Look At It This Way - November 8, 2013

Aw ... a shot from last year's  English National Sheepdog trials at Over Kellet, Lancashire when over  150 sheepdog handlers took part. Trainee sheepdog Tim was clearly keen to learn all he could.
Aw ... a shot from last year's English National Sheepdog trials at Over Kellet, Lancashire when over 150 sheepdog handlers took part. Trainee sheepdog Tim was clearly keen to learn all he could.
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I used to love watching One Man and His Dog.

The real thing was virtually on my doorstep at one time - for thanks to the two men with whom I lived for some time (not at the same time you understand) my second home/s were in Lakeland, one at Winster, the other at Grange.

In fact it wasn’t long before I came to realise that what made them so singularly attractive was - where they lived.

That’s when I moved on. You can’t build a relationship on location alone even if it does throw in sheep with attitude and cut out some of the traffic jams to the annual flower show at Holker Hall.

And while Winster had the delights of the Mason’s Arms and Cartmel Races within easy reach Grange was a little like Cleveleys - albeit more scenic and with fewer hip replacements. I had to get my kicks at the tea shop. No decaffeinated Earl Grey for me. Bring me your finest loose leaf.

The only negative element of my move back to Norbreck was in terms of equity on the house and loss of bragging rights.

Now I live closer to the sea and the only vaguely rustic creature in the vicinity is a cockerel who I can hear but not see. Crawling along country lanes behind Sunday sightseers with flat caps and sticky out ears driving at about 18mph gives you every chance to count sheep.

My ex used to have a psychotic collie, the result of some inbreeding between a perfectly nice farmer’s pooch and his cousin twice removed (the dog’s that is, not the farmer’s) whose herding instinct was so strong he would round up snails, and nip at my ankles to chivvy me into the kitchen whenever he felt peckish.

The plus side is snails don’t try to head butt dogs as often as sheep do. The minus is snails are pretty slow off the mark even when they think they are being invited to a beer party (allegedly the humane way of getting shut of them).

And you do feel a bit of a prat whistling and shouting “come by, Lassie, come by” in the hope Lassie, who’s a boy so already has a chip on his shoulder, is going to usher them through the gate or pen them in one of those snail drowning- by -beer devices that don’t actually work - although at least it means you can drink the other half of the bottle.

(Note to would be snail catchers - they really like Theakston’s Old Peculiar. So do I.) But what struck me watching Countryfile’s version of One Man and his Dog the other day was how mind numbingly dull it’s become without Phil Drabble who may have looked like a tortoise in tweed but talked up a storm. Matt Baker’s better looking but his commentary only perked up when one of the sheep bolted for the hospitality tent - Theakston’s anyone?

How baaadly behaved the sheep have become. They used to be pretty docile in Drabble’s day, trotting along, looking a bit sheepish, and wondering why the idiot with the crazy eyes and black and white fur wanted them to go through a gate in the middle of a field when there were no fences on either side.

Today they give it more thought. You can tell when a sheep is thinking because he gives you the devil’s eyes and a head butt. All five circled one teenager’s trainee collie in a decidedly intimidating manner. It was clearly just a matter of time before they decided to play King of the mountain on his squishy bits (the dog’s, not the teenager’s) so he yipped and nipped one and they scarpered.

They’re probably all on anti social baaahaviour orders now. England, as usual, didn’t stand a chance at the four nations showdown as two sheep didn’t think red collars suited them and another looked like a dead ringer for the faun in Pan’s Labyrinth.

Now I’ve bet on sheep races in my time (I really have) but you wouldn’t have given tuppence for the shepherd’s chances.

Before so much as a whistle had been blown in anguish he emerged with an injured nose.

He told Matt he had been head butted by a sheep. One can only surmise, given the location of the injury, he was down on all fours explaining the finer points of rounding up sheep to his dog. Either way the sheep saw his chance and took it - and I reckon he got off lightly. I’ve met sheep double parked the other side of obsessive compulsive disorder in my time. In Iceland I was chased down a dirt track by a sheep baaarking at me. The farmer, who looked a bit like Thor so I hung around for the explanation, told me the sheep had been raised by collies after being orphaned and hand reared.

I remember trotting off to cover the lamb bank at Cumbria for local radio - just in time to see a farmer’s wife chasing a sheep around the yard wearing a dead lamb’s coat.

Apparently she had been trying to tie it round an orphaned lamb in order to get it fostered onto another ewe. Instead another sheep had slung it around her shoulders and legged it.

Talk about mutton dressed as lamb. Maybe she was just cold. I’d have knitted her a woolly jumper...

In the Falklands one farmer told me his lot always knew when their time was up - because they would form a huddle, facing out, and shuffle sideways the moment he, and his dog, tried to pick one off.

“It was like a scene from Wagon Train” he told me.

They also used a reverse V formation, a bit like geese flying in but backwards, so the weakest was always to the rear.

Countryfile also featured a professor with a mop of white hair who demonstrated how her “girlies” could recoognise her - but not presenter Julia Bradbury.

Oh come on, they probably haven’t got a telly.

Or they’re too busy watching Shaun the Sheep on the other side.