Not waving, but drowning.
It’s not how we normally spend our Sundays – rescuing drowning sheep!
Having chickened out of sculling with the Shiplake Vikings early Sunday morning, (I mean, in the rain? Moi?), Nige and I decided to kayak round the 8-mile loop he did on his own the day before, while I was at Regent University, London, at Questival ‘16, the Quest Cognitive Hypnotherapy event of the year.
The weather forecast was good, and even better than that, stayed sunny for even longer than we were led to expect.
We were also lucky in the lock. Instead of having to do that hateful portage thing – climb out of the kayaks, carry them across the lock gates to the other side of the lock, and climb back in again, (Nige struggling with his over-tight neoprene splash deck – must get him a new one!), because an Environment Agency boat happened to be going our way, we were able to go through the lock with them, instead of over the top.
So all going very well, as we turned off the Thames, into St Patrick’s Stream, whereupon Nige remarked, “I wonder if anyone’s removed the dead sheep!”
I’m sorry, what?
On his journey the day before, he was surprised, no, dismayed to count (and no – he wasn’t trying to send himself to sleep!) not one, not two, not three, but four dead sheep floating in St Patrick’s Stream.
Presumably, they had somehow got out of their field, and fallen into the water, or maybe stepped out onto the lush river vegetation for a snack, not bright enough to realise that it was in the river itself, not on dry land.
So it was a bit of a sorry sight as we sped past, enjoying the strong current of the stream.
To my right…
Neck-deep in water, right at the edge, and almost completely hidden in the rushes – another sheep. Alive, but apparently stuck.
Not waving, but drowning…
Oh dear, I thought. (I said something else, but it wouldn’t be polite to mention it here!)
Obviously we had to try and help. And after a short discussion, and fighting our way back upstream, we decided that since it was so difficult to get out of the kayaks at this point in the stream, I would be the one to clamber onto the bank, because Nige would be able to help me from his boat.
Have you any idea how heavy a sheep is?
No! Me neither!
How about a sheep with its coat drenched with water?
(Think about the weight of that hand-wash only Shetland jumper of yours!)
And how about a sheep, coat drenched with water, and legs stuck in silt?
No! I Thought not!
However I have just looked it up on t’interweb, and apparently, it weighs at least twice as much as I do!
And that’s without being waterlogged!
Should have thought of that at the time. Because…
It was harder than I first thought!
To say the least!
I tried all sorts, and eventually sat on the bank, straddling its head, with the intention of pulling it up and over me, deciding that even if it trampled over my leg, it wouldn’t be that bad. A good example of wrong thinking right there!
Anyway, I didn’t need to worry about my leg. Not when I heard something go ‘click’ in my back!
Sucking air through my teeth, and mentioning to Nige that I’d hurt myself, I made like a bent statue and gave myself a few minutes to see just how much damage I had done to myself.
Idiot! I thought. Really bad idea to imagine I could heave that sort of weight, at that sort of angle.
And then I had another one!
Bad idea, I mean!
Actually, in many ways it wasn’t bad, because as I slipped into the water next to the sheep, the cold water was quite soothing to my injured back.
I think Nige was a little surprised at that decision, and suggested that an even better idea might have been to take my clothes off first, leaving them dry on the bank for later.
Anyway, now I’m literally knee deep in silt, with an absolutely spent sheep beside me to my right, and Nige’s kayak, wedged into the bank to my left, hopefully to stop the sheep falling back into the river, and attempting to use his paddle as a lever!
What’s silt actually made of? Eurgh – don’t tell me. I probably don’t want to know!
What I do know is – it stinks!
Anyway, with gunk that deep, it’s no wonder she was stuck.
After groping about in thick, luscious fleece (could’ve knitted several jumpers from that little lot), fumbling for her legs, my knee rammed (ha ha, sorry) up her derrière – anything to get underneath and push, we three began to work as a team.
Bearing in mind I’m aware there’s something not quite right with my back, I eventually managed to get her front hooves pointing in the right direction, on the bank, and my hands underneath her back hooves by digging about in the sediment, and using the buoyancy of the water to hold them above it.
And so eventually she had something to push against, and flopped on to the bank and out of the river.
And I mean flop! She was so weak that she was swaying on her back legs for ages. I wondered if she was going to be OK.
I think she was. Eventually she wandered off under a tree, looking a bit, well…
I was rather hoping instead for some sort of recognition of my effort!
Maybe a clog dance or something!
Like this whale. (Recognition, I mean, not a clog dance!)
So, on the assumption that there was nothing more we could do at this stage, it seemed like a good idea to get back in my kayak!
Easier said than done!
Now I’m not waving, but drowning! (Only kidding!)
I certainly wouldn’t have had a hope in hell of getting out of the stream at that location though, if Nige wasn’t already on the case.
Of course, in the excitement, we’d let my kayak float off, but while I was making a futile attempt to get out on my own, Nige had already retrieved it.
And eventually, and inelegantly, and in some pain, somehow I ended up back in the kayak, with quite a lot of river water and sludge coming along for the ride.
Given that we were only just beyond the halfway point of our 8-mile loop, there was still a long way to get home, and after all the excitement, with the adrenaline now wearing off, I was beginning to get cold from my still (naturally) wet clothes and increasingly aware of my sore back.
Pathetic, isn’t quite the right word, but will have to do!
I had a dry fleece (the irony!) in Nige’s kayak, and that helped. And luckily we were on the downhill slope, with the current and the wind now helping us on our way.
Charming, I thought! But even I had to admit, the lingering muck didn’t smell pretty. Jo Malone it was not!
I graciously (!) allowed Nige to run me a hot (and fragrant!) bath, and the smell eventually faded.
Either that or we got used to it!
And although, on our return trip, we’d spoken to a couple, enjoying a quiet walk, who thought they might know someone who could alert the farmer to what was going on, I wasn’t going to rest until I done everything I could to stop any more sheep escaping from their field and perishing in the water.
Certainly wasn’t my intention to make a daily trip to hoik stupid sheep out of the stupid stream!
Not waving, but drowning…
I called the police station, they called the Environment Agency, who called us back for the exact location of the problem, and then I set about for the evening to milk my back injury for all it was worth!
“Sheep dip” noun /ˈʃiːp ˌdɪp: Swimming with herbivores
Taking a dip win the river, with my sheep friend!
Lucky sheep dip indeed!
Probably its closest shave!
Can’t help but notice the parallel with this thought-provoking story…
Three fishermen are quietly enjoying an autumn morning’s outing, when they notice a sheep floating down the river. Not waving, but drowning…
“That’s odd,” said the first. “C’mon, help me pull it out,” said the second.
And they did.
And no sooner had they done so, when they noticed another sheep floating down the river. Again, not waving, but drowning. Without another word the two of them jumped into the river and managed to pull that one out too.
Just as another sheep also floated by.
Barely keeping up, those two men couldn’t help noticing that the third man was running upstream, away from them.
“Hey! We need you here to help us. Where do you think you’re going?” they shouted angrily.
Came the reply, “I’m going upstream to stop whoever is throwing them in!”
Sometimes it’s helpful to take a different approach!
Update to the Not waving, but drowning story…
Keen to know that the farmer was aware of the sheep problem, and having not heard anything, I went on Facebook asking if anyone knew the owner of the farm, and miraculously someone replied to my enquiry almost immediately. As a consequence I was able to speak to the farmer, who told me they’d also lost 30 sheep on Boxing Day last year. Reckons it’s a dog chasing them.
She also said that there’s no fence around the part of the field on the stream. So to my mind it’s no wonder that they drown. It was very difficult for me to get out (knee-deep in silt) and that was with my husband helping me. The sheep would stand no chance.
She seemed quite stressed that it ‘was all over Facebook’ and was at pains to tell me that they take good care of their livestock. I’m not sure she was listening very carefully, because I had to tell her a couple of times that I wasn’t a threat, and I simply wanted to know for myself that the farmer knew about the problem, having not had any other confirmation.
I’d obviously gone to some trouble to get the sheep out of the stream, and had hurt myself in the process (my fault of course) and naturally was invested in seeing the process through.
Just for my own curiosity, I asked how much the sheep was worth. £100! Probably less than the osteopath fees needed to help sort my back out!!! (He was brilliant, by the way… first distracted me (thank goodness) and then cracked my pelvis back into position when I was least expecting it… I’d been walking around lop-sided, apparently! Who knew?)
But that’s not the point! I’d do it again if I saw another animal struggling to stay alive. And again, I wouldn’t want or expect anything in return, but it was an eye opener, when someone pointed out to me that I hadn’t even got a ‘thanks!’
It gives me the merest glimpse into the concerns and hassles farmers must have. While searching for the owners on the internet I saw an article suggesting that those same fields are going to the turned into solar energy farms – maybe that’ll be less hassle for them. And maybe ‘helpful’ members of the public won’t need to be so helpful!! 🙂
Of course the farmer wants to keep things quiet. It doesn’t look good that they’re not doing more to stop their sheep ending up in the river.
Other people have told me that they’ve deliberately chased escaped sheep away from busy roads, and one told me her husband attempted to help a cow out of a stream, but called the emergency services to help when he realised that one slip and he would have had half a ton of beef land on top of him!
We’ll add that to my growing list of things to avoid in the future!!
Ha! Made it into the Henley Standard.
See if you can spot the difference between my account and theirs!