, bless!

Wednesday 2 June 2010

A magical portion of time

So this is where I spent the afternoon. In the courtyard, on a tarpaulin, sorting the sheep fleece out. Or some of it at any rate. But where to start? No info on the web that I could find in regards to exactly how one should do this task, but I wanted to start sorting it out. You know how some jobs can get left and left and left until it is totally forgotten about? Well I didn't want that to happen to the fleeces.

So I sat myself down, put a towel over my lap, and grabbed for the nearest bit of fleece. It was laden with poo, straw, and other bits of detritus. Not to worry. Push on. 

The minutes ticked on by. The sun came out. Jean Pierre (our roofer) was working on the wall of the Tall Barn. Here is how far he has got. The repair to the wounded wall is now almost done. Saved for future generations. 

Hubs was in the office, quietly working away. The dogs were snoozing in the sunshine. I sat in the middle of my tarpaulin and made a mess.

Left hand pile: unhandled not-to-bad fleece. Top left hand pile: unhandled-to-be-left-for-a-while yukky fleece. Top right hand pile: sorted pile of absolutely awfully yukky fleece. Big right hand pile: Whooppeee! A goodly pile of not-so-bad fleeces. The red bucket serves as my bin for the no-can-do-at-all bits. The green cup had coffee in it. The chair I sat in. The towel was over my lap to stop my trousers from getting any muckier than what they were already. 

And there came upon me a rare moment. A magical moment. One of total peace for all that there was around me, and all that there is my life. The whole courtyard, full as it is of untidiness: of builders stuff, of gardening stuff, of hardly any grass now, only bare earth mostly covered over with gravel from the cementing which is often going on, of a pile of tarpaulins beside me, not dead enough to destroy, but with a little life left in them so kept 'just in case', all of this was overlain with this sense of total peacefulness. 

Jean Pierre worked quietly on. Hubs worked quietly on. I worked quietly on.  And the peacefulness grew and grew. It was magic. And it went on for the rest of the afternoon, and into the evening, eventually becoming a rare and wonderful portion of hours, when everything is as it should be, and knowing with absolute sureness that everything would turn out all right somehow. 

I don't know what made this effect happen. I could put it down to inhaling the sweet smell of sheep fleece, which, despite the poo, was lovely. Perhaps it triggered off some sort of chemical effect in my head. Or perhaps it was the poo itself. Perhaps it has some sort of magical property which makes one feel calm. Or was it the lanolin in the wool itself. Perhaps my hands absorbed the oil and that triggered off the effect. Or perhaps because it was the work itself, that I was stepping into an ancient rythm by working with the wool.

Or perhaps it was the Universe saying 'Well done for keeping going on, for staying positive, for trying to do your best'.

And the Sheep Wool Project? I managed to sort out three bin bags of goodish wool, one bag of not-so-good wool, and took my first step in learning how to wash the wool, managing one bucket. 
Well I have made a start! 

Me being me, I know the sense of everything being in its right place will fade away, but at least by writing about it I can look back and remember that I did have this patch of calmness for a while. It was a treasured experience, and felt like I was wrapped in the most wonderful duvet of  peacefulness. And this I would like to pass on to you, especially Barry (An Explorer's View Of Life) who is battling with his health, and all of you who are battling on one way or another. Blessings to you all.