Fortunately for the heating bills everyone pushed off after Christmas and before New Year so I was able to scurry about, Scrooge-like, turning off radiators as the car doors slammed.
All in all the Christmas and pre New Year sporting performance had been pretty dire, which was a pity as we had Alex, an Aussie nephew of the wife’s staying. He had been allowed to let off a .410 when he was last here at the age of 10 and was keen to repeat the performance on a grander scale at the age of 23.
The only opportunity was a post Boxing Day “armed walk” around a cousin’s rough acres. The trouble with that was that Alex had not lifted a gun since the last visit and although he was pleasantly devoid of youthful Aussie machismo, it was hard to tell how he would perform in the field.
So I took him off to our sporting playmate Alf’s clay pigeon trap with our Belgian made, non-ejecting 20 bore. I also took Crumpet and Waffle in the hope they might retrieve unbroken clays, but they are not as stupid as I had hoped and paid no attention. Had the clays been real birds they’d have been off.
So we went through safety procedures – notably not firing unless there was sky behind his target. So after we’d gone through the drill we let off 25 clays, all of which he missed, not very surprisingly. But he had a swing and was even, I thought from a crouching position behind him, possibly firing ahead of the target which was not to be discouraged. In real life he would be in with a chance.
For the actual shoot I had preplanned an operation of impossible complexity involving two fields of neeps where pheasants from the neighbouring shoot were thought to lurk. They had certainly lurked there the day before, even flying over our heads when we were unarmed.
But in spite of sending beaters on long circuitous flanking movements only one hen emerged from the very far corner, well out of range. The weather was, it is true, pretty atrocious, wet and windy. Crumpet and Waffle worked pretty close in as we surrounded various plantations and scrubby bits of bog.
Not a thing. However a gratifying number of woodcock appeared and were missed. Alex got off a shot at a pheasant to no evident effect. I was rather despondent about the whole thing although it had been a good walk, the dogs had worked well, and none of the “beaters” – various brothers and sisters – had got lost.
The expedition turned out to be the highlight of Alex’s stay. He couldn’t stop talking about it. So at least something had been achieved, and all without the loss of a pheasant.