Posted by Tania Kindersley.
Down the stairs at noon I stumped, still not up to much. I wish there were a poetic way of saying this but there is not: my entire head is filled with snot. Luckily, the incredibly kind Stepfather had been round to give the dog her morning walk, so all I had to do was make some eggs, take some iron tonic, and think about the blog. Because this is the day; it’s the absolute mandated day when you must do round-ups, and write end of year lists, and record stirring events.
For a horrible moment, I could not remember a single thing that happened this year. Was it Libya? Was this the Arab Spring? It seems so long ago. Was this really the year that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed? I do remember that each week the Euro was going to crash, that Greece tottered, and riots broke out.
All right, said my addled brain, yes; it was that year. I suppose I have to write about that. Everyone will be writing about that, because that is what is decreed on this 31st day, but occasionally I don’t mind spying a passing bandwagon and leaping aboard.
Then I thought I should really go out and take you some pictures. I heard on the wireless that it was raining in the south, but it was lovely here, the sun gentling the hills. I should take a picture of them on the last day of 2011, for posterity. So I swaddled myself up, on account of my cold, even though the weather continues mild, and took The Pigeon out to look at the view.
I was so glad I did. Everything looked quite shimmeringly lovely. There were the sheep, white as paper, gathered in a tight huddle in the meadow. They made a perfect picture. Then they started moving, quite fast. My brain is very stupid with this cold, so it took me a moment to work out what was going on.
At first I thought the farmer was moving them. I could see a black dog. But then they started charging about, much faster than normal. And I suddenly registered that I could hear barking. Sheepdogs do not bark at their flock.
The sheep split, veering into two tight groups, galloping in different directions. Even from three hundred yards away, I caught the sharp air of panic.
Shit, I thought. They are being chased.
My neighbour was out, saying goodbye to some Christmas guests. ‘J,’ I bawled. ‘I think a dog is chasing the sheep. The sheep are going nuts.’
The neighbour is a man of doing. He is always performing wonderful practical things, of which I know nothing. He fixes my outside tap, and checks the gutters. He always knows what the weather will do. Without pausing, he leapt into his truck, and roared off down the drive.
I was too far away to get to the sheep, but I was so enraged by the crazed dog that I started yelling: ‘Hey, hey,’ in some vain hope it might hear me and stop. I could see it quite clearly now. It was laying about the poor sheep left and right. I could not see if it was biting, but prayed that it was only chasing. The terrified ladies were running up and down the sloping meadow, racing for their lives.
Come on, J, I thought. Come on. Suddenly there he was. If it were a film, this would have been the moment when the Indiana Jones music broke out. The black truck streaked across the turf, going straight for the errant dog. It stopped, and the neighbour leapt out, trying to corral the animal. I could hear him yelling in fury, his voice shaking with anger. The dog dodged him, back and forth. Back into the truck the neighbour got, for more wild chasing. It was like the Dukes of Hazzard. If it had not been so serious, it would have been funny.
The neighbour saved the sheep. They huddled in a tiny, dense flock, under the trees to the west. I hoped that they were only exhausted, not hurt. The worry is that this kind of shock is exactly what leads ewes to cast their lambs. Watching the whole thing unfold, I realised keenly why farmers are so protective of their sheep. They are such vulnerable creatures. As the neighbour charged to their rescue, like some knight in an old-fashioned book, I felt like cheering and hanging out flags.
Once the drama was over, I turned to find The Pigeon standing like a statue, at my heels. It was as if she sensed that something very serious was going on. I blessed her good temper and obedient manners; even when she was young and predatory, going after rabbits like a panther, she never chased sheep. Sheep and deer were the two things I trained her never to go near, and she took the lesson well.
And so it turns out, on this last, sunny day of the old year, that instead of recalling world events, and cataclysmic geo-political shifts, and events on the home front, I give you a little story about sheep. I smile as I write that; for some reason it feels appropriate. I have no idea why. Anyway, if I had gone over the old year, I would have had to write of all those funerals in May. I’m not sure I want to write that, just today. Better, perhaps, to have a little ovine tale, with a happy ending.
This is what the last day of 2011 looked like, in the north-east of Scotland:
It's a bit stupid to get sentimental about dogs, just because it is New Year's Eve, but the greatest constant this year has been the sweet and loyal companionship of this dear creature, and I don't take that for granted for a single moment:
And, of course, there is the hill:
I suppose that, away from all the antic world events, this will always be the year that my father died. I miss him very much.
And I miss my darling Duchess, who was as fine a dog as I have ever met, elegant and funny and charming, and not quite as others. She died the night of my father's funeral. I think of her every day, as her sister and I take our morning walk.
But there were joys as well as sorrows. I planted a lot of trees. I saw many of the oldest friends. I watched the magnificent Kauto Star rewrite racing history to win his fifth King George, something no horse has ever done. It sounds a bit strange to put a horse in the joy column, but in times of trouble and uncertainty, there is something amazingly simple and profound in watching a brave and true creature doing what he was bred to do, with such brio:
Wonderful picture of him acknowledging the cheers of the crowd, by Steve Parsons for the Press Association.
Oh, and if we are talking of great horses, I was also privileged to watch the mighty Frankel drive all before him on the flat. He was another once in a lifetime horse, and I'm not sure I shall ever forget him blasting off in front in the 2000 Guineas, leaving everything else trailing in his wake.
And, of course, in the joys versus sorrows, The Dear Readers are writ large. I did not expect, when I started this blog, that it would demonstrate to me so clearly the kindness of strangers. But that is what it has done. You are magnificent, and I wish you all a happy and peaceful New Year.