Stuck In The Middle With Ewe: or How I Lost my Heart and Found my Flock in Northern Ireland|Holly Crawford|Conrad Press|£9.99
Stuck in the Middle with Ewe is a lighthearted account of how an English journalist fell in love with a Northern Irish farmer, his sheep and a new way of life.
Read a little of Holly Crawford’s (mis)adventures in farming as she swaps deadlines for dairies and suits for Wellington boots…
From Stuck in the Middle with Ewe
by Holly Crawford
I had no idea what I was doing.
I closed my eyes to try and envisage where my hand was in relation to the ewe’s body. I splayed my fingers but could feel nothing apart from liquid.
Then, to my utter bemusement, I felt something solid and circular. I moved a little more and felt another circle. Eventually, after flailing around in my mind for the right words and taking a few deep breaths, I managed to speak.
‘I’ve found hooves. I think.’
‘Good,’ Paul said, calmly. ‘What else?’
‘Erm,’ I pushed past the hooves and felt something else. ‘Nose?’
Not for the first time, the surrealness of the situation washed over me. I was sat in a shed in Northern Ireland with my hand wedged firmly inside a sheep, who had a lamb firmly wedged inside her.
As far as first date activities went, it was a showstopper.
Trailers and tribulations
‘Why aren’t you getting out of the trailer?’ Paul asks.
I want to reply, but I’m a bit preoccupied trying to extract myself from underneath the six ewes that are currently using me as a bouncy castle.
My face is pressed up against the trailer wall and I have sheep to the left of me and sheep to the right. I am literally stuck in the middle with ewe (and I apologise to the rock band, Stealers Wheel, for the appalling pun).
Today, we’re moving some sheep from one field to the other because they’ve stripped this one bare.
When we arrived at our destination, I jumped out of the car and opened the gate while Paul started getting the trailer open and ready.
Bucket of bribes
I went ahead with my bucket of bribes (sheep nuts) to tempt the ewes and their many, many lambs up from the bottom field, the idea being that I would call them and shake my bucket (as it were) and they would come galloping up the hill and follow me, à la The Pied Piper of Hamelin—out of the field, over the road and up into the pen which Paul had made earlier when channelling his inner Blue Peter presenter. No doubt it was being held together with bits of binding string and sticky back plastic.
Things had started out well. I had the advantage over the opposition because I was at the top of the hill, much like Harold Hardrada perched on Battle Hill on that fateful day in Hastings in 1066. (In retrospect, that was a bad example to give, as things didn’t end well for him. But anyway…)
I saw the sheep dotted below, standing like fluffy map markers with their heads down as they diligently chewed the grass. Then I shook my bucket for all I was worth, watched and waited. I’ve seen the ewes react to the food bucket many times now, but it always makes me smile.
One sheep will hear the rattling bucket and her ears will twitch. A couple more shakes and she’ll look up and over at you as she assesses the source of the noise. Once she’s ascertained that yes, you are a friend and you do indeed have food on your person, she’ll call out to her mates.
Then, one by one, heads will bob up in response and they’ll turn as one to look at you. The ewe who spreads the word will move off slowly towards you, then break into a run and any lambs around her will quickly pick up the pace and follow.
The vibration of her hooves on the firm ground will ring out across the field, a signal for the others to follow.
They ‘baaa’ all the way up the hill, their hooves clattering the earth so it feels as if the very ground is vibrating, having been tapped with thirty little tuning forks.
It doesn’t take them many minutes to go from tiny dots on the horizon to big fluffy balls of wool right in my face.
Pleased with my obvious sheep whispering efforts, I turned smugly and walked on as they followed, the sound of their hooves slapping the wet grass and their bleats ringing in my ears.
Unexpected turn of events
Then suddenly, in a strange and unexpected turn of events, I was following them.
They were so keen to be fed that they picked up the pace and surged forward, making it look as if I was being carried forth on a huge, fluffy and very low cloud.
I don’t know why they always act as if they’re poor, starved creatures, which is what they would have you believe if you met them. They’d be all big, sad eyes and mournful bleats, as if they are never given anything to eat. Indeed, they’d certainly give Dickens’ Oliver a run for his money.
And they’re certainly not starving. I mean, they literally stand in their dinner all day. That would be like me covering my office carpet in chocolate bars, which isn’t a bad idea.
A rubbish Tardis
‘Er, girls, I’m here,’ I shouted, ‘you aren’t going to get any food while I’m behind you.’ But my words fall on deaf, fluffy ears and they charged on regardless. Safe to say, Paul found the fact I was outrun by his sheep hilarious.
Eventually, I made it into the pen, and, feeling like The Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, shouted, ‘come on sheepies, come and get your lovely treats,’ as I walked up the tailgate and into the trailer. The plan was that I would lead them all inside in a calm and orderly manner and then exit via the side door with my bucket of food intact.
The sheep, however, were having none of it and barrelled straight in behind me, one after the other much faster than I was expecting, so before I could make my grand exit, they had the bucket and me on the floor. And that, dear reader, is where you came in.
From the outside, it must look like we have a TARDIS for a trailer, because that’s the only way such a large number of sheep could possibly pile into such a small space. But sadly for me, the trailer really is smaller on the inside, making it a very rubbish TARDIS, and I’ll be complaining to Jodie Whittaker or whoever it is now, just as soon as I get this sheep’s hoof off my trachea.
‘Why aren’t you coming out?’ Paul shouts again.
My response is carried off on the wind and thus, will not be recorded in the annals of history.
After about fifteen years, the side door opens and Paul peers in. ‘Stop playing with the sheep and get out,’ he says, smiling as he reaches in and pulls me out. I remove the lamb which was nesting in my hair and put it back in the trailer. It bleats in a miffed kind of way.
I close the door and wait until Paul is out of earshot before turning to the ewes who are peering at me smugly through the window of the trailer, mouths stuffed with their ill-gotten gains.
‘Woolly little beggars,’ I whisper, ‘I’ll get you later.’
Today’s score: Holly: zero. Sheep: 125,000.
Stuck In The Middle With Ewe: Or how I lost my heart and found my flock in Northern Ireland, is published by The Conrad Press. It can be ordered in selected bookshops and online. Find out more about Holly on her website.