It must be said that driving up to the back of the Cottages in a red Ferrari did little to foster a good opening impression. Comments varied between ‘flash git!’ and ‘what does he think he looks like?’ as the young fellow leaped athletically out of the car and skipped into his new second home, leaving his woman to struggle with an assortment of very pretty luggage. And it was here that the ‘impression’ took a further nose-dive. The woman, a blonde, naturally… no… definitely unnaturally, was not of the sort generally associated with the staid respectability of the Parish of Torver. She alighted rather awkwardly into a deep, muddy puddle for which her three inch fashion heels were clearly not best suited, and her attention was therefore concentrated very much upon her feet, as was that of the few local observers. It was natural, therefore, that the subsequent examination of the new arrival should proceed upwards from there.
The legs were shapely and seemed interminably long given the extreme distance the eye was obliged to travel before encountering a hemline. And then, the ocular journey to the broad, vinyl belt was over in a flash, there being an almost indecent dearth of material in between. Above this a veritable puff-ball of white fur supported a face which bore more paint than the Mona Lisa though applied less with the delicate artistry of a Da Vinci than with the industrious efforts and broad brush of a painter and decorator. With pendulous earrings down to the shoulders, a stud in the tongue, and half a dozen rings piercing the eyebrows, nostril and lower lip, here stood an apparition that would surely be the subject of bar-room banter for months to come - if not years.
It was that very evening that the Shepherd recorded the first local encounter with the new people. He was working with the Spring lambs up at his farm over by Coniston Water when the young couple appeared at the gate having chanced upon him during their first stroll around the area. “What yer doin’, mate?”, the off-comer asked.
The Shepherd, engrossed in pressing a reluctant new lamb onto a teat in an effort to persuade it to live, was slightly startled and turned to survey his visitors. Still bent over the job in hand he looked them both up and down, shook his head, and returned to his task, pretending that there was no-one there.
“Can’t it find the tit, Mate? Not a problem I ever ‘ave, is it, Sharon?” he said, laughing and nudging the woman so hard that she almost fell off her platform shoes. “Still, yours are a bit ‘ard to miss, ain’t they, Darlin’”. The woman giggled but did not seem unduly embarrassed by the jibe. The Shepherd shook his head once again, determined to ignore them.
“So, what’s wiv this sheep farmin’ lark, eh Guv? Any money in it?”
The Shepherd released the lamb, watched with satisfaction as it continued to suck without his help, and then turned to face the unwelcome intruders. “An’ what d’you know ‘bout sheep farmin’, city boy?”
“Nuffin. That’s why I’m askin’ yer, ain’ I? Don’t ‘ave many sheep dahn the East End where we come from, do we, Darlin’?” (This last to the woman, much to the Shepherds relief.)
“Well, why don’t you go back t’your East End an’ leave me in peace to get on wi’ me work?”
“No offence, Mate, no offence. Jus’ tryin’ to be sociable, tha’s all. Keep yer ‘air on, Grandad.”
The Shepherd was three steps toward the gate with something a long way removed from sociability on his mind when the young man pointed past him and exclaimed, “What the ‘ells that fing, then?” The Shepherd glanced behind him and a look of real embarrassment came over his face. “It’s a donkey, what does it look like?” The Shepherd did not like donkeys.
“Oh, cool. So what’s wiv the donkey then? Any money in ‘em?”
The donkey, a recent arrival, was not a welcome addition to the Shepherd’s livestock. It had been left in a field across the village a month since, abandoned by it’s owner, and, as always in such situations, the Shepherd had been called to deal with it. It was the way in Torver. A sheep hit by a car; a horse stuck in a bog; a fox wounded by lampers and left to die in pain; call the Shepherd. He’ll know what to do. But any thought that the Shepherd might explain the presence of the donkey to this flash-harry and his tarty piece from the big city never for a moment entered his head.
“It’s just a donkey, a’right? An’ it’s nothin’ t’do with you, so why don’t you just push off an’ leave me be? An’ anyway, what d’yer keep goin’ on about money for?”
“Makes the world go round, dunnit Mate. I mean, you take that donkey. I could make money out o’ that fing. I can make money out o’ anyfink, can’t I, Sharon? It’s like a knack, sorta.”
Annoying as these awful people were, the Shepherd recognised a challenge and looked keenly at the young spiv. “So how you goin’ t’make money out of a flamin’ donkey?”
The young man stared at the Shepherd, with a smirk on his face, and then at the donkey as it nibbled grass along the edge of the farmyard. After a few moments thought he pulled a fat wallet out of his back pocket and opened it to reveal a wad of notes. “I’ll tell you what I’ll do, Grandad.” The Shepherd bristled a little, but kept his cool. “I’ll give yer a ton for the ole nag, and cos I ain’t got nowhere to keep it, you keep it ‘ere an’ I’ll slip you a pony a week for it’s feed an’ stuff. No… Tell you what, Mate, I’ll make that a nifty a week fer the feed an’ yer trouble. Ow’s that sound?”
“I don’t know ‘ow it sounds ‘cause I don’t know what the ‘ell your talkin’ about.”
“Oh gawd ‘elp us! Look! ‘Undred quid for the donk and fifty a week fer you t’look after it ‘til I can shift it. Alright? What bleedin’ language d’you lot talk round ‘ere?”
“You want t’give me a hundred pounds for the donkey and fifty…”
“You got it, Grandad. An’ when I’ve got a taker for it I’ll take it off yer ‘ands. An’ I’ll tell yer what… I’ll frow in anuvver ‘undred when I pick it up. Can’t say fairer than ‘at, can I?”
“I reckon you’re bonkers, son. So when do I get paid?”
“Right now, Grandad.” The off-comer hauled a pack of notes out of the wallet and started peeling them off. “There yer go. ‘Undred to start an’ there’s anuvver ‘undred for the first fortnight. If I ain’t shifted it by then I’ll be back wiv some more.”
The Shepherd took the money and folded it into the breast pocket of his overalls. “Looks like you got yourself a deal, son, but if you ever call me Grandad again I’ll be showin’ you what t’midden looks like from th’inside.”
The couple departed, the man striding away laughing with his hands in his pockets, without a care in the world, and the woman struggling after on her ridiculous elevated shoes. The Shepherd watched them go and shook his head at the lunacy of the world.
Several weeks went by and the young man was downing pints in the Kirk’us when the Shepherd strode in. He took the Londoner by the arm and guided him across to a quiet corner of the Torver bar. “We got a problem, son. That donkey took sick three days back an’ I called t’vet to it, but it daid on me las’ neet. I’ll gi’ you your money back, o’ course.”
“Oh gawd blimey!” said the young man, clasping his head in his hands. “Too bleedin’ late, Mate. I’m doin’ the draw tomorrer an’ I’ll have a new owner fer it come Saturday!”
“What draw you talkin’ about?” asked the Shepherd, much confused.
“The Donkey Draw! I set up a site an’ raffled it on the Internet – ten quid a go. What am I gonna do now?”
“You raffled it, you pillock! It ain’t a bottle o’ whisky, sonny. It’s an animal. You don’t bloody raffle ‘em!”
“Well, it’s a dead animal now so it don’t matter, do it?”
“Well, you’ll just ‘ave t’give ‘em their money back, won’t you!”
The off-comer stood for several minutes in deep thought before speaking again. “Yeah. Look, leave it t’me. I’ll see what I can do.” A moment later he was out the door and away home to contemplate the disaster that had just befallen his latest money-making venture.
Come Saturday night he bounced into the Kirk’us with a smile stretching from ear to ear and walked straight to the table where the Shepherd was negotiating a brim-full pint of beer. Reaching for his wallet he dropped a wad of fivers on the table. “There yer go! Tha’s a monkey. Five ‘undred to you, Guv. ‘Undred I owe yer an’ four ‘undred to cover yer vet’s bill an dumpin’ the carcass. That a’right? Oh, an’ I’m sorry I called you Grandad. You’re a’right, Mate” With that he strolled away to the bar, returning a few minutes later with his pint.
“What’s all this about?” asked the Shepherd.
“Done it, Mate. Sold the donkey an’ banked near on three an’ ‘alf grand. ‘Ow about that fer makin’ money, eh?”
“But the donkey’s dead!” said the Shepherd in complete confusion. “Weren’t your punters a just li’le bit upset about that?”
The off-comer laughed out loud, slapping the Shepherd on the shoulder. “Only the guy what won it, Guv! So I gave ‘im his ten quid back an’ a pony for his trouble an’ ee was ‘appy as a pig.”
Torver Tales >