Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Autumn

It’s the time of year again when my routine changes quite dramatically all the way through until the end of the winter. Autumn is with us and that, for me and many others, means the beginning of the shooting season. The truth is, I don’t actually do much shooting these days, I have the odd day here and there and that suits me nicely. My particular love is beating. Once again, as with so many things in life, that love began in my childhood at Kingsley in a time when there were quite a lot of shoots in the area and, then as now, young boys were welcome. I was going on to write, well behaved boys, but in those times all boys were well behaved! Not least because the game keepers would not have minced their words and a clip around the ear was, by no means, out of the question. Somewhat different from today’s attitudes, although a good old fashioned "rollicking" is still a distinct possibility the ear clipping option is long gone. Parents these days would probably get a lawyer involved. Although, true to say, most of the younger lads that come out beating that I have met are pretty good, there have been the odd one or two that have been sent home. Usually because they think they know more than the keeper and are prepared to argue a point, something we would never had done. We knew our place, as the saying goes!

On Thursday of this week we had a work day on one of the shoots which I attend. These days are great fun, lots of banter and gossip. For the most part, when the season finishes,the beating team don’t see one another until it all starts again in the autumn. There are odd occasions when, at country shows or other rural events, one bumps into a fellow beater but, by and large, the team come from far and wide and so meetings out of season are rare. Consequently, pre-season work days are eagerly anticipated and, generally, a good time is had by all. On these days no money changes hands the work is done on a voluntary basis but plenty of snacks, drinks and a good lunch are all provided by the keeper. There are also added bonuses this week, for example, we had to do quite a bit of tree felling in order to open some of the gun stands. Quite a lot of wood was felled and the logs were shared out between the helpers. I came home with the back of my truck filled with some seriously good burning wood. 

Like many of the beaters and, of course the "pickers up", I get the greatest pleasure out of being able to work my dog. To my mind there is nothing quite like working a decent dog in the fields and woods of the English countryside. Beating gives the dog owner an opening for dog work when, otherwise, getting permission from a landowner or farmer can be(understandably) quite difficult. Most gamekeepers encourage well behaved dogs as they can save a lot of time and effort when it comes to flushing birds from thick hedges, brambles and all manner of other difficult terrain. Having trained my lurcher to respect poultry and not to bother them, I now have to teach him that pheasant and partridge although, of course feathered, are perfectly ok to be flushed and made to fly. Thursday, on the work day, was the first time Bertie had encountered pheasants, lots of them. Somehow he seemed to know that there was a difference with these birds and pretty quickly developed an interest in them. Luckily I was able to let him have a couple of runs at the odd pheasant before the day was over and he didn’t disappoint. 

The forecast for our first day isn’t good so I am hoping the forecasters are wrong and the rain keeps off. The cold doesn’t matter but getting soaked, especially before lunch, is pretty miserable and makes the day seem a whole lot longer. Last season was a very good one and we got away with very little rain and most of it later on in the day so here’s hoping. More to follow later.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Rabbits


Those people who have read my articles in the past might well have concluded that I have a bit of a soft spot for the humble rabbit. Having said that, I have hunted, shot and ferreted rabbits throughout most of my life but I have missed seeing the little blighters hopping around. Having moved, fifteen years ago, to an area in Dorset which didn’t seem to have a rabbit in sight I had all but given up any hope seeing them around. Well, lo and behold, about two years ago I went out as usual to feed the horse and there, at the bottom of my field, as bright as a button was a rabbit. This was cause for considerable excitement, the said rabbit stayed around and grandchildren were taken to see it and we were all highly delighted. However, my excitement was tempered with a large amount of caution as I was well aware we have a pretty healthy fox population in the area. Not least because the railway which passes some distance from us has a man-made embankment which is probably the best fox earth location for miles around. Quite apart from the fact that railways are no longer attended by gangers who once walked the lines and kept them trimmed and in good order, that embankment was constructed of fox friendly material and provided an obvious location for both foxes and badgers. There are few other banks in this area and the soil is a very heavy clay so not at all suitable for any animal that digs it’s home in the ground. This, I guess, is also the reason that there are few rabbits in these parts. 

Well, having lost numerous poultry to the fox over the years I didn’t hold out much hope for the survival of my rabbit. To my great joy, after several months, the rabbit was still around and then one morning there was rabbit number two. I do have a very large bramble thicket in the bottom corner of my field and both rabbits seemed to come and go from within its depths. The months rolled on and for the most part the rabbits kept appearing. There were periods of a few weeks when I saw nothing of them and then all of a sudden there they would be again. Then there were three. Not only have my bunnies avoided the fox but they have also avoided the dreaded myxy. 

Time moved on and the rabbits became a common sight. Then it was, as part of my ongoing garden development, I decided to construct a new flower bed. This was to be stocked with butterfly and bee friendly flowers of the cottage garden type. The new bed was to go in a large area of garden to the rear of the house where my pond, polytunnel and Japanese garden are located. These are separated from the garden immediately bordering the house by a fence and big hedge so the area is quite secluded. The new bed was constructed and the plants in place, all nicely watered in and looking fine. Fine, that was, until about three days later when I went to inspect them only to find that with the exception of two or three, all plants had been eaten down to the ground. The truth dawned, my lovely little rabbits had eaten my plants. There was no question of shooting them, I had given the little devils sanctuary. Plan B was wire netting, this was put in place and the whole flower bed was now secure behind the fencing. I am happy to report that all plants recovered and are now, once again doing well. 

A few days later I planted some Curly and Black Kale in the polytunnel. Nice plants, very healthy and strong. A couple of days later I went into the tunnel to check that the plants had all taken only to find they had all been eaten off to soil level. It didn’t take long to find a hole in the side of the tunnel just about bunny size, the little devils had now gained entry and had before them was an array of veg and salads to gorge upon. The polytunnel is surrounded by a four foot wide raised bed in which, amongst, other things, Rhubarb grows. So, more wire was purchased and the complete outside of the tunnel fenced to a height of four feet. During the process of putting the wire up I almost stepped on one rabbit which was hiding beneath the Rhubarb leaves. Behind the polytunnel is an area where I had been depositing the soil removed from where the new, previously mentioned, hut is being built. This pile of soil is due to be used to create another flower bed. A few days ago I wandered down there to ponder over the shape and size of the proposed new bed only to find my rabbits had moved in. I now have my own rabbit warren, there are holes every where. Don’t you just love them. Sadly, I was talking to my neighbour at the Harvest Supper a few days ago and he told me his colony of rabbits had gone down with Myxy. His farm is opposite me and quite large, his rabbits are at the far end of his land which is quite a way from me so I am hoping the dreaded disease does not reach me, but I am not over optimistic. 

Monday, 14 August 2017

Books

As, I think, I have mentioned in a previous article I am an avid book collector. This all started many years ago in Kingsley when, having developed a keen interest in books at the village school, I began requesting books as gifts at Christmas and birthdays etc. My books were originally confined to volumes on rural matters but much later in life I developed an interest in food and cooking and so began my cookery book collection. I buy new books and, of course, the internet has transformed the way in which one is now able to access books from all over the world. 

But, my great passion ….my wife would say obsession …is second hand books. Where ever I go my first task is to establish if the town has a second hand book shop. In days gone by this was a fairly simple task, one just tracked down the local Bobby on the beat or traffic warden and, hey presto, directions were provided. Sadly, that is no longer the case, apart from the fact that many second hand book shops have disappeared, (Guildford for example once had two huge shops ), there are now so few Bobbies on the beat and traffic wardens are also gone. However, be that as it may, I am usually able to establish if or if not the place I happen to be visiting has a second hand bookshop, and off I go. Mrs. Y. and I have a well established system in place to ensure that these matters run reasonably smoothly. We agree a time and place at which to meet and she goes off around the shops and I head of to the bookshop. Usually with a cautionary, "don’t buy more than one book, we are running out of space". How negative can you get ! 

Having said that there has been a decline in second hand book shops, there is one glimmer of hope in the form of Oxfam. They have opened up quite a lot of such establishments in recent years. I suppose, as a charity, their outgoings are far less and they get their stock from donations. In these parts we have Oxfam second hand bookshops in Salisbury, Dorchester, Wells, Yeovil, Warminster and Taunton. In Bath there are two, together with a couple more operated by other charities. So all is looking quite healthy as far as I am concerned. 

The people who man the charity shops are usually very helpful and when they get to know an individual will often produce books from the back room which may be of interest.

Well, I hate to admit it, but Mrs. Y. has proved to be right, my book collection is in bad need of more space. There are a number of what, "she who must be obeyed", refers to, menacingly, as piles growing in corners of spare rooms and beside my armchair. I am frequently subjected to the rather rude remark, "oh no not more books" when I return home from a successful expedition. 

My original log cabin, purchased at great expense, from B&Q many years ago is now full. Dare I say it, there are even odd "piles" of books within its walls. So it was, a couple of weeks ago, having had my usual ear bashing about the dreaded piles of books in the house, I casually suggested it might be a good idea to build another cabin. To my great surprise my suggestion was met with agreement, the only questions were, where would it be put and how long would it take to build ? Fortunately, ground is not a problem and there was a fairly obvious area beneath a large tree to the right of the garden, in which little would grow. This met with approval and, I think, will work well as it is almost directly opposite the original cabin. However, this time I am going to design and build the cabin myself with the aid of a friendly builder /handyman whom I employ at weekends to help me with all sorts of tasks. I spent yesterday going through the plans with him and between us we appear to have come up with a rather fetching plan for the new book room. We are even going to include a veranda upon which I hope to recline in peace and harmony with a book, glass or two and a wife who will have no cause to use the dreaded "pile" word ever again. On the face of it the cost of such a venture is likely to be a fraction of the cost of the original B&Q structure. I will keep you posted !.