And so lambing 2012 begins. I think is is seventeen years since I first came, and I have generally come most years since then. It is a good way of keeping in touch with my friends down in Cornwall – how ironic it is that with the means of communication multiplied, it seems to be harder than ever to maintain contact with people. It is also a wonderful time of the year to take a break – the dark days of winter are beginning to lengthen, although the coldest weather is often in February. Lambing is so different from my daily routine, with an increased physical effort, lots of fresh air, the countryside, and also lots of free time (labour ward permitting) and so it is a real tonic to me. And, I guess, in addition to having to feed me, and listen to my desolation of the piano, it is good to be able to help out a little at a busy time on the farm.
The first preparation for lambing comes about a year before – usually at the previous lambing season. This is when I get the college timetable out and we start plotting when the next lambing should happen. There is usually a three week placement during the winter term, and this moveable feast is governed by the date of Easter. Once this is established, it is then possible to set a good time for coming lambng. Dates are then made in the diary for when the rams should be put in at around the end of August.
The next preparation is to urchase the train tickets. Penzance, at the end of the line, is a good three hundred miles from London. If I were to merrily turn up on the day and buy my ticket, it would cost me the best part of two hundred pounds. But, even worse, I would most likely not get a seat. But an advance ticket, booked before Christmas, can yield fares of £15 each way. And with that, you get a seat reservation. As, this year, lambing coincides with half term school holidays, this really is essential. I write this as we vleave Readng, when the next station is two hours away, and may people are standing.
The last preparation, apart from packing, working ridiculous hours to be able to leave work behind, and remembering to tell folk when I am actually arriving, is to get a haircut. You do not want a lot of hair when lambing – it can get too hot, and, when you are mucking out, assisting at a delivery, or pushing a wheelbarrow along, you do not want to keep stopping to brush hair back off your forehead – especially when your hands may be covered in all sorts of biohazardous material. To the bemusement of my local barber shop, run by a pair of friendly Kosovan brothers, I generally have my hair cut twice a year. This means that I turn up at the barber shop, and take my seat, replete with a full head of hair that is beginning to wave, and is not far short of a Bee Gees cut. Once I take my seat on the mechanically operated chair, have the cape fitted, with the edges pushed into my collar, and the seat is pumped down so I am at a suitable working height, I am asked what cut I want.
“Number four all over please” I reply to the alarm of the barber.
“Are you sure? That is very short, almost a skinhead, and you have such lovely hair!”
“Oh yes. I only come twice a year, and you said the same last time”. Re-assured by me declaration that I know what I am letting myself in for, or, perhaps more to the point, satisfied that he has attempted to dissuade me from what will be a disastrous cut, and therefore free of blame when I behold in horror what he has done, the barber, with no small relish, tackles the longest part of my hair first, causing enormous clumps of hair to fall down onto the cape in front of me.
Normal service is then resumed. For my February cut, we normally talk about the cold, about how mad I am to cut my hair short at such a cold time of the year, and then about lambing and why I am cutting my hair. I am informed that there are some sheep in Kosovo but that they have bad tempers. My September cut normally feautres the excessive heat, and then the beginning of the term. I am reminded that this barber is cheap, close to the college where I work, and good at fashionable haircuts. Pointedly, I am reminded that students like having their hair cut a lot, which is good for business.
So, hair cut, head cold, I head out, this year with a trimmed beard too, regretting the cold, assailed by complments about how young and handsome I now look (to which the only answer is “wow, you must have thought I looked very old and ugly yesterday” and looking forward to the now imminent lambing.