NORTH to Alaska. Well, Aberdeenshire which can be much the same thing.
But it is a balmy Friday in November and the first time out on a “proper” shoot this year for Crumpet our working cocker; me too now I come to think of it.
From 6pm the night before when I had laid out all the kit in the hall – dog lead, cartridges, boots, jacket, bonnet and the rest – Crumpet went completely bonkers. Dogs do this. They know at the first whiff of gun oil, tweed and leather that there are frolics in the offing. In the same way I suppose as they know from just reaching for a jacket or wellies it’s time for a walk. Anyway, she spent the rest of the evening under my feet just in case I tried to get out the door without her.
The next morning we set off with Crumpet zooming from the back to the front of the Skoda, turning cartwheels in between and finally ending up in the passenger seat with her paws on the dashboard, desperate to arrive. When we get there I shove her out to work off some energy by running alongside the car on the farm roads. As Scott, one of my cousin’s erstwhile pickers-up used to say; the only way to deal with a cocker is to give it an absolute bollocking before you even start the day. Eventually, he maintained, you can train them to give themselves a bollocking. Rather than a bollocking Crumpet gets a run, at least if it’s a day of driven pheasants, rather than a rough shoot walking up, which is really what cockers are good at – rootling about in the undergrowth flushing things out.
“Not really what you’d call a peg dog,” a fellow guest mused aloud after Crumpet had taken off in mid drive in pursuit of a hard hit hen floating down into a plantation behind us. (A “peg dog”, labradors for instance, will sit placidly beside their owner at the numbered peg to which he or she is assigned until the drive is over).
But we got over it and she settled down and at the end of the third drive I handed over the birds we had retrieved to a cheerful looking cove with two cocker spaniels even smaller than Crumpet.
This it turned out was Jamie Reid, the cocker king of Buchan who to my surprise, but I can’t think why, turns out to be a Peterhead fisherman. So successful is Jamie at breeding and training that he has produced a string of field trial champions and Glenugie’s Desire, her Sunday name, is off to the cocker championships at Sandringham in January. I am afraid Crumpet was not half as impressed as I was and completely ignored Glenugie’s Desire. But there you go. Flighty things, cockers.