Thursday 16 January 2020

Pheasants, etc

As we fast approach the end of yet another shooting season and,once again, the fields and woods will fall silent until it all starts again in the autumn it occurred to me just how much things have changed in the shooting world.

Today many shoots are run on a business basis which means the guns pay to shoot and the payment is calculated by the bird shot. So, what this means is, for example, if a group of guns buy a two hundred bird day it will cost £8,000 based upon a figure of £40 per bird. On average there are ten guns so the day costs each of them £800. Well, actually, it works out at a bit more than that as it is the custom to tip the gamekeeper at the end of the day and I am reliably informed that the expected tip from each gun is £50. Apart from the day's sport each gun has his gun cleaned at the end of the day and takes home a brace of pheasants, two birds. That, for the most part, is how things are done in the modern shooting field. When one considers that some shoots are shooting six days a week one begins to get an idea of the scale of the business. Not only is it a huge part of the rural economy but shooting produces sales in terms of clothing, ammunition, hospitality and so on. But most of all it produces huge numbers of pheasants and, to a lesser degree, partridges and duck. 

To go back to a former age most shoots were conducted by landowners for the benefit of themselves and their friends, numbers of birds were not the main consideration as profit was not the aim, quite simply sport was the most important element. Good high and testing birds were the order of the day, numbers would then have been considered to be of less importance and for a gentleman to complain about the number of birds would have been considered wholly inappropriate, just not the done thing. 

Of course it is also the case that the people who shoot, and can afford to do so, have also changed. Once the members of a shooting party would, almost exclusively, have been members of the landed gentry, nobility and generally the great and the good. Today the mix is far more diverse. Yes, there are still a fair sprinkling of the above groups to be found but also lots of small business men, pop stars, film stars,bankers, hedge fund managers, builders and all manner of other people. Some of the behaviour one sees in the modern shooting party would not have been seen, let alone tolerated, in earlier times. Of course, as might be expected many of the people from these groups are not country people but come from the towns and cities to shoot. Good manners were always expected of the guns and it was the norm for the guns to express their thanks to the beaters at the end of each day. They always said good morning and expressed their delight when things went well. Sadly, that is no longer the norm, many modern guns will walk past the beating line as though the beaters were not there and not a word is exchanged. In fact, I heard, only the other day of a shoot somewhere in mid Dorset where, so called, pop and film stars shoot, where the gamekeeper tells the beaters that they are not to engage in conversation with the guns, they are not to look at the guns and generally must be seen and not heard. 

Frankly, I don't understand why anyone would bother to go there. If I were confronted with such a situation I would tell the keeper in no uncertain terms that I was at the wrong place and the guns could go beat for themselves. Fortunately, this behaviour is the exception and not the rule. But, in general terms, "old money" is much more user friendly having been brought up in a manner which respects tradition and is fully conversant with good manners and etiquette. 

Undoubtedly, alcohol and drinking have always had a place in the shooting field. It is traditional to have a nip of something before the day begins, usually sloe gin. It is also perfectly normal for members of the shoot to carry a hip flask in order to have the odd swig during the day, especially in cold weather. Also the odd port or glass of wine at lunch has always been acceptable and added to the delight of the day.Unfortunately many modern guns seem to have the idea that a key component of the day is to get … well, ratted, to use a modern term. I strongly believe guns and booze do not mix and it is high time keepers started sending people home when they have gone over the top with drink. If they want to have a drinking session that should be done at the end of the day and not at lunch time. However, all is not lost, I notice increasingly that shoots are beginning to "shoot through", what this means is they don't stop for lunch. They do all of the shooting for the day and lunch at the end. A much better idea as, quite apart from the drinking aspect, it also means the beaters get home earlier as they are not sitting around for nearly a couple of hours whilst the group of guns enjoy a longish lunch. 

Long may the shooting traditions continue but, if they are to some taking stock will have to occur and good behaviour and good manners will have to be at the heart of any such considerations. 

Tuesday 17 December 2019


It has been many moons since I last wrote about Christmas in Kingsley and, I suspect,new people have moved into the village and others will have departed. So it might be of interest to those who did not read the original article to be able to compare todays Christmas in Kingsley with how it was sixty odd years ago. 

In those days Kingsley had a school, a shop, a post office and, of course, the dear old Cricketers. It also had a second pub, the New Inn, at the eastern end of the village near Sleaford. As with most villages then and, I suppose to some extent now, the three main institutions which were responsible, in various measure, for village activities were the Church, the pub and the school. This was particularly so at Christmas. Before breaking up for the Christmas holiday the school would have been involved with the Church in putting on the Nativity play which took place in the church and also the Christmas Bazaar both popular events. 

A short while before Christmas, usually on a Friday evening, the Cricketers would be the place to go when it paid out the Thrift Club monies to all whom had been a part of that scheme and taken the opportunity to put a few pounds away for the festive season. 

In general terms people did not decorate their homes and gardens in the same way as today. Decorations were for indoors and, of course, electric lights were not available as they are now. Christmas trees were then lit with small candles which fitted into little holders which clipped to the trees branches. I can't imagine anything like that being sold today, just consider the Health and Safety police, they would have a field day. It is worth saying that I don't ever recall anyone burning down their house as a result candles. 

The tree, as far as our household was concerned was sourced locally. By that I mean it was obtained from either the common or Alice Holt forest. The trees on the common were firs with the large needles and a grey–blue colour. In those days there were a lot of firs all over the common which I guess were self seeders as they had not been planted in any order. The trees in Alice Holt were the finer spruce type with much shorter and many more needles. When I say they were sourced locally, they were actually stolen. It was common practice for villagers to go out and cut a tree down, often under the cover of darkness, having made their selection in daylight. Given that we had a village policeman living in the community, this matter had to be dealt with,with some care. The local newspapers would begin announcing, several weeks before Christmas, that tree patrols had begun in Alice Holt forest and anyone caught stealing trees would face the full force of the law. I, from quite a young age, took it upon myself to be the provider of our family tree. I preferred the forest type of spruce so I would take the opportunity of selecting my tree whilst wandering in the woods with a pair of binoculars and notebook consistent with a bird watching trip. Having selected the tree I would wait until there was a wet and windy evening. Then at around eight o'clock I would take a circuitous route to the trees location, cut it down and return by a different route. Never, over many years, did I ever encounter one of the much publicised tree patrols. or, indeed the policeman.

Christmas eve in Kingsley was usually spent in the Cricketers and followed by the midnight service in The Old Church, as it was then commonly known. I refer, of course, to St Nicolas church just up from Bakers corner. People walked to the church in those days and having been in the pub for the evening many of the walkers were in merry mood and conversation was energetic and covered a wide range of topics. The merriment was replicated during the church service and it would become fairly clear which of the congregation had availed themselves of the fine ales for which the area was noted. Alton in those days was a centre of brewing and the home of Courage ales. The cricketer contingent were always the loudest singers and took to the task with great gusto. I don't suppose the vicar ever encountered such dedicated songsters at any other time of the year. It was also the case that many of those singers would not be seen in a church again until the next Christmas eve save for the odd Christening, marriage or funeral !! 

The Cricketers would also be a popular destination at Christmas day lunch time and many a Christmas lunch was tarnished by the twin evils of an over long visit and rather too much festive spirit. Boxing day was the day for walking and many villagers would go for a stroll on that day. 

We didn't have anything like the consumer goodies that are available today and money was, to say the least, scarce but they were good days and people made their own pleasures and life was generally kinder, simpler and safer. All that remains is to wish all who read this offering a very happy Christmas and prosperous and peaceful New Year. 

Tuesday 3 December 2019

Kingsley Footpath 24 - extension

Public notice


Hampshire County Council, having made an Order under Section 14(1) a of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, to allow for works in connection with bridge repairs, has been directed by the Secretary of State for Transport that the order shall continue in force.




Countryside Service Castle Avenue Winchester Hampshire SO23 8UL