If you live with sheep around, especially when it's just four or five of them, they begin to take on individual personalities, even if only subjectively. Take Norma No Mates, who wandered on to our pasture around Easter this year and promptly gave birth to a healthy ewe lamb. Norma is gaunt, long faced and homely, reminding me irresistibly of those overbred upperclass ladies with bulging eyes and a voice like a foghorn who seem to be a peculiarly English export. Her daughter Daphne, on the other hand, now four months old calls to mind the chubby, spoiled teenagers from Queens, a borough of New York City in America, complete with frizzly blond hair, heart-shaped sunglasses, and a perpetually whining, demanding voice. Watching them as they make their way across the pasture it is easy to imagine the following conversation.
D: I'm hungry! Why can't I have some more?
N:(staggering slightly) You're getting a little old to be nursing, dear...
D: But I Want it!
N: (sighing) Why don't you try some of this nice grass? (coaxing) I'm sure you'd like it.
D: Ugh! Gross!
N: Please don't use that kind of language. It's grass, dear, it's what sheep eat.
D: Well I'm not an ordinary sheep. I'm special! I was born on Easter! Uncle Boomer says so!
Uncle Boomer is our black faced wether. If you are a girl, think of your unfavorite uncle, the fat one who smells of cologne and cigars and always tries bribe you to sit on his lap. If you're a boy, same uncle. The other ewes are wise to him but he's been after Daphne practically since she was born.
N: **** Uncle Boomer. You stay away from him!
D: But I like him! He says nice things to me! He says I should have as much milk as I want!
I once asked my wife where she gets these names for all the animals. I mean, who ever heard of a chicken called 'Sweety-pie Clarisse ' ? She gave me an odd look and said, ' You surely don't think I make them up, do you?'
It so happened this week end that my wife decided that Daphne was looking a bit peaked.
M: How can you tell?
W: Well, she just sits still and pants.
M: It's hot and she's too fat.
W: I still think we should have a look.
M: How do you propose to do that?
W: WE are going to barricade them in the stall and catch her so I can check her over.
I hauled two hurdles down to the barn and set them in place. My wife scattered some sheep nuts in a plastic pan and we both stepped back with all the aplomb of two white hunters in a hide on the African Veldt. Cautiously Norma and Daphne ventured in.
M: (sliding gate closed) Just grab her by the wool, like Hadrian showed us.
W: Oof! She's too heavy! I think I hurt my back!
M: Better let me have a go.
By now Daphne, panicked , was racing around the confines of the stall, carroming off the walls and banging into the hurdles. In my prime I used to be able to heave around hundred pound sacks of cement all day; I didn't think a sheep was going to be much of a problem. I managed to grab what felt like a handful of sisal fibre attached to a speeding truck and the next thing I knew I was on the floor with both hands and forearms smeared with greyish green sheep muck. There was a clang and I raised my head to see two woolly bottoms streaking for freedom.
W: Are you all right? Are those your good jeans?
M: (rotating one shoulder tentatively) I'm fine. These are the old pair.
W: (with an air of innocent discovery) I think you're getting old, dear.
Which was unkind but undeniably true.