Thursday, 28 May 2015

The Mart

Sometimes there's absolutely no point whatsoever in pretending you know what you're doing, and Tregaron livestock market is definitely one of those times and places where you'll never get away with it.

We'd been given a blow by blow account over a beer or two in the pub of how our morning at the mart might unfold; when to arrive, what to say to the auctioneer and when - "I'm disappointed", "on the market" - what sort of price we might expect, who would buy our stock, what to order for breakfast in the portakabin canteen. Despite all this, the day didn't start as planned when Myfanwy hurdled the hurdles (yet again, when will I learn), signing Lulu's death warrant in the process. Two sheep had to go to market and neither Lulu or Rhos had yet to develop Myfanwy's leaping skills or sense of self-preservation, so when three became two in the pen by default Lulu had to accompany her half-brother to market. This unplanned turn of events left me a little tearful. I'd said my goodbyes to Rhos and Myfanwy and mentally prepared myself for their departure. Myfanwy had been nothing but trouble for the past year, but Lulu had never put a hoof wrong in her year on the smallholding. Nevertheless, a change of plan is a change of plan whether I like it or not, especially given that Myfanwy's escape was entirely my fault for not predicting the predictable effect on her of the sound of the approaching truck and trailer.

As advised, we arrived at market soon after the 9 a.m. permitted arrival time to ensure our sheep got into the first auction shed. Luckily this also gave us the chance to confess our ignorance and inexperience to the auctioneer and stockman without an audience (as if they didn't know from the look of us, in our clean clothes, with our incomer accents, and not a flat cap between us). To their credit, both were friendly and not at all dismissive of our "idiot's guide to the mart" questions. What was said once we'd turned our backs we shall never know, though I'm pretty sure somebody said something to someone before the day was out as news of our performance at mart got back to me three days later in the local shop via someone who wasn't even there at the time! Infamy, infamy ....

The time difference between opening time and starting time wasn't included in our pub mart briefing, so having whiled away the two hours to auction by having a coffee, buying a newspaper, browsing the agricultural store (always educational), playing Candy Crush Saga on the phone, sipping mugs of tea and nibbling at pieces of toast in the canteen, we ambled back to the mart. By now the first auction shed was full and the second filling quickly as trailer after trailer unceremoniously unloaded an assortment of sheep who trotted over the concrete to their allotted numbered pen.

In our absence, Rhos and Lulu had been given pen mates, including a big ugly ram with scary bulging eyes. Judging by the nasty bite he gave his owner he wasn't happy about being at the mart. I couldn't bear to look at Rhos and Lulu, both of whom were hanging their heads and trying to hide at the back of the pen (I must not blub at the mart, I must not blub at the mart).


There was a fair crowd in the auction shed by now, but I still felt conspicuous in every way - female, under 50, wearing a jacket from Mole Valley Farmers in Somerset, more worried about welfare than price. Then the hubbub died down, everybody shuffled to the end and the auction began. Subtly raised fingers, inexplicable chatter, shouted prices, out with the spray marker, sold. And repeat. Nothing hi-tech about this stock market, with transactions recorded by a man with a clipboard using pen and paper. Rhos and Lulu were up next. All eyes turned to us. Clearly we were supposed to say something to kick the bidding off. Remembering our pub briefing I offered up "yearling wether" in a far from confident very English sounding voice. Correct answer. "Teeth up?" Eh? What? No, yes, don't know, what does that mean? The stockman stuck his fingers into Rhos' mouth. "Baby teeth", he announced to the assembled throng. "Baby teeth", "baby teeth", ripples around the group clustered by the pen. Was that good or bad? No time to ponder, bidding was underway. Sold for £73.50. And off we went again with Lulu. "Baby teeth!". Bidding. A pause. The auctioneer looked at us. We looked at him. Had someone asked a question? Was this where we say "I'm disappointed"? Hands reach between bars to give Lulu a squeeze. Ha! This time I knew what was going on. They were checking her body condition score. A number was shouted out. Bidding resumed. Sold for £63. Phew, it was all over for us. At this point the big Welsh chap who'd bought them both (who, according to what I saw scribbled on the clipboard, was exactly who we'd been told would buy them) said something incomprehensible. It sounded like "pound for helpy". Eh? "Pound for helpy?" Smile and laugh. "Pound for helpy?". Smile, laugh and keep walking. I still have absolutely no idea what was being asked of me. Three years of Welsh lessons had failed me. Come to think of it, I have no idea if he was speaking Welsh or English or Wenglish. Did he want me to give him £1 for buying our sheep? Is that some strange custom deliberately omitted from our pub briefing? Had I inadvertently committed a faux pas that would have me banned from the mart forever? I shall never know, as bidding began at the next pen everyone's attention turned back to business and we wandered out, eyes blinking in the morning sunshine as we emerged from the gloom of the auction shed. The deed was done. I didn't feel good about it. Walking away, leaving Rhos and Lulu in that shed, felt like a betrayal. My fifty pieces of silver would arrive a week later.