Wednesday, 1 April 2015

A sheep joke that is admissable

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When I was a kid, on every first day of April, at some ungodly hour of the morning, just before he went off to work, my father would wake me with some tall tale that would encourage me to leave the comfort of my bedroom and make an inspection. A claim that it was snowing, or even that there was an elephant on the front lawn would fool me easily and I would bound out of bed to look out the window, only to met with a chant of: “You big April fool!” or similar.

I gather it wasn’t just a tradition in our family, but I suspect that it has died a slow death in recent years. Certainly I must confess I haven’t kept up the tradition myself of late.

It wasn’t always the case. The best April fool’s fun I ever had was back in the 1970’s when I booked some air-time on the only local radio station at the time, 2ZD. Old school friend Arch King was the breakfast announcer and assistant manager to Johnny Shearer, neither of whom were averse to having a bit of fun.

We pre-recorded an interview that purported to be broadcast live. There were sound effects of hammering, banging and general carpentering and Arch said he was in Long’s Meatmarket’s shop in Queen Street and allowed me to describe the scene. I told the listeners that the noise was being made by a couple of builders who were erecting a sheep pen in our front window. More sound effects as we appeared to be walking through doors to the rear of the premises, and Arch spoke of a small stock trailer in the back yard that was housing a strange looking sheep.

He asked me to describe the rare animal to the listeners. I was happy to oblige. The sheep I said was unusual in as much as it had three back legs. Butchers were always short of legs of lamb and this rare breed of sheep was going to resolve that shortage. I said they had only recently been discovered in the hinterland of Iran where they had subsisted on sand and the odd bit of tussock. I explained that we’d imported a number of them and that had them out on our small farm at Norfolk Road where they were being kept in a sandpit. We were slowly weaning them off the sand and on to the lush grass. At the moment, because of their conventional diet, the meat tasted a bit gritty, I claimed, but once they had been weaned off the sand and were fully digesting the pasture we were providing, I was sure they would be as palatable as our conventional breeds.

I said we were going to put this sheep in the newly erected pen in our shop window and the general public were invited to come and inspect the intriguing animal before it was taken back to the sand pit at Norfolk Road at midday. Traditionally, April Fool’s Day finishes at twelve noon.

I added a rider. Because this particular type of sheep was not well established in Iran, there was no title for the breed. I offered a $20 meat pack for the person who came up with the best name.

The interview was broadcast at ten to eight on April the first - a Monday morning. Within minutes the road outside our shop was crowded with cars; many had to be double parked. First to arrive of course were those people coming into town with their car radios on. But they were soon joined by a host of others; often mothers with kids, the children, in some cases, still in their pyjamas.

The footpath was literally streaming with people desperate to see the five-legged sheep. They weren’t totally disappointed. In the window we had a children’s play pen and in the pen was a life-sized illustration of a sheep with three back legs. The late great signwriter Bill Wellington had crafted this for us and there was a callout shape from the sheep’s mouth that said: “Today is the first day of April” and another line at the back pointing to the third leg that read: “This leg is for pulling!”

Most people saw the funny side and business was brisk. Those who didn’t want to admit they been caught out came in and bought something; many of these folk had never dealt off us before in their lives. The local paper featured the story with a photo of the cartoon sheep on the front page.

A teacher from Wairarapa College won the meat pack. He came up with the name ‘Sloof’ which is of course fools backwards and we deemed this to be most appropriate. You’d be amazed how many people sent in serious entries.

A few days later the wife of a prominent farmer came into the shop and told us that on the Monday morning she was cooking breakfast for her husband and was surprised when he came down the stairs all dressed up.

“I thought you were going to work on the farm,” she said, but her husband told her that he that just had to go into town to have a look at this remarkable sheep in Longs’ butcher’s shop window.

She said she marched him over to the calendar and reminded him of the date. He went meekly back upstairs, changed into his old clothes and spent the rest of the day at the back of the farm.

“When he realised it was April the first,” she said, “He looked very sheepish,”

Well he would, wouldn’t he?

“The first day of April is the day we remember what we are the other 364 days of the year.” - Mark Twain.


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