Anyone who has followed my jottings for any length of time will, no doubt, recall an article I wrote many moons ago relating how I became a Master of Mink Hounds and the formation of The Tandridge Mink Hounds which I ran for a good few years. Any pack of hounds needs a vehicle to be able to operate and the Tandridge was no exception. The country we hunted was huge, taking in half of Surrey and half of Kent. The distances we had to travel to meets were such that we could not have managed without transport. We, actually, had two vehicles one for hound transport and the other for transporting feed.
The other evening I was watching an edition of The Antiques Road Trip on the television and it brought back a flood of memories from my mink hound days. For those not familiar with the program, it basically, involves two antique experts travelling around an area of Britain in some sort of old /vintage car, and buying antiques for auction. The trip takes several stages with an auction at the end of each stage. The winner is the expert who has made the most money at the end of the "trip".
Well, you might ask what on earth has all this got to do with mink hunting in Surrey many years ago ? In the program I watched the other evening the vehicle which the two experts had been given for their trip turned out to be a Bedford Dormobile coloured powder blue. The same model of vehicle which we had used as a hound van and in the same colour. Our vehicle had been found for sale by one of our hunt members and I was assured that it was both a bargain and in good condition. Given that this all happened a long time ago I can't remember the exact price we paid for the old Bedford but the figure of seventy five pounds sticks in the back of my mind. In any event we bought this treasure and having done so the first thing which had to change was the colour. No self respecting mink hunt could possibly be seen driving around the country side in a vehicle painted powder blue, what would people think ! So it was that we bought a large, very large, can of paint of a shade which I would describe as army green. Quite a deep green but not khaki. The paint was applied to the vehicle by a team of enthusiastic painters by hand with brushes. When the task had been completed, all concerned agreed, it was a great improvement. The only trouble was the whole of the exterior of the vehicle was covered in the new improved shade but the interior was not. All surfaces within remained the dreaded powder blue. Open up any of the doors and the awful colour was there for the world to see. It was decided by the proud owners that this would have to be put up with as to strip out all the bits and pieces from within the vehicle in order to paint the interior metal surfaces would be far to complex and time consuming. Having painted our hound van we then had to construct a barrier behind the front seats in order to confine the hounds to the back section and prevent them from having access to the driving area. I found it quite amazing how many talents existed within the group of hunt supports we had attracted. Every time we needed a job doing some good soul would come forward with the skills and, hey presto, job done. We had a strong weld mesh screen in place in no time , fixed securely, which lasted the life of the vehicle. That van did us proud and proved to be very reliable as far as the motoring side of things went. Its major problem, we soon discovered, was the fact that the side, sliding door, slid rather too well. Each time it was operated the damned thing slid right out of it's guides and fell to the floor. We never succeeded in overcoming this problem, the solution being to keep it locked at all times. The door lock being a bit dodgy we bolted,on to the side of the van, a clasp and secured it with a padlock. The hound van went with the rest of the hunt to our neighbouring pack when I was transferred with my job to Dorset.
The second vehicle the hunt used was my Bedford Beagle van which, as it happened,was also painted a dark green but its paint job had been done by its makers Vauxhall. The van was affectionately known by all as the Flying Dustbin. It got this name from the fact that I used it to transport swill which was donated by the officers mess at Wandsworth Prison where I was serving at the time. Each day I would take out a plastic bin of the food waste from the mess and leave a clean bin ready to be filled. I got the idea from an article I had read regarding a military pack of hounds which fed food waste from its mess to hounds . I doubt if it could happen today since we are now swamped with petty regulations. In any event, our hounds thrived on that food and they looked in prime condition, so much so, that we won numerous prizes at the hound shows we entered.The van proved to be a reliable workhorse and did us well for a lot of years.The only negative event occurred when I was driving home one evening loaded up with a full bin of swill. The bin was located behind the drivers seat in the back of the van,being a van, there were no back seats. Just as I was approaching a cross roads at Sutton some lunatic pulled out in front of me from my left. I hit the breaks, the van stopped abruptly, and the bin of swill came forwards at a great force and covered me with its contents.Not nice ! The Flying Dustbin came to an abrupt and sudden end.One winters morning I set of for work at an early hour and a few hundred yards away from home I hit a large patch of black ice, the Flying Dustbin slid sideways, hit the curb and flipped over on to its side drivers side down. After the initial shock, and the overwhelming smell of spilt petrol, I made my exit via the passenger door which was then facing the sky.Incredibly I was unhurt. On the humorous side of the incident, there was an elderly lady walking along the opposite pavement. It was actually dark and I assume she was going to get her newspaper. The poor dear witnessed the whole incident and as I climbed out through the door she went into a series of screams before running away. I don't know, to this day, who she was or why she did a runner, did she think I was sort alien ? Oh well that's life.