Displacement activities are a problem for any writer. In my case they are a real challenge and the annual 5 or 6 weeks my sheep spend lambing are a particular problem and many things are truly ‘displaced’ particularly sleep – it is extremely hard to write when you sit down… open up the laptop… and immediately fall asleep…
But then to write you need to experience life.. and death… and the lambing season is all about that!
When I tell people I have Cotswold sheep often people (some of whom should know better as they are farmers) say to me is – ‘But why? Surely all sheep want to do is die.’ And it is true that often when you find a sheep ill in the field, it is very ill indeed and will often die. But people shouldn’t forget a sheep is a ‘prey animal’ and this means their instinct to keep up with the flock, and look fine, and therefore not a target for any passing predator is immensely strong – so when you find a sick sheep, it is past caring and probably indeed near death.
The Cotswold lamb on the left of the photo was the final of the triplets to arrive. She was unexpected as mum had been scanned for twins. She arrived in a birth sack of fluid and possibly took a breath of birth fluid before the ewe could get to her to lick her free. She developed pneumonia over the next day or so from the fluid on her lungs – and in spite of my efforts to save her with a hefty dose of antibiotics and feeding her milk through a tube into her stomach (not as horrid as it sounds) she lay under the lamp for a day, between her brother and sister, without moving. I was waiting for her to die. I made sure she was comfortable, but there was nothing else to be done. I kept checking her to see if she had breathed her last…
But she kept on going… one laboured breath after another… then in the evening I thought she had gone at last, and gently picked her up. At that moment she lifted her head and stared at me. She was fighting so hard to live; I gave her another feed, some more antibiotics and a painkiller. Half an hour later she was on her feet. And a day later she is feeding from her mum, and jumping round the pen like nothing was ever wrong with her. She might be small, but she really did fight for her life! She wanted to live – she is definitely a sheep, which has no intention of dying!
And so with lambing over, and a good night’s sleep beckoning, there are no excuses left and tomorrow it’s back to writing…
When worlds collide it can be spine tingling… Today I had just such a moment. As anyone who has even glanced at this blog before will know I have sheep. Cotswold sheep… from the Cotswolds. A historic and rare breed they may be and one that I happened to take on because their wool, their upturned mouths which make them look like they are smiling, their crazy forelocks, placid nature and their ridiculous hippo like size, well, just appealed to me. When I am not involved with sheep, or fiddling with Nile Cat I try to get on with my family biography. Cotswold Sheep and Biography are two completely different worlds… at least so I thought until today.
It was only when I went to collect some sheep in Hampshire and got chatting about the history of the Cotswold Sheep Society and I asked ‘Why Cotswolds?’ that the owner explained his great grandfather had been a member of the CSS and it had seemed right to keep them in the family. He showed me a page from the 1915 Flock Book and commented there were quite a few members of Council who came from Norfolk. We had discussed earlier that I’d been brought up there, so I was asked if any of the names meant anything to me…. I looked and there it was in black and white… ‘Captain C. A. Fountaine, Narford Hall, Swaffham, Norfolk. Elected 1915 – To Retire 1917‘.
It really was the strangest feeling reading that, indeed even heart stopping… Mary Fountaine was William Amhurst Tyssen-Amherst’s mother, and William (my great great grandfather) was born at Narford Hall. Narford Hall was just some sixteen miles from Didlington and for many years the two families were closely entwined. Sadly, when financial ruin hit the Amhersts in 1906, a large chunk of Fountaine money went too. There was a court case and I don’t imagine the cousins saw much of each other after that.
But it does feel weird to know that there were Cotswold Sheep at Narford Hall in deepest, darkest Norfolk, and that a cousin of mine was a member of the Society of which I am currently Chairman, and that he too served his time on Council as I do nearly a hundred years later. Why did I choose Cotswolds… maybe it was just coincidence or maybe there is indeed more in heaven and earth than most of us can possibly dream of…?!
Anyway there is now a whole new field (!) of research for me to explore… and one question particularly intrigues me… what were all these Cotswold sheep doing in East Anglia? There were flocks near Bury St Edmunds, Fakenham, two near Swaffham, Thetford, and Norwich. In fact in 1915 there were more members on Council from Norfolk and Suffolk than there were from Gloucestershire. If any reader of this blog can shed any light on this – I would love to hear from you!