Unremarkable behind the house. In summer, beyond the beech hedge, one field of barley and another of sheep. The lambs run speed trials back and forth beneath the horizontal dyke half way up – tiny specks of white, careering, bouncing, like cartoon characters or jumping beans.
I clamber over the wire fence. The first foot bends the rusty wire, pulling it through the staples in a gentle, creaking sag. Swing the second leg over, tight thighs and clenched posture making sure the barbed wire doesn’t snag my crotch. Over safely, and landing on the un-ploughed field margin. If I pick my way along this edge, I can reach the broader pathway steeply up under the ascending rank of beech trees.
Here’s the steep sledging field where Lena broke her leg, tobogganing over ice-crusted snow, straight into the lower fence. Was it fear that numbed or froze their minds, that prevented them from bailing, or dragging feet to slow the descent?
I gently pull a grass stem, easing the upper part out of the grip of the first joint. The tender fleshy end tastes vaguely asparagus-like, and then the remainder settles into a satisfyingly tough chew and cowboy-casual look.
I’m breaking sweat now, as the gradient increases. Over another fence, and clambering along the low-key rocks and muddy margins of the burn. Well, it’s barely that – more a field drain, really.
Raspberry fool – the colour – and picked up in some Edinburgh hippy clothing store – collarless granddad shirt. It suits me so well, and in my teenage mirror vanity, I’m satisfied.
Lenora and Pete are visiting, and then, Lenora just on her own, as Pete’s back at Uni. The sun’s hot outside, the green world baking, and scents of golden river water, reeds, and newly-shorn lanolin sheep.
Like the sheep, I’m sweating – but in my case, with awakened desire.
Somehow – a word, a hand touched, she moves to me. It’s way beyond my own know-how or self-esteem, and yet in these hot days, it’s soon done.
We camp up North, north of Applecross – a shambolic bus journey of poorly packed gear – arriving in rain followed by a midge-storm.
In the morning, the confined tent smells of blood and sex, warming in sunrise light. Occasional cars dodge sheep on the road beyond the dyke.
Hand in hand, boot after boot, we climb the rocky, rugged mountain above, pausing by pools.
Throwing it down on the verge, the grass and scented meadowsweet protruding between the spokes. Whinstone walls lead down to a talkative stream among the ash trees, and the sun gently warms the land. I’m tired but happy.
Peanut butter and jam sandwiches taste squashed and feel sticky in my mouth, and the sports bottle water, tugged from its place on the bike frame, is tepid and plasticky.
It’s the second day. Today began with a glorious, cold free-wheel through early mist from the height of Wanlockhead. The slatey scree, drowsy sheep and waist-high bracken flicked in and out of view as I buzzed through cloud. Almost like strobe lights in a disco.
My calves do ache, though. I’m not that fit, and it was a long haul yesterday. I brush sweat and flies from the skin and give them a squeeze. Don’t they say you shouldn’t stop for too long, or some kind of crystals form in the muscle fibres, that give you pain later?
I’m not sure the word has much meaning any more, based as it is in gender stereotyping. But in any case, Alice comes to mind.
With my father, hacking through the sheep carcasses with cleaver and club hammer. The smell of butchery in the kitchen on my return from school. Great piles of segmented body parts processed into plastic freezer bags and ultimately stowed away in the disguised chest freezer in the shed.
Once, thieves broke in and cleared it out. Ready-meal Reivers.
Curing deer and sheep skins, pinned out onto boards like impaled bat wings. Scraping off the remaining flesh and fat with a razor, then rubbing in salt – handfuls of crystalline, abrasive ooze. The boards stacked against the wall like work-in-progress masterpieces in an artist’s studio.
Soay sheep, uniquely, do not flock. Try to round them up, and you will fail. Essentially, you need to apply Rugby tactics. It’s all very tiring and undignified – wrestling wayward escapees to the ground, grasping the great ripple-textured horns, and the tup tugging his head, twisting, in efforts to escape.
Mostly it was to a new pasture – only rarely their impending final hour.