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It was a lovely, sharp Spring afternoon. With a little time to spare on my way home from Newcastle I turned off to drop in on an old friend who farmed nearby. Driving into the yard I found a land-rover with an open top trailer behind parked with the ramp down and through the mesh sides I saw a sheep moving around. The old man in his hat stood with his back leaning against the wall of the house and he raised his stick in salute of my arrival but did not smile. The ‘young fella’ as he called my friend looked over his shoulder at me and smiled but returned to his conversation with the man in the tweed jacket and yellow waistcoat. There was a look about him that suggested the wellington boots belonged in the back of his land-rover when he was done here but no sense of hurry or indeed business emanated from the three who cast a look from time to time at the sheep. Uncertain what was taking place I made a show of being in no hurry, picking up bag and coat and slowly exiting my car. The solemn silence in the air was broken by the intermittent bleating of the sheep as I made my way towards the group. Glancing over I saw a lamb lying on the floor of the trailer. As I reached the group the sheep began to edge her way to the ramp. “Reckon she’s about ready” intoned the old man. “Aye vet I’ll take her away then” said my friend. “She’ll find a hungry one to ease her”, said the vet as he strolled away to close up the ramp after the sheep. She and my friend left the yard without a backward glance as the trailer moved away. “ It’s never easy when they lose one”, said the old man, “you’ll be needing a cup of tea then,” and he smiled his usual welcome as he led off into the nearby kitchen. I was near to tears and made myself busy with beakers and spoons because there was just nothing to say. “He’ll bring the milk” he nodded to the empty fridge and I followed him as he sat on his comfortable armchair beside the slacked down fire. My friend joined us carrying the familiar glass bottle with the silver top. “We don’t stand on ceremony on days like this”, he laughed breaking the silence with his usual banter. They had paid their respects.
That was 40 years ago and I never forgot the time given by those three quiet men, their concern and their empathy. I offer this memory today in respect for all the farming communities suffering the pain of loss this Spring.
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