“Thank you” the tramp replied, “it's very kind of you but I have a problem. I’m too heavy for the light work and too light for the heavy work.”

Their lifespans coincided almost exactly. I have known Jimmy Stobo and Davie Jappy since I was a boy and learned new things about them from their obituaries in The Scottish Farmer last month.

Jimmy was well-known as an agripolitician. I learned that he started as a shepherd for his father. I thought that Davie was a countryman through and through and learned that he lived his early life in Leith. Jimmy started his political career as a young farmer and held directorships until he died. Davie’s reputation as a top shepherd and strong competitor in the show ring was earned locally in the Borders. Both liked white-faced sheep: Jimmy Border Leicesters and Davie Cheviots.

Davie was a young shepherd at Blackhaugh, my Grandfather’s farm, where I spent my holidays as a small boy. Together with the other young shepherd, Bobby Laidlaw, he lodged with Mrs Stoddart the widow of Jock Stoddart, a previous herd. This sleeping arrangement was not unusual at the time. The first hill lambing I did a decade later, I shared a bedroom, with an elderly single herd, Willie Scott, and no one thought anything of it.

The only downside was that, although I was absolutely deadbeat, I couldn’t get to sleep laughing at his stories. I still remember them. Willie often referred to himself as “looking like a tramp”. He was anything but and, although conservatively dressed, was always clean-shaven, neat, and tidy. There were few better shepherds. After one reference to tramps, I burst out laughing.

He assured me that on one occasion he had actually been taken for a tramp. He was walking on a hill track to a whist drive at Eskdalemuir when he saw a lady he knew in front of him. Every time he speeded up to catch up with her, she speeded up too. Breathless when she arrived at the village hall, she told the company that she had walked that path many times but had never seen a tramp on it before.

Tramps were quite common at that time. Some were reputed to be of gentle birth, had dropped out for their own reasons, and were a source of news to remote farms. It was said that a naïve farmer’s son was chatting to a particularly pleasant tramp. “You know,” the young man said, “the harvest is coming on. I’m sure if I spoke to him my Dad could find you a job”.

“Thank you” the tramp replied, “it's very kind of you but I have a problem. I’m too heavy for the light work and too light for the heavy work.”

Davie herded the South Country Cheviots at Blackhaugh. Over several decades they had achieved great success in the show and sale rings. This included holding the record price for a ram for twenty-eight years. Jock Stoddart, who my Father reckoned was the doyen of shepherds, herded them then so Davie had a hard act to follow. The Stoddarts came to Blackhaugh on November 28th, 1915, a particularly foul day.

When she looked out of the lorry at their new home, Mrs Stoddart remarked that she didn’t think they would be biding long. She and Jock stayed till the day they died. Jock’s long service medal presentation was quite a do. Towards the end, everyone except my Uncle Tom, who was too young to drink, was sound asleep. Jock, like a phoenix from the ashes, rose to make a speech. It was brief. “I’ve been thirty years at Blackhaugh and eight years at Blackhope, the best eight years of my life.”

Apart from such memorable days, the light had gone out on Jock’s life. My Grandfather, who owned the only phone, had to bear the message that his only son, Sergeant Jimmy Stoddart, KOSB, had been killed in action. My Grandfather too received the dreaded call bearing news that Jack, his eldest son, had been killed in Normandy. Happily, he pulled through but only just and sired me three years later.

Jock died when I was a year old. His widow, Davie’s landlady, lived on for a long time after that. She was tall and gaunt, wore dark clothes and, as small boys, we were rather in awe of her. She was very forthright. At the time, because of widely reported miscarriages of justice, the abolition of capital punishment was being debated in parliament. When my cousin Mike asked what she thought about it, Mrs Stoddart replied “that they should gie them a wee bit torter first.”

Davie’s bedfellow, Bobby Laidlaw, too had a story. Davie had done his National Service in the RAF. Bobby did him in the Army. When he was demobbed, my grandfather had to offer him his job back, however, the herding at Blackhaugh was filled. My grandfather offered him a position at Eriboll in Sutherland, so Bobby went north. Because of the porous nature of the fences, it was the custom on the farm to take the tups out to an island in Loch Eriboll in a small boat until their services were required.

Bobby was terrified. An elderly shepherd on the farm, George Mackay, known as Geordie Dandy, to distinguish him from the many other George Mackays in the area, had been in the merchant navy. He promised Bobby if the boat went down, he would rescue him. When Geordie retired, Bobby hastened back south. It was maybe as well as, a short time later, the boat capsized, and eight rams were drowned.

When Jimmy and Davie started herding, not only were the proverbial dog and stick and, according to AG Street, “a cheerful disposition” basic requirements, but so too were a pair of tackety boots. I suspect that here Jimmy and Davie’s methods diverged. Jimmy sold a dog to a neighbouring farmer.

A week later the man phoned him. “Jimmy,” he said, “I’ve tried to sit, siddoon, that’ll do, and whistling and nothing works. How do you stop the dog?”

“Oh,” Jimmy replied, “I toot the horn of the Land Rover”.