Because of my hangover, I didn't bother to work out (Sherlock Holmes style) what it could have been used for - my addled brain got as far as imagining it swinging from the end of a crane and demolishing buildings before I went indoors and asked her what it was.
At first, I thought that she said it was a 'ball-ball', and I stared at her with an expression on my face which must have made her think that she was talking to a child - as if repeating the same word twice, it would make more sense. Seeing my confusion, she said, "You know - a ball for tying bulls to." Ah, now I knew.
As all you rural types have known since childhood, prize bulls have a ring fitted to their sensitive nose to encourage them to walk when you want to lead them, or stand still when required - at market, for instance. Women use a different part of the male human anatomy for exactly the same purpose even today, but a fitted ring is optional, not essential.
I expect Thomas Hardy to have been familiar with this sort of thing, but I have never seen one before. In one way, it's a shame it is a little too large to bring indoors, but there again, so is a bull. It looks a little incongruous, sitting about in the drive of her smart, town home and I dare say it would look more functional in a farmyard, but I don't think that farmers these days are made of the sort of stuff which would allow them to cart not only a one ton bull around the country, but a lump of masonry like this at the same time.
This morning, now that my hangover of yesterday has gone, I am able to think a little clearer about how this object came to be made, and came to be made so well.
Farmers - as we all know very well - are not known for spending any more money on a functional piece of equipment than absolutely necessary, so why is it carved into a beautifully sculptural sphere? A rough-hewn lump of any of boulder would have served the same purpose, and would not - when sitting in the back of a moving cart - roll around, threatening to smash the sides off at each twist and turn of a pot-holed road.
Farmers - for the same reasons as above - are also not known for their appreciation of fine architecture either. Many a lovely, Tudor or 17th century farm house has been all but destroyed by an insensitive farmer who - having inherited the beautiful building from previous generations of the same family - have 'modernised' it, or built a flipping great, asbestos-roofed, Dutch barn right up against it so that he does not have to walk any farther than needed at dawn every morning.
With my Sherlock Holmes hat placed firmly on my refreshed head this morning, I am almost confident enough to say that this is how the 'bull-ball' came into existence in it's present form, around 150 years ago:
A farmer - living in a beautiful, early eighteenth century farmhouse - one day looks up to the gate-pillars created by his great-grandfather, and a light-bulb goes on above his head.
He thinks to himself: "What is the use of those two stone balls sitting atop of the pillars? What difference would it make to the function of the gate if one were to be removed? I could tether yon bull to it when at market, then - at last - at least one of those balls would earn it's keep on the farm."
With that, he pushes one ball off one pillar, then yanks out an iron ring horse-tether from the front wall of the farmhouse (he never rides horses to his front door anyway), then fixes it with hot lead into the fixing hole which already exists in the base of the ball and - hey presto - a bull-tether is born.
Of course, that little recess I mentioned that the iron ring sits into, was never actually carved into the stone. It just formed itself as the ball rolled around in the back of a horse cart, bashing against the sides and threatening to knock them off at every twist and turn of the pot-holed highway that leads to market.
Actually, it's simpler even than that. He would not have taken the stone ball to market, that would have meant picking it up. The ring just ate it's way into the stone as the ball was rolled around the yard.