Terry Prone: Buying an alpaca to trim the lawn would likely be ‘shear’ madness

Geronimo the alpaca, at Shepherd's Close Farm in Gloucestershire, will be slaughtered, after his owner lost a last-ditch court bid to save him
Terry Prone: Buying an alpaca to trim the lawn would likely be ‘shear’ madness

Geronimo the alpaca at Shepherds Close Farm in Wooton Under Edge, Gloucestershire. The alpaca will be slaughtered after his owner Helen Macdonald lost a last-ditch High Court bid to save him. Picture dated: Saturday, August 21, 2021.

Someone needs to track down that guy Anon and give him — or, in fairness, her — a good thumping. Anon has left a mark everywhere, contributed mostly tedious axioms and instructions to the world. He, she, or it then left under cover of darkness, nameless and safe.

One of the marks Anon left on me, as a child, was delivered by the proverb about the nail. You know it: For want of a nail, the shoe was lost; For want of a shoe, the horse was lost; For want of a horse, the rider was lost; For want of a rider, the battle was lost; For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost; And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

This was drummed into me to make me a detail person. It failed. Even as a child, I knew it to be the greatest load of nonsense, unsupported by any historical example. 

Voice of commonsense

It is, nonetheless, the kind of thinking that led to the NCT, which is the greatest waste of time and money, and to high-cost health checks in the private system, which are just about as useful. 

But the idea that one small failure can lead to a catastrophe dogs my life, particularly in relation to climate change.

Every time I turn a light on, I do a calculation about whether or not I need to, and if I didn’t need to, how it has impacted my carbon footprint. 

Now, the voice of commonsense, which occupies a large part of my brain, tends to tell me to get a grip — ‘Do I want a broken hip from falling over something I can’t see in the dark?’ — but sometimes that voice gets drowned in the detail of my moral calculus.

Take the alpaca. I’ve been thinking about an alpaca, because using a ride-on mower to keep the grass within reason requires petrol, therefore emits greenhouse gases, therefore contributes to climate change, therefore I am responsible for flooding in Bangladesh.

If I had an alpaca, instead, the alpaca would eat all the grass and have cute hairdos. They’re even affectionate, as long as you get them young enough and stroke them a lot. 

Middle-aged pets spit

You don’t want to get a middle-aged alpaca, set in its ways and not used to casual embrace. It will spit at you, and life, right now, is tough enough without middle-aged pets spitting at you. Twitter is bad enough.

Research suggests you always need three alpacas, they being social animals, which seems an awful lot of alpacas, and I wonder how the two cats would take to this invasion.

Terry Prone: "If I had an alpaca, instead, the alpaca would eat all the grass and have cute hairdos. They’re even affectionate, as long as you get them young enough and stroke them a lot." Picture: Maura Hickey.
Terry Prone: "If I had an alpaca, instead, the alpaca would eat all the grass and have cute hairdos. They’re even affectionate, as long as you get them young enough and stroke them a lot." Picture: Maura Hickey.

The other thing is the methane they emit. This worries me enough to do research, which consolingly reveals that alpaca — indeed, all the lads in the camel breed — digest their food in a different way to the methane-producing method deployed by ruminants like cows, and therefore are relatively small emitters of the gas.

Which, compared to a ride-on mower, would undoubtedly be better for the climate.

I had almost committed to multiple alpaca purchase when I read about Geronimo, a UK alpaca which — God love it — tested positive for bovine TB and has been condemned to death, presumably on the same basis used to justify the massacre of badgers for decades.

It seemed like a lot of trouble to work out the likelihood of my three hypothetical alpaca getting TB and to establish if the law in Ireland would come after them if they did, so I’ve back-burnered the alpaca. Just for the moment.

It was only after I had postponed alpaca purchase that I realised how inadequate was my maths. I hadn’t factored the fuel required to annually shear an alpaca into the climate-change equation. 

Alpaca owner circles

I know sheep owners say they have to shear their sheep every year, even though the price of wool has fallen through the floor. They have to hire the sheep shearer because it would be cruel to have the animals go through a long, hot summer in the equivalent of a zipped-up padded parka, but not moving in alpaca owner circles, I can’t check if this applies to camelids. (Camelids being what you call alpacas, llamas, and vicuña). 

For all I know, they shed naturally. Or shearing them produces something saleable.

Absent an alpaca or three, the best thing I can do for climate change, at the moment, I have decided, is to stop heat escaping through my windows, some of them having suffered double-glazing failure. 

Double-glazing failure makes windows go milky and sweaty inside and nobody takes responsibility for it happening, or explains, in understandable terms, why it happens.

Terry Prone: "Absent an alpaca or three, the best thing I can do for climate change, at the moment, I have decided, is to stop heat escaping through my windows, some of them having suffered double-glazing failure." File picture. 
Terry Prone: "Absent an alpaca or three, the best thing I can do for climate change, at the moment, I have decided, is to stop heat escaping through my windows, some of them having suffered double-glazing failure." File picture. 

The problem was that, after the window guys left, the newly unsweaty windows let in so much light, I had to pull the blinds and the string came off in my hand.

Now, here’s the amazing thing. I know a man — Brendan the Blinds Man — who will drive miles to a house to spend five minutes reattaching a string on blinds he installed years ago and not want to be paid for it. 

This despite the fact that, as he tells me, he and his Da, who own the company, and all their employees, are currently chasing their tails to meet all the orders they have.

“The sun is an issue today that it never was before,” he says.

"Talking lovingly of plantation shutters"

This profundity roots me to the spot and I seek clarification. Before the pandemic, he explains, couples left at dawn and came home at sunset, or after, and had little idea what their rooms looked like when the midday sun hit them.

Nor would it have made much difference to them, had they known. It’s different when one of a couple is upstairs trying to see people on a computer screen in a Zoom meeting with the sun making them defensively slit-eyed, and the other is downstairs trying to get the baby to sleep in a room so bright that it looks like a film set and feels like a sauna.

“People want to keep the heat out and in,” says Brendan the Blinds Man, confusingly, elaborating on his theme by talking lovingly of plantation shutters. 

It’s a little surprising that this term survives, redolent, as it is, of Dixie or Cromwell, depending on your country of origin, but apparently, plantation shutters have become de rigueur for families wanting to keep the hot sun out in the summer and retain it in the house in the winter. They are expensive.

“Not a problem,” says Brendan the Blinds Man. People have saved their commuting money and their childcare money and their impulse purchase money. So a 10-grand estimate that would have creased a couple 18 months ago now meets with ready agreement.

One of the better consequences of the pandemic is that our home/workspaces have been radically improved, are better-suited to hybrid living, and may even have marginally lower carbon footprints.

Even if alpaca don’t roam the backyard.

Then I read about Geronimo, a UK alpaca which — God love it — tested positive for bovine TB

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