Sunday, 17 October 2010

Should You Look A Gift Horse In The Mouth?

The Heath was owned by the National Trust, it had been bequeathed years ago by the father of one of our worthies. The National Trust employed a Warden - living with his family in the aptly named Wardens Cottage, just behind the cricket green, opposite the Heaths carpark.

Gordon the Warden was a tall, very tall - just one inch off being categorised as a giant - thin man with long black hair and a thick bushy black beard. So thick was his beard and hair that one day hot summers day (whilst out walking the dogs) I wondered who it was walking towards me with a balaclava on!

Anyway enough said about poor old Gordons beard. He was a pleasant friendly man, he spoke with a slow West Country drawl and like me grew most of his vegetables. We had a lot of time for Gordon and his wife, Debbie, so it came as no surprise when we were invited to Gordons 40th birthday - a Surprise 40th Birthday Party Barn Dance, being held in one of Ted Cross' spare barns. Poor Debbie was having a devil of a time keeping the whole thing a surprise, Gordon was always popping up when he was least expected and to be honest he was getting a little miffed that Debbie was not making a big enoough fuss of his birthday as he thought it deserved. In the week leading up to the party a steady stream of party guests visited the tearoom, with plates of food and drink to be hidden in our fridges and freezers before the Great Day. Gordons mother arrived a few days before hand to take control and keep Gordon occupied... but Gordon smelt a rat and started behaving badly - the day before the Great Day I think poor Debbie was on the verge of leaving him! (I jest but you get the picture)

Anyway the day arrived and friends rallied around got everything organised and stood in the dark waiting for the great moment. Quite what Debbie said to lure him out in the dark to an old barn standing in the middle of a field that nobody, but dear old Ted, had access to is beyond me - but there you go it happened and Gordon was suitably surprised - the band struck up and a great party was had by one and all.

Sorry that wasn't the actual story, just the background. The party guests were mostly fellow villagers, a few National Trust wardeny types and family that had travelled up from the West Country. So over a few glasses of beer, home-made pasties and country music we were cornered by one of the village "characters" a strange looking man, with wild staring eyes, a frightfully long pedigree and enormously long double-barrelled name to match. He whispered to us in a conspirtorial way that he was having to cull a few feral sheep (feral sheep? For Gods sake what is a feral sheep?) he couldn't bury the wretches on his land anymore (new EU regulations), he couldn't sell the meat (they weren't being slaughtered in a slaughter house), it was going to cost him a small fortune to have them removed and incinerated, did we want one? "Of course" said Sean, the tearoom freezer had plenty of room now that all of Gordons party goodies had been removed. It was a chance conversation and when nothing appeared the following week we weren't really disappointed.

About a month later I was working in the shop when I saw the battered utility truck belonging to aforementioned nutter whizz into our carpark. In the time it took for the truck to screech around it was hurtling back out down the road again. I thought nothing more of it - about an hour later Sean came in from deliveries.

"Whats that great big black bag doing in the garden?" he asked.
"Black bag?" I replied blankly.
"Oh typical some stupid sod has dumped a black bag of rubbish into the garden." He stormed off to investigate. He came back minutes later shaking his head.
"Theres a bloody sheep in that bag."
Ahh so that was what his nutter-ship was doing in the car park.
"Well get it into the freezer quickly."
"I can't put it into the freezer - its a whole bloody sheep!"

Now I don't know what we were both expecting but to have a whole dead sheep chucked over the garden wall was not quite how we had interpreted the conversation at Gordons party. Neat little piles of chops and legs neatly jointed was what I had in mind. Sean spent the rest of the day rigging up ladders, hooks and ropes in order to winch the beast up with - although Sean was a big strong bloke a whole sheep was quite cumbersome for him to haul around and hook up, whilst keeping a couple of very intrigued dogs at bay. He chopped the beasts head off, gutted it and began the task of skinning it (all skills he had acquired working in the African bush for De Beers quarter of a century beforehand). The kids came home from school and turned into the yard to be greeted by this weird contraption with a sheep hanging from it, the Ridgeback running around with the head in her mouth and the Collie lying watching, (in only the way a Collie can), their father stripped down to the his shorts covered in blood, brandishing an extremely offensive weapon. I was on the vegetable patch pretending it was a perfectly normal rural sight.
An hour or so later and Sean had managed to cut the sheep up into some pretty decent joints and chops - but we weren't happy, the kids didn't want to eat anything their father had butchered, so we fired up the braai and cooked the lot there and then, and the dogs fed happily off it for a couple of weeks. The rest of the carcass we burnt.

It seems that these gifts had been distributed around the village to most of the guests at Gordons party - Pete Osborne, a villager who once worked in the local slaughterhouse, had been called in by all the others - he had spent a day skinning and gutting the poor beasts and been given a leg by each of them. His wife had roasted one of them for dinner that night. Pete had cut into it and then phoned everybody he had worked for and told them to throw it all away immediately. Maybe our nuttership wasn't such a nutter after all - he had disposed of 20 unwanted carcasses for the cost of driving around the village.


  1. Oh that made me laugh. My first question would have been 'how long has the thing been dead?' I don't think I would have wanted to eat any of it either.

  2. It should have been ours too! I can still see that sheep hanging in the garden - dogs watching from as close as they were allowed to be,