Fifty Shades of Mud - Lucy Sewill column

Illustration by Claire Jelly

Illustration by Claire Jelly - Credit: Archant

As the church nativity loomed, Ron the sheep and star of the show was word perfect - and had even acquired the right licence. But then, with just a day to go, disaster struck

I have always thought that there are many good things to be said about sending your child to a small school in rural Dorset. One of these is the high probability of them being chosen to star in the school nativity as Mary or Joseph. But despite having three potential bill toppers, my children, like their mother and father before them, seem destined to be angel, shepherd, king or plain ‘villager’.

However last year we triumphed. The school decided to hold the nativity in the church, with live animals and we were asked to provide the sheep. This was infinitely better than having a Mary or Joseph in the family and casting was easy.

We had the perfect candidate in our flock. We had Ron, who had been a hand-raised orphan and, as a result, was incredibly tame.

We were asked if he could process - next to a young donkey - into the church and be led by my daughter. Sheep, donkey and their handlers would then join the Bethlehem scene at the altar.

It took a while but we trained him to walk on a head collar and be led by a small child. I played him music so he would not be alarmed and a surprised DEFRA granted us a licence to transport a sheep to the church. Finally his name went on the notices billed around the village. We were all set.

But then disaster struck the day before the performance. Ron was found hobbling along with a very sore foot and would have to forget stardom. He quite simply was not going to make it. We had 24 hours and all our other sheep were outside, wet, wild and female.

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Now you probably have no idea how excited people were to see the words, ‘with real animals’ on the village notice board. We couldn’t let them down so wild Rosie was chosen and came in from the field.

It is amazing to discover how quickly you can ‘sheep whisper’ a ewe into shape if you put the time in, and after a couple of hours she had total trust me. Rosie was also very dirty, and because it was so cold outside I reluctantly agreed that the family bathroom was the best place for her bath.

She didn’t much like the stairs and so was heaved up them by a very strong husband for lots of shampooing which she rather enjoyed. What we hadn’t realised is that a fully fleeced sheep shakes like a dog when it gets out of a bath and is astonishingly heavy. As we carried our very big wet sheep down the stairs I realised we’d be redecorating in the New Year. I also hadn’t planned on how long it would take to dry her with a hair dryer.

Despite all this we made it to the nativity and Rosie behaved perfectly - much to my relief. She was, of course, upstaged by the beautiful big-eyed donkey with the longest ears you could ever imagine, but who wouldn’t be? But Rosie held her own, and bleated along to Away in a Manger. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.