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Tuesday, May 28, 2024
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HomeNewsNotes from the Sticks: Pulling the wool over our eyes

Notes from the Sticks: Pulling the wool over our eyes

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SHEEP of the Week takes over the top spot today. Readers may have seen a news item this week concerning a flock which have acquired pink hairdos.

The story was that a new feeder had been delivered to the farm where the sheep live, and the paint had come off on their topknots as they fed. This is one of the most obvious stunts I have ever seen, worthy of April 1 (for a start, what kind of agricultural equipment would be sold with such sub-standard paintwork?), and I am sure it has been very successful at drumming up custom for Cannon Hall Farm near Barnsley, a family attraction which has Christmas coming up.

(As an aside, I looked at the comments on the Mail Online version of the story and found that out of 154 comments only four expressed any scepticism – we really are easy meat.)

Anyway what interested me were the sheep, a breed I had never heard of called the Valais Blacknose from Switzerland (Walliser Schwarznasenschaf in German).

It is a large, slow-maturing dual purpose breed which has been around at least since the 15th century. It has a couple of unusual characteristics in that it can lamb all year round, and it has fast-growing wool which should be sheared twice a year. Both sexes have outward spiralling horns.

In Switzerland the sheep graze high up in the Alps of the Valais canton in the summer months of June to September. It is a big local event when they come down, and here is a video of ‘the descent of the sheep’ at Rosswald. You will see a few dark individuals and I think these must be ‘Spitti’, purebred animals which arrive in reverse colours. There are some trusties with bells.

Here is another video showing them high in the hills where they are pleased to find some hikers.

The Swiss have been very protective of the breed and have permitted exports only since 2014. They set rigorous standards for the markings, and British keepers are asked to maintain these, for example there must be a white section between the black knees and black socks. This year six UK owners went to Valais for a training course on breed standards and how to grade the sheep, and you can read a report on the Valais Blacknose Society website here. There are also details on the exact specifications the sheep should have.

In this country it seems they are mainly kept as pets, for showing, and for generally being ‘cute’ but I have to say I prefer to see them being proper sheep.

Wheels of the Week

THIS is a 1976 Triumph Stag Mark 2, 2997cc.

The Stag was designed as a luxury grand tourer to compete with the Mercedes-Benz SL class. It was launched in 1970 to acclaim in Britain, with a 12-month waiting list soon building up and cars changing hands at above list price. However design flaws and build quality problems soon emerged and it acquired a reputation for poor reliability. This meant that it did not do well in its target market, the US. Of the 25,877 cars produced between 1970 and 1977 only 2,871 went to the United States.

In 1970 Time magazine rated it as one of the 50 worst cars ever made. This is what it said: ‘You could put all the names of all the British Leyland cars of the late 60s in a hat and you’d be guaranteed to pull out a despicable, rotten-to-the-core mockery of a car. So consider the Triumph Stag merely representative. Like its classmates, it had great style (penned by Giovanni Michelotti) ruined by some half-hearted, half-witted, utterly temporized engineering: To give the body structure greater stiffness, a T-bar connected the roll hoop to the windscreen, and the windows were framed in eye-catching chrome. The effect was to put the driver in a shiny aquarium. The Stag was lively and fun to drive, as long as it ran. The 3.0-litre Triumph V8 was a monumental failure, an engine that utterly refused to confine its combustion to the internal side. The timing chains broke, the aluminium heads warped like mad, the main bearings would seize and the water pump would poop the bed — ka-POW! Oh, that piston through the bonnet, that is a spot of bother.’

Nevertheless it is popular with car enthusiasts and there are still more than 8,000 in this country. Performance figures are 0-60mph in 9.3 seconds, top speed of 120mph and fuel consumption of 20-27mpg.

This is from the Stag Owners Club website: 

‘According to the Autocar road test of the 11th June 1970, a Stag with soft top only would have cost you £1,995 17s 6d. You had the option of specifying it with hard top only (i.e.no soft top), for £2,041 11s. 5d. and if you were feeling flush then you could order with both soft and hard tops for £2,093 15s 10d. Only £52 extra for the hard top!

‘These prices were including purchase tax and were approximately half of the price to be paid at the time for a comparable Mercedes 280SL or E-Type Jaguar.

‘In today’s money (October 2020) a fully equipped Stag’s cost would be equivalent to £32,770 which helps demonstrate just how much of a bargain it was.’

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I HAVE mentioned before that we have been forced to take up acres of decking which predictably had become rotten after a few years, and was turning into a perfect medium for a selection of fungi. Our  builder Darren was working on the replacement landscaping on Thursday when he heard a loud bang and saw that our glass balustrade was wobbling. He saw a fluttering of wings on the ground and realised a bird had hit the glass. By the time I got there the bird had got to its feet and was starting to look around in a shocked kind of way. We could see it was a female sparrowhawk, and I took this picture – it’s not very good because I didn’t want to get too close and frighten it unnecessarily.

After perhaps a couple of minutes it collected its wits and took off. It is astonishing that its fragile body could withstand such a major collision. It was a privilege to see such a beauty close up.

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ALTHOUGH it is nearly halfway through November it is unseasonably mild. Maybe that has encouraged the winter-flowering plants to start blossoming. Here are a viburnum, which I think may be x bodnantense, and a mahonia.

It will be good to have their company through the winter.

And here is probably the last rose of summer.

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ON Tuesday this week the BBC weather forecast was for light showers. Naturally the heavens opened and within an hour our stream was a raging torrent, about three feet above its usual level. I took a video, and you may hear one or two rocks rolling along the bed.

It was soon back to its peaceful self, and this is the same scene yesterday.

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FINALLY, a reminder that reader Kathy Nel (‘linuslimmy’) is collating anecdotal evidence about bird and insect numbers, either increases or decreases (or even static). Send your comments and observations to this address: missingcritters@yahoo.com. If you leave a comment below the line, we need a geographical location to be able to use it.

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Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth is a retired national newspaper journalist. She runs the Subbing Clinic in a hopeless attempt to keep up standards, and co-runs A & M Records where she indulges her passion for 60s pop.

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