Thursday, October 19, 2006

Baa to Ewe

Sheep, Peter Cook once remarked to Dudley Moore as they leaned on a farm gate, are strange creatures. He was referring to a particular sheep by the name of Harold. Harold was convinced he could fly and was forever climbing trees in an attempt to put the theory into practice, with predictable results.

Our problem the other day was not with flying sheep but rather with absconding ewes, or, more accurately, one ewe.

My neighbour, Jean-Paul, keeps an assorted menagerie in the paddocks around our cottage and the roll call of livestock includes seven sheep, all black and woolly.

Three of these grazed quietly in the paddock immediately adjacent to our garden – until the other day.

Then the ewe idly shoved her way through a hole in the wire and found herself outside of her normal quarters.

Now I don’t know what it is about adult sheep, the lambs seem intelligent enough, but on reaching adulthood, something goes cockeyed with their thinking processes.

Jean-Paul’s sheep do have something of a superiority complex, knowing full well that they won’t be showing up on someone’s dinner plate as carré d’agneau à la provençale at the drop of a cleaver, but there is no excuse for downright stupidity.

Goats are easy. They just find their way back through the same hole they escaped from, but adult sheep just don’t seem to get it. And she didn’t.

As we tried our best to corral her back home, I had visions of that BBC programme, One Man and His Dog, and would have paid good money for a bit of their expertise, either from the man or, preferably, from the dog.

She repeatedly charged the fence in an attempt to get back in and, failing in that, legged it down the lane and onto the road.

Fortunately, it’s hardly a major thoroughfare but, as luck would have it, one of the three cars that pass daily happened to be en route.

Our ewe took to the fields and, had she been entered in the 3:30 at Ascot, I would have put money on her. The last we saw of her was a black dot disappearing over the horizon into the vineyards.

Well, we made a search, but finding a black sheep in umpteen hectares of vineyards makes the proverbial needle searching in haystacks look like child’s play.

I telephoned Jean-Paul with the news. He is an absentee smallholder and wisely makes a point of ensuring he is absent when any such crisis arises. He was phlegmatic about it.

The standard sheep around here are of that slightly unwashed beige colour and clearly our ewe, whose name I can’t recall (all of Jean-Paul’s animals have names), would stand out in a crowd, if not like a sore thumb, most definitely as being the black sheep of the family.

A couple of days later, I was having my morning chat with Leo the donkey in the top paddock, when I idly started counting sheep, not as an aid to sleep, but because there seemed to be one extra.

And sure enough, there was the missing ewe, calmly munching away and not saying a word to anyone.

Presumably a local farmer or vigneron had found her and, knowing that ours was the only source of black sheep around, brought her back and deposited her over the fence into the top paddock. People round here are like that.

As Peter Cook said, sheep are strange creatures. She might have said something.

A day or two ago I mentioned Garrison Keillor's radio programme, "A Prairie Home Companion."
My daughter in the UK has sent me an E-Mail to say that, in their infinite wisdom, the BBC now broadcast this weekly on their Channel 7 from 12 to 1 on Sundays and later from 11 to 12.


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