(April the sheep with her new lamb at Tollcross Park: Glasgow, Scotland)
This photo is now at least three weeks old – I’ve been rather short of time recently so you’ll have to put up with having some slightly outdated news. I’m currently in Carlisle, my home town, where I’m tackling a subway mural. As part of the preparation for that, a fews ago I had to go out to a Dulux centre in an industrial estate in Glasgow’s east end to choose my ten mural colours. When I was planning the journey out to the wide tarmac roads and warehouses, I noticed that it was within walking distance of Tollcross Park, a haunt of my childhood. Taking Joe along for the ride, we picked the colours at speed and tramped through the light drizzle towards the park.
The highlight of Tollcross for me is always the less than enticingly titled ‘children’s farm’. It boasts an array of chickens, rabbits, guinea pigs, pheasants and pretty birds of various breeds and types, ferrets, rare breeds of sheep, pigs, peahens, turkeys and Shetland ponies. There’s more than enough livestock to keep anyone entertained for a half hour, but Joe and I ended up embroiled in drama that kept us near the sheep pen alone for at least an hour. The sheep were in two paddocks, one with lambs and mothers and one with enormously fat sheep. One of these colossal ewes was staggering in a corner, bleating in a miserable fashion. As she turned from us, we noticed she was… well there’s no nice way of putting this… sort of leaking a bloody mess from her rear. Initially I panicked and then it dawned on me that these ‘fat’ sheep were simply pregnant. This particular sheep continued like this for some time; she lay down, heaved herself back up, sat, lay down again and shortly the birth sac came into view. One of the staff came out to the paddock for a look and we engaged him in conversation.
Her name was April and this man, Ben had actually hand reared her himself. What luck! He told us she was a good mother and usually had triplets (which would explain her bulging middle), often with a little difficulty. She’s one of the rare breeds; a Castlemilk Moorit, a brownish sheep, with a slightly deerlike face and curly horns. Once he got started, Ben was forthcoming and answered all my questions – I felt like a chatty seven year old, swinging on the gate and irritating staff. In the end, Joe and I were getting so chilly and damp that we had to call it a day. April was struggling and Ben told us he might have to assist her to give birth. He did promise if we came back that week that he would show us her lambs.
All that afternoon and evening we were thinking of April and her three babies. I covered all eventualities; three healthy babies, stillborns, two girls, all boys, everything. It was exciting to almost see something new coming into the world. I was desperate to get back as soon as possible, so in the end were returned the following day, just to see how it all went. We made a beeline for the paddock and Ben was there already. He had good and bad news. Only one made it – a girl. The first lamb he delivered was an enormous male, he said, but dead. He has shifted the second limp baby onto some straw, but this was the one that survived with a cough and a twitch. That’s the sweet faced, goaty, deerlike brown lamb you can see in this photograph. He let us into the enclosure and into the barn. The longer we tarried, the closer we got, until he suggested April might just let us touch the new baby. “She might let ye clap her baby, try clappin’ her”. I stroked April’s hot, wiry nose and gave the baby a tentative stroke under the chin. Her wooly neck was softer than I imagined and comfortingly warm. Joe got involved too and it made the whole weekend of waiting worthwhile. We were sorry she was an only child, but better one than none. We’ll have to go back later in the year to see what name the baby was given and to see how she’s getting on.
– Today Rosie is having a day off from painting a mural in Carlisle, Cumbria –