DERNIER MOT - A SHAGGY SHEEP STORY
Once upon a time there was a farmer in Moisson who had a bit of luck when he retired: he sold his run-down gimcrack farmhouse and his dusty acres to a rich American and retired, laughing all the way, to a luxy villa on the coast.
The rich American moved into the farmhouse, not appearing to mind that there was a small stream running through the kitchen, and that the lavatories and the staircase were outside.
The villagers looked on in amazement as the rich American carefully laid strips of black plastic on the land and planted lettuce.
“Qu-est-qu’il va faire avec tout cette salade?” they exclaimed.
The rich American didn’t care. He grew his lettuce and no-one ever found out what he did with it, although rumour had it that he was a vegetarian and ate it all himself.
The villagers shrugged. He won’t last, they said. And they were right. The rich American got bored and moved back to New York. But he was a romantic and didn’t want his beloved farm to become a holiday home. So before he left, he sold it half-price to the Mairie - on condition that they rented it to someone who would live there all year round and farm the land.
After due deliberation, a shepherd was contacted and he moved into the farm with 250 sheep. He was tall and strong with curly hair and a gold ear-ring.
“Un bel homme!” blushed the old ladies outside the church.
He strode about the hillside with his dogs and his sheep trampling down fences, roaming private land, munching through the allotments, and pulling the geraniums up by their roots. Worst of all, he refused to donate a sheep as a prize for the church raffle.
Rumblings began. Anonymous letters started rattling at the door of the Mairie. Water pipes were cut, fences reinforced, shotguns were cleaned. The Maire pasted up some posters calling for harmony. They were torn down. Territory disputes started, and sheep-proof cement walls were erected.
The shepherd scowled and took off up the hills with his flock, driving them into the fields where the wild mushrooms grow and letting them stray into the river as he was gathering pears from orchards he said were abandoned.
The pears were the last straw.
“He’ll have to go!” said the villagers and the Maire duly wrote him a letter giving him his “congé”. But he wouldn’t leave. More guns were polished and the Maire hastily made an appointment at the “tribunal” and then quite suddenly, the beautiful shepherd left. He just upped one morning with his sheep and his dogs and disappeared.
“Ca va,” said the old ladies. “No more shepherds!”
But the Maire was haunted by his promise to the rich American and “en plus” he was worried by the over-grown terraces that surrounded the village. Not only were they a fire-risk, but tourists didn’t like them and they were driving property prices down. A shepherd he must and would have.
The hunt was on and this time it was serious. The village needed a trained, experienced, qualified shepherd who would promise to live in the farmhouse all year round, and if he would just be nice and leave the pears alone, for all the Mairie cared he could have a face like a rusty pie-dish.
Which is how Moisson got their shepherd. A “bel homme” he ain’t. But he lives on the farm, and he has a flock of sweet woolly jumpers who keep the terraces clear while he sits in the shade playing a little tin whistle.
And he has such a sweet smile that when he passes the old ladies on the bench outside the church, they giggle and blush.
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