Monday, 9 February 2015

The Fading of the Light

On the top of the hill....

The Keeper occasionally finds his way in; and no doubt the local poachers wander through. But, keeping a watchful eye for these gentlemen about their lawful (or unlawful) occasions, it is a good place to meet for a chat.  Discreet and shaded in this forgotten corner, the brambles and saplings twist together; wearied trees lean ever more towards the ground. For the hungry there are still a few withered rosehips and aged blackberries. For the very hungry, on a mild day, even a few bugs and beetles. But not today, the ground is hard and crisped with an icing of snow. 

 Not that that has stopped a gathering taking place.  The last day of the season is over, the sun is low across the valley and the guns have fallen silent. Beyond the slumped wooden five barred gate all is peaceful. The participants of this last day have gathered in this discreet glade to review, with today’s busy drives still fresh in their minds, how it went, what might be a good plan for next year, how things could be done better; and of course, plans for the summer, the outlook for the children, all the usual gossip that is mulled over when a group of friends know they may not see each other for a while. Or ever again, perchance.  

 These are the survivors; these are the ones that flew bravely and landed safe, the ones that flew high (or in some cases very low) and avoided the barking guns. And the ones that sat tight in the dense places as the spaniels snuffled about and the beater’s heavy boots and thin sticks came breath-holdingly close.  They remember those who are not there this day; and will never be there again.  Then the cheerfulness breaks through, they are here and summer is a’coming. They roll and strut and nod.

 Then, the sun sinks from sight, the light fades, the cold creeps into bare feet. The distant threat of a prowling fox distracts the crack and the crowd disperse, flying to roost in the trees or strutting with nervous pattering self-importance along the wood edge to their chosen spot for the night.


At the bottom of the hill...
The Keeper occasionally finds his way in here too, and the local poachers wander through, each keeping a watchful eye on the other. Watching these wary persons is a further delight for those who know this to be a good place to meet for a chat. In discreet and shadowy corners the beaters and shooters titter and gossip together; wearied fingers tip ever more beer to the ground. For the hungry there are packets of crisps and a rack of ageing dusty packets of pork scratchings. For the thirsty; a pint of mild, or couple of local brewed bitters. Especially this day when the ground outside is hard and crisped with an icing of snow.

 Not that that has stopped a gathering taking place. The last day of the season is over, the sun is low across the valley, and the guns are making a lot of noise, five of them slumped against the old wooden bar.  The participants of the last day have gathered in this dusty old pub to review, with today’s busy drives still fresh in their minds, how it went, what might be a good plan for next year, how things could be done better; and of course, plans for the summer, the outlook for the children, all the usual gossip that is mulled over when a group of friends know they may not see each other for a while.  Or ever again, perchance.

 These are the syndicate members, they have shot all the days and drives they could, taking birds that flew high, sometimes a little low, every one noted by the yelping barking dogs. Oft times the birds fell in dense wooded places so the spaniels snuffled about aided by the beater’s heavy boots and thin sticks crushing the blackberry briars.  They’ll all remember the birds shot this day; rehearsing them through their minds again and again.  Then the cheerfulness breaks through, it’s been a great year and summer is a’coming. They roar and snigger and nod.

Then, the sun sinks from sight, the light fades, the cold creeps into booted feet. The distant scream of a prowling fox dissects the crack and the crowd disperse, climbing into the driving seats of Land Rovers or strutting away to the car park swinging Porsche keys to convey them away for the night.


Old George, the head beater, lives at the top of the village and rolls away in the twilight toward a snoozing fireside and warming tobacco. As he rounds the corner an old cock pheasant jumps up onto the bank of the lane. They nod and wink.

 “See you next season” they each mutter as they pass.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

More Stuffing, Vicar?

In some corners of rural England ancient traditions survive, if tenuously.  You may think of your local clergyman as having a distinctly pink tinge to his dog collar nowadays, probably a vegetarian, member of the RSPB, Grauniad reader; in short, not so much the church militant as just Militant.  But in or two remote counties, in upland parishes, the huntin’ shootin’ parson does survive; a rare beast and a shy one, but a welcome figure among the sporting cognoscenti.

This morning we are in Cumberland, the verge of the Lake District, beautiful and wonderful shooting land.  Below an ancient wood, lined across a steep wet grass field upon which a cow would have difficulty standing with any degree of dignity, are an assorted – indeed the word motley is probably not overstating it – line up of nine figures with shotguns, eyeing each other surreptitiously.

That is, apart from one, whose eyes are raised, to heaven, you may think by the dog collar above the secondhand Barbour.  The Reverend Julian Taggart. A sporting parson. In fact, a parson newly inducted to shooting by the blandishments of certain tweedy parishioners at various tea parties, post Morning Service coffees, and (whisper it softly) a couple of excursions into the village pub, at his new and very rural parish.

Large parts of that parish are in the ownership of a well preserved estate, with a moderately well preserved proprietor, the 5th Lord Lowesdale.  We have met that splendid rural magnate before, in his stately home, open to the hordes at £7 per head, guide book and cream teas extra. But it is for its shooting possibilities that Lord Lowesdale so loves his rolling acres, and today he is in his natural habitat, in ancient and ill matched tweeds, hosting a local syndicate day.  Not that such a grand personage strictly needs to host, but as the guns are local, and the head keeper is a close drinking companion of at least two of the finer shots, mi’lord does not want any risk of miscalculation of the 200 bird allowance for the day.

Here they are; three farmers, the local garage proprietor, our parson, a rural estate agent, a local businessman, and two guests, one of them the bank manager of the businessman, the other a nephew of one of the farmers. 

We’ve met that nephew before as well, a local lad made good, a City banker with a black Range Rover Sport and a house in Chelsea. Yes, it is indeed B, born and raised in this very parish where his uncle still farms; and puzzles over what exactly it is his nephew does in those far off glass towers.  B once spent an afternoon explaining it; his uncle, more confused than ever, wonders where B keeps all those hog sides and what a wheat future is, as opposed to wheat in a heap on the granary floor.

Lord Lowesdale surveys this line up somewhat dubiously and stations himself between B and the parson.  Between God and Mammon, he might have thought, if he had that turn of mind.  His radio crackles, m’lord applies his whistle loudly, and the assembled multitude look alert.

The Reverend Mr Taggart continues to gaze at the sky, not as you may think, seeking the early high bird, but trying to remember everything he had been told by his mentors at the pub and in his two lessons at the shooting school.  He is starting to realise that not much has actually sunk in and that most of what has is completely contradictory.

At the far end of the line the action begins; an early flurry, a couple of shots, the nervous whinnying of a shaking spaniel.  The vicar frowns in concentration and moves his feet. And then moves them again. And once more.  To the right of B a high bird drifts across.  B swings onto it much too late and misses with both barrels. Lord Lowesdale sighs deeply, though consoling himself inwardly that that is one more for the family day next week.

Then a shout: “For’wrd”, calls of “Over, over” and from the wood sails a convoy of birds, splitting and curling and curving and soaring and swooping.  The shots ring out, cartridges are ejected and busy hands stuff warming barrels.  The man of god looks eagerly to left and right, thrusting the borrowed gun hither and thither. Then he spots a possibility, a bird swooping rather than soaring, drifting low from the wood. The gun is shouldered, the trigger is pulled, and Lord Lowesdale, who is looking skywards, is surprised to find himself in a cloud of feathers.

The vicar sees another bird approaching him at head height to his right and discharges the second barrel. This time it is B who is distracted by a cloud of feathers rolling past.  The vicar fumbles with gun (left hand), cartridges (right hand), pocket (fastened), ear defenders (slipping over forehead), feet (tangled).  The noble host catches B’s eye and raises a bushy eyebrow. B raises both of his in return. 

They both survey the distant wood and hear that promising cackle of pheasants rising.  Lord L takes two steps back and at the same time calls to B in a stentorian whisper, intended to convey a subtle hint further down the line: “That’s enough for a duvet; a couple more and we can stuff the pillows as well”.

The vicar smiles beatifically at this shooting field repartee about which he has heard so much, and swings his twelve bore across the wooded horizon.  B, thinking with that incisiveness that has made him legendary in City dealing rooms, calls “Vicar, hang on a minute, you’re shooting so well that we had better get a loader to help you”.

The beaters in front and the pickers up behind breathe a sigh of relief that causes the few remaining leaves to tremble on the ancient trees. All is serene. And by next season, after some coaching from the assistant keeper discretely incentivised by a case of Lord L’s whisky,  the Reverend Mr Taggart will be pulling down the high ones almost as well as his sporting parishioners.

The Keepers Tale

It was 2am. Crisped leaves were twisting a final farewell to the groaning trees and swirling across the muddy 4x4’s in the Kings Head car park. The faded pub sign groaned and creaked; the gents loo door had been left open and slammed back and forth; the garden tap dripped self importantly into an old tin.  The landlord had turned the outside lights off at 11.30, and drawn down the blinds.  A stormy night in the country…

In the back bar the lights were still on, the conversation washed back and forth across the battered brown tables.  The landlord leaned professionally, his face caressed by a soft smile, the gleeful face of a public house proprietor who watches the premium malts undergo vigorous attack by well tweeded customers. 

And well tweeded customers they were indeed. None less than the Usual Suspects Syndicate; in persons.

The Generous Host was in the position he automatically adopted in any public house – viz: toasting his posterior by the fire whilst telling a story.  In fact, it was yet again the one about the Pakistani Ambassador and the affair of his missing motor car.  The audience had heard it many times before but still roared at the approach of the familiar punch line.

With his back to the bar was B, finding the polished caress of the ancient wood helpful in counteracting the increasing influence of the Glenmacfeckly, with a glass to his left, and due to a moment of forgetfulness, another to his right. 

Old Mr Weobly had long departed, but his nephew Wayne Weobly was maintaining the family reputation for never missing an opportunity for useful financial information, malicious gossip, or a free drink.

Naturally, The Keeper was amongst those present.  A shoot keeper’s duties are many and varied and this was one The Keeper took seriously indeed. No shoot day was complete until each guest had finally retired to bed or under the table. The Keeper could out drink any man that ever shot here; and still be up at 6am to begin the walking in of the birds for the next day.

Indeed it was a most majestic group of shootists, and most majestic of all was the familiar figure of Stuffer; presently settled back on the settle but eyes sparkling with mischief – or was it just from the flames catching the oak logs?  We will settle for mischief; and we will be right.

The chuckles at the thought of the Pakistani Ambassador and the occupant of the back seat of his car slowly subsided.  The landlord had been pondering for some time a matter which was perplexing him and finally gave the thoughts form. B being the closest possible confidante, he leaned in that gentleman’s direction and confided.  B gave him a beady look and pointed out that the landlords remarking of the coincident looks of Stuffer and The Keeper was indeed well founded.  “Not really surprising, as they are brothers”.

The landlord let out a deep “Ahh” as though therein hid some deep scandal.

“That’s how we got to be here” continued B “But we had to pay cash, of course”.

“Aaah-ha” said the landlord.

The glances in his direction had not been missed by Stuffer, who, suddenly reminded of something, nodded at his brother, rose from the settle and slipped out of the back door.    

The Keeper glanced briefly at the Generous Host and cleared his throat.

“Tomorrow gentlemen we are at De’Ath Court. We’re going to meet at 9am at the back door of the house. Not the front, if you please, gentlemen, there is an ancient tradition that the front door be not used”

“To avoid the bailiffs?”

“Very witty Mr Weobly. But no; it is because of an ancient legend that brings doom to the head of the family there. It is a strange lonely place up on that wold; long long winters.  The family have always been great fox hunters and there are lots of wily foxes living in those broken down woods, even in the ruins of the chapel they say; devil foxes they must be, but there never was a fox that a De’ath of De’ath Court would not pursue”

His voice dropped and he fixed his audience with a penetrating gaze. B felt a shudder run down his spine and sought to sooth it by emptying the right hand glass. Just at that point Stuffer re-entered and joined the silent group.

“They do say” The Keeper continued “that when the head of the family is about to die that the foxes of De’Ath Wold gather in a great circle around the front door of the house.”

The Generous Host giggled nervously.

“You may laugh gentlemen, you may laugh, but in 1976, to my own knowledge, they were there for the death of Major De’Ath; he opened the front door at midnight and found his certain fate gathered, all silent and waiting for him”

The rattle of a collapsing log in the grate startled B, who coughed and staggered for the back door, muttering something about the gents. The rest of the group stirred uneasily and reached for their mugs and glasses.

B fumbled with the back door and went out, slamming the door behind him. Then, in the silence, the group heard a strange muffled shriek and a frantic scrabbling at the door.

Weobly was the nearest and opened it, to admit what appeared to be the ghost of B, a visage changed from fire-engine red to lime wash white.

“Crikey old man, what’s happened?”

The Generous Host pushed past and into the yard. He jumped to see a ring of cock pheasants surrounding the door. But the Glenmacfeckly had not worked quite so hard on him as on B, and he noticed also the canes under them; and that the magnificent specimen in the centre seemed to be perched on a wooden base. He sniggered and went back inside to where B was on the settle by the fire, being given a restorative by Stuffer.

The Generous Host caught Stuffers eye and sat down next to B. “What’s the matter, old boy, look as though you’ve seen a ghost?”

B pointed at the door “Out there…”

“There’s nothing out there old man, I just had a look, all quiet, just the wind, and a lot of dead leaves”

“I’m giving up shooting” croaked B “maybe too late, but I promise I will never shoot another pheasant”

“There, there, old man, you’re delirious, you’ve been mixing the malts, they’ll be the death of you….”

B spluttered and began a coughing fit. A fit so intense that he did not notice Stuffer and his keeper brother quietly going back in to yard to put the pheasants back in the Keepers truck, and the magnificent stuffed specimen for Old Mr Weobly back into Stuffer’s Landy. 





Thursday, 23 January 2014

The Beater's Tale

The Generous Host presented his backside to the dying embers of the fire.  Closing time was two hours ago; even the most grateful landlord hopes the punters might go home some time before dawn breaks. But in the back bar there was no sign of cessation.

It had got a bit quiet around 9.30pm, but B, with the skills that made him justifiably famous, had engineered a merger between the shootists in the back bar and the beaters and picker ups in the front, using that most polished tool of the investment bankers armoury (“Drinks on us, in the back bar!”).  Since then the hooley had flourished and the Generous Host’s credit card was slowly melting under the strain.  The landlord had changed the barrel at ten-thirty and he was beginning to consider another trip to the cellar.

There is nothing like the end of the season, and the knowledge you’ll be paying for your own booze until next September, for sharpening the thirst.  And that last opportunity for the serious shredding of reputation and character that is so much an integral part of English shooting society must not be missed. So let’s join them for pints mild and bitter and conversation bitter and mild.

The Generous Host is telling a story about a Scotsman, the Pakistani Ambassador, and a Taxidermist – but we’ll leave that one to another time.  B is leaning on the bar with his head very close to that of the Brigadier’s Wife.  You might well suspect seduction, but B is a little rotund for her tastes, and in any case B is being wickedly indiscreet about Walter and his recent company flotation and who exactly was discovered to be on the payroll.  Walter is talking to the Keeper, about three partridge days for next year and trying to explain why the company will be paying a high price for two, and that the correspondence should relate only to those two. The Keeper is new to high finance, especially as practised by low persons, but is starting to grasp the concept.

In the snug corner, dear old Weobley, top shot with a pair of Purdeys,  is talking to dear old Roger, top beater with a pair of spaniels.  Mr Weobley thinks Roger is very drunk; but he isn’t. Roger thinks old Weobley is very drunk; he is.

“Rum lot, this lot,” says Weobley  “I did think they might show a bit more gratitude over the way my bank sorted out that loan for them before the election.  Of course, one does it for the good of the party and of the country, of the country, yes.  But it is customary, you know to...”

“Customary, Mr Weobley?”

“To...err, you know, their appreciation in some public way...”

“A vote of thanks, you mean, Mr Weobley?”

“Ha-ha-ha. No, no, Roger, my dear chap – two more please landlord – no, by, um, well...  Well, these things don’t matter to me, of course, but Jane, she would have loved to be Lady Weobley, and nice for her, you know. Had to put up with a lot over the years whilst I served commerce and country and what not.  Don’t care myself naturally, but to be Lady Weobley would have been nice for her, impress the butcher and so on”

Roger looks utterly blank as he considers why the government would want to honour that rather fierce lady; then he gets it:

“Ah, you mean you would be Sir Weobley.  Aaaah.”

“Shush-shush-shush! Just between us dear chap. But yes, I would be Sir Frank Weobley.  Does have a certain ring I must admit.  Not my thing really, of course, doesn’t matter to me. Just for the lady-wife you know.  Don’t tell this lot. Jealous you know. Worked hard for all this, they don’t realise that”

“Yes, of course. SIR Frank”

“Shush, shush, strictly private, just between us, no more need be said”

“Of course, Mr W”

As the sadly still Mr Weobley disappears to the gents, B wanders over wondering, with that City instinct for valuable information, what all that was about.

Roger tells him.  “Not to be repeated Mr B.”

“Of course, Roger.”

Roger stops by the Brigadier’s Wife, and B pauses by the Generous Host.  Who turns to.....and so it goes.

But now Mr Weobley is leaving:

“Goodnight Sir Frank!”
“’Onour to shoot with the h’aristocracy!”
“Sleep well mi Lord Weobley”
“See you soon Sir Frankie”
“Night night Knight!”

He shakes his head in modesty and embarrassment; but can’t help feeling, as he gets in the back of the Land Rover, a frisson of pleasure as to what should have been.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

And a Spaniel in a Stubble Field

You might well recognise the cast; it is indeed the usual suspects, gathered in a beautiful corner of .... did we give this away before, as the torrential rain tore down the village street?  I think we did; if we didn't, and for anybody who worries about these things, it is Wiltshire.

Last year’s partridge day on the Wiltshire Downs consisted of a large breakfast and a slow drive back to Chelsea enlivened only by the frantic dance of windscreen wipers.  But here we are again, fifteen months later.  Here again, led fearlessly by the Generous Host whose rain dance seems to have worked this time.  It is a crispingly clear sunny January late afternoon, not a cloud in the sky, a reddening glow on the western horizon, a certainty of frost tonight. The GH has procured a late pheasant day to replace last year’s washed out partridge day. 

And what a day it has been.  The wily January pheasants have finally learnt that if you see a well spaced line of tweedy chaps it is not a good idea to head directly for them.  They rocket steeply upwards away from the beaters and dogs, curving and swerving, escaping sideways and backwards and to stratospheric heights, knowing that if they can just win through the next two minutes they will get to enjoy spring and all the joys thereof.

Not a lot of birds are left, but oh, what amazing birds survive, what worthy opponents they have become.  The tweedy chaps may, by virtue of gunpowder and lead, think they have the upper hand, but the birds are educated now.  They are quicker, higher, and faster than the earthbound shootists far below, and they know the subtle arts of undermining confidence.  A gun who misses a high curling bird will never get on them again; he’ll shoot below and in front and above; each time he’ll curse and pull the trigger further below or in front or above.  The pheasants snigger, gliding at full power and watching the sweating grumbling line below.  In this they are in unconscious league with the beaters and pickers- up, who watch disbelievingly, tutting, groaning, knowing how much better they could do this.  Occasionally a fusillade of eight shots will ring out, a bird does not make it, and five different guns make a mental note to add that to their personal bag. It is strange indeed how in January the individual totals always add up at least twice the actual bag on the game cart.

The shooters swing and groan and stretch:  “I was right on that one, saw him shake, he’ll be dead behind that wood.”  The picker-up smothers a giggle and in pretence of looking, goes  behind the hedge for a quick fag.  And the pheasant glides to an elegant landing in the aforesaid wood, serenely strutting away among the rusty bracken and wizened blackberries. 

Finally, the keeper blows the horn, two pheasants flap elegantly and slowly over the line, the mad spaniels are unleashed, the sun sinks below the languid curves of the chalk horizon. The guns look hopefully towards those birds that must have come down a long way back.  The pickers-up try to look as though they are looking.  The Generous Host tells a last funny story.  The guns guffaw and then fall silent. The spaniels run around in great circles pointlessly swishing the stubble. The labradors gaze reflectively over the field of dreams.

That eerie winter silence falls upon the land.  The light fades, the frost creeps out of the wood and down the hill.  A distant pheasant lets out a cackle of triumph as it sweeps up to roost.  The guns are sheathed.  A beady fox grins from the hedge as the little army departs.

It is the end of the day; and for most present, the end of the season. The log fire in the King’s Arms beckons, the beer in the cellar is at peak perfection, stories are been mentally polished.  The half empty game cart trundles away. 

Night descends upon the downs.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Left and Right

You may not be aware, but it’s been a wonderful year for grouse.  Extraordinary.  Never seen a season like it. Five invitations I’ve had, and each one of them to a well stocked moor, and each moor with a jolly nice shoot hut and ample liquid supplies.  None that one indulges of course.

“Can’t, driving, old boy”

“Really? You should get a driver old son, I don’t know how I’d get by without mine”

Pah.  Bloody estate agents.  What have we come to, with estate agents paddling across grouse moors; and having drivers, for goodness sake. Rum lot, probably spend the day lotting the moor up into suitable parcels for development.  But I have to admit this one could shoot.

He had arrived in a white gold lined Range Rover Sport at 9.25am, just in time for the instructions, his chap handing him all the kit out of the back.  All new and shiny of course, and a triumph of cheque book over taste.  Orange socks as well.  Dash it all.  What is matter with blue or red, I ask you, orange! The final twist was from the host and moor owner, one of those tenth generation old colonel types who breed so well in the north, who looked at the socks and the white Rangy and the tweedy man unzipping the Purdeys and through the upper lip caterpillar snorted “Bloody bankers”. 

I pointed out that he was not a cutting edge professional such as yours truly, but it was obvious that such distinctions of class were lost on our host, who said “It’ll be traffic wardens next” and marched off to the beaters, a finer class of chap altogther.

The estate agent was not phased by any of these matters and proudly told us he was about to pull off the property deal of the year and brandished two mobile phones at us.

“Better not let the Colonel see that” one of our team said, seared by the Colonel’s reaction to his i-phone going off in mid-drive the previous year; “Lead shot direct to the bottom would be less painful”.

“Nah, this is the big one, I’m not losing the deal or the day.  Move with the times mate, this is business.  In’it?”

We went to our pegs and business commenced. It really was a superb day, lots of the little g-birds and very challenging. I did notice our Two Phoned new friend had his head at funny angles at various times between drives and there was a lot of maneuverings between pockets, but also that the grouse near him were coming down; he certainly had a good eye.  But so, I noticed, did the Colonel, who was waving the old eyebrows in his direction at frequent intervals.

On the 3rd drive Two Phones and I were not in butts, but in grassy tussocks in a shallow valley.  The whistle sounded to warn us to pay attention to the start of proceedings, but now Two Phones was in serious action, Nokia’s fully deployed, one in each hand, gun tucked under his arm.  And I could see what he could not, which was a fully primed British Army ex-Colonel advancing at fast march from the rear.

“You! You! What the devil are you doing?  Damn it sir, the drive is underway.”

Not easy to deal with this sort of rear attack when fully conversational on two mobiles, but the shrug and the toss of the head was not the best calculated response. 

The Colonel stepped it up “Mobile telephones are forbidden on this shoot.  Forbidden, not allowed, I have never…”

What he had never we shall never either, because his attention had been distracted by a brace of grouse approaching from the left.  I think we all saw them at once, I began to raise my gun, but old Two Phones in one swift manoeuvre dropped both phones, applied Purdey to upper hip, fired both barrels, ignored two grouse crashing to the ground, and retrieved both phones: “Sorry mate, bit of action on the other line.”

The Colonel swerved at this point and went rather pale.  As he passed I said, unable to think of any words that exactly fitted the situation “Lovely drive, Colonel”

He paused, with the look of a man who is contemplating an immediate sale of the ancestral lands, snorting so hard the upper lip fungus blew around like a palm tree in a hurricane. 

“I should send him home; but the [military term deleted] bugger is too good for that.”

And so it did prove.  By lunch our hero was sitting next to the Colonel and the body language strongly suggested the Colonel was about to invest in real estate in a big way. And that there was a gold Sports Rangy on order to replace the white one.


Friday, 4 October 2013

The Interview

“B; my dear chap....”

Andrew’s massive hand reached out and casually crushed mine. 

“So good of you to come.  Let me introduce the rest of us – no, no; first let me give you a snifter”.

A large tumbler of golden life was pushed across the table in front of me.  I eyed it, hoping my hand might recover consciousness enough to lift it in the next few minutes.  The introductions were made.  To the casual observer, here were eight City types meeting in one of those old fashioned City restaurants that in truth survive more from the tourist business than the bowler hat business.  But beneath the pinstriped uniforms lurked the terrible truth – this was Andrew McTavish’s Scottish shooting syndicate; and your nervous and trembling correspondent, surreptitiously shaking his hand behind his back in the hope of restoring some circulation, was here in hope of chumming in to said syndicate and thus some fine shooting in dearest Albion.

“We should go to the table.  Drink up B.  Not like you to hold back from finest Talisker"

It was obvious that the rest of the syndicate, Andrew’s old lags, had been here a brace of doubles earlier than me, presumably to dissect my character and parse my reputation.  But as I downed the Isle of Skye’s finest product, it was also obvious that my brace of doubles was all in the same glass.  I had a momentary sensation of being hit by a tank and my hand came suddenly back to full functionality.

The little procession proceeded across the dining room with some impressed looking tourist types gawking at us.  No doubt, next week they would be telling the folks back in Hicksville, Wisconsin, (population: 1,926) that they had dined in the presence of the Governor and Court of the Bank of England.  Andrew directed us to our places with him in the middle, and me next to him.

“Now, B, we know your taste for all things Italian...” - much guffawing from those present who had obviously received a full briefing on various complications arising on a business trip to Milan a few years before, complications at the expense of yours truly but instigated by Andrew whose recommended Milan nightspot had turned out to be even more dubious than the quality of bonds he flogged to widows and orphans to earn the crust.

“...For all things Italian, so I ordered a rather jolly Barolo for tonight.”  Indeed he had.  There was a uncorked bottle at each place, together with a massive balloon glass.

“But first we traditionally wash down the salmon with a further soupcon of Talisker”.  A tray of overfilled golden tumblers appeared and were distributed amongst those present.  “Sláinte!”  He drained the glass at one flourish.

More training should have made for this event.  I operated the glass and had an odd sensation of the tank backing up over me.

What the loyal reader will be expecting now is an insight into Scottish shooting, tales of glens full of whirring pheasants and vast moors trembling with eager grouse, the craic at the lodge in the evening, the exuberance of the ghillies and their bonnie lasses at post shooting balls.

But, I am sorry to say, all this has passed unremarked into the highland mist of memory.  I do recall another pair of bottles of the Barolo appearing and Andrew’s vast hand knocking one over so that it poured over Gregor sitting opposite.  “Christ!” exclaimed Andrew, “That’s a calamity, it’s drinking so well”.
And I recall Philip rising incredibly slowly to his feet and announcing:  “I am going outside, and may be some time”, before turning, and with great dignity, one tartan brace hanging to the floor, disappearing out of the room.

“He nicked that line from somewhere” said the alarmingly red faced broker opposite me, “was it Robert Louis Stephenson?”

But we resume the narrative with my Blackberry ringing in my ear; with me finding it in my jacket breast pocket which I was surprised to find under my head; and most unexpectedly of all, with my slow dawning awareness that I was in the guest room bed, fully dressed , down to and including my brogues.  An uneasy feeling began to grow that Mrs B was (a) probably aware of this; and (b) probably not totally happy about it.
The noise of the phone continued and by a process of thoughtful reasoning it occurred to me to answer it:

“Hullo?” (groan)

“Morning B!”

“Oh lawks.  Morning Andrew.  What time is it?”

“6.49 old boy; just going to the Savoy for breakfast, then off home to bed. Care to join us for haggis and egg?”

I thought not.

“Having fun elsewhere, old boy?  What a hound dog you are, B.  Anyway, thought I would let you know you are in the syndicate, you’re just the sort of eighth man we are looking for. Though you been kind enough to pick up last night’s bill did help.  Much appreciated by us all.  See you at Cally Lodge in October”