23 June 2010 7 Comments

Soggy sheep at breakfast

I was under the impression that the English weren’t allowed into Wales any more, now that Tony Blair persuaded us we ought to have at least half a government of our own and let Westminster pay for it. I assume Colin Cotterill managed to make it through the border undercover on his Australian passport. Which is a good thing, because his blog post of this week was a lovely appreciations of my homeland, even down to the 28 yards of daily rainfall for which I yearn as I swelter through 40-degree desert heat here in Jerusalem.

During his stay at the Hay-on-Wye Book Festival, Colin muses that a soggy sheep would be less attractive than a dry one. A dry sheep may conjure up pleasanter images of romantic moments in the haybarn (in a land where there are more sheep than humans, romance might occasionally include a sheep.) There is, however, considerable lanolin in the sheep’s wool, so the rainfall doesn’t penetrate to the sheep’s body and therefore a good shake would be all that’s needed to dry him or her out – for further investigation, as it were.

I hope that clears things up for you, Colin. Next time you’re at the Hay festival, even if it’s raining, sheep are the perfect antidote. (Why do you think all those fat, boozed up London publishing types come all the way to the countryside?) Take this old Welsh joke as your cue:

A man walks into a pub. “Jones has been found having sex with a sheep,” he says. The barman looks up and asks, “Was it a male sheep or a female sheep?” “A female sheep, of course,” says the man. “There’s nothing wrong with Jones.”

Or this one:

A man’s walking along a country lane. He sees a farmer in the field wrestling with a sheep. He leans over the stone wall and calls out, “Are you shearing that sheep?” The farmer shouts back, “No. Get your own girlfriend.”

(Shearing. He hears “sharing.” Geddit?)

Naturally as a Welshman I have a very soft spot for sheep, though despite the jokes I’ve never known them in the biblical sense. As a child, I used to eat breakfast with sheep, however.

More precisely, the sheep would come down from their grazing on the mountains to escape the cold of the night. In the morning, we’d find them in my grandparents’ back garden, chewing the lawn and staring through the window at me as I chewed my Weetabix. For some reason (probably because it always rains in Wales) it’s always raining in my memories of staring at the sheep. There’s something deeply peaceful about remembering the slow munching of the sheep, their empty stare (they aren’t very smart), and the slanting rain over the valley.

When my brother and I would go out to the garden to play football, the lawn would be studded with little black-tan pellets of sheep shit. Unlike dog and cat do, sheep poop barely even sticks to your skin, because it comes out quite dry. So you could do sliding tackles through the delicate feces and go back into the house for tea without having to wash off. Even the sensitive nose of my grandmother was unable to ascribe a negative association to the smell of sheep shit.

At the Jerusalem Zoo a month or so ago, I was wandering the petting zoo with my two-year-old. One of the sheep starting funneling pellets from his bottom – they don’t come out one by one, but rather as if they were being fed out in groups of seven or eight. I grabbed my son. “Look, it’s pooping. Isn’t that wonderful?”

It was then that I realized what fine preparation for fatherhood I had received all those years ago. Whereas most parents are repulsed by their children’s poop, I think I had a magical childhood association with the pellets hidden between the leaves of green grass and have therefore always loved changing the little fellow’s diaper.

…If all this strange copromemorabilia doesn’t put you off moving to Wales, Colin, I’m sure the price of real estate (which has reached positively insane English levels) will.

7 Responses to “Soggy sheep at breakfast”

  1. Dai Laffin 24 June 2010 at 6:40 am #

    I don’t know what it says about you or you readers that a dispatch concerning sheep shagging and sheep shit should guarantee at least one response.

    I’m no expert in this field (the field of animal excrement) but I’d question whether sheep shit actually “comes out quite dry”. Surely freshly produced sheep poo pellets are like freshly produced chocolate raisins in as much as they are initially wet but then go on to dry. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have need of a word describing the dung encrusted wool hanging off the rear end of a sheep – “dag”.

    Anyway, as I said I’m no expert but that doesn’t mean that I’m not interested. So the next time you’re at the zoo please check out the camel poo for moistness. I’m assuming it will be fairly dry as I believe they only eat sand.

    Finally, I appreciate that you’d be hard pushed to crowbar in a reference to “my Palestinian crime novels” within a nostalgic post about sheep shagging and sheep shit in Wales, but you must try harder as it rather spoils my game of bingo when you don’t slip one in, as it were. Don’t leave it for me to do again next time.

  2. NK 6 July 2010 at 3:50 am #

    where are ur facts coming from on dead sea? thanks,

  3. Matt Beynon Rees 9 July 2010 at 6:51 am #

    Dai, As I missed out on including a reference to “my Palestinian crime novels” in this post, I appreciate very much your introducing this most important of topics in the Comments section. My readers will no doubt appreciate your thoughtfulness.

  4. Matt Beynon Rees 9 July 2010 at 6:52 am #

    NK, You’re referring to another post (“What’s floating in the Dead Sea”). The pumping of sewage and the amount of effluent flowing to the Dead Sea from East Jerusalem comes from the Jerusalem Municipality’s planning committee.

  5. tuck, from goodreads 13 January 2011 at 3:31 pm #

    i read a great novel {doesn’t really have anything to do with the 4 palestian detective novels by matt rees) called “sheepshagger” by niall griffiths. and though there are not many sheep in the story, it does rain a lot and is set in wales.

  6. Matt Beynon Rees 16 January 2011 at 2:49 am #

    Things otherwise unrelated to my novels are allowed on this blog, Tuck. So long as they relate to sheeps. There’s no mutton in spam 😉


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