DAIDDEE-AA

Our shepherd, Noah Cox, was a small thickset little man, well in his sixties with a grey beard, that to me, seemed to go whiter every year, always around Christmas time. With his cheery voice and twinkling eyes, I thought he must be Father Christmas’ brother.

He never used a bad word or raised his voice in anger. His favourite expression was always “Daiddee-aa.” Sometimes short and sharp, or, if pondering and a bit puzzled, it was drawn out and finished with a sigh.

Almost as soon as I could toddle he was my favourite person. Daiddee-aa always had something of interest to show me and, best of all, to touch. Not on a shelf, but freely given into my care. We always had lambs, small or large, to handle and nurse. We cut sticks, mostly of hazelnut and few ash or willow, then we bent, twisted and tied them in the shape of walking stick handles. Then soaked them in water for days, sometimes months, with large stones pressed on them to get the shape of catapult sticks, bow and arrows, small wooden spades and, with a pocket shut-knife, he could do anything I asked him.

Like all boys of that time, I soon learnt to cut a straight stick and no boy could have a stick unless he “ringed” it – cutting the bark and peeling it in inch wide strips along its length.

The first lambs of the season were always born before Christmas. The spring lambs for Easter Market, in January and early February. These lambs were the first to tell us that spring was on its way ’though the fields and hedges were grey. The landscape a grey-white; the woodland and river banks were as bare as they were in December but, look closely at the hawthorn and you could see the tiny pale coloured buds already formed. So small that they were unnoticeable as you walked passed by. At a short distance from the hedgerow, which still had its winter blackness, a few catkin tassels hung from the hazel brown nut bushes.

Johnie Green had not yet come, but the lambs told us that winter was gone. They appeared in hundreds, in the fields, with the flush of early youth, and played – racing one another, jumping, frisking. How they darted this way and that, down into a dip and up the bank the other side. So full of surplus energy, what a sight to behold. Of all the farm creatures, one of the prettiest and most endearing in the field.

A pet lamb on a farm begins life without its mother through misfortune. Losing its mother at birth and her milk, the lamb is carried home by Daiddee-aa in his arms, to be fed by his wife on the bottle. Sometimes they would be fed with a spoon, a few drops at a time: This was when it was wet and cold – then the lamb was wrapped in a woollen garment and laid in front of the fire. Being fed small feeds and often, they soon get stronger and take to a baby’s bottle. The lambs who are so endearing and pathetic soon become the gentlest and prettiest of playmates and often, under these circumstances, it is no wonder that the pet lamb soon becomes the most popular and cherished of pets.

It follows and dances around after the family of Daiddee-aa and like all spoiled darlings, getting into mischief, running and jumping walls and fences, getting into places where it should not go. These pets would soon be, weather permitting as they got older, put in the farm orchard or a small paddock adjoining the house, when they were weaned off the bottle, to join the flock. Like all children, I loved feeding and caring for the pet lambs. I well remember at a very tender age, helping to feed the sheep and lambs with the corn.

One spring morning Daidee-aa said,

“Always keep your eye on the father ram”, who always was ready to give you a playful butt if you bent down to push the corn along the trough to spread it evenly along, so all could have a fair share. On this particular day I was given a bag of corn – 20 lb in weight, as much as I could manage. Getting to the trough, I opened the mouth of the sack bag and almost half of the corn spilled in. A dozen sheep were trying to feed in the space of a few inches. Casting a quick glance around, not seeing Daddy Sheep, I bent down and swept the corn with my hands, left and right, distributing it more evenly along. Only two or three seconds went by at the most but I had no chance. I went flying over the top of the trough, sheep, lambs, the lot. That crafty old sheep was stood close up behind me as good as gold until I bent down, then – slam – he had me slap on the bum. I struggled to my feet, Daiddee-aa was close by.

“Ole Ben ’ad you?”

“Ole Ben what?” I asked.

“O bend down again and he’ll have you.” I laughed and forgot the bump and finished feeding the sheep. But I never forgot “Ole Ben.” From then on, I would feed sideways on, never bending forward with my ‘aspect’ unprotected: No siree! My old friend was to look at me many times after and, with a chuckle, remark “You’ll do Master John, you’ll do.”

We spent many an hour together and his strong work-worn hands could be so gentle and soft when lambing. Bringing a small lamb into the world at a difficult birth with patience and a soothing word, he talked to his sheep like children. They seemed to understand, very little would they struggle; they trusted him; he never used force. The skill of a country man combined with a love of his job and content with his lot, I think would be a fair summing up of him – Ol’ Daiddee-aa – shepherd and friend.