‘We’ll do that in the Summer!’ we say, ‘In the long balmy days, free of water-proofs and wellies; when the sheep look after themselves and we can enjoy all the things that drew us to this place.’
‘We’ll do it after shearing, and after we’ve wormed the ewes and caught all the lambs and sprayed them against “fly strike” and after we’ve immunised them all (it’s too hot to tag their ears yet), and after we’ve sprayed the nettles and cut the thistles (and Alan’s mended the rough cutter — and by the way, the dish-washer’s broken), meanwhile we’ll spray ourselves with midge repellent and cut the thistles by hand — will you sharpen the sickle and the bill hook.
And while our rough cutter waits for Alan and the digger with its poorly track awaits attention from the mechanic, all around us grass grows, you can almost hear it, and men work through the long days into the nights to cut silage and bale it all before the thunder storms come. The mechanic rushes from farm to farm to keep the wheels turning.
The bracken, which should have been cut by now, stretches to the sky and spreads to shade the sheep, who far from being relieved by the removal from each of a couple of kilograms of organic insulation and carpet fibre, are now bothered by the sun.
They use their bodies to mark out the exact outlines of trees on the hillsides — sheep shadows, and they pant and look at me accusingly as we might ask the Almighty why we have to suffer so at the hand of cruel destiny.
We sheared them on the day before the heat wave struck and as I walked into the first hot summer sun where they had been lying the buzz was deafening so that we looked about for a cause (continuing the biblical) — a plague of flies had hatched that day and roared in anticipation.
That day we lead them through the woodland to our upper field where the orchids grow and where there is hardly a fly in this shady pasture — like us, they don’t know how fortunate they are.