Monday, March 15, 2010

Billy Had a Little Lamb

My Brother-in-Law (we’ll call him Bill), holds and important position with regards to security here in Paphos. He wears a quasi-military uniform complete with beret, bloused trousers, and spit-shined boots. He often carries a sub-machine gun, and has perfected a macho swagger.

Recently, however, he has acquired a hobby with a more pastoral bent.

Some thirty chickens arrived a fortnight ago, complete with three or four roosters, and several brace of ducks. They have taken up residence in his front yard and were recently joined by two lambs – no doubt destined for the easter souvla, but meanwhile enjoying their transient freedom in the lush orchard.

Bill gives every visitor the tour. He snagged me last week and led me into the orchard, rhapsodising on the virtues of livestock among the trees: “They loosen the soil and fertilise it. They kill the weeds, they eat the bugs, they lay tasty, golden-yolked eggs…” He showed me an Italian vegetable grinder that he’d picked up cheap from a restaurant that went bust. “I make their salad every morning with vegetables left over from the supermarket at the end of the road. Other than that, they eat some grain, drink some water, and add a nice living touch to the place, don’t you think?” I murmured something appropriately positive, thinking that I, the organic farmer and permaculture aficionado of the family, needed no convincing as to the benefits of free-range livestock in a smallholding.

On Sunday afternoon, shortly after the sheep had arrived, I walked past Bill’s house on the way to help Best Beloved sort out the irrigation of his new vines. The orchard is below the level of the road, and trees obscured most of my view of the menagerie. I could see Bill – but only from the waist down – pacing his plot, hands behind his back, once-shiny boots treading a path between the olive and citrus trees, peering into nesting boxes and checking the level of the drinking water with a thoroughness and gravity that I had seen him bring to his usual occupation. I watched him for a moment, staying hidden and listening to him muttering to himself and talking to the chooks.

When I reached the vineyard, I reported my sighting to Best Beloved. “On the count of three,” he said. “Billy has a little lamb…” We let rip at the tops of our voices, the slightly altered words: “Billy has a little lamb, a little lamb, a little lamb. Billy has a little lamb, its fleece is black and white. And everywhere that Billy goes, Billy goes, Billy goes, every where that Billy goes, the lamb gets in a fight!” We were laughing too hard to hear his unprintable reply.

The Littles often break into song now as we pass his house; “Old MacBilly had a farm, ee- eye ee-eye oh!”

His family are not the only one to tease Bill. Alex is doing work experience with him at the moment and says that he is the butt of constant leg-pulls at work. “He was talking about marksmanship today,” Alex reported. “Saying that he used to be able to knock out a fly’s eye in the dark at fifty paces but now he can barely see the fly, and one of the lads under his command said softly ‘Too many free range eggs, didn’t you know that golden yolks destroy your vision?’ They don’t give him a break.”

Best Beloved and I have bets as to how long this new interest will last: Bill is not known for his stamina at maintaining new projects on the domestic or agricultural front. “A month or two, Manamou,” my husband said. I voted for a little longer – at least until the hot days of July make sleeping through the day required for all male Cypriots. Unless Sil (my sister-in-law) gets involved – then Paphos will have a permaculture centre to envy.

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