Welcome to the nursery. Yes, it’s that time again when I roll up my sleeves to bring some newborns into the world. And a cold world it is, too, here in South West France. With a sharp frost and an even sharper east wind this morning, the ewes will be glad of their new house which I laboured for a few months to build last autumn. Except that, true to form, they are all lying around outside shivering! I’m not complaining: it’s their choice. My father was always a great one for shutting animals inside during the winter months but that isn’t my way. I would much rather see them out in the fresh air, if that’s what they prefer. To be fair, we actually don’t have any lambs yet but they are due this week. Sod’s law we hot-wheeled it down from Scotland to be here for the due date when, quick as a flash, nothing happened. Of course, were we delayed, which we nearly were when the turbos exploded on the car, then they would have all lambed in a puddle and given me the blame. So it’s over to middle-night excursions around the field in dressing-gown and wellies for a few weeks, until we reach the required number of deposits, before I head back north for some more graft. Call it a ‘Shepherd’s holiday’ – a bit like a bus-man’s holiday, only without the timetable delays and disgruntled passengers!
Did I mention turbos? Ouch, sore point. I never knew we even had 2 turbos on one car but seemingly we did until they both seized and ceased in an unassuming bang. Thankfully we now have two more and all is well, except for the bank account, as those things cost the price of a small house. That wasn’t the only trauma on our journey down here either. After we traversed the Scottish borders on well gritted roads, admiring picturesque snow covered fields, we assumed we had said goodbye to the white stuff. How wrong we were. Following a few stop-offs to see family our ferry docked in Calais and we continued on the last 10 hour leg of the journey with intentions of being home by closing time. What we hadn’t reckoned on was yet more bad weather, this time of the blizzard variety, somewhere north of Le Mans. No problem, we have a four wheel drive with two recently discovered turbos, so we should get through. However, there is one fundamental difference in winter-driving between these two countries, in that the French do not have– or cannot afford - any salt to put on the roads. Not only that but, maybe because they don’t see much of the stuff, they haven’t a clue what to do when they encounter it. Well, they have a theory and that is to drive as fast as you can and hope to stay in a straight line. Beside the change of underpants, this inevitably this leads to multiple crashes and, presumably, premature death; hence the motorway gets closed, so we get diverted through deep forests in near-blind conditions. With the aid of a sketchy satnav and some googling, thankfully we happened across a local chateau displaying a welcoming sign, where we pitched up for the night on cotton sheets. Yes, an expensive trip was had by all.
Anyway, here we are awaiting multiple births with log-burner ablaze. The winter house-sitters will be eternally on our Christmas card list since they must have spent the whole 3 months cleaning the place while we were away. Honestly, I have never seen the house so clean - they have left it like a show-home. Not to worry, a few days with the dogs moulting everywhere and some sheep-poo on the doormat and it will soon be back to normal. Besides filing accounts, ordering materials, arguing with utility suppliers and pestering my toiling workers by phone, this does give me a bit more time to relax and take in a little of what’s happening on TV and in the news while my blood pressure recovers to something approaching normal. Well, you would think so, wouldn’t you? For anyone else it would – but for some reason I seem to see through the transparency of mundane, straight into the world of bizarreness. More often than not this is to do with everyone and their dog trying to save the world. To start with, where did all these bloody vegans come from? I only heard of the word about 10 years ago, and now they have taken over our government, TV, newspapers, schools and social media. It’s a common fact that you are now never more than 10 feet away from a vegan, and they’re closing in. Even the rats are running from them in case they bore them to death about health food. Did anyone pick up on the fact that the latest Peppa Pig stage theatre production has been banned from selling sausages in its canteen in case children realise that sausages come from pigs! Yes kids, you heard it here first, Santa is your Dad, your Mum is the tooth fairy, Boris Johnson is an ambassador for Britain and, ever since time began, we humans eat other animals - because we are born carnivores! Not only that, but every third person seems to have developed an intolerance to something, be it gluten, wheat, lactose, sodium, fructose, Jeremy Vine or the Bible. It’s true – every restaurant you go into, someone is always demanding special treatment, perhaps so they can sit there being piously smug while others dine on mere ordinary meals that actually taste of something. Where did all this come from? Call me mister picky but, 40 odd years ago, if I didn’t eat my school dinners – or my mother’s ghastly cooking for that matter – I was made to stand in a corridor with a kitchen fork sticking out of my ear. My parents and grandparents would eat anything and everything, such was the hunger of their era. And I am pretty sure those meals contained enough wheat and milk to feed a sty full of sows, but we didn’t have to take 2 days off work with stomach upsets if we so much as glimpsed a carton of yogurt. So how did we evolve into a race of finicky whiners during just one generation? Have we really been brainwashed by the trash we see on our screens and papers, or hear on BBC phone-ins? Or have a third of the nation just developed enough bravery to step out of the closet after all these years and admit that they never actually enjoyed boiled brawn and rice pudding in the first place?