Monday, 23 June 2008

A close encounter of the third kind

Not so long ago after a hearty Sunday lunch with a few glasses of giggle pop I would lie down and sleep it off gathering my strength for Sunday tea and perhaps a light snack for supper later on. Given my adoration of the calorie and love of first and second breakfasts I should have been a hobbit. Having two breakfasts was normal on the farm as I grew up, a quick cup of tea and some toast set you up for doing the rounds first thing, then after a few hours of feeding the livestock you would return to a proper breakfast that should last you until lunch time.

I used to be super fit, thinking nothing of running six miles to the gym and after the workout running back. Now however age and injuries have caught up with me and I battle to keep my waist measurement in inches less than my chronological age. Moving to Rock HQ certainly has helped my fitness but the abundance of fantastic and fresh food has meant this new fitness has had little impact on my weight.

Having views like the one pictured is an inspiration to get out, and after a huge lunch with JJ I forced myself outside to round up the missing sheep. They are well trained and usually engage the rest of the inhabitants of Rock HQ in a battle of supremacy over the breakfast rations we dish out. The last two mornings however they failed to show up. Sunday morning when Rita, the matriarch sheep appeared with Easter and Springtime and only one lamb, Bonny, in tow I knew there must be a problem. I also saw Meg and April the nutter Suffolk's running along the outside of the perimeter fence, they maintain a 200 metre distance from me since they saw the shearing kit being prepared, and disappearing into the bracken. This being five foot high is like a jungle and they instantly vanished.

I had two choices, follow the track up the hill out of the Cauldron and past the Troll cave to Five Ways Crossing (where the picture was taken) or go down the hill and up the other side past Murphy's and Mad Keith's along to Five Ways. Experience told me that the sheep were probably round by Mad Keith's, but Rita et al came down from the Cauldron. So off I set towards the Troll Cave. Its a steep path and pretty soon I was blowing my lungs out of my backside vowing to lose weight and regretting second helpings of Berkshire and really regretting the third beer. I progressed slowly followed by six of the magnificent seven who popped in and out of sight along the jungle trail. By the time I got to Five Ways we had seen no sign of the sheep and so we turned off and headed down to Mad Keith's.

Not far from his dwelling I found a curious wire and sheet metal construction concealed in the bracken. The sheet metal obviously covered something and the wire was raised some six inches from its surface by Y shaped hazel sticks. Not wishing to fall victim to one of Mad Keith's booby traps I gave it a wide berth. Perhaps its his burial pit, or maybe its where he imprisons walkers who wander unwittingly into his domain, perhaps its full of the bones of sacrificed sheep, perhaps, perhaps my mind was working overtime as I floundered around the head height bracken, perhaps its just a piece of tin on the floor. But why the Y shapes? Enough! I burst through the foliage and into a clearing opposite Mad Keith's. The place looked deserted, except for my sheep sat contentedly chewing the cud. For a second I considered wandering over to Mad Keith's and having a closer look at where he lives. I had seen the day I rescued Meg from the cliff that he spent some of his time sat in front of a broken TV. I often wonder what he spent his time doing.

I had a strange feeling like I wasn't alone. The dogs were milling around, the sheep formed a defensive circle facing them. Rocky was urinating on Mad Keith's bone pile so the heavy breathing coming from behind my left ear couldn't be him. Reba, another heavy breather was lay some twenty feet away. "Hi Keith" I said without turning around. I was aware that my voice had the same quality as that of a choking hamster.

Mad Keith shuffled forward into my peripheral vision. "Afternoon" he said tossing a chunk of what I hoped was stale bread towards the sheep circle. One of them broke ranks and picked it up, it was clear they were used to hermit offerings. "What sort of sheep are them then" he asked.

It was pointless telling him we had had this conversation, always humour hermits is my motto, especially when you are outside their cave surrounded by bones, best not make enemies at a time like this. I explained they were Ryelands, again, he told me they were like teddy bears again, he threw more bread, there was a pause and he added, "You don't see sheep like them in these parts" I again avoided the obvious argument that we could see them in these parts. His attention turned to the big dogs, the Bernese, no they are not St Bernard's, yes they do eat a lot, yes they are nice looking, no I don't know what they taste like, pardon, oh sorry, yes I mean yes, I do know what Rabbits taste like, yes there are thousands of them, did you really, you counted twenty, yes that is thousands. All the while he was throwing bread and fattening up my sheep.

I decided to take control, use this encounter to gain some information about Mad Keith. So, Keith (best not call him mad to his face, might be a bit awkward) what made you choose to live here, why choose this spot forty four years ago. He stopped mid bread throw and looked at me. "Well I had no choice really" he eventually said. "You know the site down there, I lived there for a while but the old woman that owned the ground got a bit funny" he laughed to himself remembering and added "I was married then o'course"


Mrs Mad Keith!

Where is she?

The metal trapdoor up the hill my brain screamed at me, shes in the pit!

He turned to me, "Well, she got funny so I thought, sod it, move up here, so I did" he carried on laughing.

Ask him! Ask him wheres Mrs Mad Keith my inner voice screamed at me.

"Erm Keith..." the strangled hamster returned "Whats under the metal up there?"

He stopped laughing. I got ready to run, forget the sheep, have them.

"The metal?"

"Yes Keith" I pointed, "The metal"

"Up there?" he pointed as he asked.

I swallowed and nodded. Was there room for two in the pit I wondered.

"Would you like to see?" he asked.

Ghoulishly I nodded. He turned away and said "I'll show you" he beckoned I follow. He showed me a bucket, full of water. "It's my spring" he said. Mystery solved, its Mad Keith's water supply, the wire is to keep animals from walking into it, the metal cover is to stop the leaves.
He nodded as if he had imparted some great wisdom to me, I felt like he was going to say, one day this will be yours, but he didn't. Instead he shuffled off, my audience with the hermit was over. I had found an answer to the question of how he happened to live here, but in doing so I had discovered a Mrs Mad Keith and would now need to sate my curiosity as to her fate.

Because there are several other metal trapdoors on the hill I thought to myself as I drove the Ryeland's ahead of me down the track towars the sanctuary of Rock HQ.
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