Kidnapping, shearing, and grinding. In that order…

by Kit Munro

Like most lads that have been country-bred, I had a great opinion of my shrewdness.

Robert Louis Stevenson

Another day shearing sheep. Today it was the hoggets. The hoggets are the sheep that are one year old. So they are pretty much the equivalent of teenagers. Of all the merinos on the farm, the hoggets have the finest wool. While the wool is better, the shearing is harder. They are never as fast to shear as the older sheep. Hoggets seem to grow wool in more places. They are also sticky, there seems to be more grease, or lanolin I suppose.

Today, while shearing I have been reading Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson. Just a little bit of Tartan Noir: Scottish Crime Fiction. In the preface Stevenson writes:

…it is more honest to confess how little I am touched by the desire of accuracy. This is no furniture for the scholar’s library….

Despite this, Kidnapped is still a good way to be introduced to Scotland and Scottish history; the Highlands, the Jacobites, and gratuitous use of the word daft. It is also, once I got used to the Scottish brogue, terribly exciting. People are run through. Murders are attempted, with some success. There is even kidnapping.

The tool I use to shear the sheep is called a handpiece. On the handpiece are fitted a comb and a cutter, these are the bits that cut the wool. The comb and cutter go blunt regularly. They do cut an awful lot of wool after all. A cutter will last about twenty minutes, a comb will last an hour. Although, how long the gear lasts does depend on how sandy, daggy or dirty the sheep are.

So, by the end of an 8 hour day, I have used 24 cutters and 8 combs. These combs and cutters all need cleaning since they are each covered with grease from the wool. They also need sharpening. I sharpen with a grinder.

Grinding a cutter

Grinding a comb

This all takes about forty minutes. While I can listen to an audiobook while cleaning the combs and cutters I do not listen while grinding. I have mentioned in earlier posts that some jobs are too much fun to listen to audiobooks, while others are too dangerous. Grinding the gear is one of the latter jobs.

It is not that grinding is that dangerous. It is just that the grinder spins very, very fast. I have a healthy respect for the grinder, which translates as; I am extremely bloody scared of it.

Despite my fear, while grinding I was able to mull over something that I read today in Kidnapped:

…I had not been many days shut up with them before I began to be ashamed of my first judgement, when I had drawn away from them at the Ferry pier, as though they had been unclean beasts. No class of man is altogether bad; but each has its own faults and virtues; and these shipmates of mine were no exception to the rule. Rough they were, sure enough; and bad, I suppose; but they had many virtues. They were kind when it occurred to them, simple even beyond the simplicity of a country lad like me, and had some glimmerings of honesty.

I found my copy of Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson here. If anyone knows of another place this audiobook is available please let me know in the comments below.