31 May 2013


Yes, sheep!

But we haven’t turned into amateur farmers. The sheep belong to a neighbour - let’s call him G - who is not a farmer either, but a man of many parts. One item in his variegated portfolio of business, activities and animals, is that he keeps a goodly number of sheep. The professional farmers in the area may think G owns only a handful, but for us the number of his sheep is enough to populate our field with a pastoral presence and, more practically, to keep the vegetation down.   

Easter was, of course, a lively time. G showed much devotion tending to the pregnant mothers and, when they came, the new arrivals. Within days, the soundscape became dominated by a chorus of lambs. It would start very early in the morning and die out with daylight. We soon learned to distinguish between a routine vocal expression, a more urgent, presumably hungry cry, and, the one that required action, the cry of a lamb in distress. This was usually due to a little one getting its head caught in the fence. 

The first such incident caused me much alarm and, when my attempts to extricate the head from the fence proved fruitless, I had to run back to the house to call K who, coming from good farmer stock, knew better than I what to do. After that, I was able to cope alone, and a good thing that was, since there followed many instances of young creatures needing to be rescued from garrotting themselves. 

Even when not in distress, our new residents were the subject of much talk and interaction. The children, needless to say, were in a state of constant thrill at the course the events had taken in our field. They were good watchpersons ready to raise the alarm when a lamb was in trouble. And they were always game for a spot of conversation in or around the field with whoever, human or ovine, might respond to their tireless sociability. I suspect G's patience may have been tested to the limit by these overtures. 

26 May 2013


For much of the last year or so, Northumberland has looked like the land the gods wanted to destroy: ceaseless rain, thunder, floods, landslides, unseasonal cold and lashing winds; a varied arsenal of destructive forces was mercilessly discharged on us.

But not today. On this day the gods are looking down on us with gracious smiles, telling us that we are their children and this is the promised land. The sun shines bright and the birds sing hymns of praise. The colours are intense and the breeze gentle. The sheep hardly move for fear of disturbing the warmth. The lambs, usually quite loquacious, are mute now; what’s more, instead of their habitual frisking around they lie on their side, giving the scene an unnatural stillness. There is disbelief in the air; no-one dares do anything that might stir away the state of grace.