Bubbles was the most rotund sheep I have ever seen; completely round with an exceptionally thick dark brown-black coat and four dead straight stick-like legs.
It was whilst standing watching the visiting coastguard mount a hairy rescue operation of a perfectly silly gimmer who had decided to venture one step too far to the edge of the banks that Bubbles acquired her name. She had wandered up to the fence to have a nose at what we were doing when my friend turned round and noticed her. ‘She’s just like a bubble’ she declared and so the name stuck!
Bubbles appeared in this world one stormy night but oh what a muddle. Two or three yoels had decided to give birth all on the same spot and so there was one big scrum of mums and babes; who belonged to whom? I did my best and even dumped them all in the shed hoping they would sort themselves out. But all to no avail and Bubbles, along with two or three others born that night suddenly found themselves motherless. So it was out with the feeding bottle and of course all visitors to the croft were roped in to feed the caddy lambs. Amazing how much joy they can bring to innocent visitors who ‘ooh and aah’ over them. But then yes, they are just so adorable at that age.
Now in those days when I was more robust and a wee bit younger I spent my summer months in a caravan up by the lambing sheds, and the nursery field, so called because that is where orphans, lambs with health problems, triplets and those poor unfortunates who have to spend two or three days with their legs in splints because they forgot to straighten them out whilst tucked up inside their mothers. So it was in this field that Bubbles was to spend the first few weeks of her life, bless her.
Every time I opened the door of my caravan she would rush to the fence and I, being much softer in those days, would rush out and scoop her up in my arms and so into the caravan she came, sitting on the settee beside me whilst I fed and fussed her. I managed to keep the cushions clean and dry by encasing her back end and legs in a plastic carrier bag. She was most inquisitive as she tapped around the caravan with her ‘wooden’ feet. As she grew bigger visits to the caravan became less frequent and she would simply follow me round the yard. Later, as feeding time became more demanding she and her cronies were fed from a multi teat feeding bucket out in the field, their tails wagging nineteen to the dozen as they noisily sucked the last drop of milk from the bucket, their tummies blowing up like balloons.
As the summer drew to a close Bubbles was sent, along with the rest of the lambs, out onto the banks to pass away the autumn and winter months. She did well as she pressed forwards for her share of nuts from the trough and licked out of the mineral bucket. She reluctantly swallowed the compulsory cobalt bullet swilled down by a dose of wormer. ‘Horrid’ you could almost hear her say as she swallowed hard and shock her head!
The following spring it was time for the ewe lambs to be trundled out to the apportionment in the most uncomfortable trailer, slipping and sliding as it bounced over some very rough terrain. However, surprise surprise, Bubbles was excused such banishment and allowed to remain on the croft for the summer months. I am not quite sure how I managed to persuade the boss on this one. But stay she did, entertaining visitors with her inquisitiveness though by now she was of course no longer drinking milk from a bottle. Now she had to fend for herself and forage her own food. She did well as her bubble shape never changed; she just got a bit bigger.
She was in for a few shocks this, her second year of life. First of course she had to submit to having her coat clipped away. This was not an easy task. Although she was predominately a Shetland lady she did, somewhere in her ancestry, have Suffolk blood and so her coat was difficult to remove, to say the least. The second shock was finding herself ‘sorted’ to be put to a ram! And so she became the object of amorous intentions from a very keen and all knowing Shetland ram. Oh dear what was this all about?
Winter passed a mixture of rain, wind, sleet and snow. Bubbles survived by sheer greed at the silage rack and trough. And of course she became even more rotund as the weeks went by and soon spring was upon us. I simply don’t believe for one moment that Bubbles ever understood what lamb birth was all about. The fuss she made was unbelievable.
Now, she may have been likened to a bubble in appearance, but she was a tiny bubble. She had very fine bone structure and there wasn’t a great deal of room inside for growing lambs, let alone their passage into this world. After a great deal of solicitous care and attention on my part she finally went into labour and was taken into the lambing shed and put on a clean bed of straw in the best corner pen. There I leant over the door and waited for her to produce. But it soon became evident that she was ‘in trouble’. Oh dear. That meant fairy liquid and a bucket of hot water and a couple of clean dry towels. And so I went into her pen and with a hand well coated with fairy liquid felt inside her. Head and both front legs well and truly stuck. Sorry Bubbles, back end up on a straw bale with my assistant holding her back legs out to either side. All so very undignified. But it had to be done and I was not going to be defeated by a mere ‘bubble’. And so began the bruising process of extracting two front legs and a head. As I went in, almost up to my elbow I don’t know who experienced the most pain; me or mother herself. My right hand suffered the most excruciating pain as her very sharp pelvic bones squeezed my hand and wrist like a vice. With my fingers I managed to straighten out first one leg and then the other and pull them forward. What a painful performance with much sweating on my part and groaning on the part of the ‘bubble’. As the legs slid forward so did the head and finally out came a perfectly healthy Shetland lamb. Bubbles was introduced to her offspring and, I am glad to say, mum and lamb bonded.
Bubbles recovered remarkably quickly from her ordeal in the delivery pen and was soon on her feet. A day or so later she was outside with her son skipping happily alongside her. I meanwhile was only too happy to display evidence of hard labour with bright black and blue bruises on my hand and wrist. The following spring there was a repeat performance. My daughter was up to help with lambing that year and was called upon to ‘hold the legs’ as Bubbles and I struggled together for a second time to bring forth a lamb. Again, both front legs were pointing the wrong way. Couldn’t mum somehow get a message through to her unborn offspring to do a bit better! Perhaps third time round the buoy would be better. But no. Yet again, her legs had to be ‘held’; this time by my friend from south as Bubbles and I pushed and pulled till out popped her third Shetland son. And of course I proudly displayed my bruises!
Bubbles had a relatively short life span. The following year, for some inexplicable reason, she escaped the attentions of the Shetland ram and instead fell to a Suffolk. Again there was the undignified and painful struggle and out came a very square Suffolk cross lamb. He grew and flourished and mother and son enjoyed the summer months together until one day intuition told me that one of my number was missing. After much searching Bubbles was found lying cold and dead in a clump of brambles. I buried her where she fell, covering her grave with a mound of stones as a mark of respect. Her lamb didn’t appear to miss her and fetched a good price off the buyer that year!