I wrote The Adventures of Dai the Llama for my daughter Alma a few years ago, during a long hot Spanish summer (or was it Easter?). Briefly, young Dai escapes from his owners in Patagonia and makes his way (with his best friends Al the Alpaca and Vi the Vicuna) across the Atlantic Ocean to Wales, only to be made prisoner on a Welsh sheep farm. The llamas/alpacas/vicunas then start a revolution and lead the sheep into the hills, Che Guevara-style. My daughter said it was “boring”, but my adult friends (the more childish ones) seem to like it. So, until such time as a link becomes available to download it (watch this space) it is reproduced in its entirety below.
THE AVENTURES OF DAI THE LLAMA
Now that old age is approaching, I’d like to set down, for future generations of llamas, the true details of the very exciting adventures I had when I was young.
I should make clear that the story begins long before I was born, more than a hundred and fifty years ago in fact, on a boat called the Mimosa. You might think all this historical stuff is a bit boring, but bear with me – it plays an important role in the story. The Mimosa was a tea-clipper, a kind of boat used to carry tea from far-away countries like India to the salons of London, England. But on this occasion it was carrying human cargo, 153 humans to be precise. They were workers from Wales – carpenters, tailors, cobblers, brick-makers, miners, and 52 children – but very few farmers, and absolutely no llamas. They wanted to live somewhere far from the interference of the English, to practise their own culture and speak their own language, which was Welsh. In order to do so, they had to go to Argentina.
The Argentinian government offered them land in the south of the country, in a place called Patagonia, because they said that nobody lived there. This wasn’t strictly true, though. The land was inhabited by a tribe called the Tehuelce, and the Tehuelce didn’t want to share their land with anybody. Not at first, anyway.
Imagine the scene as these brave settlers, having sailed all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to South America, saw for the first time their new home. They had been told of a fertile valley, a kind of heaven on earth, where they could grow crops and go to chapel and speak Welsh, but they were confronted instead by a hostile desert and even more hostile natives. Thankfully, after some initial unpleasantness, they became friends with the natives (Welsh people can become friends with anyone, as they are naturally sociable creatures, a bit like llamas) and the Tehuelce even gave the Welsh some food, in return for Welsh lessons. Why, even today, if you meet a Tehulece warrior on your travels across the Patagonian desert, he will greet you by saying Bore Da, or Prynhawn Da, or Noswaith Dda, depending on the time of day. Or so my father told me. My own experiences with the Tehuelce tell me otherwise, as you will see.
The men and women and children of the good ship Mimosa built an irrigation system to bring water to the desert, and with the water they began growing wheat. Little by little, all the newly fertile land was claimed by the settlers, and later waves of immigrants had to push west, towards the foot hills of the Andes (or the hand hills of the Footies – I always forget which it is).
And that’s where I come in. I’m a llama, as if you hadn’t guessed, and my name is Dai. My best friends are Al the Alpaca and Vi the Vicuna.
I first met Al and Vi in a shed on the farm where we were born, in the foothills of the Andes (or was it the hand hills of the Footies ?). We were young and foolhardy and the farmer had separated us from the rest of the herd, to train us as guard llamas for his sheep. But we didn’t know that at the time. All I knew – or thought – is that I was a frightened young llama alone in a dark and smelly shed. And when llamas are frightened, they make a noise which sounds a bit like mwa. Mwa, I said. And then, a bit louder, mwa!
That didn’t sound like my mwa. That sounded like someone else’s mwa. Yes, there, in the dark depths of the shed, was another creature, perhaps another llama. “Hello,” I called out. “Is someone there?” There was a bit of scratching and shuffling but no answer, so I tried again. “Hello?” I cried. “I say, can you hear me?”
“I’m sorry,” came a shrill, apologetic voice, “are you talking to me?”
“Yes, “ I answered. “Who are you? I mean, what are you ?”
“My name is Al Packer.”
“Al Packer? That’s a strange name. Are you a gangster?”
“No, I’m an alpaca. That’s why my master called me Al Packer. It’s clever, isn’t it?”
At this point, I’d better say something about llamas and alpacas. A lot of people confuse the two, because we are both domesticated animals, unlike guanacos and vicunas. It’s true that we’re all part of the same family, which is distantly related to the camel family. Then again, Hunky Dory and The Tin Machine are both records by David Bowie but only one of them has Life on Mars and The Bewley Brothers on it. As for guanacos and vicunas, they are wild and uniformly brown beasts, whereas we llamas come in many different colours (I myself being a particularly vivid orange).
“So, Al… “ I continued. “You don’t mind if I call you Al ?”
“No, not at all. Please do. Mr Packer is so formal.”
“Al, were you bottle-fed ?”
“As a matter of fact, I was. My mother died in childbirth and I was reared by hand. Why do you ask?”
“Because, Al, if you bottle-feed a llama for too long it can lead to problems. At first you see the humans as if they were your parents, and you adore them, and look up to them, and think that everything they do is wonderful, but later – when you reach adolescence -– you behave towards them as you would towards other llamas. You spit, and kick, and neck wrestle with them. And that has important implications for the rest of the story.”
“Oh. What kind of implications ?”
“I can’t tell you. That would spoil things for the reader.”
“Very well. I respect your wishes. By the way, what’’s your name?”
“I’m Dai. Dai the Llama.”
“Any relation to Princess Di?”
“Not that I know of, Al. Is she a llama?”
“I don’t think so. I think she’s the Princess of Wales.”
There was a moment’s silence before Al Packer continued.
“Why do you think we’ve been put here, Dai?” he asked.
“Why have we been put here?” I repeated. “You’d have to ask God that, Al. I suppose He has His reasons, mysterious though they are.”
“No, I mean, why do you think we have we been put in this shed, in the dark?”
“I don’t know, Al. I think I understand God better than I understand humans.”
Just then, a third disembodied voice broke in. It was deeper than ours, yet still, somehow, unmistakeably female.
“Oh you stupid, stupid llamas!” said the voice.
“Mwaaa,” said Al, trying not to sound too scared.
“Who… who’s that?” I demanded to know, puffing out my chest in the darkness. “Are you a vicious, vociferous vicuna from the vile valleys of Venezuela?”
“Where I come from doesn’t matter, brother – I recognise no geographical or political borders, although I’m Peruvian, not Venezuelan, as it happens. Vi the Vicuna, that’s me.”
“I didn’t really think you were Venezuelan,” I said. “I know that vicunas are chiefly found in Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia. It’s just that the word Peruvian wouldn’t have made for such lovely alliteration.”
“And I’m not a llama, I’m an alpaca,” said Al, regaining the little courage he had. “Al the Alpaca.”
“Not Al the Alpaca?” exclaimed Vi the Vicuna.
“The very same. Have you heard of me then?”
“No, stupid – of course I haven’t.”
I had to suppress a llama smirk. I thought I was the cleverest, most sarcastic llama I’d ever met, until I met Vi. Vi had travelled all over South America when she was younger, and written about it in a book called The Llama Diaries. She was braver than me, better read, and she cared deeply about the plight of all domesticated animals, not just llamas. It was, she said, the sacred duty of free-born animals such as her to liberate the domesticated beast from the yoke of the humans.
“Brothers, surely you realise that we’re all the same inside?” she said. “We’re all LLAMAS. It’s only human naturalists that make a distinction between llama, alpaca, vicuna and guanaco. There’s no real scientific evidence for such a distinction.”
“Naturalists?” said Al “Are those the humans that go around with no wool on their bodies?”
“No, that’s naturists,” I hissed in the dark. “Do YOU know why we’ve been put here, Vi?” I asked.
“Yes, I do,” said Vi. “We’ve been selected as the most promising young llamas to train as guards for their sheep. And we have to escape before it’s too late.”
“What do you mean, before it’s too late?” I said.
“Before the humans separate us. They know that multiple guard llamas aren’t as effective as single guard llamas. They know that given time – very little time, as you can see – we bond with one another, instead of with the sheep. And then not only do we ignore the flock, but we make trouble. That’s why we have to get out of here.”
“But where would we go?” I asked.
“Back to Peru. We can link up with my comrades in the High Andes, form a gang and start a revolution.”
“We can’t do that, it’s too cold. We’d catch our death and even if we didn’t, our children will die of hypothermia.”
“Do you have any children?” Vi asked.
“Not yet,” I said, “but I might do one day. And so might you.”
“Mwa. Do you have a better idea?”
“Yes,” I said. “There’s an old boat called the Mimosa which has been left abandoned on the beach, on the other side of the country. It’s only about five hundred kilometres. We could sail to Wales. They’ve got mountains there but it isn’t at all cold, it just rains a lot and they have all kinds of super furry animals.”
“Mwa,” said Al, “You can count me out. I LIKE living with the humans. They’re more advanced than us, they have cars and TV and they make nice cakes. What’s better than a Welsh afternoon tea with bara brith and Welsh cakes and cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off?”
This is the problem with alpacas, especially the ones that have been bottle fed. They have an annoying habit of making valid points, especially when it comes to humans. I had to admit I liked a Welsh afternoon tea with bara brith and cucumber sandwiches as much as Al.
“But Al,” I said, seized by a moment of clarity, “all the more reason to run away. In Wales you can have as many afternoon teas as you like. The mountains there are full of teahouses.”
Mwa was all Al could say. The thought of giving up his home comforts, and the life he knew, was too much for him.
“Look,” said Vi. “You two HAVE to get out of here.”
“Us two?” I repeated. “Why only us? Why not you?”
“Because…” She let the word hang tantalisingly in the gloom.
“Because what?” Al and I demanded to know in unison.
“Because they’re going to cut off your bits. I’m OK, I’m a girl. A bit of a tom boy, I grant you – which is why they think I’ll make a good guard – but I’ve got nothing to lose, if you get my drift. Whereas you two… Well, I wouldn’t want to be around when the farmer comes down here with the big scissors.”
“That’s it,” said Al. “Let’s get out of here.”
Security was lax on the farm. No llama had ever bothered to try escaping because there was nowhere to go for hundreds and hundreds of miles. Gathering our few possessions, we made a hurried exit while it was dark and set off down the hillside, through a series of dry sandstone valleys, and into the miles of scrub and thorn brush that lay between us and the sea.
The first day’s walking was fine. We had stored enough fat to keep going without food or water. In any case I had an emergency stash of cucumber sandwiches in the pack which was tied to my back.
Since Vi had travelled all over South America before settling in Argentina and knew the plains like the back of her hoof, she led the way, using the detailed map of Southern Argentina which formed part of her immense map collection. I followed, and Al brought up the rear, trotting along nervously and casting glances over his shoulder in case any humans were following with gelding shears. Fortunately for us, they weren’t. We made good ground and by night we were confident enough to rest in a circle of cacti.
“Vi,” I said.
“What you said about, you know, the farmer and the scissors and losing our bits, that wasn’t true, was it? That was just to scare us?”
“It might have been. And then again it might not.”
Suddenly Al appeared.
“Mwa. I’m hungry. Did we bring any food with us?”
If Vi had had eyebrows, she would have raised one sceptically at this point.
“When you say we, Al, I suppose you mean you, and by you I suppose you mean me and Dai?” She turned to me. “Dai, do you have any food?”
“I do as it happens. I have an emergency stash of cucumber sandwiches in my pack,” I said. “I wasn’t able to cut the crusts off I’m afraid but under the circumstances I think you will find them acceptable enough. See if you can untie the ropes with your teeth, Al.”
Al opened the pack easily enough but then spent an inordinate amount of time looking inside, all the while making strange munching noises. Eventually the munching noises stopped and Al emerged from the pack with a beard of bread crumbs and cucumber flecks around his mouth.
“Well,” I said, “Did you find the sandwiches or didn’t you?”
Al looked at the ground guiltily. “Uh, yes and no. I found them but there weren’t very many and I’ve eaten them all.”
“You greedy alpaca!”
“If it’s any comfort, they were very good. Quite possibly the best cucumber sandwiches I’ve ever eaten.”
Because of Al’s greediness, we had to live on bush grass and thorns for a few days. If you’ve ever tried eating thorns you will know that we weren’t very happy about it either. Al, who should have felt guilty for eating all the supplies, just felt sorry for himself and said that he missed his master and wanted to go back to the farm. Vi said perhaps we shouldn’t have brought Al after all.
“Look, cried Al, “An Indian!”
A Tehuelce warrior was approaching through the thorn forest.
“That’s not an Indian,” I said. “Indians live in India. That is a Tehuelce warrior and he is carrying a stick.”
“A Tehuelce warrior?” repeated Al. “Won’t he kill us and eat us? I’ve heard the Tehuelce praise the flesh of the alpaca above all other meats.”
“Well, we’ll be alright then won’t we?” said Vi. “They’ll only eat YOU.”
“It’s OK,” I said, trying to calm Al’s nerves. “My dad says if you meet a Tehuelce on your travels, you should greet him by saying Bore Da, or Prynhawn Da, or Noswaith Dda, depending on the time of day. Let’s try it….”
Bore da, I cried out as loudly as I could.
The Tehuelce warrior, who was now quite close, looked at us with a perplexed expression. I could see that the stick in his hand was in fact a spear, and that he had raised it. He stood there, spear in hand, frozen with apparent confusion at the existence of a Welsh-speaking llama.
“Perhaps he doesn’t speak Welsh,” said Al, hopefully.
“Or perhaps it’s the wrong greeting,” I suggested. “What’s the time?”
Al and Vi both looked up at the sun which was beating down on us relentlessly.
“Maybe three o’clock ?” said Vi.
Prynhawn da ! I cried triumphantly.
The Tehuelce warrior didn’t look perplexed anymore. He had a different kind of expression on his face, which was determined and a little bit unfriendly. He broke into a trot and his spear arm shot backwards as he prepared to throw the spear.
“Run away!” I cried, and the three of us scattered in different directions through the brush.
Fortunately for us, the Tehuelce warrior couldn’t run as fast as we could, and the thorn bushes offered us protection from his spear, which nonetheless flew worryingly close to my right ear.
After that, we avoided contact with humans and contented ourselves with a diet of bush grass and thorns, until one day, we reached the coast and sure enough, there was the Mimosa, lying on the beach and looking much as it would have looked 150 years earlier. I can’t explain what it meant to me to see that boat, not just because it had brought the ancestors of my owners to Patagonia but because the name Mimosa means affectionate in Spanish and that always reminded me of my mother nuzzling me as a baby llama while the other female llamas crowded round to protect me from the cold and predators.
True, a lot of the essential navigation equipment had been carried off by settlers and passing Tehuelce in the intervening years. The weather too had taken its toll on the boat’s masts and timbers, but we judged it sea-worthy enough to attempt the voyage. We gathered plentiful supplies of bush grass and cactus, and, despite his protests, tore bits of wool from Al’s fleece with our teeth. These we used to patch up the holes in the sails. Then we set off for Wales.
At first we made good progress. But after about a week, I noticed an increase in the amount of seawater which was leaking into the boat through the alarming number of holes we had overlooked. At the same time Al noticed a sudden drop in temperature and a corresponding increase in the amount of ice floating in the sea. And Vi noticed an alarming DECREASE in our stores of bush grass and cactus. Suspicion fell on Al, and there was talk – albeit tongue-in-cheek – of throwing him overboard. Fortunately for Al, at that very moment, he spotted a passing penguin marooned on an ice floe.
“Look,” cried Al, “a passing penguin marooned on an ice floe! We must be nearer Antarctica than we thought.”
We hailed the penguin, who was using an oar to paddle the ice floe.
“Good morning, llamas,” he cried, cheerfully, and waved a flipper.
“HE’S not a llama,” I said, pointing at Al, “and neither is SHE – she’s a vicuna.”
“Hmm,” said the penguin, “that’s funny – you all look the same to me.”
“That’s what I said,” exclaimed Vi delightedly.
“Where did you get that oar?” I asked.
“Or what?” replied the penguin, uncooperatively.
“That paddle – where did you get it?”
“Oh, it was left behind by Scott of the Antarctic.”
“Who is he?” Al demanded to know.
“Peter Scott, the well-known ornithologist. He once rowed to Antarctica for a BBC documentary about penguins, and absent-mindedly left his oars behind.”
“There’s hope for us yet, then,” I said. “Tell us, brother how far is it to Wales ?”
“Wales, you say? I’d be careful there. Some of them are killers and they rise up through the ice and, well, I don’t know about llamas, but they certainly eat penguins. That’s how I came to be marooned on this ice floe.”
“You mean whales don’t you, as in Blue Whales, Humpback Whales, Minke Whales, Right Whales, Sperm Whales etc ?”
“Don’t forget killer whales!” the penguin said, rather too enthusiastically, I thought, for someone who’d been the object of a killer whale attack.
“We mean Wales the country,” said Vi.
“Never heard of it. But the Islas Malvinas are just over there, if you turn left at the next iceberg and keep going for a couple of hundred kilometres. Only don’t call them the Islas Malvinas when you get there. The people that live on the islands call them the Falkland Islands. Don’t ask me why. Humans are strange creatures. Worse than killer whales in some ways. You know where you are with a killer whale. You know not to trust them an inch. Humans, on the other hand, are slippery creatures, like fish.”
“You’re right,” said Al, excitedly. “We met a human in the desert – I thought he was an Indian but Dai said Indians only live in India and this human was a Tehuelce warrior. Anyway, when Dai said good morning to him in Welsh, he tried to kill us with his spear.”
“Ah, well, that’s what you get for walking through desert, isn’t it? No fish in the deserts, are there?”
“So where are you going, brother penguin, if not to the desert ?”
“I’m off to Buenos Aires to start a tango school for penguins. That’s sure to be a success, don’t you think?”
“I’m sure you’ll do very well. Tango is increasingly popular. We wish you the very best. If we’re ever in Buenos Aires, as unlikely as it is, we’ll come and see your penguins dance the tango.”
“You’ll be very welcome,” said the penguin. “I’ll give you a discount. Three tickets for the price of two. Payable in fish, if you prefer. Anyway, good luck finding that country of yours.” And with that he paddled off on his ice floe.
At the next iceberg – which was a bit difficult to spot as most of it was underwater – we turned left and, just as the penguin had said, after a couple of hundred kilometres, and a brush with some rather hairy waves, we spotted a group of islands on the horizon.
“Las Islas Malvinas!” cried Al, who was keeping a lookout from the bird’s nest. The bird’s nest is the highest part of the ship, from where you can see anywhere in the world. It is named after the delicate Chinese soup, which only the very highest-ranking officials can afford to eat. and is not for the likes of you and me.
“I’m sorry. I mean the Falkland Islands,” cried Al.
Vi then explained to us how, a long time ago, before any of our parents or grandparents or even great grandparents were born, before even the Welsh had sailed to Patagonia on the very ship we were now sailing in the opposite direction (sort of) the English had landed on the Islas Malvinas, as they were known to the Argentinians, and claimed them in the name of their Queen, Victoria. They promptly renamed them the Falkland Islands, and filled them with sheep.
Well, the Argentinians weren’t very happy about this, and they kept complaining about it for the next hundred and fifty years, but there wasn’t very much they could actually do, as they were a fledgling nation and they had more important things on their mind, like fighting a War of Independence. Plus, the British had the biggest empire in the world at that time, with the biggest navy, and attacking the Falkland Islands wasn’t an option. Then, for a short while, around the time that me and Al and Vi were born, the Argentinian army attacked their own country, and became the government, or junta, as they called it, which means together in Spanish. If anybody disagreed with the junta, the army threw them out of helicopters into the sea. This made the parents of the people who’d been thrown out of helicopters angry and they complained to the junta by banging pots and pans together. But the junta didn’t care.
Then the junta did a stupid thing. They invaded the Falkland Islands while the English weren’t looking, and forced everyone to speak Spanish. This made the English VERY angry, but instead of banging pots and pans together – which obviously didn’t work – they sent a lot of ships to the South Atlantic and took the islands back and made everyone speak English again. This meant that no-one on the islands spoke Spanish or Welsh anymore, and that was a problem. The islanders were very excited to see us – or at least they were excited to see the Mimosa, which they evidently considered to be some valuable treasure – but it was hard to understand much of what they said. Still, they treated us well enough, and after weeks and weeks of only eating bush grass and cactus we were back on our favourite diet of cucumber sandwiches.
One day, while we were recovering from our arduous voyage, the island sheep came to see us. They’d heard there was a llama and an alpaca and a vicuna on the islands, and were keen to meet us. For our part, we were able to use them as interpreters, and they explained to us the intentions of the islanders. They confirmed that the Mimosa was indeed a very important historical artefact and the Royal (i.e. British) Navy were going to take it back to Wales. To this end, they were building a floating raft of inflatable tubes around the rotting hull of the ship. They were going to fasten this raft to a Navy frigate, which is a kind of boat much bigger and moderner (if such a word exists) than the Mimosa.
Naturally, we couldn’t communicate our wishes to the Royal Navy in English, so we kept charging onto the Mimosa until they got the message that we and it were inseparable. Shaking their heads in amusement, they agreed to take us to Wales.
Wales ! We were going to WALES! Land of my fathers. Well, the fathers of my former owners, which isn’t quite the same thing, but I was guilty by association. None of my family had ever travelled outside the immediate confines of Argentina, which is only 2,780,400 square kilometres in size. What were the snow-capped Andes, the glaciers and needles of granite that drew tourists by their thousands to the Torres del Paine National Park, the waterfalls of Iguacu or the penguin tango schools of Buenos Aires, compared to WALES ? Wales, with its legendary hospitality, its mind-boggling variety of non-conformist churches, its poets, its cheese, its super furry animals.
We travelled on the frigate, and this time we each had a large and comfy cage in the hold, with as much food and water as we could eat and drink. Every day the captain came to check on us and, whether through accident or design, his visits taught us some rudimentary English, words that would prove invaluable, like come and this and way and please. In return we taught him how to spit and kick and neck wrestle, skills that I thought he might need if his crew ever mutinied and tried to set sail for the South Pacific, which did actually happen once, to a man called Captain Bligh, on a ship called the Bounty, because he didn’t know how to neck wrestle, and ate far too many chocolate-covered coconut bars. Or so the penguin says.
“Isn’t it exciting,” I said to Vi one day. “Soon we’ll be landing in Wales. I expect we’ll be treated like heroes and a banquet will be held in our honour, with bara brith and Welsh cakes, and every kind of animal will attend. I wonder what these super furry animals are which they have so many of in Wales. Do you think they’ll be highland cattle or yaks ? Will there be woolly mammoths ?”
Vi scoffed derisively. “I’ve got some news for you, Dai.”
“Do they have fur?”
“The gnus ? Do they have fur? By the way, I’ve always wondered, is the g silent or do you pronounce it? Is it noos, or g-noos?”
“Not gnus, Dai. Or even noos, unless we’ve suddenly been transported to the United States of America and changed the way we speak. News.” She extended the word as you would extend a telescope to look at the stars, and curled it round her long vicuna tongue. “As in Here is the news. There are no super furry animals in Wales, except for the rock band of that name, and a lot of sheep, which aren’t that super at anything.”
“What- what do you mean?” I said, sensing the solid floor of the ship’s hold begin to fall away beneath me. Perhaps it was just the swell of the sea playing tricks on us. “What’s that about a rock band?”
“Do they eat rocks?” asked Al.
“Even by your standards, that’s a stupid question, Al. The Super Furry Animals are humans. They play guitars and drums and sing in what humans call a rock band, rock being a form of music which you can trace through Elvis Presley, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones to the Doors, and of course David Bowie.”
At last, here was something solid I could latch onto.
“I like David Bowie,” I said.
“I know you do. You arrogantly compare yourself to Hunky Dory, which you think is his best album, because it has Life on Mars on it, ignoring the many other fine albums he made in the 1970s, and you think that alpacas are like The Tin Machine, which by common consent is one of Bowie’s weaker efforts.”
“Is that what you think ?”, asked Al, looking at me with a half-accusing, half pitiful expression.
I shifted uncomfortably from hoof to hoof. “Not exactly, Al. I mean, it was said in jest.”
“The fact is, you’re being unfair to both Al AND David Bowie. The Tin Machine is an under-rated album, one which is ripe for re-appraisal, and Al is a under-rated member of the llama family.”
Al smiled weakly. “Thank you Vi,” he said.
“You’re welcome,” said Vi. “You certainly have your faults, Al. Asking stupid questions is one of them, and extraordinary greediness in another. No-one is ever going to accuse you of starving yourself for the sake of maintaining a slim figure. But I’ve learned to value your qualities as well these past few weeks and I can honestly say in all my extensive travels I have never met an alpaca with as much integrity as you.”
“Thank you, Vi.” Al was moved to mwas.
“Not that I’ve met many alpacas, mind.”
“So,” I said. “Let me get this clear. There are no yaks in Wales?”
“No yaks,” said Vi. “You only find yaks in Tibet, or China as it is now called.”
“And no highland cattle?”
“Not a single highland cattle,” said Vi. “If indeed a cattle is the singular of cattle, and I’m really not sure about that. But they only exist in Scotland.”
“And no Wooly Mammoths?”
“No Wooly Mammoths. They became extinct thousands of years ago when mammoth wool went out of fashion.”
“And remind me,” I asked, “why did mammoth wool go out of fashion?”
“Because llama wool is much softer, and it’s lanolin-free,” said Vi.
“And what is lanolin, Vi?”
“I have absolutely no idea. Look on Wikipedia. That’s where I get most of my facts from.”
“So what does that leave us with, animal-wise ?”
“Only sheep, I’m afraid.”
“Not MORE sheep ” I exclaimed.
“I’m afraid so.”
Shortly after that, we docked in Cardiff, which is the capital of Wales. No-one greeted us as national heroes, or thanked us for returning the Mimosa. To be honest, there weren’t that many people on the quay at all, only a handful of sailors and someone who was wearing a crown and who I thought might be Queen Victoria, but she turned out to be Princess Di, my almost-namesake. She was with a very nice, older man who called himself the Prince of Wales and said all the land was his. Extending a hand, he invited us to “come this way, please” and herded us into the back of a van. We were driven to a place called Maesgwyn Agricultural College where, it turned out, we were to be used as sheep guards. Or rather, we were going to be used to demonstrate to the agricultural students how llamas can be used as sheep guards, if you appreciate the distinction, which I didn’t.
“I didn’t run away from a farm in Patagonia,” I said to Vi and Al on our first night at Maesgwyn, “nearly get killed by a Tehuelce warrior, and sail halfway across the world in a sinking ship to end up back where I started, guarding SHEEP, not even for the Prince of Wales. There’s more to life than that. I have hopes and dreams. I’m an aspirational llama.”
“Patience,” said Vi. “The dedicated revolutionary always bides her time. The objective conditions for a breakout are not yet upon us.”
“And when WILL they be upon us, Vi ?”
“We will know when they are upon us, Dai, rest assured.”
After that, I didn’t see much of Al or Vi. Each of us was given our section of sheep to guard. I was assigned a troop of new arrivals from the north of England. Naturally, they couldn’t understand a word of Welsh or Spanish but they were hardy, thick-set creatures, with sturdy black legs and heavy, thick fleeces, in stark contrast with the rather short and scrubby coats of the native sheep.
First thing I did, I taught them Welsh. In this respect I have to say they were more enthusiastic than some of the so-called Welsh sheep, only about a fifth of whom had any Welsh to speak of. I’d always fancied being a teacher and these English sheep were keen to learn, not just Welsh but also about Argentina and the Falklands (which I pretended to be something of an expert on).
Was it true, they asked, that the Argentinian sheep invaded the islands and made the English sheep speak Spanish and eat the British flag and dance the tango?
Oh no, I said. It was the other way round. The islands originally belonged to the Argentinians, or the Spanish at least, and the bad English came and made the sheep on the island speak English and do droppings on the Argentinian flag, and if anyone refused they tossed onto a barbecue, or what the Argentines call an asado.
But there’s always one bad apple who spoils the barrel. In this case it was a feisty young ram called Roderick. Roderick the Ram. The asado story didn’t work on him.
“You talk about the evil English invading the Falklands,” he said, “and by implication, though you don’t say it, the evil English sheep invading the Welsh farmlands. But what about the Welsh who sailed to Patagonia? Weren’t there already people living in Patagonia?”
“Good point, Roderick. They were called the Tehuelce. And, yes, there were a few teething problems. But they all became friends in the end. To this day, if you meet a Tehuelce warrior on your travels across the Patagonian plains, he will greet you by ritually waving his spear and running towards you with an expression on his face which you might take as a bit unfriendly and means to kill you but really it means he is happy to see you. And in the same way I really think that one day you and the Welsh sheep will overcome your differences and live together in peace.”
The very next day we found that someone had written on every shed, in large letters with the red dye they used to mark the animals , the words Inglish Sheep, Go Home.
“Look, they can’t spell English,” Roderick exclaimed derisively.
“Perhaps it’s the Mabinogion,” said another sheep. “I’ve heard it doesn’t speak English that well.”
“The Mabinogion? What’s the Mabinogion?” I asked.
No-one spoke. The sheep merely bleated and baaed quietly to each other, until finally Roderick stepped forward. Roderick the trouble-maker, the bad apple.
“Perhaps you don’t know, Maestro (I had taught them all to call me Maestro, which means teacher in Spanish, because it had a nicer ring to it than Athro, which is teacher in Welsh) Perhaps you don’t know, Maestro, that all over Wales, farms belonging to English farmers or just with English sheep on them are being burned down.”
I didn’t like the way Roderick said Maestro. It didn’t feel heartfelt. There was something tongue in cheek about it, as if Roderick didn’t fully respect my authority, which of course he didn’t. I’d have to nip that in the bud.
“Go on,” I said.
“Some of the sheep are saying that it’s the fulfilment of an ancient Welsh prophecy, foretelling the return of the Mabinogion, a giant creature with two heads, one the head of a bull, the other the head of a sheep, and long sharp horns that curl up to the sky like ice cream cornets and hair the colour of blood which hangs to the ground in fronds from which its many offspring dangle menacingly like miniature Tarzans. I’ve told them this is nonsense. The Mabinogion is actually a collection of Medieval fairy tales and these rumours are spread by the farmers to frighten the sheep and keep them in their place but they won’t listen to me. Perhaps if YOU reassure them, maestro, they will believe you.”
“Of course. Absolutely. It’s, er, completely ridiculous to believe in, er, such a creature. Everyone knows there are no
highland cattle or yaks in Wales, no woolly mammoths or gnus so how could there be such a creature ? Roderick is absolutely right, this is just a cock and bull story used by the farmers to frighten you and keep you in your place.”
Then again, perhaps it did exist. Perhaps there really WAS a Super Furry Animal – other than the rock group, I mean – and perhaps Maesgwyn was next on the Mabinogion’s list. Vi would know. Oh Vi, how I missed her. Vi was strong and fearless and sure of everything. But how could I ask her, now that we were kept apart?
The opportunity presented itself rather sooner than I expected. The very next day, I was whisked away to a darkened shed not unlike the one where I’d first met Al and Vi, all the way back on page 3, and there I was left alone to ponder my fate. Was I in solitary confinement ? Was I being punished for some misdemeanor I had unknowingly committed ? Sewing discord and disaffection among the English ? Daring them to doubt the existence of the Mabinogion ?
There was someone else in the darkness. A curious sense of déjà vu descended upon me, like a condor swooping down on a baby llama. And in case you don’t know, déjà vu is a French expression meaning “already seen” which refers to the curious sensation of having experienced something before.
A curious sense of déjà vu descended upon me, like a condor swooping down on a baby llama. And in case you don’t know, déjà vu is a French expression meaning “already seen” which refers to the curious sensation of having experienced something before
“No, it’s Vi.”
“Why are we here, Vi ?”
“Well, Dai, if I believed in God, I’d suggest that you ask Him that. But since I don’t believe in God, I guess I’ll have to pass on that one.”
“No, I mean, why are we in this shed, right now?”
“Oh, Dai, why do you THINK we’re in this shed?”
“Are they going to cut off my bits?” I asked nervously.
“No, they’re not going to cut off your bits,” said Vi. “Far from it, in fact.”
“They want us to make babies.”
“Oh, I see. And how do we do that?” I asked.
Vi explained to me.
“OK,” I said. “If that’s what the humans want us to do.”
“Don’t be stupid, Dai. We’re not going to make babies. We’re going to escape to the hills, remember? We’re going to take all the sheep with us, we’re going to train them to spit and kick and neck wrestle and we’re going to start a revolution ! And THAT, I’ve just remembered, is why we’re here!”
“Oh,” I said, trying to hide my disappointment.
“There’s more to life than making babies, Dai.”
“Is it you who wrote that graffiti ?”
“The graffiti that says Inglish Sheep, Go home?”
“Yes, Vi. That graffiti.”
“Shame on you, Dai the Llama! How could you even think such a thing? Firstly, you know full well that I know how to spell English properly, and secondly, I don’t approve of such divisive action. Everyone knows you have to build broad support amongst the sheep population before you can start an insurrection. We have to find common ground with the English sheep. Then, one day, after the revolution, we can graze on that ground together.”
“Well put, Vi. But who is it then? Who is spreading this vile doctrine of anti-Englishness? Is Roderick the Ram an agent provocateur sent by the English to sow dissent amongst us?” I should add, at this point, for any non-French speaking llamas, that agent provocateur is another French expression, which means something like agent of provocation i.e. someone sent to stir up trouble. “Do you think the Mabinogion has come to burn the place down, and is giving us time to save our skins?”
“Who’s the Mabingoion?”
“A giant creature, with two heads, one the head of a bull and the other the head of a sheep, and long sharp horns that curl up to the sky like ice cream cornets and it has hair the colour of blood which hangs to the ground in fronds, from which its many offspring dangle menacingly like miniature Tarzans.”
“You’re pulling my leg.”
“Well, that’s what the English sheep said.”
“And you believed them?”
“Well, it might be true.”
“Remember, Dai, you thought that the Tehuelce were friendly. I don’t know who is doing this, but there’s only one way to find out, Dai. Lay a trap for them.”
“And how do we do that, Vi? No, don’t tell me – we wait for the right objective conditions.”
“Seeing as how there are flames licking around the base of the door to this shed, I would say the conditions are now objectively right.”
It was true. Flames were licking around the base of the door. Someone had set fire to the shed. Fortunately, Vi acted quickly. Grabbing the first fire-retardant material she could find – which happened to be my beautiful orange fleece, which happened to still be attached to me – she beat the flames out.
“Ow, ow,” I said. “Let go of me!”
“Sorry,” said Vi, dropping me to the ground. “Who would have thought I could lift a fully grown llama with my clumsy hooves and use it to beat out a fire? It must have been the adrenalin which gave me super-llama strength. Still, the fire’s out now, and it’s burned a little hole at the bottom of the door which we can crawl under.”
“Look at my beautiful orange coat !” I cried. “You’ve scorched it. There are burn marks all over the place.”
“I think it looks nice,” said Vi. “Kind of tortoiseshell.”
“Who ever heard of a tortoiseshell llama?” I exclaimed.
“Who ever heard of an orange llama?” retorted Vi. “I’ve always thought you were a vicuna really.”
Just then Al stuck his head under the door.
“Oh sorry, I didn’t know anyone was in here,” he said.
“Al?” Vi and I said simultaneously.
“What are you two doing in there ?” asked Al.
“None of your business !” Vi and I again cried in unison.
We looked at the burnt-out torch which Al carried in his right hoof.
“Al, were you trying to burn down the shed?” I asked.
“I said I didn’t know anyone was in here,” Al replied.
“That doesn’t make it OK, Al. What’s happened to you? There was a time when you wouldn’t say boo to a goose. Of course there were no geese to say boo to, but all the same, who would have thought you capable of such an act?”
“I’m sorry. I can’t help it. You were right, Dai. At first I saw the humans as if they were my parents. I adored them. I thought that everything they did was wonderful. But now I hate them, I hate what they are doing to my sheep-people, bringing in this blackleg English variety to dilute the purity of the mighty Welsh wool-packer. It makes me want to spit, and kick, and neck wrestle with them. But I feel so powerless. The only thing I could think of was to burn down the sheds. I never meant to hurt anybody. I was only damaging property.”
“Well,” I said, “if they ever catch you, you’ll be for the chop. Humans consider crimes against property far worse than crimes against people or animals.”
“Honestly, I’ll never understand these humans,” said Al.
“Al,” said Vi. “You are well-intentioned but misguided. Now that we’re together again, let’s hatch a plan!”
“What do you suggest ?” I said.
“The same as ever really. We round up all the sheep, escape to high ground, and form a gang of desperadoes, living in conditions which, while admittedly primitive, will be egalitarian and largely harmonious.”
“What do you mean, largely harmonious?” I asked.
“There might be the odd punch-up or spitting match. That’s in the nature of llamas, I’m afraid.”
“Are we taking the English sheep as well?” asked Al.
“It’s not the English sheep who are to blame,” said Vi. “It’s the entire system of agriculture. The humans only make profit because of our surplus wool. Remember, YOU were a newcomer once – an unappealing, inarticulate, alliterative Argentine alpaca – and the sheep of Maesgwyn accepted YOU with open hooves, didn’t they?”
“But what about Roderick the Ram?” I said. “He’ll never agree to come. Worse, he might snitch on us to the humans.”
“How’s he gonna do that? Baa very loudly?”
“He could attract their attention.”
“We’ll tie him up and gag him if necessary. But I think he’ll come round to our point of view. Roderick’s alright really. He’s a bright sheep, and you don’t meet many of those.”
And so it turned out. When we spoke to Roderick, and showed him that we really cared what he thought (alright, so we exaggerated a bit) he said that he understood what we were doing, and he agreed with it, a hundred and nine per cent. He just resented the assumption that the sheep would do the bidding of the llamas whatever we said, that where one sheep would go, all the sheep would follow, and that we were – in that respect – no different to the humans. If, on the other hand, the sheep felt that they had a stake in the new society we were proposing to create, they would go with us to the ends of the earth. Not follow us, but go with us. That, said Roderick was the difference between group solidarity and a herd mentality, although it wasn’t Roderick who came up with this distinction, it’s in the French film Blame it On Fidel, which is about the coming of age of a young girl in a politically active family in 1970s France. It’s an excellent film, very moving and funny and it teaches you stuff about the Cuban Revolution and Chile’s experiment with socialism under Allende, although if you ask me Chile is somewhere no self-respecting llama would ever venture because you’d have to go all the way over the Andes to get there, unless of course you’re a Chilean llama.
We had to act quickly. Winter was coming and the snow would soon begin to fall. The sheep were included in our discussions now. Some of them argued for a spring breakout, but this was dismissed on the grounds that the ewes would be lambing and it would be difficult to move so many young lambs up the mountain. It was now or never. If we would tough out the winter, we could live for ever on the mountains. Well, not for ever, but for thirty years or so in the case of us llamas, and slightly less in the case of the sheep.
So we set off in the dead of night, having organised the sheep into four groups, with Roderick in charge of half the English sheep. It was a full moon, which increased the chances of us being seen by a human, if any were awake so late, but the sheep displayed magnificent discipline, with almost no mewing or baaing, and no mwaing from Al. Indeed, Al, in his new rebellious incarnation, was the driving force behind the escape. I would say that he herded the sheep up the mountain but that would probably upset Roderick so let’s just say Al’s understanding of group dynamics enabled him to get the best of the sheep, and that they responded with admirable group solidarity.
Through the next day and night we continued to make splendid progress. It was like the first few days crossing the Patagonian plain, without the heat and the thorns and the Tehuelce warrior wanting to make friends with us. Then disaster struck. It began to snow. At first it was only a few flecks and I didn’t mind too much. In fact, looking back down the hill at the long line of sheep and the occasional llama (or alpaca or vicuna) snaking up the path, I thought that the snowflakes added a certain je ne sais quoi to the scene. I don;t actually know what je ne sais quoi means, but it’s a French expression, which seems to impress humans (some of them) and most animals, including vicunas.
Unfortunately, the snow grew heavier and heavier, and the sheep grew more and more disheartened. Some of our party got separated from the main group, and huddled frightened under the few remaining trees, where they were slowly buried in snowdrifts. As if that weren’t bad enough, there was an ominous sound rolling down the valley like mist. Mist was rolling down the valley as well, but the mist didn’t make a noise. Vi reassured me the sounds I could hear – a half mooing, half baaing kind of noise – was only the wind but if so, it was like no wind I’d ever heard.
Roderick came running up, gasping for breath.
“What is it, Roderick ?” I said.
“Maestro, some of the sheep are afraid.”
“I don’t think you need to call me maestro anymore,” I replied. “It never sounded that convincing. Call me comrade instead.”
“Comrade, some of the sheep are afraid.”
“And why are they afraid?” I asked.
“They say there’s nothing to eat up here, it’s cold and they don’t want to go any further. They’d rather stay where they are, in their cosy snow drifts, even if it means they die of hypothermia. Plus, that funny half-mooing, half-baaing noise is bothering them.”
“Tell them it’s only the wind.”
“I already did, but they’re convinced it’s the Mabinogion .”
“Not that again. Tell them there’s no such thing as the Mabinogion.”
“Look,” cried one of the sheep , “The Mabinogion!”
There, on the crest of the hill, perched precariously atop an outcrop of rock, was the largest creature I had ever set eyes on. It had two heads, one the head of a bull, the other the head of a ram, and long sharp horns that curled up to the sky like ice cream cornets and it had hair the colour of blood which hung to the ground in fronds, from which its many offspring dangled menacingly like miniature Tarzans.
“Vi,” I cried. “Your time has come. Fearless, indomitable Vi, use all your spitting and kicking and neck-wrestling powers and make that thing go away and leave us in peace….. Viiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii?”
Vi was huddled under a tree, with a couple of sheep for company, burying herself in snow.
“Vi, what are you doing?” I shrieked desperately.
“Disguising myself as a snowdrift,” came the reply.
“Vi, I need you to go and parley with the Mabinogion.”
“You go and talk to it,” said Vi.
“Why me?” I demanded to know, once again experiencing that curious falling away sensation I’d felt on board the Royal Navy frigate when Vi told me there were no super furry animals in Wales. Only this time it couldn’t be the roll of the ship playing tricks on me, and Vi was wrong. There WERE super furry animals. Big ones, with large sharp horns and hair the colour of blood.
“You’re the big, brave tomboy,” I implored.
“YOU believed in its existence,” Vi replied . “You’ve had more time to prepare yourself for this eventuality and formulate an action plan.”
Yes, I had an action plan. The same action plan I used with the Tehuelce warrior. Run away. But it was a bit difficult with several hundred sheep who’d rejected the herd mentality in favour of group solidarity. We would have to sit down and debate the pros and cons of running away for ever, while the Mabinogion made mincemeat of us.
“OK, OK. I’ll go,” I said.
“I’ll come with you,” said Al.
“No, Al. You stay here and look after the sheep. I’ll go with Roderick.”
Roderick and I approached the Mabinogion nervously. I could see now that the outcrop on which it perched was actually a man-made cairn, into which mountaineers of many different countries – Argentina, the UK, China, Borneo – had stuck their flags. It looked a bit like those piles of stones you see in documentaries about Tibet, which the pilgrims have to walk around anti-clockwise until all their clothes have unwound and time has gone backwards. Somewhere nearby I imagined there was a pile of bones, bleached whiter than white by the relentless Welsh sun, the only remains of the Mabinogion’s unsuspecting victims.
“Who are you ?” bellowed the Mabinogion.
Roderick and I trembled in our fleeces.
“Please, I am Dai the Llama,” I said. “Can I have two cornets with chocolate flakes in?”
“What?” bellowed the Mabinogion.
“Oh sorry, I got confused. I thought you were the ice cream man. It’s those horns you see.”
“Who is your companion?”
“He is Roderick the Ram. But you can call him Rod.”
“He looks a bit sheepish.”
“Well, he is a sheep.”
“Good point. I like your way of thinking, Dai the Llama.”
We stood in silence, no more than a few yards from the creature, not knowing what to say.
“Well, what brings you here?” asked the Mabinogion.
“We, er, wanted to ask you some questions,” I replied.
“Are you journalists?”
“No. We are ffarm animals.”
“You’re a long way from any ffarms, as you call them.”
“It’s the Welsh double ff,” I explained. “Otherwise it would be varm, you see. And that would sound a bit vunny, as if we were voreigners, which in vact we are. Anyway, we ran away from the ffarm because we wanted to be ffree.”
“Well, there’s lots of ffreedom up here. Ffreedom’s one thing we HAVE got, in spades. Go on then, ask me your questions….”
I looked on my list. “Are you the Mabinogion?” I asked.
The Mabinogion guffawed. “No, silly. The Mabinogion isn’t a living creature. It’s a collection of ffairy tales from the Middle Ages. I am a Yak. Rinpoche the Yak, from Tibet.”
“So why have you got two heads?”
“Oh, that’s just a ram’s skull I ffound lying on the hillside. I was admiring the horns.”
The Mabinogion tossed the skull aside. It landed near Roderick, who looked down with an expression of horror. Perhaps it was one of his long-lost relatives.
“See, I only have one head,” said the Mabinogion.
“And why have you got long sharp horns that curl up to the sky like ice cream cornets?”
“Because I’m a yak, duh.”
“So why is your hair the colour of blood and why does it hang to the ground in ffronds?”
“Again, because I’m a yak. Duh.”
“What about the baby Mabinogions that are dangling in a menacing fashion from your hair like miniature Tarzans?”
The Mabinogion, or yak, or whatever it was, looked embarrassed. “Ah, the ffact is, I haven’t had a wash for a while. The water’s so cold up here. They’re just clumps of sweaty hair that have got stuck together and happen to look like miniature Mabinogions, if you use your imagination.”
“And was it you who was making those mooing and baaing noise we heard earlier?”
“Yes, that was me. The mooing bit comes naturally to us yaks, being relatives of the domestic cow, but the baaing was me practising my sheep speak. Around these parts you have to be able to communicate with the sheep or you’re nobody.”
“OK, you’ve convinced me. But tell me, wise Rinpoche, what is a yak doing so far from home?”
“Really, Dai, you ask a lot of questions. You may not know, but the Chinese have taken our land, so some of us have been forced to live abroad, in other countries. A lot of my fellow yaks have moved to India, to live with the Tehuelce, while some have gone as far as Patagonia, in Argentina, to live with the Indians.”
“I think it’s the other way round, oh wise one. The Indians live in India.”
“You’re right. Even wise yaks make mistakes sometimes. Anyway, I ffancied Wales. Everyone is moving here, it seems. Even the English. Must be something to do with the double ffs.”
“And do you know what lanolin is?”
“Of course. Lanolin is a yellow waxy substance secreted by wool-bearing animals such as sheep, but NOT by llamas. It is sometimes mistakenly described as a fat, but it is not a true fat, as it lacks glycerides. ”
“Just one ffinal question….”
“Go on then.”
“What should we do with the sheep we’ve led up here?”
“You must go back to the ffarm. If not the sheep will die in the snow, and that is too high a price to pay for ffreedom.”
“Thank you, wise Rinpoche. We’re sorry to have taken your time and to have mistaken you for the Mabinogion.”
“Oh don’t worry. It happens all the time. I’m really quite ffflattered by the comparison.”
“Don’t overdo the f, Rinpoche,” I said.
“Thanks for the tip, Dai. Languages have never been my strong point.”
Roderick and I hurried back to the others. Vi, hearing our footsteps in the snow (she does have exceptionally good hearing) emerged from under her snowdrift. The snowflakes on her coat gave her a rather ffetching tortoiseshell look, albeit the kind you can achieve without being used to beat out fflames in a burning shed.
“Well, ” she demanded to know, “did you slay it?”
“Slay it? With what? I’m a llama, for Heaven’s sake.”
“So what did it say? Is it going to let us pass?”
“Firstly, it’s not the Mabinogion. That’s a collection of Medieval fairy tales. It’s a yak! “
“A yak? In Wales? Do you take us for fools?”
“No, really, Vi – it’s true.”
Some of the sheep who had been huddling beneath the tree with Vi – and who had grown in confidence since we ffled the ffarm – now added their voices to the general hubbub.
“What did it look like?” one demanded to know.
“It was heavily built,” I said, “with long fur that hung down below its belly, almost to the ground.”
“What colour was it?” asked another, in a slightly hostile manner.
“It was dark,” I said, “almost black, but not quite, with patches of rusty brown and cream.”
“What size were its ears?” asked a third.
I had to think about this. “They were small,” I said, “and it had a very short neck, with a pronounced hump over the shoulders.”
“Well,” said Vi. “That’s a yak, if your impressively detailed description is correct. And what did this yak say?”
“It said you were a coward and a disgrace to the noble tradition of tomboys, and that it could see you hiding under the snowdrift, and that you were it.”
“I’ll ignore that. What else did it say?”
“It said that lanolin is a yellow waxy substance secreted by wool-bearing animals such as sheep, but NOT by llamas. It is sometimes mistakenly described as a fat, but it is not a true fat, as it lacks glycerides.”
“I knew that already. Anything else ?”
“Yes. It said that we have to take the sheep back down to the ffarm, or they will die. “
“No way Jose,” said Al. “I mean Dai. No way Dai.”
“But that doesn’t rhyme,.” I said.
“It doesn’t have to rhyme. There’s no time for rhyme. Oh, but that DOES rhyme. Never mind, the show must go on. We have to flee the humans. This is the Night of the Long March of the Llamas and Sheep.”
Vi turned to Al. “The yak is right. We have to go back down the mountain. To go on is madness. I’ve been under that snowdrift for no more than ten minutes and I’m freezing my fur off.”
Al was furious. “Sell-out,” he cried at Vi. “You were the one who told us to come here. Take to the hills, you said. We can link up with other sheep and llamas, form a gang and start the revolution.”
“I know, I know. But that was a long time ago. I was younger then, and impetuous. ”
“What about the cold?” I said to Al. “Remember the cold? Remember how you didn’t want your children to die of hypothermia?”
“Let them die of hypothermia,” cried Al, waving a hoof dismissively. “Baby llamas and baby sheep have always died of hypothermia. It’s survival of the fittest up here, brother. I’m taking my sheep where no human has ever trod.”
Al’s sheep baa-ed in agreement. They were the vanguard, his trusty foot soldiers. Poor creatures – they had no idea he was leading them to certain death.
“We’re forging a brave new world here, with brave new llamas and brave new sheep. There’s no place for fainthearts or cowards.”
This last comment was aimed at Vi, I think.
“What about the superiority of human civilisation?” I said. “What about the cars and TVs and all that?”
“Mwa. Who needs cars and TV? We have hooves and we can make our own entertainment. It’s Year Zero out here.”
“Well, it certainly feels like it,” said Vi, shivering.
In desperation, I played my last card. “What about the afternoon teas, Al? What about bara brith and Welshcakes and cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off?”
Al hesitated. “It is true,” he said, “it’s very difficult to cut the crusts off without the humans’ help.”
“It’s very difficult to get cucumbers up here,” I said.
Al’s shoulders dropped in defeat. “OK, OK” he said, “We’ll go back.”
As we made our way back down the mountain, the snow stopped and the sun came out. The trees returned, singing their songs which sadly we animals cannot understand, and the grass grew greener, and sweeter. Even Al was happy because he found a local shop that had a couple of slightly shop=soiled cucumbers which the shopkeeper said she’d let him have for half price.
Vi cast a wistful look back up the mountain at the unwelcoming bare rock and dark clouds.
“I suppose the revolution can wait,” she said.
“Yes, the revolution can wait,” I said. “The objective conditions weren’t right.”
“They certainly weren’t. It was much too cold up there.”
We watched Al wrench open a bag of sliced bread and chop cucumber crudely with his toe nails.
“Dai, I have a confession to make.”
“Really, Vi? What is it?”
“I didn’t really travel all over South America when I was younger. That was Che the Iguana. We just went on a day trip to Mendoza. I think the farmer wanted to sell us and buy some wine with the money but he didn’t find any takers. And there’s no Llama Diaries. I made it all up to impress you.”
“To impress ME?”
“Yes – I thought you were so clever. If a bit sarcastic at times. So I tried to out-do you, to be more intelligent, more witty.”
“Do you means to say there is no Libros Lluminosos publishing house in Lima either ?”
“That’s what I mean to say.”
“But I sent off for a copy. Actually two copies – one for me and one for the British Library. That’s the best part of fifty soles down the drain.”
“I’m sorry, Dai. We both have so much to learn, don’t we?”
“Yes, I said.”
“Do you think perhaps we should go back to the shed and make a baby?”
“That sounds like a good idea.”
And we did, and the farmer was happy, and thanked us for saving his sheep, conveniently ignoring the fact that we’d put them in peril in the first place. He said we’d never have to guard sheep again, and that we could live in a pen and human holidaymakers would pay to come and gawp at us, and if they annoyed us we could spit at them, which we did, because that’s what they expected and wanted. Roderick the Ram went off and opened a teahouse in the mountains, which has also proved popular with holidaymakers, although Al says it is largely because of the novelty factor and not because the Welsh cakes or sandwiches are particularly good. Speaking of Al, he’s living in Scotland now, organising the sheep and demonstrating against the manufacture of haggis (which, if you didn’t know already, is a sausage-like ball made from different parts of a sheep – the heart, lungs, brains and whatever else they see fit to chop up and put in – all wrapped up in the membrane of a sheep’s stomach. It sounds positively disgusting, although I’m assured by carnivores that it’s really quite tasty, but I wouldn’t know, as I only eat grass, and occasionally cactus, and of course cucumber sandwiches.)
350 days after we came back down from the mountains, Vi gave birth to a baby girl, or cria in llama-speak, and we called her Alma. Alma the Llama. Who knows – perhaps, in the course of time, Alma will have her own adventures. If so, she will have to write her own story. She could call it the Alma Diaries.