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Ian Lomas was a Psychobilly* Rocker in his young wild days. From the Mosh pit to the slurry pit at Griffe Walk is quite a journey I think as I watch him skilfully, carefully switch a triplet lamb onto a ewe that has given birth but has nothing to show for it. This has to be done the instant the newborn drops, aquatic wet, bloodied and steaming onto the straw. It's birth Mother is busy talking and licking her other two lambs. He picks the slippery, stretched streak of new life up and drops it in a hush and rush of afterbirth and steam, oozing, wriggling behind it's new foster ewe. She turns and looks, a moments hesitation, then she greets her new lamb with a nuzzle, then a lick and she starts to talk in short quick breaths and rhythms to this, her lamb. Where else could it have come from, so wet and new? Neither birth Mother or foster Mother seem to notice the switch as Ian watches quietly, to make sure all goes well and as it should.
A few mornings later I am back in the lambing shed, Ian is milking and I Keep an eye while he is busy, But when I arrive there is a still born lamb. I go over quickly, trying not to disrupt the sleeping, waiting ewes. The lamb is still warm so I check its airway, rub it down with straw and swing it, nothing, the lambs Mother watches. Frustrated that life is not coming back this time, I stop my efforts after a while. But the watching ewe does not. I fall away, backing off in my failure. She comes forward to her dead lamb and begins to paw it where it's lungs could wheeze and splutter it back to life. She's not giving up, I photograph her quietly as she nuzzles, licks and paws at her lamb. Her eyes hold something that's hard to watch, but I am very lucky to witness. Still she will not give up, this is her first lamb, her only lamb, until that Psychobilly Shepherd finishes his milking shift and can again trick nature. Skinning her dead lamb and putting it's lifeless coat on a new body that is warm, pulsing and hungry, blaating for life and that ewes milk. 'The Clubfoot', Londons Rocking heartbeat in the 80's, never saw these things that happen on this Hill, these heartbeats that stop and sometimes start again.
*Psychobilly, Music that blends Punk Rock and Rockabilly.
I didn't know until later, discussed over a cup of tea in the farm kitchen, that Ian lambed this ewe before I arrived that morning, he left the lamb alive to start milking the herd. Half an hour later he checks on the ewes and the lamb is dead. He's cross with himself for that, for not staying an extra five minutes when the dairy herd demanded milking. As he eats his breakfast he checks on Twitter, the frustrations and thoughts of other shepherds on other Hills.
My hands are cold. It's early morning and the sun hasn't been up long enough to warm the lambing shed. Ian Lomas has been working all night with his ewes and lambs and looks tired but he had a good night. The ewes are quiet, lying like scattered grains of rice across the straw. There is only the sound of chewing and lambs and ewes talking to each other.
I try to do lots of quick drawings - learning the sheep's form and movement rather than trying to get good sketches. On the third day the sketches are getting better as the sheep are in my head now - seeing their heads when I close my eyes.
There are two ewes lambing - a single - and one that is having triplets - a blue mark on the middle of her back indicates she is going to have three lambs. I sit on a water trough to draw her. It's difficult as she is moving a lot. She is up checking and pawing the ground and down throwing her head back, straining. The two front hooves of the first lamb are coming out facing down so it should be an easy birth. I draw a sheep that's lying near to us for a while until the lambing ewe settles for a moment to lick her new born lamb.
In the barn,
in straw stained with afterbirth,
the ewes gather
as they wait
for the forces inside them
to bring new life.
A ewe walks in circles as she labours. In her movements there's fear, and there's fear too in the cries of the ewes that labour beside her.
It's been too long.
She tries to run as they pull her to the ground, but they hold her firmly as Ian pulls the lamb from her body, and she is released.
These are the moments when
life is most fragile.
When a swing by the legs,
or a helping breath
can be the difference
between spluttering life
With quiet precision,
Ian cuts the skin from
a stillborn lamb.
And now wearing that skin,
a motherless lamb
can feed from
the lambless ewe.
A luckier lamb climbs shakily onto her legs while her mother licks away the stickiness of birth. A brand new creature, perfectly formed and already hungry. Soon she, like the others, will be out on the hillside in her plastic coat, under the turbines, by the rocks.
Stark, brooding land skinned of trees by altitude and weather.
Tough, yellowed grass gives way to crowning rocks. The wind whipped crags mellow briefly in the low sun's light. Old snowdrifts fade slowly behind the windswept, tumbled walls of the ancient land enclosures that fade more slowly still.
The theme for this Winter sound snippet was developed through vocal improvisation in response to/over one of Gavin's first films at Harborough that explored the gradual transition from deep underground up to the surface. The consideration was to keep it sparse and with an elemental quality in order to leave space for the unraveling of the film's own narrative.
The hill endures
Its resonance, deep plundered, its pitted surface heals
Tattooed with timeless pathways, coffin roads and cattle tracks
And in the winds pause the skylark soars
Bee lines are buzzed, pollen stored
Hopeful cowslips, shy orchids bloom
Winter torrents subside through caverns below tombs
This theme is related to the Winter theme using similar melodic intervals but switching to a major key, giving a more uplifting sound suggesting a sense of opening, unfurling and a feeling of delight in the first warmth of the sun after Winter
Extract from journal
An unexpected, wide valley opens out from the difficult to find track through and beyond the Sebelco Factory on the moor. The valley is hidden on all sides by its flanks from all but the handful of farms within it and any determined walker. Griffe farm, orientated with old knowledge of prevailing winds and weather, nestles in the lea of the outcrop of Harborough Rocks.
Arriving - the grim sight of the lost sheep for whom birthing was their last endeavour. Beyond this, Lambing Shed 1 is filled with ewes awaiting their single lamb, like low lying islands in a deep sea of straw. A palpable shared expectancy. Lambing Shed 2 has, and expects, multiple births. The atmosphere is hushed except for the whirring generator and each ewe wickering to its newborn followed in time by the tremulous bleat as the lamb experiences and employs air. The farmer, Ian, speaks softly, offering insight into his lambing life of twenty-hour days while almost imperceptibly maintaining his complete concentration on the needs of each of his flock. His deft hands, with minimum interference, assist the ewes when needed.
Two ewes deliver triplets either side of me in the space of 30 minutes. The third lamb of one ewe is yellowish in colour - a mark, Ian says that 'she had trouble with it.' Ian was ready, as the lamb dropped, he whisked it away and, almost in one movement, with no fuss, tossed it gently to the hindquarters of a lamb-less ewe in a pen. Within minutes the lamb was accepted.
The metre of the third theme was suggested by an extract of Lucy's Lambing poem and shaped by my own experience of witnessing the early morning in the Lambing Shed. I wanted the theme to carry something of my overriding impressions of this primal process that encompass; expectancy, waiting, more waiting and then the sudden urgent flurry of movement, positioning and imminent transition to the swift and momentous moment of birth. The process reminds me of a long running wave starting from a far distant storm and approaching the shore; there's no stopping it, it has an inevitability that will reach its conclusion.
Listening to a recording I made of a wickering ewe - a kind of gutterall tut tutting - I improvised vocally using Lucy's words before going to the piano to develop the idea. All three themes at the moment seem to have the defining characteristic of employing the fourth interval in the melody. This interval gives a particularly open, sometimes plaintive, potentially bleak sound that for me seems fitting with the atmosphere of the higher landscapes of the Hill.