“We’re a dull lot,” Vetfaan was talking to his beer, “and nothing ever happens here. I’d really like it if we could make something happen. A dance or bazaar or maybe even some sort of competition.” He finished the glass and pushed it over to Boggel for a refill.
“And then you’d like to win it, of course. We all know how you hate losing.” Kleinpiet remembered the time when Vetfaan bought a raffle ticket (half-a-sheep, at last year’s church fundraiser to fix the roof). “You sulked for weeks after Gertruida won that leg of lamb and the packet of chops. Tried to say it was rigged and you should have won.”
“Okay, then. You explain to me how somebody wins the meat – if that somebody also donated the meat? Doesn’t it strike you as odd? So the church gets the money and Gertruida gets her meat back. Why didn’t they leave out the bit of the sheep and just ask for money? That would have been fairer.”
At that moment Gertruida walks in, takes off her wide-brimmed hat and sits down at the counter after nodding to Boggel for a beer.
“Are you still going on about me winning my meat? Oudoom said it was a sign. There is more joy in giving and all that. And Precilla did the draw, remember. She’d never crook. So lay it to rest, for goodness’ sakes.”
“We were talking about livening things up in town, Gertruida. Any suggestions?” Kleinpiet steers the conversation to a safer subject..
This is when Gertruida – who knows everything – tells them about the Black Pudding Throwing Conte in the small village of Ramsbottom, England. With a history stretching back to the dull life in the little villages of Lancasgire and Yorkshire, it basically involves competitors trying to throw a cake-like pudding onto a high platform with an underhand throw. The team with the most successful throws, wins.
“If they can do that sort of thing in England, I’m sure we can do the same here. And, Ill have you know, that competition is internationally known. If we come up with something special, we can make Rolbos world famous.”
The evolution of the Rolbos Sheeptossing Competition was quick and decisive. It was agreed that throwing food around would send the wrong message. (We do live in Africa, you know?) and the Australian contribution to world sports (dwarf chucking) wouldn’t work here either. (the only dwarf around was Pikkie Platnees, a distant relative of the Platnees clan who lived not far from Upington.. Gertruida said that the press would have a field day if white Rolbossers started throwing pigmented midgets around. Transport, too, would be a problem.)
Kleinpiet came up with Sheep Throwing later that night – after his third Cactus Jack. “We have many sheep around, they don’t have constitutional rights, and they can’t sue us for using farm animals to promote Rolbos. After all, people actually kill sheep and eat them – which is far more serious. We get a few old mattresses, a really heavy sheep, and that’s it. We’ll advertise in the Upington Post and some really strong farmers will come here. The winner, of course, gets the sheep.”
News like this has a way of worming its way through the international media. Sky News picked it up from the Burger, who got it from the Upington Post. Within a few days the SPCA, the Animal Rights League and the Veterinary Society condemned the competition. Greenpaece obtained an interdict, prohibiting farmers from throwing their sheep around – under any and all circumstances. This was when Gertruida sought – and obtained – legal advice from Skapie le Grange, the lawyer in Upington. The interdict was withdrawn after he promised the magistrate a sheep. In court the lawyer showed some slides of what happened at their local abattoir. The row of sheep waiting to be slaughtered, the actual killing and skinning and the eventual cutting up of the carcasses had the magistrate green around the gills and during a break in the proceedings, he told Gertruida he doesn’t want the sheep anymore, thank you.. Then Skapie showed pictures of the sheep trotting about on the mattresses. “You see, Your Honour, this sheep is a happy sheep. The winning contestant gets the sheep, but the sheep will never end up in an abattoir. It is part and parcel of this competition that the sheep is rewarded by a long and peaceful life and the proviso is imbedded that this sheep will never be slaughtered like the rest of his family. This competition, Your Honour, is set to save a sheep – it is the most humane thing that can happen to a farm animal.”
Amidst international outcry, the competition was allowed to go on.
On the Saturday before Nagmaal, Rolbos was packed to the rafters. Boggel had to get Kalahari Vervoer to bring in extra beer and a few tables, which he set up in Voortrekker Weg. Journalists camped in their vehicles, on the sidewalks and some even stayed with Platnees – ‘to get the local flavour’.
Sersant Dreyer cordoned off a section of Voortrekker Weg the previous day, and here Kleinpiet painted a white line across the road. (It is still visible, right in front of Precilla’s Pharmacy, if you cared to look) Vetfaan brought a whole bakkie load of old mattresses from the barracks in Upington with the promise to return them the next week. These mattresses were laid out in a neat line, so that even the best throw of the day will result in the sheep having a cushioned landing. At nine, exactly, Oudoom rang the church bell as a sign for the competition to start. Sersant Dreyer drove slowly down the road, siren blaring, with the competitors marching proudly behind the police van. From behind the driver, the sheep was eyeing the events with a certain degree of suspicion.
The sheep, named Shaun for the occasion, was a prime example of a Rolbos sheep. It was huge. They had had some difficulty to weight it on the big scale in Oudok’s practice, eventually resorting to putting the animal in a box and weighing it while balancing the sheep-in-a-box on the scale. Kleinpiet was quite proud of Shaun: it weighed in at 164 pounds.
Several men entered the competition, burly examples of robust farmers used to hard work. And the first few throws were by sturdy competitors from the district. Their best effort (you had to pick up the sheep in any way you could, then step up to the line before aiming at the mattresses) belonged to Piet Tierkop, the farmer reputed to lift his tractor when changing the tyres. He managed a staggering 2.7 metres. Shaun seemed to accept his new flying career with resigned amusement, baa-ing protest only when lifted, never on landing. The photographers clicked away, the greenies sulked in Boggel’s Place and everybody accepted that Piet Tierkop would walk away with Shaun in tow.
Then Vetfaan stepped up as the last competitor.
“So. I am allowed to pick Shaun up, take him to the line, and propel him towards the mattresses in whatever style I think will win the competition?” The answer was directed at the Sheep Throwing Judge, Sersant Dreyer. As law-enforcer on Rolbos, he was an inspired choice. (Vetfaan’s suggestion, after fourth Cactus Jack). Sersant Dreyer nodded.
The crowd watched in silenced awe while Vetfaan fetched a long plank from Sammie’s backyard, placed it on the line and then went back to Sammie’s again. He returned, rolling an old oil drum in front of him. By now his plan was clear: he was going to catapult Shaun into a low orbit around the world. Voices of protest rang out. The greenies started shouting abuse. Gertruida calmly pointed out that the mode and method of propelling Shaun was stipulated very clearly in the rules: “The thrower shall use means of his or her own preference to throw the throwee. The thrower shall not cross the line that demarcates the start of measurement. The Sheepthrowing Judge shall position himself in such a way as to ascertain the point of first contact with the mattress to allow accurate measurements to be made.” She had, after all, drawn up the rules herself, so she knew exactly what a thrower was allowed to do.
The ensuing debate lasted for an hour, but Gertruida only reread the rules. A thrower gets one chance, and cannot re-enter. The thrower chooses his or her best method. The longest throw wins. Even Sersant Dreyer had to concede that the wording of the rules left it up to the thrower to decide how Shaun would be made to fly.
Amidst the grumbling and muttering, Vetfaan put the plank over the drum and then walked Shaun over to the modern-day version of Da Vinci’s invention. The plank was positioned under the sheep’s belly. Vetfaan eyed the contraption critically, then walked back to his bakkie parked nearby. He reversed the bakkie to the end of the plank, which was now about two meters above the ground. At the other end of the plank, Shaun stood chewing in a reflective mood.
Vetfaan, humming softly to himself climbed onto the roof of the bakkie with the help of the excited bystanders. Gertruida summed it up: “It’s like watching the 1995 final over and over. You know Joel is going to boot that ball over, yet you have to watch it time and again. That’s a sort of sacred moment, you see. Now we all know Vetfaan is going to jump onto that plank. There is no way you cannot look at this. It’s also a bit sacred, I think.”
The jump fro the bakkie’s roof was photographed by a journalist from Cape Town, using his new Canon 550D, set to do five frames a second. He won Photographer of the Year award with the picture, taken a microsecond after Vetfaan hit the high end of the plank. It shows his surprise as the plank breaks and he starts tumbling sideways, arms and legsr flailing and flying all over the place. In the corner of the photograph, Shaun is shown with all four his legs off the ground.
Kleinpiet says its the wrong picture that won the prize. He says the photo he took with his Instamatic, when Shaun landed on Sersant Dreyer, us much funnier.
Shaun now lives with Oudoom and has become a symbol of resigned acceptance. Whenever Oudoom preaches about life and living, about the hardships and trails of life and about overcoming the odds by hoping for a better future, Shaun is part of the sermon. Gertruida has accepted the fact that Sersant Dreyer never measured her winning throw. When Shaun landed on the Sheepthrowing Judge, Dreyer was in no condition to measure anything; although everybody agreed that the sheep must have travelled at least four meters from the start line. Vetfaan only spent two days in Upington’s hospital after they removed the splinters form various parts of his body.
When it became clear that the sheep, after all, was the winner on the day, the greenies and bunnyhuggers all went home. They do not know about the tortoise-put competition brewing in Vetfaan’s mind.
“You know, Rolbos isn’t such a dreary place after all. It’s like any town, anywhere. If the people are dull, the place is dull.” Vetfaan was sipping his first beer after being discharged.
Sersant held up a hand. “Whatever you’re planning, I’m not part of it. I think I’m the first policeman in history to receive a KO from a sheep..”
Behind the pastorie, Shaun was munching away at Oudoom’s little flowerbed. People think sheep are stupid, that they don’t remember stuff and that they can’t think. People are wrong. Shaun actually liked flying. In his sheep-mind he is planning his escape. He’ll find Vetfaan and start baa-ing in his most enticing way. Vetfaan, he is sure, will throw him again if he asks nicely/
(*Disclaimer* No animal or part of animal was in any danger during the writing of this story. Shaun – not his real name – was examined before and after the competition by the Protect Our Endangered Sheep foundation and declared unharmed..)