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September 02, 2005

The Shepherdess and the Squire

Once upon a time there was a young shepherdess, who lived in a lawless land in the North mostly populated by vagabonds and suicide bombers. The shepherdess’ only task was to tend her flock and protect them from harm. However, the young shepherdess became disenchanted by the monotony of life on the harsh moors, having high aspirations for herself. Besides which, the sheep were all well ‘ard and unappreciative of the toil she lavished upon them – ungrateful bastards.

One day, when she was tending her sheep in a lonely tract of land, she suddenly felt an urge to dress herself in robes of splendour and escape her sorry situation. She donned a little wild rose-wreathed shepherdess hat and her best woollen frock and, clasping her crook tightly, set off in a southerly direction to seek her fortune, leaving her flock to fend for itself amidst the wilds of the fells.

She soon stumbled across an ancient city filled with young knights, who spent most of their days and nights quaffing port and guffawing loudly. Some of them were rather dashing, which appealed greatly to the young shepherdess as she had only ever seen scabby sheep before. However, she found her mind to be as woolly as her tattered dress, and however much she tried to impress the knights, they only haw-hawed with laughter at her (or rather she imagined they did, being a girl who suffered from a kind of nervous paranoia).

One day she discovered a potent magic elixir and began to swig it by the flagon. It made her feel more intelligent and confident, and when she fed enough of it to the knights they believed she was really a beautiful princess disguised as a young shepherdess and jostled for her affections. However, she saw their superficiality for what it was, and this saddened her greatly.

She travelled to far off lands; she met a couple of handsome princes but nothing much came of it; she read extensively; she made friends steadfast and true; she continued to guzzle the magic elixir; she wept. She was never content.

The young shepherdess became an older shepherdess, and grew wise to the ways of the world. She almost forgot about her humble existence on the harsh, wind-swept moors.

One day the shepherdess met an itinerant squire, who lavished affection and garibaldi biscuits upon her. He borrowed a trusty steed from his master, Sir Humphrey, and they galloped off to a land of leeks, daffodils and dragons together. As they swept over a mountain pass, they realised they were downwind from a particularly pungent land rover, and so with a clatter of hooves and screech of brakes they pulled over to the side of the trail to clear their heads a little in the cool mountain air.

While they were standing there admiring the view they witnessed a great commotion. Suddenly a flock of wild sheep came running down through the heather, craning their necks and rolling their eyes and making a terrible kafuffle. The squire thought that the shepherdess might be fearful, not realising that she had once tended such creatures herself. He told her not to worry, but before he was able to place her back up on the trusty steed safe from harm, they saw one of the sheep run up to a fellow traveller to nuzzle his hand.

The shepherdess had never seen such a sight, coming as she did from a land of uncouth mean northern sheep who had nowt to do with no one. ‘Ey up!’ said the shepherdess. ‘Look at them sheep. Ave we got owt to feed em with?’

The squire found a packet of Jaffa cakes in the back of the steed, and before they knew it the sheep were clustering around them. The sheep feasted well, bleating please and thank you in a most charming manner and allowing the squire and the shepherdess to pat them.

This pleased the shepherdess greatly, who had only experienced loutishness and ingratitude from her irreverent flock oop north. She realised that all she had ever wanted was to look after appreciative, gentle animals such as these, and that her earlier ambitions to become a grand lady adorned in fine frocks were hollow and futile.

The squire was inspired to write a seminal paper entitled ‘The Sociology of Sheep’, which made his name and fortune. He became a renowned academic who was well-respected amongst the ovine community, the shepherdess tended his research subjects (as well as the odd piranha that passed through their estate), and they both lived happily ever after.

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