Diary of a Highland Laddie
No, you haven’t read wrongly, and it’s not a misprint. Ivy Ferret (pronounced ‘Fur-ray) has permitted Laurie to produce this month’s Diary whilst she puts up her paws for a well-earned rest after several weeks of campaigning for ferrets everywhere.
It wasn’t easy to get Ivy to let me do this column, I can tell you! She was very concerned about the risk of letting an inexperienced ferret like me take over, even temporarily. But, as I said to her, ‘Risks are there to be taken. After all, if no-one took risks, Michelangelo would probably only have painted the Sistine floor’. I’m not sure if she totally bought my argument but she did agree for me to write this month’s piece. This is partly because I had to step into her shoes when Dr June stupidly double-booked Ivy for a guest interview with the press on the same day that we were all supposed to be doing a racing stint at a sheepdog trials. We all had to sit down and come up with a plan of action as to who was going to fill what booking. In the end Dr Jeff took Ivy to the Inverness studios for her interview, while Dr June took the racing team to the sheepdog event. In fact, it had to be done this way as Dr June was actually entering the sheepdog trials with ‘Gael’, a young collie she had been training. I was given the ‘honour’ of overseeing the racing team – if I’d only known what was involved!
The dramas and mishaps started the day before the ferret racing when a large lorry arrived absolutely loaded with miles of coiled tubes. My poor companion Foss (over excitable at the best of times) threw a dizzy fit as she thought these tubes were meant for the racing! I explained that they were for the drainage contractors to lay new field drains but she took a bit of convincing that she wasn’t expected to run a ferret marathon! For a while I thought we’d have to find someone to take her place on the team. Eventually (with much pawpatting and soothing) we all convinced her that the racing event would only involve the standard length tubes.
The sheepdog trials were to be held quite near to where we live, a few miles across the loch in fact, but as there are no roads the only way to get there is by boat. Luckily, there is a small ferry which meant we weren’t at the mercy of Dr June’s sailing! We’d have all probably ended up on the shores of Greenland. We all piled on board – me, seven other ‘racing ferrets’ (including the over - dramatic Foss who was still only inches away from a breakdown and sure we would all collide with an iceberg ‘a la Titanic’ en route), Dr June, Gael the sheepdog, and number of hairy, Gaelicspeaking stockmen armed with shepherds’ crooks, mean-looking dogs, and crates of home brew to make the occasion more enjoyable. We arrived at a ramshackle jetty to be greeted by what looked like the cast of Macbeth’s witches, a trio of old, toothless ‘ladies’ who had organised the event – although ‘organised’ was not an adjective that many may have chosen to use – as we were about to find out!
We ‘racing ferrets’ were shown to a small area to set up our racing tubes. It was OK as areas go, and we were able to display our sponsorship logos reasonably well. Our tubes are marked with the letters F.E.R.T. standing for Ferret Express Racing Team, sponsored by a Highland industrial company. (We had originally called ourselves the Ferret Allstar Racing Team but reconsidered when we realised the unfortunate acronym might not please our sponsors) All seemed to be well for the ferret racing which was to take place at the ‘halftime’ period between morning and afternoon sheepdog trials.
However, no-one anticipated the problems of judging the sheepdog trials, or, indeed, the organisation of the event. The venue had never organised a sheepdog trials before and thought it sufficient to bring down half a dozen ‘hogs’ (i.e. yearling ewes) wild from the hills for the sheepdogs to work with. The course consisted of a few crude gates leading on to the shore, a run along the beach and then up to the pens. The three judges were all Gaelic-speaking, bible-bashing individuals who declared from the outset that anyone swearing or blaspheming would be disqualified.
The first dog (owned by one of the hairy, Gaelicspeaking stockmen) quickly ran his sheep into the sea, resulting in technicoloured swearing and blaspheming in both English and Gaelic. The next dog managed to lose the sheep entirely, whilst the third dog got a good butting from a psychopathic ewe who was, by now, fed up of being chased about. More colourful language resulted in further disqualifications. This set the scene for the morning’s sessions. Dr June and Gael were twelfth in the field. Gael started OK but the sheep had simply had enough and broke through the gates to head for the hills, never to reappear on the trials field again. By this time the judges had disqualified everyone, either because of their language or the fact that their dogs had lost the sheep all together. The judges were quickly asked to hold a meeting to reconsider whether anyone might possibly be a winner.
I’m not sure of the outcome of their meeting. It probably didn’t matter anyway. After all, the sheep had disappeared, the dogs had given up, the tide had come in over most of the course, and the Macbeth witches had opened the home brew. Everyone gave up on the idea of sheepdog trials and settled down to a good old fashioned Highland Ceilidh.
After a few drams there was a popular demand for the ferret racing to begin. Betting was brisk as I, Button, Beau and Foss took to the tubes. I have to say I was surprised at Beau’s turn of speed, he won the race convincingly. Foss wasn’t placed at all on the grounds that she didn’t even start the race having stayed in her starting box talking to a daisy. Maybe we’d all done too good a job in calming her down earlier! Several races later (and around £400 raised for local charities) everyone decided it was time to pack up and head for home. The Macbeth witches had disappeared in a cloud of whiskey vapour as we, the hairy Gaelicspeaking stockmen and others made for the ferry.
At home, we found Ivy had already returned from her day with the press and was busy fending off Tennyson, the turkey, from sharing her Ferretone. Her language would certainly have got her disqualified from the trials, I can tell you!
I don’t know whether I or Ivy will be responsible for the March/April news from the Highlands. There’s likely to be a lot to report on the lambing, the move of the Royal Scots Raccoon Guards to their new summer headquarters, not to mention Tennyson meeting his new ‘ladies’ and the settling in of a new hen christened ‘the Mad Madam Min’ with a penchant for nesting under caravans!