The other stock market

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ASK Calum what the stock market is doing this morning and he'll probably announce that lambs were up on the week but draft ewes were back a bit. The only stock market he knows about is the one in Kelso, where he sells his sheep every autumn.

Dow Jones is just another American pop star and Big Bang the alternative to the Genesis record of creation.

That doesn't make Calum an idiot; it just serves to illustrate that life in rural Scotland is different from city-center Glasgow or suburban Surbiton. Not necessarily better, but different. Some might even argue it is closer to reality.

Recommended: Can you speak Wall Street-ese? Take our stock market quiz.

City analysts would classify Calum as a low-risk, average-growth stock. Popped into Manchester or London when he was 5, he would have ended up in middle management with a nice semi-detached, a paid-up mortgage at 55, and perhaps even a secondhand black BMW.

Around here, average means he looks after 40 score of Blackface ewes, scattered over 2,000 acres of rough hill land - snow covered for much of the winter. He lives up-valley, nine miles from the village, with his wife and two bright children. His house is small, stonebuilt, detached - very detached; his nearest neighbor is two miles away. He drives a 1980 Mazda pickup.

If his house were in Esher, Surrey, it would be worth 60,000, but Calum isn't bothered. He doesn't want to live in Esher, even if he knew where it was. He knows about stress, but his stress is more likely to be cured by an hour with his feet up and a hot drink than a session on the psychiatrist's couch. He works flexi-hours. At lambing time he'll start at 5 a.m. and put in a 15-hour day on the hill with his two collies before darkness forces him indoors. Come the short days of winter and he has little more to do than feed and check his stock.

He specializes in one commodity, sheep, and personally covers every aspect of the business from delivering breach-born lambs to administering health care to a calcium-deficient ewe. A big ``deal'' for him would be gathering 500 sheep off 1,000 acres of unfenced hill before 9 a.m. He is one of a very select group of business managers. In his field, if you'll excuse the pun, he is an expert.

But if he had to find his way from the Euston to Waterloo stations it would take him half a day, longer if you included operating the ticket dispensing machine.

Computerized living hasn't really hit his valley. In field trials, such living hasn't been found compatible with nature's infinitely complex but largely unpredictable program, or its intolerance of man's interference.

Even the language of computers is alien to Calum, as incomprehensible to him as the whistle commands he uses to control his dogs would be to a computer buff.

The only ``byte'' in Calum's vocabulary refers to the amount of grass growing on the bottom water meadow, and a RAM has more to do with conception than random-access memory.

Not that a facility for storing facts and figures is undesirable, it's just that Calum's own personal memory bank has so far proved perfectly adequate for his purposes. He can tell you, on an instant- access basis, the lambing averages of his flock for the past five years and the top prices received for Blackface tups for as many years, not to mention the latest date for planting main-crop potatoes, the likely time of arrival of the first salmon in McPherson's Pool, and roughly when you can expect to hear the curlew's haunting call drifting across the heather at winter's end.

Perhaps this makes it easier to understand why last Tuesday was no exception for Calum. When City News announced the London FTSE index was down 20 points, he showed no emotion, just got up from his chair beside the peat fire and switched off the set.

Outside in the byre he had more important matters to attend to - his own personal stockholding. Her name was Rhona, and she calved last night. With a little bit of good fortune her calf would fetch 100, in the stock market in Kelso next August.

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