I have already written about my ambition to publish a book, specifically in the last blog, about our vineyard. Maybe it would help to make a case for the viability of the project if I injected a little drama into the potential manuscript as in the title above. It, the title, was, in part, inspired by one of my favourite Wallace and Gromit episodes – The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. This was the episode where the two chums set up a pest–control business and were expected to catch a giant rabbit that was eating all the locals’ crops. And the title is also prompted by a marvellously bad New Zealand film, no, not Lord of the Rings, but the lesser known Black Sheep (2006). This about a flock of sheep who turn into killer sheep as a result of a genetic malfunction in a science lab. What, you’re asking, has this got to do with our vineyard?
About this time in the year I confess I had expected to be writing about veraison in the vineyard, a gradual but inexorable ripening of quite a goodly number of bunches of grapes. Imagine my disappointment (you will realise that this word is code or a euphemism (lovely word) for a much greater and filthier feeling which I cannot set down in a family blog) on arriving at the vineyard a mere week after proudly showing some chums our grapes, to find more than half the plants eaten and I mean eaten, not nibbled but stripped bare, leaves, stems and of course grapes. About 85% of the crop I reckon had gone, disappeared, buggered off. I don’t think the photos I took could possible do justice to the wanton decimation that lay before me. We’ve gone from the first photo below to the second one.
Oh, gosh, golly I said to myself (I had to speak to myself because I was alone on account of Mrs Summerhouse enjoying herself with her sisters), so yes, I bore the load alone apart from daughter and husband. Oh gosh, I said what the flippin’ heck could have done this and how the flippin’ flippin’ heck could they, whoever ‘they’ are, have got into the vineyard when it is all fenced off? The reason for this next bit will become clear, promise. I told you in this blog about my daughter and son-in-law visiting the vineyard, I unkindly called them the stasi, what I didn’t tell you was that, along with forgetting my belt, etc. etc., I also forgot the key to the barn wherein was all the cutlery and crockery and glasses that we needed for our picnic up at the barn. I thought I presented as stupid enough in the previous blog without admitting to greater senility but, it’s out there now. Point, and this is the reason, is rather than go all the way back to the cottage for the barn key (a round trip of about 15 miles) I went to our local pub in Lofthouse to borrow all the above. And the point of me telling you this?
So I went into the bar and asked the nice lady, not Clive, Clive is not a nice lady, if she could lend me the above. The very last thing I wanted to do was to have to explain to the locals what I had just discovered up at vineyard. It would be fine, they never ask, I’d just slip in under the radar. So, lad, are you getting anything off them vines? Buggeration and twice buggeration, the radar is obviously set very low in this pub. And so it all came out, the whole sad tale. I’ve never seen so much jollity around the locals stood at the bar. I fair made their lunchtime, as we say up this way. And so talk fell to the question of what did it. Rabbits, one woman said confidently. Look madam I said, we’ve had rabbit damage before and it looks nothing, repeat nothing, like this. If these are rabbits then they are (I didn’t swear) very big rabbits. You would need to be very afraid if these are rabbits, they’d rip your throat out. They can bounce she said, undeterred by my scepticism. No they won’t be rabbits another local said, they’ll be sheep (as above) or deer.
But surely there aren’t any deer round here, I said plaintively. I’ve seen a deer jump 6 feet over a wall from a standing start, another one said, totally ignoring me and really enjoying themselves now. There’s few in Black Dyke Woods (I made this name up, they did say but I couldn’t remember afterwards) but I’ve never seen any deer up your way. Sheep, the first one said again. But how did they get in? I asked and was ignored again. They can’t jump but they can run over stones then over the wall. He used his hands to demonstrate the arc of a flying sheep. This is pointless, I think. To my mind, or what was left of it after this humiliation in the pub, it must be sheep and I need to go back with the stuff and try and discover where the woolly, little bastards got in and, given that they didn’t seem to be there, out, and hopefully block it off.
I went back and son-in-law and I conducted a search. We found what appeared, to our city boys’ eyes, to be sheep wool attached to the wire but no clearly obvious big hole through which they might have squeezed. A complete mystery, a drama even and hence why we turned to supernatural explanations for ‘what done it’. Visions of phantom sheep, baaing their way up the field, their badly-brushed teeth snapping away, up out the mist, like The Trollenberg Terror (now you see the significance of the first image) a film about aliens that appear out of the cloud and rip peoples’ heads off. So maybe our sheep similarly ready, keen even, to rip our vines to shreds.
I blocked up what may have been a hole in the fence, without much conviction but feeling the need to do something to wrest back control. If there’s one thing I hate in my retirement it’s that feeling of our lives not being under our control. Mainly, as I’ve written, this applies to ‘our’ gardening business but this week, something different, it’s the bloody vineyard that’s beyond our control. First year, it was the birds, second year hail stones and now phantom sheep? Thank God (and never let it be said s/he or whoever makes these decisions, doesn’t have a sense of humour) our livelihoods don’t depend on this vineyard. And so our retirement continues to blossom and grow in complexity, unlike our grapes. As my grandma used to say, it’s a grand (retirement) life if you don’t weaken.