Sheep and the Forgotten Lion.
Given the pandemic, we have chosen somewhere as remote as possible. Full of beautiful countryside and places of interest which – hopefully – will not be that interesting to other people at the same time. This is our first real chance to get away from it all, having missed out in 2020 when we didn’t really go anywhere other than a day trip to Littlehampton. A year on from that fabulous excursion, we need somewhere to breathe for longer. Without masks or any talk of ventilators. Away from the news, politics and all the other menaces and annoying habits of society.
And so we find ourselves staying on a country estate, not quite in the wilderness. Not as far north in England as you can get, but well up there. The sheep are roaming freely, idle and content. Eventually they move out of the way to let us pass. Some are more nimble, sprightly and confident. I have my eye on one in particular. I name him Baaheem Sterling. He's fast, with a great sense of timing and flair, but sometimes he just stands up for himself and looks you in the eye. And, quite simply, he's my favourite.
A striking figure
The baahs and the bleats combine beautifully. The sheep are calling back and forth between themselves, each championing their own sounds, creating wonderful ovine music. Perhaps expressing solidarity. Or noisily claiming their own patch of grass. Or sending out a message: humans don’t come too close. Leave us be. Some scamper away as we approach. Some stand their ground and stare. And I’m happy with that. I can go at their pace. Leisure requires yielding. But watch out. I’m thinking of that leg of lamb in the freezer for our first Sunday roast, post-vacation.
We have secured an exceptionally fine stone cottage, formerly a turkey house, with a charming garden and a tennis court adjacent, all set within this rural idyll. No unwelcome intrusions. Birdsong in the air is about as noisy as it gets. Bees buzzing too. And oh yes, those swifts darting through the air. Disappearing into the eaves of the farm buildings. Perfection. Possibly the finest holiday home we have chosen ever. Certainly in England. Set within so much countryside. We’re in Lancashire, but only just. The estate is actually in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, and close to the border with Cumbria.
Our magnificent stone hideaway
Peace. Quiet. We have found our perfect place for rest and reinvigoration. Before too long, we start to talk about whether this could be for more than just one week away. How about the rest of our lives?
And then…an upset.
In such a remote setting, there is only one thing that could potentially cause some level of disquiet. England are in the final of the Euros. A chance to make history i.e. to win something in my lifetime. With only the suave, sophisticated Roberto Mancini and the Azurris standing in the way. This is England’s chance. Our turn. Our family holiday is interrupted barely before it gets going.
Two hours of attrition, and then two shakes of a lamb's tail. The sporting dream is over. I try to convince myself I care not one drop, but I am disappointed. Two kicks away from glory. How can any team on the brink of heroics suddenly miss three penalties in a row, and throw it all away? I don’t blame the players. It was tense. I feel for them. The team. The squad. Especially those players who are going to be so horribly abused simply for being there. And for not getting it right in the heat of the moment. And for being black.
I feel especially for Raheem, #BoyFromBrent. Before the final, Raheem was on course to be named ‘player of the tournament’. Gianluigi Donnarumma, the giant Italian goalkeeper, has usurped his place and Raheem has become England’s forgotten lion. A sad return for his brilliance earlier in the tournament and his lifetime of struggle against racism. But this will only be temporary. Raheem will be the go-to man once again, and that will partly be a terrible thing. A hero for many, a villain for many others.
England's temporarily forgotten hero - seen here scoring against the Czech Republic at Wembley
For once, Sterling is not be the main target of abuse. The mural of Marcus Rashford is defaced immediately after the Euro 2020 final. Thankfully the mural, an affectionate tribute to another of our true national heroes, is quickly restored. But the evil in society, in this version of England, is still there. This country really is so divided. I want to distance myself, to leave the haters and the causers of hatred behind, for good.
But where to go? Could I really miss the heartache of watching Somerset CCC flunk the cricket County Championship every year? Or skip the joys of Shakespeare’s Globe on the south bank of the Thames, and the RSC at Stratford and the Barbican, and the exhilaration of the New Forest. And so many other wondrous delights in the southern regions of Merry England. I am lying if I tell myself I can give up all of that at the drop of a hat. I would be tearing myself away from so much that I hold dear, including a select number of kindred folk. Maybe, just maybe, I could be swayed by being closer to the Etihad Stadium. Some are born there, some are drawn there, but we all call it home. Still, I'd have to live on the rural outskirts of the city. Perhaps, more than anything, I could be transported by the charms of the sheep. It could happen.
© Eddie Hewitt 2021
See part 1 of the Lancashire Travelogue: The Journey North
See part 3 of the Lancashire Travelogue: Bring Me Sunshine