In my teenage years, I lived and went to school in Malta. I still have many friends from this time, some of who still live there.
My friend Di lives on Gozo, opposite three houses which are owned by the same family. They live together in an extended commune and all chatter like magpies despite seeing each other many times in the day.
It is difficult to know who lives in which house as they are continuously in and out of all the doors.
They gather around the front steps in the warm evenings but in the day Grandma sits outside with a tiny chihuahua dog and moves her chair across the road depending on where the shade is.
Everyone who is passing receives a toothless grin and cheery wave. One of the family has a truck and comes with boxes of tomatoes and other vegetables.
Grandma is given the task of trimming the runner beans and shelling the broad beans.
Another of the old Aunties sits with her lace pillow, following the ancient craft of lace making, bizzilla.
Then there Is Uncle, who could be any age, looking well into his seventies but with a face so lined and brown it is difficult to gauge.
His clothes are baggy and nondescript but in the evenings he dons a clean white vest to sit outside the house on the step.
Uncle has traditionally been in charge of the family’s one sheep. Di once once asked her name and Uncle replied “Sheep.”
She is enormous and very white from regular bubble baths and beauty treatments Di presumes. ‘Sheep’ lives in the garage and comes out for her daily walk with Uncle each morning.
They walk along the lane and she grazes along the ditch and fields. Uncle is often seen slumbering against a tree.
He usually carries a sack over his shoulder with grass and plants to take home for her.
The other evening there were a lot of sounds of bleating and men talking loudly.
Di looked over her balcony and saw a truck carrying a brown and white ewe and lamb.
The talking and bargaining went on for a long time. Later a deal must have been struck for next morning Uncle now not only had his ewe but also the brown and white sheep on a piece of string with the lamb tagging alongside.
Now Di has noticed he is forced to keep awake to keep a watchful eye on his flock and although the old shepherd does not speak English, he demonstrates with a lot of nodding and gestures that he is very pleased with his new charges.
He told Di “baby, baby” as he stroked the lamb. Probably planning a traditional lamb stew.
Out of interest, and as Malta and Gozo are in the EU and nominally under the same rules as us for identifying stock and keeping records, I emailed her to ask if either of the sheep had electronic identification tags as ours have. “Don’t be silly “ she replied.
I agreed. What a silly question.