“Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life”

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Plot Description

This is a rather ribald tale from Dahl’s “Claud’s Dog” collection of country stories. Each seems rather autobiographical, in that they all take place in Buckinghamshire (the county Dahl lived in), feature characters that he actually knew (the butcher Claud Taylor), and deal with subjects that he himself was interested in (greyhound racing, etc.). “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life” is an almost anecdotal story about a unique method for ensuring the gender of calves when mating cows.

Spoiler warning! The narrator’s cow has started “bulling” (which means she’s in heat, I think) and he takes her down the road to be serviced by Rummins’s famous bull. Claud points out that Rummins has a unique way of conducting an official mating that no one else in the world knows. As Rummins later explains, pointing the cow into the sun means that a heifer (female) will result, while pointing her away creates a bull (male). The actual reason has something to do with the pull the sun exerts on “female” sperm. After the narrator checks the records to verify this claim, he asks Rummins if it will work with people. “Of course it’ll work with humans,” he said. “…I’ve got four boys of my own, ain’t I?”