Trinidad and Tobago

Terry's beach banner

What's the time, Mr Wolf?

By Terry Joseph
May 28, 2004

After centuries of avoiding the type of derisive labels pinned on pork, genetically modified poultry, red meat at large and mad cows in particular, sheep, last of the innocuous entrees, have finally been exposed for what they really are-scheming little wolves dressed in drag.

Their long-running fraud collapsed last week when a French research team, led by Olivier Andréoletti of the National Veterinary School in Toulouse, published in Nature Medicine findings that sheep muscles contain "prions", the misfolded proteins widely believed to cause brain-wasting diseases in human beings.

While the scientists are duly cautious and emphasise the finding did not mean eating lamb or mutton posed an immediate danger to us, I'm simply not buying that. Who's to say sheep have not been wilfully poisoning our brains all the while?

After all, they had opportunity from creation (in fact, throughout the Bible) as self-appointed first-choice in every blood-sacrifice ritual. My guess is: They were pulling the wool over our eyes from Day One.

Shouldn't we then, in light of this new information, rethink Little Bo Peep's presumed ineptitude? Was it that she couldn't find her sheep? Or were they-even in dealing with children of impressionable age- ruthlessly using smoke and mirrors?

Endorsed by Jesus Christ Himself (aka "The Good Shepherd", "Lamb of God" etc), celebrated in nursery rhymes, the toast of winter-wear manufacturers and a merciful abacus to desperate insomniacs, sheep seemed beyond reproach-until now.

Having masqueraded as benign animals for so many thousands of years, there is a good chance sheep boarded the very Ark by subterfuge. It may even have been the first episode of dressing in wolves' clothing, for Noah would have expected quite the opposite. Reverse psychology made climbing the gang plank a mere cakewalk.

Some say they even bribed their way into the New Testament, a plausible claim considering they're there from "The First Noel". For all we know, while shepherds watched the flock that night, it was the sheep kicking up an unholy racket and, using their now understood capacity for deception, shunted blame to the hapless cattle who, as the song attests, were softly lowing when the baby awoke.

Nor was it the last time sheep set up their bovine cousins.

Take the case of Little Boy Blue. Who did him in? Don't blame the cows. They were in the corn. It was the sheep that stayed in the meadow where the youngster was later found "under a haystack fast asleep". Connect the dots to find out whose beady eyes hypnotised the lad and buried him in the straw as he dozed off.

Throughout history, while all other species were subjected to contempt on a rotating basis, sheep enjoyed continuing celebrity as Mr Nice Guy. We felt flattered by association with these passive "innocents". An introverted person was "quiet as a lamb". The embarrassed were "sheepish" and the naive "led like a lamb to slaughter".

Now compare those empathetic metaphors with damning similes linked to other species: Ugly as a baboon, stubborn as a mule, nasty as a pig, sweating like a horse, drunk as a fish, stink as a skunk, greedy as a hog, spineless as jellyfish, voracious as a camel, slow as a snail, poor as a church mouse or sick as a dog.

If only by default (but I somehow suspect trickery), sheep became the darlings of the animal world, ostracising members who dared betray this conspiracy by dubbing them "black sheep". Even cloning may have been part of the scheme to ensure sheep numbers remained eternally intact.

Fooled again, there was celebration at every level but the clergy. Man quickly agreed he would not copy himself but bred Dolly with impunity, making more sheep. The electronics firm, Zanussi, used her image to advertise domestic appliances, she also featured in an opera by American composer Steve Reich and Scottish anti-monarchists elected her their preferred queen.

So effective was their control of the human mind, even as we tried to sleep, we counted sheep. After all, it wasn't the vulgar spectacle of a cow jumping over the moon, three little pigs quarrelling over housing, or a bull in a China shop. Fluffy but conniving little sheep, wafting across the imagination, ranked among man's most calming cerebral experiences.

That image of purity, fed us from childhood and frequently reinforced en route to maturity has, for me, been irretrievably dashed, Mary's Little Lamb having shown its true colours. For sure, we now know its "fleece" (a word more frequently associated with con artists) was hardly "as white as snow".

Well, Mr Wolf-Dressed-in-Sheep's-Clothing, it is payback time. Our best scientists are on your case. In two shakes of a lamb's tail and hopefully before your concealed prions fully consume their brains, we will learn of all the poisons you hid for so long under your thick coat.

And just so my position is made clear, you little baa-baa humbug, if the scientists need help rounding up and carting away to oblivion every last sheep, I'd be more than happy to drive the Ewe-Haul myself.

Previous Page / Terry's Homepage