Wednesday – market day – is always a tense time at home. Going back to market for the first time in years this New Year, I had a real flashback to my childhood. Dad would be happy with £50 for each of his six hoggets [a sheep up to the age of one year], any less and his hard work makes the price particularly galling.
Entering the squat, concrete market I was hit with the familiar smell of hot pies mingled with iodine. Meanwhile dad joked and laughed with the farmers milling in the foyer.
From the 60’s gloom of the entrance we walked through a small door into the cavernous covered market and pens of sheep. The tang of lanoline and muck overtook the iodine. Standing in the doorway were four men, all wrapped in varying degrees of tweed and green. They eyed me suspiciously, although not quite as warily as the fishermen in Newlyn. I guess women in livestock markets don’t threaten the same degree of peril as when out on the high sea.
Wednesday is a big social event for the farmers, who work alone most of the time and around me buzzed a comforting Cornish lilt. Gossip over the latest feed prices, a newly-bought collie that only responds to Welsh, the pitiful price of wool. Market was half-empty though. It was too cold. They hadn’t even been able to hose the vehicles down with disinfectant because the water was frozen. This was registered with wry smiles – “bloody bureaucracy”.
Bidding began. Jim, the auctioneer, chanted his lyrical craft with the mastery of a man who could do it in his sleep. A nod here, a gesture of the hand there; the buyers were keen to re-stock their abbatoirs after Christmas. Prices were high and the electricity of anticipation crackled through the air as cavalcade of auctioneer and his man, buyers and spectators went from pen to pen.
Our longwool sheep watched me suspiciously behind cold iron bars. At our turn the bidding began at 65. Jim began. Eyes flashed, Jim’s stick whacked down onto iron and the deal was done. £67 per hogget and a year’s work well-rewarded.