Details have been changed to preserve anonymity
It was a strange request and I had my reservations, this could turn out to be a nightmare. The request came from the farmers wife. Could I visit the farm and ascertain whether the accommodation provided for her husbands sheep dogs was up to standard. I was puzzled, firstly because it was a very unusual request, unique in fact, and secondly, the voice on the end of the telephone was rather more cultured than one would expect from the average Cornish farmers wife. Ok, let’s be honest she sounded posh!!
I was even more puzzled when we met. Mrs Roskilly was a tiny lady, no more than 5 feet tall, immaculately coifered , designer clothes, she just didn’t fit the mould.
She led me without preamble to the dogs kennels put her hands on her hips and said. “Well”
I assumed that she thought the accommodation was not up to standard, but in fact it was superb. Block built, lined, sloping tiled roof the bedding was hay at least a foot deep and the food and water bowls were attached to the wall so as not to tip.
I then spent the next few minutes answering questions.
No, working sheep dogs would not benefit from having a pretty fleecey blanket, it would become wet and soiled and would have no benefit.
No they didn’t need little woolie coats. I suppressed a giggle as I imagined a working collie rounding up the sheep dressed in a woolie jumper.
No the dogs would not benefit from living indoors
The high energy dry food was correct and no, the dogs would not benefit from Sainsbury’s gourmet pate for pampered pets.
I explained at length that the feeding and sleeping of working dogs was totally different from pet dogs.
I was then invited in for a coffee, served of course in a china cup and saucer in an immaculate kitchen.
At this point Mr Roskilly arrived I was immediately struck by the contrast between Mr and Mrs. Mr Roskilly was a giant of a man 6 feet 4 inches tall and big, not fat, he was just a very large man, he extended a hand the size of a shovel and introduced himself.
“I’m John” The greeting was friendly without a hint of animosity.
I breathed a sigh of relief.
Fortunately it was a quiet day and I was able to sit and enjoy John’s anecdotes. It transpired that his wife Jenny had lived and worked in London and has been employed by a fashion magazine and her introduction to the harsh world of farming was something of a culture shock.
As someone who had never seen a live sheep and whose only contact with meat was on a cardboard tray covered in cling film in a supermarket and being an advocate for animal welfare Jenny found the adjustment difficult. Fortunately John adored his tiny wife and accepted that her concerns were heartfelt and also accepted that they were now a part of his life but it did lead to some rather strange conversations and bizzare events.
One of the first conversations went something like this:-
“John it’s raining”
“Yes my lovely.”
“The sheep are getting wet.”
“It’s ok they have a thick woolie coat that keeps them dry.”
“What about their faces they haven’t got any wool on their faces.”
“No my lovely they don’t face the rain they turn their backs to it.”
“What about their feet John won’t their feet get wet. “
“No sweetheart they are born with special feet.”
Five minutes later
“John don’t you have a barn or something so they can get out of the rain!!”
The event went like this and I must admit that I can’t remember the reason, sheering or dipping (dipping was compulsory in those days) but John had hired two men for the day and without warning Jenny arrived to help and as John said, the look on their faces was something to behold. Jenny being very fashion conscience arrived wearing a pink jumpsuit, very fashionable at the time, a pink woolie hat, a pair of pink marigolds (gloves) and a pair of pink wellies!!! For those who saw the tv series it was reminiscent of Margo in the The Good Life.
My favourite story, however, concerned Sunday dinner. John came in to the kitchen, washed his hands and noticed a piece of cling film on the kitchen surface, he spread it out and the conversation went like this.
“My lovely why are we having New Zealand lamb and not English?”
“Oh no John we can’t have English lamb it might be one of ours I couldn’t eat one of ours!!”
If there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.