Independent

Provenance and Pigeons

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Christmas is always a bit barren for me in hunting terms. Not due to family commitments or work. I to tend to volunteer to work across the break as I prefer to take my holiday days in fairer seasons. The main reason, however, is that it is often the one time of the year my landowners would often rather not see me! On the lead-in to the traditional Boxing Day shoot, they have been busy dogging-in game-birds and topping up the feeders to keep the birds close in the coverts. The last thing they want is me creeping around the spinneys and pushing the birds away, much as they appreciate my efforts earlier in the year. One landowner always hosts the local Harrier pack on the land just prior to Christmas too, so I make myself scarce. These are small prices to pay for the freedom to roam with gun and dog for the rest of the year.

This morning, two weeks into the New Year but with the pheasant season still live, I slid from the seat of the motor into an unusually warm Westerly breeze. I had parked alongside a high log-pile and the miserable grey cast to the sky foretold another damp and squalid day ahead. As I loaded my two magazines with Webley Accupells, the sterling fodder of my little BSA Ultra SE, a haunting sound grew in volume and I looked toward the pollarded willows bordering the flooded water meadows. A huge skein of greylag geese came beating over the tree-line. An avian blitzkrieg, their huge wings beating a down-draught that could topple cathedrals. They wheeled about, en-masse, then descended legs akimbo into the splashes on the meadow beyond my view. Their vocabulary drowned out all other sound … even the inland gulls that so annoy me with their presence. Xenophobia? You bet.

Staring along the track towards my intended venue, I smiled as a couple of cock pheasants broke from cover noisily. I tipped my cap to this seasons Boxing Day survivors. As I moved along the muddy trail, my own quarry broke cover consistently. The clatter of branch and the flash of grey, violet and white … darting out across the winter stubbles. Again I could afford to smile. They would be back later. My plan was a walk-about and then a session at the ‘elevenses’. ‘Elevenses?’, I hear you ask. These are the woodpigeons that come to a late-morning roost while they digest their early morning plunder. I paused on my walk to check the rifles zero using one of the tiny paper targets I carry in my bag. The thirty yard zero was fine. I moved on. My activity had disturbed one of the local buzzards. It came sweeping over to protest. How would you describe a buzzards call? Scribes of old called it ‘mewling‘ and I can find no better description. The bird swept low over the wood, it’s complete contempt at my presence paying compliment to its lack of persecution in these parts.

I had already marked a spot, at the woods edge and with a cover of pines to use as my personal backdrop. No kit, no decoys, no frills today. Just a solid, dark curtain of cover at my back and an open view of the bare sitty trees to my front. As I crept into position I could see dozens of woodies and corvids way out on the stubbles and in the trees half a mile away. Had I picked the wrong spot? We would see.

This quiet retreat (for an hour or two in a wood) is pure indulgence. This my church, my temple, my mosque, my synagogue … my space. Nature is my ‘deity’. And Nature demands no subservience from bird or beast or tree or flower. We human hunters are simply beasts of a higher order and must still bow to Nature. We are feral. Our eyes, ears, nose and instincts are tuned into a dimension that few of our associates understand, often even our direct kin. We don’t hear a crow ‘croak’ like most. We hear it speak. It’s call will tell us it’s state of mind .. alert, relaxed, warning, courting? We can smell where the fox passed an hour earlier. We can sense that we’re being watched intensely and will stop in our tracks until we identify the ‘watcher’. The more time we spend in the wild, the more we understand and identify with the wild. And what many fail to realise is that until you ‘kill’, you can never recognise the value of life and the importance of the provenance brought through death. That is too deep a thought for many to face.

Having put a few birds in the bag from the morning roost, I decided to go walk-about. It was evident that Old Brock has clearly been plundering the buried squirrel caches and sign of their nocturnal meandering was all over the wood. The badger is definitely becoming the dominant creature in the coverts, even to the extent of evicting foxes from their dens to expand their social housing projects.

I stopped to indulge in a flask of tomato soup. Remember Barnett’s Laws? The minute you lay your gun against the tree trunk, your quarry will appear. A fat carrion crow lit on a high branch as I drank. I slid behind the tree trunk deftly, lowered the flask slowly to the deck and lifted the Ultra. I chambered a pellet and slid around the blind side of the tree. It was still there. Compensating for elevation, I slipped the pellet. The bird tumbled into the mulch. A small victory in the grand scheme of things … but that’s how Nature works. If things are balanced gently, with moderation and respect, she doesn’t have to unleash the fury she often does to restore her demanded equilibrium.

Keep the faith

Copyright, Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, Jan 2018

The Buzzard and The Betrayal

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 The decision this morning wasn’t whether to brave the winter weather. It was what guns to take? Looking out of the windows at home I could see the light boughs of young yew and cedar bending under a Northerly blow. In the habit lately of taking both air rifle and rimfire, I glanced at the digital weather station in my kitchen. The technological claim of 30C would be challenged later. What was certain was that was going to be a ‘warm hat and shooting glove’ morning so I opted for the air rifle. I had already decided on a location where I could balance leeward shelter with hunting opportunity. The expectation of some sunshine later added to that choice.

Arriving on the estate I ploughed the recently valeted CR-V through deep puddles and thick mud with a grimace. Oh well … no gain without pain, they say! I had hell n’ all trouble getting a set of serious all-terrain boots for this motor due to the wheel sizes but I have to say it was worthwhile. It hasn’t let me down yet … touches his wooden head! I parked up at the top of the escarpment, near the woodsheds, pointing my bonnet in the direction I would be stalking. An agreed code which allows the Lady and her staff to know where my rifle and potential risk is if they take some exercise, with their dogs, in the woods. I slid out of the warm motor and stepped onto the muddy track. A bitter wind, keen enough to make the eyes bleed, slapped at my face. Under the tailgate I donned a trapper hat, a snood and a pair of shooting mitts. It would be more sheltered in the old arboretum at the base of the escarpment … but I needed to get there first, with at least my trigger finger thawed! I loaded a couple of magazines with .22 Webley Accupells, loaded the gun, checked the safety was on and locked the car. Above me, rooks and crows rolled in the Artic born draught. Black surfers on an invisible tide.

The walk down the escarpment was slippery and testing, so I kept the ‘safety’ on despite the plethora of woodpigeon in the sitty trees on the slopes. They departed tree by tree, as I progressed; squadrons to be challenged another day. At the base of the hill I was met with the sort of target that every airgun hunter hates. A grey squirrel leapt from a flint wall onto the track just eight yards from me. It stared at me as I fumbled to bring rifle from slung to ready but was gone before I could level the gun, let alone focus so closely. Fair law and fair escape.

I paused at the gate in the lane between wood and field; just to watch and hear the birds on the recently flood-drenched water meadows. The waters have receded now but the splashes still hold a diaspora of fowl. Teal, wigeon, mallard, greylags, Canadas, mute swans and a little egret all visible from the gate. Turning into the murk of the wood and it’s umbrella of ancient yew, I immediately heard the chatter and hiss of Sciurus carolensis. The grey invader. A species that was innocently introduced to Britain when these yew trees were mere saplings. Non-native, like the yew, they too have thrived. I stalked the garden wood and toppled three, which is two more than I expected in this chill. Squirrels don’t hibernate but they will sit tight in the dreys in cold or excessively wet weather.

The climb back up the slope later warmed my limbs and at the top, as my heaving lungs expired the mist of spent breath, I looked into the blue sky; drawn by the shout of the rooks and the furious mewling of a raptor. The old buzzard wheeled and jinked majestically, pursued by a throng of nagging corvids. They might feint and fuss, but the old bird had the confidence to ignore their meaningless threat. She has ruled these woods too long to take umbrage to inferiors and this year, as in the past seven, she will breed here again.

It was with a heavy heart, when I got home later, that I read of the capitulation of another old buzzard, from a tribe in which I had placed the confidence of my vote for many terms of election during my lifetime. Resilience is the backbone of a stable and sustainable genus. Caving in to perceived ‘popular opinion’ is like letting the crows (or should that read Corbyns) batter you from your righteous perch. To then insult your voters by saying you will build a ‘new forest’ just confirms that you were never concerned about the ‘old forest’ anyway. This, for me, was the ultimate insult and most landowners don’t seem to have spotted this dressed reference. An attack on private landowners by Tories? Ye Gods!

“This new Northern Forest is an exciting project that will create a vast ribbon of woodland cover in northern England, providing a rich habitat for wildlife to thrive, and a natural environment for millions of people to enjoy.”

Lest they forget, we already have a multitude of habitats for ‘millions of people to enjoy’. They’re called National Parks or ‘Nature Reserves’.

Consider this too?  “Paul de Zylva from Friends of Earth told BBC News: “It is a supreme irony that tree planters will have to get funding from HS2, which threatens 35 ancient woodlands north of Birmingham”

Great! Rip up ancient established woods to build a train line? Can you see the perverse ironies here, folks? Money matters, wilderness doesn’t?

And the people that know, the Woodland Trust, say “the Forest will be less of a green ribbon and more of a sparsely-threaded doily”. £5.7M doesn’t buy many trees, let alone the design and labour to implement this nonsense.

I enjoyed my little sortie into a patch of ancient mixed woodland today, with my gun and not just a little taste of freedom. I’m old enough not to fret too much about all this getting closed down eventually (not the land but the hunting, the shooting, the freedom to walk it as a hunter). It’s the young guns I fear for. And those whose income depends on the shooting and hunting tradition. A whole generation of urban, flat-living, cat-keeping keyboard warriors and plastic politicians who rarely leave suburbia (they might get muddy!) are about to destroy the countryside. We have fought to preserve the wild places against eco-hooliganism based on a real knowledge of how nature works … red in tooth and claw.

Those that seek to ‘save’ the fox seem totally oblivious to the fact that fox populations are in decline since the Hunting Act. Let’s put our heads under the pillow, shall we? Perhaps let the cat sit on it? Killer of (in RSPB terms) some 55 million songbirds every year?

But I digress. I had a good day out today in an ancient wood today. I saw muntjac, roe, hare, squirrel (not for long), long-tailed tits … the list is endless. Strangely though, I didn’t see a fox. Having got home and opened up the Mac, I wished I had stayed there.

Disappointed? Most definitely. Because a PM turned on promise. I’m just one in millions today to feel betrayed.

Copyright, Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, January 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘We Do It To Ourselves, We Do’

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The title? “We do it to ourselves we do.” is a line from a Radiohead song. Never more pertinent.

That I’m a committed ‘shooter’ is beyond doubt, despite a CV which predominantly reads ‘air rifle’ and includes many hundreds of shooting press articles. Not to mention several books. I have three shotguns and a .17HMR rimfire in the cabinet. The shotguns rarely come out as I have no real love of driven game shooting (a personal thing; it isn’t ‘hunting’ and I’m a hunter). So tonight, when I ventured onto social media to see what all my Twitter contacts had been up to, I was mortified to see the posts about a North Yorkshire shooting travesty. Talk about an ‘own goal’! What were these morons thinking when they did this? It hit home even harder when I noted the area.

I’ve just returned from a Christmas sojourn with my ‘in-law’ family in Hutton-le-Hole, very close to Helmsley. On Christmas Eve four of us (with a cocker and lurcher pulling us along, both leashed) enjoyed a testing circular walk up through Gillamoor from Hutton and back around to the village via what must be some of the most interesting shooting terrain in North Yorkshire. I was the only ‘shooter’ in the party and my eye was drawn far from the path in front as we passed the myriad feeders along the high trail. The hyper behaviour of the two dogs mirrored my observation. I watched dozens and dozens of birds (mainly hens) sliding into cover and disappearing down the slopes. Few birds actually broke cover but those that did drove Charlie the Cocker into an apoplectic frenzy. Not to mention the rabbits and grey squirrels criss-crossing the trail! Let me make this clear, I am not accusing this shoot of the despicable behaviour reported today, they were ten miles away from that discovery, which was made a month earlier.

At one point on the walk we reached an unmarked fork in the track and despite following the OS map, we were lost. A quad bike sped past towards the feeders, traveling too fast to hail down. Then a Range Rover appeared up another track and I was able to stop it and ask directions. The guys in the motor put us on the right path and I wished them good shooting on Boxing Day. I was hugely jealous. Not wanting to be part of the ‘big shoot’ (obviously imminent), but because of the terrain and the small vermin it must hold.

Alas, as always at Christmas, I was on a ‘no-shooting, attend to family’ agenda. On Boxing Day, as the family walked the moor North of Hutton-le-Hole with the dogs, the salvos could be heard across the other side of the beck. The Boxing Day shoot is as important a tradition as the Parade and trail-hunt of the Foxhounds. I applauded it from afar. The difference, of course, is that at this point in time we can’t kill foxes but we can still shoot game and vermin.

I cull hundreds of small vermin every year. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a magpie, crow, rat, rabbit, stoat, squirrel, woodpigeon or fox. If it’s edible, I recover the meat, as these miscreants seem to have done. What isn’t edible is disposed of with discretion or intelligence. Leave a few breasted or paunched carcasses at the mouth of a live fox or badger den and they’ll be cleared by dawn.

If the result of a legitimate driven game shoot leaves such a volume of breasted carcasses that can’t be disposed of this way, surely a simple bonfire and restful cremation is easy to organise?

I doubt that the perpetrators of this damaging act are intelligent enough to be reading this piece? If you are, then please respond and explain your inane actions, which has damaged the reputation of all game and vermin shooters and will once more let loose the ‘anti’ hounds.

Best I finish now … because I am so bloody angry at what you have just done to our community.

Copyright, Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, December 2017

The Fairy Tale Of Re-Wilding

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The Fairy Tale Of Rewilding

 

It was Christmas Eve, in the inn next the muir

Ex-keepers debating how life could endure.

Re-wilders, with funding, had bought up the land

No shooting, no snares, all vermin control banned.

They planted the hillsides; a young forest grows,

The grouse have all gone, replaced by the crows.

No gamebirds, no wardens, ‘tis the realm of the pest

The curlews gone too, with no safe place to nest.

The sea eagles soared as the beavers felled trees,

Their dams slowed the rivers before they reached seas.

The estuaries were drying, the waders in plight

But the Fools continued to pitch their ‘good’ fight.

The hen harriers died, with no game to dissect

While Reynard and Brock walked the fields unchecked.

As the trees drowned the moors; a landscape was lost,

Rural economy and jobs? No-one counted the cost.

But the higher the sapling, the bolder the roe

Even muntjac had come here, to follow the flow.

“We need lynx”, shouted Fools, “to trim out the deer.

Throw a wolf or two in, to keep the rides clear”

But what of the beavers? The start of the plan?

“Will the wolves eat the beavers?” asked the Chieftain.

“Of course not”, the Fools laughed. “The wolves will eat deer!”

So in came the wolves to the Fools loud cheer.

 

Now, out of control, the wild creatures rule.

The re-wilders doctrine, the creed of the Fool.

A man can’t kill fox … but the fox can kill bird?

A creed of hypocrisy, biased … absurd!

A hound can’t chase hare but a lynx can hunt deer,

Where is the reasoning and logic at play here?

And the Fools had lied, there was blood on the hills,

The slopes strewn with wool from the numerous kills.

“Don’t fret”, said the Fools. “lets bring in the bear”

Old Bruin will bring balance and make things more fair.

So the bears were brought in but made rivers their home,

Scooping the salmon that leapt through the foam

The farmers and shepherds tore their hair out in rage,

For the Fools, again, were on the wrong page.

As the lynx and the wolf avoided bears paths,

Still slaughtering sheep and sometimes the calves.

Back at the inn, with the log fire full flare,

The wise men of old talked of balance and care.

When the grouse were in lek and the curlews would cry,

When the hen harrier flew and the eagle passed by.

But in the ale-house, no shepherds stood there.

They were guarding their flocks from the lynx, wolf and bear.

Yet they needn’t have worried, for Natures is strong,

And will level the field, when the balance is wrong.

Came the day when the salmon couldn’t get through the dams,

So the bears slew the beavers and dined on their hams.

Then they turned on the wolves, who fled further downhill,

Where the shepherds rebelled and started to kill.

The sea eagles were famished, with no fish in the lochs,

So they swooped on the lynx as they preyed on the flocks.

The bears in their hunger, then came down to the farms,

To be met by the herdsmen, who raised up their arms.

I went to the Chieftain … to tell him the truth.

In Nature,  life’s  balance is often uncouth.

That’s why these creatures had long left our shores.

Starved, hunted; displaced and by natural laws.

Rewilding? What nonsense. What human conceit.

Mother Nature decides what will thrive, or forfeit.

If the creatures should be here, they’d never have gone,

Restoration was fruitless, intrinsically wrong.

And the Fools … they bleated like the cat-killed ewe

As the carnage continued and their dream went askew.

The dams were dissembled, the rivers could run,

The rewilding Fools were back where they’d begun.

The hills and the forests returned back to the Lords

While the disproven Fools all fell on their swords.

Mother Nature herself had re-balanced the glen.

 Beaver, wolf, lynx, and bear … inexistent again.

 

Copyright, Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, December 2017

Anti-Hunting? Be Careful What You Wish For!

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Sometimes I want nothing more than to sit back from the current round of pro & anti-hunting banter and just get on with my (hunting) life. Today the good folk at The Countryman’s Weekly, for whom I write, accidently pointed me in the direction of a seriously worrying piece of biased journalism in The Independent (02/11/17) via their Twitter account. The leading image to the article immediately set the agenda. An image of a girl wearing peace & love buttons hugging a badger under water? Weird. The author then goes on to explain how modern animal psychologists are challenging  ‘Morgan’s canon’. The advice, long held, that scientists should not confuse animal behaviour with anthropomorphic association such as emotion, love, hate, etc. What could have been a reasonable article, worthy of debate, was debased today by its author and The Independent through its totally un-necessary inclusion of fox-hunting images and a strangely misplaced tilt at trail-hunting and the National Trust? Why? Because clearly the author and his editorial team want to associate the suggestion of animal emotion with the impact of being hunted. The article talks at length about animal intelligence. LLoyd Morgan, of course, held that humans shouldn’t confuse inherited, natural instinct with intelligence. Well (and this may surprise many readers) I think Morgan was right based on the knowledge at that time, but evolution has moved on. The dismantling of the ‘Morgan canon’ has been long overdue.

As a seasoned shooter and hunter (and I’ve written about this in all my books and many hundreds of magazine articles) animal and bird intelligence sometimes astounds me. Not just the acute, instinctive reaction to threat but the ability to distinguish between what is threat and what isn’t amazes me. Walk a footpath with a stout stick and when a crow passes over, lift the stick as if it was a gun. Watch the reaction. Threat recognition. The same caution that is the genetic inheritance of the woodpigeon now. That wouldn’t have been apparent in Morgan’s day. Study a carrion crow or grey squirrel working out how to access a bird feeder. You can’t question the ingenuity and calculated enterprise of what you witness. The fox prowling the outside of the chicken coop, searching for a weak point to breach. These are behaviours that surpass mere ‘instinct’.  Yet, even if we accept that all wild things will resort to the Darwinist ‘adapt or die’ theory, we can’t deny that adaptation increases intelligence. That’s why apes became hominids, then became humans. To deny that the progress of cognition and intelligence, no matter how long it takes, could advance other species too would be an unacceptable arrogance on the part of Homo Sapiens. A species which, itself, should be re-classified in the 21st century. A blog for another day, perhaps?

So, ignoring the rather barbed and biased text put forward by Nick Turner in his article today, I am going to concede on the point of ‘Morgan’s canon’. But I do that as a man who has spent 40 years in field and wood observing and hunting wildlife. A man who has watched creatures birth and die. A man who has protected the vulnerable from the predator. A man who is often the predator himself, to feed his family. Just as the fox does. Just as the badger does. And, therein, lies the rub.

If the ‘antis’ believe (as I do) that the fox, the badger, the crow … whatever … have ‘cognisance’ then that puts a whole new perspective on the whole hunting / shooting / wildlife transaction. It puts those who oppose hunting in a difficult place, surely?  Because if we accept that animals understand concepts such as (quote) “memories, emotions and experiences” then we have to accept that they know the difference between “right and wrong”, as humans do. That is a massive admission for the ‘anti’, yet much less so for the hunter. Why? Because, if it’s traumatic for a creature to be ‘hunted’, isn’t it equally as traumatic for the prey they hunt, themselves? If all animals are cognisant, then the rabbit pursued by the fox is as terrified as the fox pursued by the hound. Logically then? If the fox hunting the rabbit is acceptable, then the hound hunting the fox is acceptable too. Equipoise is the magnificence of Nature. If my culling of a rabbit is (to an ‘anti’) murder then they’d better take a good look at the mass-murderer that is the fox. Cognisance? Understanding what you are doing and why. The fox that decimates a chicken coop, slaughtering dozens of birds needlessly? Do the anti’s want to call that ‘natural instinct’; it’s just doing what foxes do? Or do they want credit that fox with emotion and feeling as in Turners article?

Be careful how you answer, guys and girls. You can’t have it both ways. I credit all creatures with an intelligence way above Morgans archaic teachings. That’s why I cull vermin with care, compassion and respect. The predators I target know exactly what they’re doing when they hunt down other species; just as I do. Which is why I never feel any guilt about being a predator too.

© Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, November 2017

“What can you scent on the wind, old hound?”

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(An early extract from my forthcoming poetry collection.)

“What Can You Scent On The Wind, Old Hound?”

What can you scent on the wind, old hound,

As you stand with your nose to the gale?

What pheromones float on the breeze, all around?

And if you could talk, of what tale?

The coney’s are out in the kale, good sir.

The pheasants have gone to the trees.

Old Charlie comes East with the wind, good sir,

Putting ewes and their lambs at unease.

The rats in the farmyard are woken, good sir,

Their piss-pools offending my nose.

The scent of the puss in her form, good sir,

What a chase there could be, in these blows!

I smell mice in the woodshed, tonight, good sir.

And Old Brock is bruising the wood.

I smell fish scales down by the river, good sir.

The otters are up to no good.

And what do you hear on the wind, old hound,

As you lift your long ears to the muse?

What noises inspire from forest or ground?

And if you could speak, of what news?

The tawny owls call in the high wood, good sir.

The bittern now booms on the fen.

I hear pipistrelles, barbastelles squeaking, good sir.

And the scream of the vixen near den.

The squeal of the rabbit speaks stoat-kill, good sir.

I hear lekking, too, out on the hill.

The bark of the roebuck means poachers, good sir.

And the grunt of the hogs at their swill.

I hear sea-trout rising to bait, good sir.

And the spin of the night anglers reel.

The snap of the woodcocks fast flight, good sir.

And the whistle of incoming teal.

And what of your eyes, pray me ask, old hound?

As you stand here beside me, what sight?

Can you see the round moon and the whirl of the stars?

See the difference twixt’ day and night?

I see rabbit scuts, brushes and squirrels, good sir.

I see pheasant and partridge in flight.

I see hares make the turn and I’m close in, good sir.

I see fox and I’m up for the fight!

I see smoke from your gun and see birds fall, good sir.

I see the long beam in the night.

Though I can’t see your face and can’t keep up the pace,

I have memories to make up for sight.

Now pray walk me, good sir. Though just steady and slow.

Around field margin, heathland and wood.

Let me scent at the warren and linger, good sir.

For my service to you has been good.

© Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, October 2017

Taking The FAC / SGC  ‘Ticket’ –  A Salutary Tale

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ND (04)4

Micky Moore took a deep swig of the nearly cold Americano he’d fetched up from Costa an hour ago. He sat back in his office chair and sighed. One of his colleagues, Charlotte from the admin team, commented “That was a big sigh, Micky? Problem?” Micky swung around in his seat. “Going out to Twigglesham shortly, Lotty. Mr Hare and Mrs Trimm. One of these is going to be a nightmare!” He swept up the two Gun Certificate application files and tucked them into his messenger bag. “Wish me luck!” Lotty laughed. “They’ll be fine. All in the life of a Firearms Enquiry Officer, Micky!” Down in the car, Micky plugged a postcode into his Tom-Tom. Twigglesham. A quaint little hamlet in the back-end of no-where. “Oh well”, he thought, “at least I’ll see some countryside”.

Out at Saddlesore Hall, in Twigglesham, Nigella Trimm was issuing orders for the day to her ‘lady that does‘ Maggie May (Maggie often did, actually, but that’s another story!). “We have that pen-pusher chap from the Firearms people coming out at eleven, Maggie. Do keep an eye out for him, please? I’ll probably be in the stables supervising Megan, so you’ll have to give me a shout. I do hope he’s not here too long. I have things to do!” Megan was the stable girl. Maggie frowned but affirmed, “Will do, ma’am”. Then she asked, before Nigella disappeared, “Have you got everything ready, ma’am? The paperwork and stuff?” Nigella Trimm stopped in her tracks, her fat backside trembling in her jodhpurs like two small boys fighting under a blanket. “Nothing to sort. Mere formality. If they can grant you and your father a license, I’m bound to be alright, don’t you think?” Maggie winced, angrily. Her father was a game-keeper and had taught her to shoot. She set off to clear up the dog mess in the hallway. Her employer didn’t walk her Chihuahuas or ‘do’ poo-bags. That was way beneath her! As she stepped outside, Maggie noticed the way the Range Rover Discovery had been parked last night. Oh dear!

Micky Moore arrived at Saddlesore Hall and drove straight through the electronic security gates, which were wide open. Pulling up on the gravel forecourt, Micky couldn’t help but notice the burgundy ‘Disco’ with it’s nose buried halfway into a privet hedge. The number plate was a private affair. AN01 GIN. “Interesting!”, the FEO thought. He grabbed his messenger bag, locked the motor and stepped straight into some dog shit. Scraping his shoe on the gravel, he walked up to the portico and the huge oak door, which was partially open. Nevertheless, Micky tugged at the ancient brass bell-pull and tucked his messenger bag across his groin. This was usually where the Rottweiler, German Shepherd or Doberman launched themselves at his gonads. The bell echoed around the internal hallway and he braced himself … only to be greeted by a pretty little blonde holding a poo-bag who pulled the door open and said “Hi, I’m Maggie. Come in, please!”. Micky explained the state of his Joseph Siebel footwear and Maggie apologised. “I hadn’t finished cleaning up out there yet” she sighed. She took the offending shoe to clean it and led him, hobbling, to a parlour room. She invited him to sit while she found her employer. Micky sat waiting and looked around the reception room. It was almost as big as his flat. Big paintings of horses and hounds. It was classic, country decor.

After ten minutes, Maggie returned Micky’s shoe and apologised. “I’m sorry, Mr Moore. My boss has taken one of the hunters for some exercise. She’s asked if you could wait for half an hour?” The girl looked embarrassed and saw the red mist ascend in Micky’s eyes. “Is she on a mobile? ” he asked. Maggie pulled her mobile from a pocket in her tabard. “Please tell Mrs Trimm that I am postponing the interview until 2pm. I have another appointment in the village, after which I will need a lunch break”. Maggie replied that she thought her boss had another ‘engagement’ at 2pm. Micky smiled. “I’m sure she has. That’s fine, Maggie. Tell Mrs Trimm that if I don’t see her at 2pm, she will need to call the office to re-appoint, which will probably be about three months away. Ask her to call me to confirm.” He headed for the door. “Oh … and I mean your employer to call, not you Maggie”, he winked. Micky headed for his car and called the Hare household.

At the other end of the village, Rupert ‘Poacher’ Hare was a bag of nerves. Why was the FEO coming early? His rosy wife, Molly, poured him another cup of tea. “Don’t worry, my lovely! It’ll go fine, I’m sure!” she re-assured. Poacher went over his copy of the forms again. Molly dropped a biscuit and the lurcher tried to beat the two Jack Russell’s to the prize. As the dogs squabbled, Molly shrieked at them and Poacher held his head in his hands. “Keep them curs away when he comes, Molly! They drive me blinkin’ mad!” Poacher hadn’t had a ‘police’ visit to his cottage since he’d inherited it from his deceased father thirty years ago. The firearms application was important to him. He’d built up a reputation as a pest controller locally. God knows, there was little other work out here Poacher needed the work to sustain his family. Molly went cleaning for some local gentry and worked part-time in the local Post Office. Poacher took anything he could get. His HGV license was good for when the beet harvest was brought in, but that was only three months driving. He and Molly, with a ten year old and two teens, had never made a benefit claim. Ever. They wouldn’t have known how to. Poachers father, Billy Hare, had always preached self-sufficiency and it had stuck. Poacher could trap, snare and take a rabbit, squirrel or pigeon with his airguns. They never went short of fresh meat … but a fillet steak was rare. Now, though, there was a call from his customers to “up the game” a touch. Fox and deer were becoming a huge nuisance. He was contemplating this when the dogs started to bark. The FEO had arrived. “Molly, shut them blinkin’ dogs up!” he shouted.

Micky Moore pulled up near the cottage and was pleasantly surprised. The white-washed fascia was dripping with ivy and clematis. As he approached the picket fence, three dogs rushed out, barking. A tall lurcher met him face to face, paws up on the fence, while a pair of terriers yapped at its feet. The lady of the house came running out, apologising as she rounded up the dogs. “I’ll take them away for a while, sir” she said. Micky stopped her and asked her name? “Molly, sir!” Micky smiled. “I’m not a sir! I’m Micky. Nice to meet you, Molly!”. She smiled and said “Poacher’s inside. He’s nervous as hell, sir … sorry … Micky!” Stepping inside the tiny cottage, Micky met Poacher who came to greet him with a firm handshake. “I doubt anyone gets past those dogs without warning you!” Mickey stated. Poacher nodded and led him to the solid oak kitchen table. “I hope this is ok, Guv?” Micky smiled. “Perfect, thanks!” He sat down and pulled the paperwork from his bag. Poacher sat down opposite him, flicking his eyes over the FEO’s shoulder. Micky sensed movement behind. “Cup of tea, gents?” It was Molly, well briefed. “White with two, please!” Micky replied. “I don’t read and write that well, Guv!” Poacher was wringing his hands, nervously. “I hope we did the forms ok. Molly helped me?” Micky smiled at him. “Call me Micky, please!” Poacher relaxed a little and Micky continued. “I’m here to run through the paperwork, check the security of your home re suitability for firearms and assess your suitability to own them. So I have a few questions. Are you ok with that, Poacher?” Poacher nodded solemnly. Molly arrived with the hot tea and put down a plate of home-made cookies. “Talk is talk but don’t go hungry, my lovelies!” she declared.

Micky dunked a cookie in his tea and asked his first question. “Why do they call you ‘Poacher’?” The applicant nearly choked on his biscuit but laughed. “Schoolboy thing, Guv! I hated my Christian name ‘Rupert’ as in Rupert Bear. Poach a hare, Poacher Hare. It’s just stuck.” Micky scribbled a note. “I looked at the land permissions you submitted with your application. They’re quite impressive! That must be about 2000 acres?” Poacher smiled. “No idea, Guv! I do a lot of snaring and trapping for local farmers as well as air rifle shooting. The coneys, pigeons and squirrels help fill the pot here”. As if by magic, Molly appeared with some small plates, a portion of pie and a jar of Branstons. “My man can’t talk proper lest he’s fed, Micky. Our game pie! Please have some.” Micky smiled. “I hope you’re not trying to bribe me, Molly?” She flushed and went to withdraw the plate. Micky stopped her. “I was joking, Molly. Can I beg a top-up of tea please?” He turned his attention back to Poacher. “You’ve gone for a co-terminus application. Twelve bore and .243? That’s a big move up from your air rifles, Poacher?” Poacher took a deep breath. “My landowners want me to ‘step up’ the action Guv. That’s why a couple of them are offering references. We’ve got lots of problems with pigeons and crows on the crops. No-one stalks the land here, so I’m on my own, Guv. I trip over roe and muntjac every day and can’t do nowt! Same with foxes”.  Micky was scribbling. “Have you ever fired shotguns or FAC rifles, Poacher?” He was looking straight into the mans eyes. Poacher didn’t flinch. “I’ve fired borrowed shotties on owners land and at local clay shoots loads of time, Guv. I’ve shot rimfire rifles at a local range but not at live quarry”. Poachers head dropped and Micky saw it. “What’s the matter, Poacher. How much live quarry have you shot with your air rifles?” Poacher looked up. “Jeez! Thousands! Rabbits, squirrels, crows, pigeons!” Micky smiled at him. “You enjoy the shooting?” Poachers smile disappeared. “Sometimes. Guv. Enjoy the hunt and the challenge but not always the killing. I love all wild things”. Micky made another note. Then came the bit Poacher was dreading. “Now … we need to go through your criminal record, Poacher”.

“Oh dear!” Micky exaggerated. “Offences against property? And against person? Driving offences? What were they all about”? Poacher was embarrassed. “The criminal damage and fighting stuff was 30 years ago, Guv! I was a teenage ‘rebel’. The old man slapped that out of me! Behaved myself since.” Micky nodded. “The SP30’s?” Poacher shrugged. “Guilty as charged. Both in the City, Guv. 35 in a 30 limit? Couple of years apart.” Micky changed tack. “Show me where you want to store the guns when you get them, Poacher”. Poacher Hare walked Micky down through a corridor behind the cottage and up to an iron door with two padlocks, top and bottom. He pulled a set of keys from his pocket and opened both locks. Pushing the door open he led Micky into what must have once been an old ‘larder’. Flint walls and just a couple of slits in the walls letting in light. In one corner was a gun safe. It was ancient. Poacher took a key and opened the door. It had room for about eight guns but all that was there now were Poachers three air rifles. Tins of pellets were stacked on the floor of the safe. “You wouldn’t believe what my old man used to keep in here, Guv!” Poacher mumbled. Micky didn’t want to know. “Where do you hide the keys, Poacher?” Micky asked. Poacher turned to look at Micky. “Sorry, can’t tell you Guv!” he winked. Back at the kitchen table, Micky checked Poachers referees with him. “Do they both know you’ve nominated them?” Poacher confirmed yes. “Anything else you want to add, Poacher?” The man thought for a few seconds then replied. “I need the guns to increase my services, Guv. If you aren’t happy with what you’ve seen, please let me know why and I’ll try to fix it”.

Micky Moore opened the tailgate of the car and swapped file folders. His mobile had been on ‘mute’ out of respect to his customer. With the mute button off, the phone pinged a couple of times. Messages. Both from Nigella Trimm. The first said “Mr Moore, I am disappointed that you couldn’t wait! This is quite important, you know!” The second said, more humbly “I will be available at 2pm”. When Micky arrived at Saddlesore Hall, the electronic gate was still wide open, though the Discovery had been parked properly.  He rang the bell at exactly 2pm. Unsurprisingly, it was Maggie who opened the door. “I’ll take you through to Mrs Trimm” she smiled. Micky was led into a drawing room, where Nigella Trimm sat primly on a chaise-long, still in a gilet and jodhpurs. “Ah, you must be the firearms chappie” she acknowledged. She didn’t stand up but waved a hand at an arm-chair. “Please sit, there’s a good chap”. Micky looked around. There was no sign of any paperwork or anywhere to work. “We will need a table, Mrs Trimm. I have forms to fill”. She huffed in frustration. “Oh, I thought there had been enough form-filling! We’ll have to go to the study then. Follow me, and please, call me Nigella”. As they walked down a corridor they passed Maggie, who was dusting a painting. Micky stopped to look at it. Nigella stopped and looked back. “Ah, that’s Edward, my late husband … on his hunter. I swear he loved that horse more than me.” She led on to the study.

Micky emptied his messenger bag contents carefully onto a mahogany table that was probably worth more than his car. Nigella sat the opposite side of the table and folded her arms. “Would you like a drink, chap?” she enquired. Micky shook his head. “No thanks, Nigella. I just had a lovely cup of tea at my last call, but thanks anyway.” She guffawed. “Oh, I was thinking of something a little stronger. Sun’s over the yard-arm now, as Edward used to say!” She rang a hand bell and walked over to a bureau, opening it to reveal a well stocked bar. As she poured a strong helping of gin into a tumbler, Maggie came scuttling in. “Can you fetch some from the freezer, Mags? The gin’s a tad warm!” Maggie scuttled out again. “Now, what can I tempt you with, Mister Firearms Chappie?” Micky looked up and Nigella was waving a bottle of Talisker single malt while undoing the top buttons of her Barbour shirt. He looked down again at his paperwork. “Please God, no?” he thought. “Not one of them!” He ‘manned up’ and stood. “Nigella, sorry but I don’t drink on duty and I’m now running very late due to your earlier cancellation. Can we get on this please?” Nigella poured her tonic and sat down, with a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp. Maggie came in, sensed the atmosphere, dropped two cubes in her employers glass, laid the ice-bucket on the bureau and scampered off.

Micky led off with “Your passport photos, Nigella? When were they taken?” He passed them across the table. She looked at them. “Oh, that would have been when we stayed at Sir Richards place. Virgin Islands. About twenty years ago? He and Edward were good friends”. Micky smiled. “We need a set of current likenesses please. You’ll have to re-submit them.” Nigella nearly choked on her G&T. “Oh bollocks! I’ll have to go that supermarket place again amongst the great unwashed!” Micky pressed on. “Your referees, Nigella? Until we wrote back to you, you had nominated the Vicar of Dibley and Dr Who. Hopefully the replacements are more appropriate, as I will be calling them for a reference.” Nigella flopped back in her chair and sighed. “I thought you guys would have a better sense of humour?” she offered. “Yes, these ones are upstanding pillars of the community. Colonel Bog-Smyth is Master of the local hunt. Lady Antebellum is the owner of the run-down ‘manor’ next door. Funny how her fortunes fell when Edward died, isn’t it? But I’m not bitter and she owes me a reference!” The interview continued. “You’ve put in a co-terminus application that includes rifles as well as shotguns Nigella? Have you ever fired a rifle?” Nigella looked insulted. “Yes, of course I have!” Micky asked her to expand. “I’ve potted bunnies out my bedroom window. Shot a fox once, too. Not a clean shot but I wiped its arse, for sure!” She got up and went back to the gin bottle. Micky was concerned. “Have you fired shotguns before, Nigella?” She rattled the ice in her glass and turned, glaring at Micky. “I’m a country girl, Mister Firearms Chappie! I’ve been shooting all my life!” She was clearly angry. Micky pushed again. “So when and where did you last fire a shotgun and what gauge was it, Nigella?” Nigellas face flushed and she looked like she was going to explode. “Where? When? Gauge? What is this, young man! The fucking Spanish Inquisition?” Micky sat quietly while she re-topped her glass. Then, with her back to Micky, she slumped her shoulders. “Edward would never allow me to accompany him shooting. I’ve only ever shot with my father and that was many years ago. I just want to be able to shoot with the rest of the girls. It’s a social thing. They’re all into clay shooting now”. Micky felt slightly sympathetic, but had to ask another question. “Your declaration on criminal offences, Nigella? You weren’t entirely honest, were you?” Nigella turned around and faced him. “What are you inferring, young man? That I’ve lied? How dare you!” Micky slipped a conviction report across the table. “I suggest you sit down and look at this?” Nigella slid into a chair and picked up the report. She scanned the document, still sipping at her G&T. “You never mentioned the drink / driving ban in your declaration, Nigella?” She baulked. “Ancient history. Just after Edward died. I was a bit messed up.” Micky explained that it should have been declared, just like the recent speeding convictions. Four incidents inside a year. The first subject to a Driving Awareness course, no points. With the other three, she was now on nine points. ” Bloody speed ‘Gestapo’ are everywhere!” Nigella complained. “I’ve never hurt anyone! And what’s this got to do with guns, anyway?” she dismissed. Micky scribbled another note on his forms. “Can you show me where you’ll store the guns, if your application is successful Nigella?” It took a few seconds to sink in but then Nigella Trimm asked “What do you mean ‘if it’s successful’? How dare you? This should be a formality for someone of my status, surely?” Micky stood up. “Show me where the guns will be please?”. Nigella rang her bell again and Maggie hurried in. “Show this chap where the guns will kept please Maggie.” Micky interjected. “No, you show me please Nigella. You will be responsible for their security, not Maggie!” Nigella huffed again and Micky followed her to a drawing room and a brilliantly disguised (and huge) antique mahogany gun safe. The keys were in the lock. “It was Edwards gun safe. Good enough for your predecessor, so I’m sure you’ll be happy with it?” Nigella said cynically. Micky opened the safe. It was a simple cabinet with no internal ammunition locker. “You would need a separate safe for rifle ammo, Nigella. It can’t be stored with the rifle.” She reacted as Micky expected. “More bloody bureaucracy! Who makes up these rules?” They went back to the study. Maggie was there and Nigella went to dismiss her. “Can you stay please, Maggie?” Micky asked. “Let’s all sit down.” Nigella, who had already gone back to the gin bottle for a top-up, sat down and slurred “This has nothing to do with her”. She waved her glass in Maggies direction.

“Nigella, I’m going to recommend refusal of your application I’m afraid,” Micky stated. “I expect anyone who wants to be in possession of firearms to respect rules and authority. Your driving record doesn’t reflect that. You have demonstrated in front of me, over the past hour, that you clearly have an alcohol problem. Your reasons for possession of a shotgun are acceptable, on social and sporting grounds but I don’t think you appreciate the responsibility granted under such an issue. Your reasons for possession of a rifle are dubious. I’m sorry”. As Nigella started blubbing, Micky simply said to Maggie. “Thanks for the hospitality, young lady. Please hide her car keys until she sobers up”.

In his car, Micky Moore called the office. Lotty answered. “Two visits completed, one rejected but you can expect an appeal Lotty” Micky informed her. “I’ll wrap up the paperwork and e-mail it tonight. Oh, by the way. Can you call our colleagues in Traffic and put an alert on registration plate ‘AN01 GIN’. I’ll see you next time I’m in the office”.

© Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, September 2017