The Magic Sheep Of Gloucestershire

A Sheep Near Winchcombe

I was turned into a sheep on May 26th, but I got better and I’m a much better person because of the experience.

England, it’s been said, is a magical country and now I can attest to that being a reality.

It all started when my wife and I decided to challenge ourselves to taking a five-mile walk that was listed in the Cotswold Walk Book.  It’s #8 if you happen to have a copy.  I also had my OS (Ordinance Survey) map to back the guidebook.  (These books contain numerous errors but OS maps are sent from the map-god and are flawless.)

We started from the car-park, where most of the walks begin.  Immediately we began to make wrong turns because of the confusing directions.  But we kept on and finally found the start of the Gloucestershire Way, a main footpath used by many locals.  But, the steady uphill pace soon began to tire my legs and my lower back pain was making the walk less than pleasant.  I swallowed three Ibuprofen and pushed on.

The pain lessened a tiny bit but the mystical creature on the top of the hill, hidden by the trees, living in his crumbling castle, began to play his game of time on me.  He’s done this before so I wasn’t caught totally by surprise.

You see, it’s an ancient game and many have fallen victim to this cruel trickery.  The “thing” in the castle (Is it a demon? A man? A witch?) has been watching me struggle up the hill.  He (I’ll call it a he for no particular reason) begins to throw little darts, little darts that are seconds at first, then he changes to the minute darts.  Soon the darts are weeks…then months…then years. When I nearly reached the top of the hill, I felt (and probably looked) like an old man. I could barely walk.

What became of the energy I once had? I used to hike the hills of Dorset and I would accelerate my pace as I walked the rise.  Now, I sat down feeling dejected and lonely and defeated.

I sensed something breathing in the space just behind my left shoulder.  I looked and saw my wife strolling on ahead to find the next stile.

I turned and there was an old sheep not an arm’s length away.  We looked at each other, my small brown human eyes meeting her large wet ovine eyes.

“Hey,” I said, trying to be funny to no one but myself. “Come here often?”

“Actually, yes,” the animal replied, in a sheepish English accent.  “I graze here quite a bit of the time.”

“Well, good for you,” I said, with some bitterness.  “I hope you’re happy chewing on your grass and making poo-poo whenever and wherever you please.  I’m the one to has to watch my step, thank you.”

“You’re not in a good mood right now, are you,” she said, after making a loud Baaa to the rest of the herd.

“No, not really.  My back hurts, my legs hurts and I’m feeling my age.  I’ll be 68 years old in five days. And, I don’t think anyone will remember or care.”

“Hey, things are tough all over.  At least you have a fair number of years ahead of you.  The rumor from the next pasture is that there’s going to be a sale on lamp chops in about a month at the Waitrose in Bourton-on-the-Water.”

I felt pretty sad for her so I steered the subject back to me.

“You know, I write these blogs and I just don’t think too many people read them.  I don’t post pictures of cats or house plants, (people like those), I try to tell interesting stories.  I’ve even used pictures of a lamb.  I call her “Fluffy” and I use her insane cuteness to make shameful pleas for readers to follow my blogs.”

“I know, Fluffy is a distant cousin of mine.”

I began to feel even worse about my situation. I told the sheep that I had arthritis in my back, my legs, hips, and in my hands.  I told her that it hurt me to do almost anything that I used to do so easily.

Then I said something to her. Looking back on it all, it was certainly the worst thing I could have said.

“I wish I wasn’t even alive anymore.  Who’d miss me?  I wish I didn’t exist.”

“Oh, you shouldn’t say such things,” she said harshly.

“Easy for you so say,” My words must have hurt her because she looked at me with pity.

“Okay,” was all she said.

Many Sheep

She looked out over the herd and seemed to be thinking of something. She turned those big wet eyes to me and said:

“Go ahead, see what it’s like.”

A strange wind blew down from the hilltop.  It was cold but I didn’t feel it.  Strange.

I shrugged and began to get up so we could finish out walk.  Somehow we had taken a wrong turn and we were confused.

But, I couldn’t stand up on my two shaky legs.  I was on four legs.  I wasn’t chilly because I didn’t have my jacket on anymore.  I was covered in wool, slightly muddy, but it was wool.

She had turned me into a sheep.  I was confused for a minute and then I heard all the bleating, but they were words now, they were telling each other how much they loved one another.  The ewes were saying how much they loved their lambs.

“Hey, this is cool,” I thought. “I can experience life as a sheep would.”

Then I looked down the road and saw something that made my wool stand up on end.  It was a truck that had a sign on the side that read: MICHAEL’S MEATS—FRESH FROM THE FARM TO YOU.

Two men were walking up the hill toward the pasture.

I began to worry. I looked around for Mariam.  I saw her standing in the field looking terrified.

“Pat! Pat! She yelled. Where are you?  I’m lost.  I’m scared.  I’m very afraid.”

“I’m over here,” I yelled, but my words came out as a loud Baaaaa.

I started thinking quickly.  The men were getting close to the pasture fence.  I had a feeling they were looking at me. Thoughts came rushing into my mind.  I couldn’t stay as a sheep.  I would be in some tasty stew in a few weeks.  I couldn’t go to an art museum anymore.  I couldn’t play with my grandson. I would not be allowed to see the new “Star Wars” movie…in any decent theater.  I wouldn’t be able to watch “Dancing With The Stars” anymore.

I found the magic sheep and told her I was sorry. I took everything back.  I wasn’t meant to be a sheep. Besides, sheep have arthritis too.

She winked at me.

“Okay,” she said. “I’ll be seeing you in your dreams…or rather when you are trying to fall asleep.”

I felt cold again.  Mariam saw me and ran over to me.

“I looked everywhere for you.  Where were you?”

“I’m not sure, but let’s give up on this walk and get back to our hotel.  I need to take a hot shower.”

We stepped to the road and caught a ride with a bearded man who said something we couldn’t hear because of the noise his jeep made.

Just as we rounded the corner,  I turned back to look again at the pasture.  I spotted the magic sheep and she seemed to be sending me some thoughts through the country air.

“Don’t worry about things,” she said to me somehow.  “We’ll meet again in another field…on another walk…on another day.”

“Yes,” I thought back to her. “We’ll meet again some sunny day.”

CotswoldCountryside

[Thanks to Lord Dunsany for an idea.]

Oxford Of My Dreams

Plane

I was drifting off to sleep.  My dreams began.  I felt disoriented.  Where was I?

I was in Oxford, England to accept an award for “Best Blogger in the World.”

I was waiting in a room in one of the 38 colleges that make up the University.  I had walked here from the hotel, but all the buildings were made of the beautiful honey-colored limestone from the Cotswold hills.  This room is where the dons donned their academic robes. The place was heavy with the dust of history…literary history. Books dating back centuries lined the walls. I saw an early copy of “Alice in Wonderland” signed by Lewis Carroll, himself.  Was I in the college that gave the world Richard Burton, the actor? Or, Edmund Halley, who made his name on a comet?  Was this the room where J.R.R. Tolkien thought about the narrative of the Hobbit books?  Did T. S. Elliot walk the path I just walked?

Perhaps I was in a room off a small lecture hall in Bodleian Library, which claims to have over 100 miles of shelves (The Strand Bookstore in NYC says it has 8 miles of volumes.)

In the lecture hall next door I could hear the shuffling of feet and chairs as the runner-up and past winners were taking their seats.  I could hear Fineguy6076, who blogged out of Jersey City.  There was the instantly recognizable voice of martagoesyo, who wrote from a small town in Ohio.  Last years winner had just arrived to a smattering of applause.  He may have a large following and was quite an original blogger of 2014, but many readers, including this writer, were put off by his daily output of cats dressed as dogs and disguised as trivets or mid-southern house plants.

His wrote under the name of HeSheGuy.

You do the math.

The opening speeches droned on and on.  The room was warm and I began to grow sleepy.  I drifted into a peaceful land of Nod.  I began to feel I was near a great dining hall with floating candles and a really bad bully was picking on a guy named Harry.  Wait! That was the Great Hall of Christ Church College around the corner.  I continued into a light dream-like state.

“Ahem”

My senses became fully awake.

“Order please!”  The words came from the lecture hall.

I knew then they were about to announce my name and I was to make my arrival through a massive oak door.

Applause and shouts of “Here! Here!” and “Hussa” and “About time old boy” would soon ring out.  Pretty ladies would stop fanning themselves and whisper, ever so discretely,  “ I want him to be the father of my children.”

But I was not out of my nap.  Another, less salutary voice spoke:

“Ladies and Gentleman” the calm business-like nature of a man’s tone had indeed broken my REM sleep.

I still felt it was my time.

I tried to rise but felt a restraint around my waist.  I opened my eyes and found myself staring at a small TV monitor mounted on the back of the seat in front of me.

On the blue screen was a small icon of an airplane. Behind it was a blue line that connected it to JFK. As the plane was set against a blue color, I surmised that we were over an ocean. The little icon seemed to be headed toward the letter LHR.

As I regained full awareness, it all came back to me. I wasn’t in Oxford, yet.

I was on American Flight #106.

Then more reality came flooding back to me.

We were caught in traffic somewhere near La Guardia Airport.  Despite being picked up three hours early by a car service from the Upper West Side, my wife was beyond frantic.  She was convinced we were going to miss the flight.

I said we wouldn’t, traffic was always like this out here in Queens.

She said we would miss the flight and that it would cost a small fortune to make new arrangements.

I suggested, calmly, like a man, that one screwed up ticket was only half as bad as two and I suggested she get on the flight without me.

[She was TSA approved and I wasn’t, so I would have to take off most of my clothes and pass through a scanner that would prevent me from having any more children in the future.]

She could breeze past all that and still make it to Gate 14.  I told her I would sleep in the airport or go to some cheap motel and find something to amuse me, like going bowling with a woman named Candy from Flushing, and I would catch up to her in London.

She flatly refused. [Sometimes, women just see the logic in some things.]

Without making this blog any longer, we actually made flight #106

So, now my watch reads 5:15 am.  We’re about 45 minutes away from landing.  Some kind of breakfast just got slapped down next to this computer.

My eyes turned red about two hours ago.

We’re going to pick up our rent car at Heathrow.

Our first night is already booked and it’s not that long a drive.

Where, you may very well ask, are we going first?

Oxford, of course.

My birthday is nine days away.  It’s not too early for a gift, is it?

Maybe an award for writing something like this?

Dance Like A Wave Of The Sea

IrishCliffs

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree…

–W. B. Yeats

Three decades have passed since I last walked the streets of Dublin, Galway and Sligo.  A great many things have changed in those years.  And, a great many haven’t.  The smell of peat-fires in Dublin on a December night, the blasts of wind from the North Atlantic that sting your face when you look out to the west from Donegal and the foamy black pint of Guiness…these things never change.

I will be in good company.  My wife and my son will be on their first visit.  Where does one begin to plan such a trip?  What to see?  What to gaze upon?

We shall avoid the touristy places like Blarney Castle.  But, we will stand above the sea on the Cliffs of Mohair and look up at the keep that is the Egan ancestral castle..Castle Redwood.  It was once said to be haunted.  I, myself, heard Michael Egan (who restored the structure) tell of being awakened by something dark that was choking him.  He called in the local priest the next day.  He slept soundly ever since.

redwoodweb2a

[Castle Redwood, Headquarters for the Egan Clan]

We will stand amid the ruins of Cashel and contemplate the glories of the past.  We will drink alongside unshaven farmers in pubs with names like Egan’s, O’Malley’s and Fitzgibbon’s.

Egan PUB

As I sit on the right in the driver’s seat and drive on the left, we’ll wait for the herd of sheep as they muddle pass us on a narrow lane.

IrishCasteNearCashel

[Near Cashel]

My wife and I will walk up Grafton Street (my son won’t join us until we reach Shannon Airport) and perhaps see a woman with black hair…and she will weave a snare…that someday, I might rue.

My wife and I may sit at the 19th hole and wait for my son to do 9 holes with an old duffer in tweeds.

All this, and more will happen.  And I will, yes I will, yes…sit them both on a stone wall under bare Ben Bulben’s Head, at the edge of the grave of the greatest of Irish poets, William B. Yeats, and read to them from the dark marble of his headstone:

Cast a cold eye

on life, on death.

Horseman, pass by!

dad ireland  copy

[To my knowledge, this was my father on his last visit to Ireland]

When we come at the end of time

To Peter sitting in state,

He will smile on the three old spirits, 

But call me first through the gate;

For the good are always the merry,

Save by an evil chance,

And the merry love the fiddle

And the merry love to dance:

And when the folk there spy me,

They will all come up to me,

With ‘Here is the fiddler of Dooney!’

And dance like a wave of the sea.

–W.B.Yeats

Watch for my blogs from across the sea.