With no sporting engagement the other Saturday I rang John, my cousin’s keeper, to see if he needed an extra beater or a picker up, in which case Crumpet and I would be happy to oblige.
As it happened he did, which is unusual because it’s a jolly shoot with a loyal band of beaters and only birth or death usually prevents them turning out. In this case two had gone down with the lurgy so Crumpet and I were called into service.
The paying guests were all ex-army officers who take a day’s shooting every year and then repair to someone’s house to get blotto, play the bagpipes and reminisce over some seriously bad behaviour from the good old days.
The day is one of great amusement for the beaters, mainly because as one sagely remarked; you’d think that people who had been in the army and got to play with guns and the like would now know how to use them. Not a bit of it.
One or two can shoot, but the rest blaze away happily with little or no effect. There is always one with an out-of-control black lab. And on this occasion as they numbered something like 11 (eight guns is the norm) the supernumeraries, one general; a colonel and a mere major, had been pressed into service as loaders and dog handlers, roles which they performed admirably, but with no obvious effect on the bag.
The one thing you realise as a beater is how long the guns take a) for elevenses and b) for lunch. Not that anyone was complaining. We just stood stoically, like so many Jocks, in the snow flurries huddling under bushes and trees swigging at hip flasks and sucking on fags while somewhere the guns made merry with the hot sausage rolls, sloe gin, the King’s Ginger and bullshot – consommé and sherry or vodka.
Eventually the radios crackled into life and we were off on our carefully choreographed manoeuvres; little bands of beaters converging through thickets from several directions at once to finally bring the whole drive to a crescendo of pheasants bursting from trees and undergrowth – all largely unscathed.
I’m not sure many guns appreciate just how tricky it is, even with walkie-talkies these days, to control this sort of operation. Anyway. As usual at this time of the year lunch went on too long, but that’s because the guns were enjoying themselves. So getting two drives in before darkness descended was nigh well impossible.
As it happened everyone was perfectly happy with one drive after lunch, much extended by having to look for what one gun insisted was a stone-dead cock pheasant. After the dogs had been over the ground several times all we had to show for it was one pigeon found in almost exactly the spot the pheasant was supposed to have landed. Shurely shome mishtake?