As I rounded the hill on the road between our offices this lunchtime, I heard from the slope opposite a crescendo of bleating, gradually becoming more frantic and earnest as I walked roughly in its direction. There has been livestock in that field for several months now, whether the landowner’s or a nearby farmer’s I don’t know. Certainly they disappear for six months of the year, and while I’m old enough to have been told all about abattoirs by my parents (or, as they euphemistically called it, the birds and the beefs) I’m bright enough to know you can’t kill ’em all and hope for new lambs come the spring.
As I tried to discern through the trees what was happening, I became aware of engine noise among the sheep. Eventually I could just about see a Range Rover bumbling along, accompanied by a cloud, a host of yellow lanolin, that seemed to be constantly renewing itself at the front of the vehicle as animals swarmed round the outside of the cloud to keep up. I couldn’t spot any particular Scargill sheep in charge of the demonstration, but it was clearly having an effect on the driver of the van, which had slowed considerably even while I was watching. And all the time it was baa, baa, baa: we shall overcome.
Eventually the driver committed a fatal error, albeit one that was absolutely true to type. He started sounding his horn. I’ve never in my experience known this calm an animal down, and I imagine the Horse Whisperer wouldn’t recommend it for the more skittish livestock any more than he’d suggest some sort of firework and rocket lullabye performance of the William Tell Overture. All it will do is frighten the fearful, which is presumably what the Tory behind the wheel was hoping would happen. I pictured him, rattling around in his uncomfortable van, face suffused with red as he hollered “this is outrageous!” over a chorus of sheep voices.
But these sheep weren’t fearful. These sheep were committed to their cause. The fartings of incandescent rage mingled with their angry clamour, and although I can’t be sure I think the Range Rover might have started rocking from side to side, as I rounded another bend and lost sight of the incident. It’s possible that the driver got his van clear, of course, but if you’re round our way this evening, and there’s a fourbefour pelting erratically up the road towards you with a handful of gambolling attendants in its wake, I advise you try to make eye contact with the driver: if all you can see is the cold, dead stare of a fleecy-headed murderer, then run.