We are feeling the differences between the city and the countryside.
You walk around the Tesco’s near my mum’s house in London. The whole world is there. And it’s nice too – like it should be an example for diversity where research people should come and take notes. Ok, anecdotal notes but still. The check-out people are friendly, customers strike up spontaneously refreshing conversation and you have a sneaky look in other peoples’ trolleys as you go by. Cultural reference. Sometimes my mum goes there just to have a stroll around… and I don’t blame her. I go there every time with pleasure.
Delphine and Jack went to the city this week. They had the amazing opportunity to visit the Royal Albert Hall on Wednesday night. It was a quick trip for them; one day there and the next day back. I wondered if the experience would be a bit much for Delph. The train ride can be sneaky; taking it out of you without you realising it. The theatre tickets were for the final dress rehearsal of the ballet Cinderella (by more amazing luck, my mum and aunt’s neighbour, Jacqui is a senior member of the Royal Academy of Dance and she actually likes us).
‘How is it, Delph?’ I asked as they were on their second interval.
‘Amazing!’ she boomed.
As they were watching the floor light up with different scenes; ice rink, forest, ballroom floor, I was walking Fin past lots of loosed sheep. They’d been locked for a couple of weeks in a grass-shorn field, at least a hundred of them, young and old. On the other side of the fence was fresh, long grass. Wildflowers. I noted a downed fence now, and at least ten of them brazenly chewing on this lush booty. They were standing on the edge of a steep ditch separating them from our nature path.
Fin stopped and stared. About fifteen sheep stared back. We carried on our walk and came back thirty minutes later. About half the sheep had since fallen and were now languishing in the water-filled ditch. It looked deep, They were paddling, trying to climb up the steep bank. And failing.
Oh crap, I thought. I have to go and tell the farmer. I’d always assumed the farm which owned these fields was the one in plain sight. A lot of barns, a snug house. I made my way to the front door. There was a light on and I could hear a TV. I knocked. Nothing. Knocked again. Eventually a lone cat came to look at me. I looked back.
‘I know,’ it seemed to say, ‘my owner is a moron.’
I knocked louder and louder. Checked the door. Unsurprisingly for this area, the handle went down. It was open, I’m not going in, I thought. Even with dying sheep.
Eventually, a man came out to the door. This was no farmer – he looked like he worked in a leisure centre. Indeed, he confirmed it – he was just renting the house. He did say he’d call the farmer, so I thanked him and sped off home.
The next morning I went back to the bog. At least five sheep now bobbed around in the ditch. One little lamb’s ears stuck out from the muddy water. I felt my head moving from side to side. Was this part and parcel of living in the countryside?
I went back to the bog again in the evening. Just can’t stay away from death. This time I took Lulu and Amalie. The farmer and his son were there with a digger, slowly pulling the carcasses out. I got out of the car and approached the farmer. In fairness, he gave me a pretty pleasant smile.
‘It was me who was trying to get in touch with you last night,’ I said briskly.
His eyes lit up. ‘Ah, yeah. I thought the sheep had come from another field across the main road so I didn’t come to check.’
What? He thought they were another farmer’s sheep so he didn’t come to save them? I tried not to look shocked. Tried to stay logical. ‘Well, I guess you couldn’t have saved them from the ditch anyhow. It’s such a steep bank.’
‘Oh no,’ he said matter-of-factly, ‘I could have. You wrap a rope around their necks and pull them out.’
I gulped. ‘Right. How many did you lose then?’
His jaw twitched. ‘Eight of them.’
I wanted to groan. Eight sheep drowned! Surely some would have been slaughtered for food, but drowning was needlessly awful. I told the farmer if I saw sheep loose again I’d call him directly. He gave me his number without hesitation. And all the while he was still smiling and perfectly pleasant. I’m not saying he wasn’t gutted. He was gutted.