Sunday, 31 July 2011

Why is the Shooting Media so obsessed with the Top End?

I've just got around to reading the August edition of The Field. Any shooting publication that isn't being deliberately obscurest is likely to feature grouse rather prominently at this time of the year. I don't have a problem with that. I love eating grouse and I'm normally lucky enough to get a few during the season. I'd dearly love to shoot grouse, but I've resigned myself to the fact I'm too poor and poorly connected to ever get the chance.

Grouse shooting is rather "Top End" The elite face of shooting; difficult, cripplingly expensive and dare I say it, rather cliquey. Rather more Top End than most driven pheasant and definitely more Top End than Wildfowling or pigeon shooting. Krug as opposed to Cava.

But it isn't the obvious emphasis on the upcoming 12th that caused me to stop reading the current edition of The Field; it was the sheer lack of balance.

Shooting is a broad church but it seems that our shooting magazines are rather obsessed with the elite aspects of our sport. You only have to cast your eye over the contents to realise that ferrets aren't going to feature in any great prominence. Buffalo shooting in Africa, Which is the best Yacht, Shooting patridge on the Duke of Norfolk's Estate. Hang on what's this, an article on vermin control..... oh no it's luxury ratting with champagne.

I am trying to imagine what impression an outsider to shooting would get if they picked up a copy of the current issue of The Field – probably an unhealthy reinforcement of every stereotype associated with field sports. Braying hoorays, toffs, elitist snobs and segregated luxury. But I have to say what really did it for me is the piece on Tarquin Millington-Drake (no I am not making this up!) a self confessed salmon fishing addict, shown in all his glory across a page and half spread with a rather magnificent 39lb salmon. I'm sure Mr Millington-Drake is a delightful man, kind to his mother and generous to a fault; but please...........Tarquin??? Don't we have anyone out there called David who is addicted to salmon fishing?

Is there any point in publishing a list of the top 100 shots in the UK? Who the hell decides who goes on the list? Obviously if you are George Digweed your provenance is beyond doubt. But what about the rest? How do you quantitatively decide who is a better driven shot between Mike Yardley and James Percy? And more to the point, what bloody purpose is served by publishing a list, apart from massaging the already inflated egos of the Top End.

As we are constantly reminded, shooting is under siege from those who'd rather we didn't do it. Reinforcing widely held stereotypes, be they right or wrong, cannot be doing us any favours.

I for one will be holding off buying The Field and Shooting Gazette for a while, in favour of a rather good monthly publication; Modern Gamekeeping. This is a down to earth, warts and all, magazine targeted at those involved in the shooting industry. Sense and practicality and not at all Top End.




How did it come to this – Part 3

This is the last of the how did I end up back in North Yorkshire blogs......

I guess that I really have Nelson to thank for finally making up my mind (that and the bitch that fucked off with all the money from the Residents Management Trust - believe me you may be gone but you aren't forgotten.  I've got a little 100 grain present for you if you ever show your face again). 

Nelson lived at the end of our Mews.  You didn't see much of Nelson, but he was a bit of a local legend.  He kept pretty much opposite hours to me, so I didn't see him very much, but the little I did see, I liked.   Nelson was generally considered by the great and the good of the Mews, to be the local low-life.  A ner-do-well, who had managed somehow to infiltrate our little community.  Nelson was a well-spring of rumour amongst those who didn't know him; he was variously a bouncer, a gangland enforcer, a heavy, a........naughty boy.  His appearance didn't help; about 6, 4, built like the proverbial, black as the ace of spades, shaved head and a few tats.  

Indeed, it turned out that Nelson was a very bad boy........ We had gone away, departed from London for Christmas just like everyone else in the Mews. Thirteen town houses stuffed to the gills with stuff! Stuff that robbers like. Two of the local crims had driven a large van in to the Mews and started to systematically break into every house one by one. Their big mistake was not starting with my house which was first in the Mews. These idiots decided to start at the bottom, with the only house that was occupied. Occupied by Nelson!

We arrived back a couple of days after Christmas on the very day that burglar boys were breaking and entering. You know what it's like travelling with young kids, a redefinition of stress. So decamping out of the car and back into the house was a military operation. Unpacking the car was interrupted by a sight that I'd really didn't believe I was seeing. Nelson was running up the Mews in his boxer shorts! Nelson was a big guy and running wasn't really part of his vernacular, so the fact he was running was strange enough. Even stranger was the fact that Nelson was running at me with a bloody great pistol in his hand. Sweaty and panting he reaches the car and blurts out "Rich have you seen a spade running past? I caught two of them trying to break in. I've shot one but I missed the other bastard!" At this point said spade who has been hiding in the bushes makes a run for it. Nelson takes aim. BOOM! If you have never experienced a Glock going off at close quarters I thoroughly don't recommend it. Nelson misses, but bloody great flakes of brick fly off the wall behind the guys head. Fuck me, not only is he shooting at them, he's shooting to kill them! The last thing I see before deciding that indoors is a good idea is Nelson in his boxers stood in the middle of Victoria Park Road letting off rounds at the poor sod who chose the wrong end of the street!

I appear to have been transported onto the set of Lock Stock. Eastenders with guns Рa clich̩ in so many ways. Except this was real.

Two months later we had sold up and moved back to Yorkshire. Ironically, my kids have more access here to guns than they ever would have had in London – except I try not to fire them off in my boxers.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

How did it come to this - Part 2

Why stay? Why not just pack up, head back and chalk the whole thing up to experience.

Well, aside from the fact that I never believe in leaving anywhere without burning every bridge in sight, I actually like it here most of the time.  Perverse I know, but I like the isolation, I love the country sports that have become an inextricable part of my life and I still like the idea that the kids can run feral without getting into too much trouble.  At least not the same type of trouble that you see on a day to day basis in London.  Not the sort of trouble that is going to get you dead.

For most of the time we lived in London, we lived in East London, mostly South and latterly North of the river.  Five miles from the City, as the crow flies.  Mostly we lived in edgy places, described as "up and coming" by the local estate agents; Deptford, New Cross, Surry Docks before it was euphemistically changed to Surrey Docks in a misplaced attempt to gloss over the fact that it was a working class area that didn't want to gentrified.  Areas mostly described as a fucking war zones by those who weren't estate agents.  We spent the last couple of years before we moved, living in Hackney; Victoria Park to be more precise, in a Crown Estate Mews. Conspicuous wealth cheek by jowl with abject poverty; always an incendiary mix - still makes for an interesting life.  "Local colour" is the vernacular use by the aforementioned estate agents.  Local colour consisted of a rich mix of little scrotes still to hone their criminal skills, one of whom specialised in stealing pizza delivery mopeds, which he used to dump outside our house.  The little bastard must have stolen over a hundred mopeds, often the same one multiple times, most of which ended up outside our front door.  I could have set up a moped dealership ... this guy had a real talent for stealing.  I wonder if he has progressed to stealing things that go faster than 20 mph?  I wonder if there are still pizza mopeds in our front garden?  I hope so. 

Moped-boy was the lighter side of the Hackney criminal fraternity, which embraced the normal mix of drugs, hookers and extortion.   More interesting was the undercurrent of menace that pervaded the local Vietnamese community.  When the local Viet restaurant burned down for the first time everyone moaned about the loss of a pretty good place to eat.  When it burned down again, three months after reopening, it looked like they either needed to sack the chef or pay the Triad.

It's amazing how little things like this became part of the fabric of London-life.  Looking back on these from a distance, both temporally and culturally, they seem so alien now.  It's laughable to think of the uproar that is caused by the most innocuous of things in these parts. The residents of our hamlet get upset if you park your car anywhere except outside your own house; ignorance truly is bliss.

Living in London was always a compromise.  You never had quite enough money.  You never have quite enough space.  Even though you earned a King's ransom, there was always a multiplicity of things to spend it on.  Too many distractions.  If you are reasonably well off by London standards, London is great, as long as you don't have kids.  We spent fifteen years eating out six nights a week and partying pretty hard.  Home was a place to sleep, in between work and the bar.  Central London is tiny, in reality you can walk to most places.  So you can be drinking in Knightsbridge at six and dining in Camden at eight.

When the kids came along, London shrank.  We went from living in London to living in Hackney.  Not quite the deal I'd signed up to.  To be honest, we'd been thinking about moving out for a while, but couldn't really decide where to go.  Cornwall looked good.....we both loved the West country, but "it's such a long way away".  I wanted the Highlands, but same objection. The biggest draw for me was the biggest problem for my wife.  Staying put was the easy option.  The easy option lasted five years, so the kids were five and three when we finally moved out.

How did it come to this........?

It's nearly ten years.  Ten bloody years, since we moved out of Hackney, back to my home village in North Yorkshire.

Beirut to Bradford.  Post modern to pre-industrial in 200 miles.  That has to be the cheapest and quickest form of time travel there is.

I said I would never go wrong can you be?  Completely, utterly and totally, it appears.

I blame Hugh F W.  That and a diet of gastro-porn and too many expense account dinners.

You actually start to believe that you are important, that your company can't function without you and that you'd probably curl up and die if the company car and company credit card had to go back.  All that and a nagging sense that you probably shouldn’t have spent so much, on so little.

Not much to show for 20 years;  a bigger belly, a more marinated liver and a growing sense that if you have blow any more smoke up an American arse, just a little bit more of your soul is going to give up the ghost. Yet, that's what you do.  That's the way it is.

Fuck your life, fuck your marriage, fuck your health.... as long as the bottom line gets filled, no one gives a damn.  Keep focused, eyes on the prize.  God forbid that you actually think about what the prize is.  More of the same, work until you're seventy; retire and vegetate for six months, die.  All of your clients and most of your colleagues will have forgotten about you in six months.

Most of the metrosexuals that worked with me won't see fifty.  Stress, jetlag, bad sex and booze aren’t conducive to longevity.  And that's just the straight ones.

Stepping away from this was the scariest thing I have ever done in my life.  Hate it with a passion, but at least if you hate, you feel something.  I've forgotten the number of meetings that I sat in where I'd have gladly slit my wrists to relieve the boredom, yet this was my life for just about 20 years. Resilient or stupid; make your own mind up?

How life has changed.  The constant irony of life here in the North is that absolutely nobody who knows me up here has a fucking clue what my old life was like.  Half of them aren't capable of reading and understanding what I have written and for the rest; mostly they don't care..... I might as well have been living on Mars.  Life on........?

A passport is viewed with suspicion in these parts.  If you look a little different, should have a thick skin and a long fuse; you are going to need both in equal quantity.

For the first couple of years, I kept bumping in to people, mostly in pubs, whom I finally recognised. Let's face it none of us has aged that gracefully.  That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.  Most, I had spent time with at school; All of them, I hadn't set eyes upon for 25 years; most I couldn’t have cared less if I didn’t see for the next 25 years;  most hadn't travelled more than 50 miles in a single journey.

Without exception, they all told me the same thing; that thing that I already knew.  London sucks.  It is the well-spring of evil, the locus of all the hurt in the world and the most unfriendly place this side of Kandahar. Very insightful, if........ If; you had ever set foot in the capital city.  If; you had ever bothered to spend some time embracing the smoke, only to find that expectations pall, wither and die.  If; you find that London is a demanding and frigid mistress.  If; you had ever bothered to travel beyond the limits of heredity and line.

High Tower, Low Expectations.......

Just got back from a night away with the boys from Woodhouse Grange shoot. 

This is a local farmers’ shoot, where I have run the line for the last 5 years.  It’s a really great little shoot – what driven game shooting is all about; a bunch of guys all with similar interests and a passion for game shooting.  Bags are small but of very high quality, with the emphasis on wild birds where we can.
As many of us as could get away from their commitments, wives, girlfriends and kids, headed off to try their hand a clay busting at the small, but beautifully formed Warren Gill Shooting ground (, located just outside Masham  in North Yorkshire.   The format was pretty relaxed, 50 clays over various stands with some helpful hints from Ross Elgie, the current European side-by-side Champion, then a simulated flush, a crack @ the high tower and then a final flush.  
Some of the lads don’t do much with a shotgun in between the seasons; cue much piss taking and merriment.  In the end everyone acquitted themselves pretty well and a bloody good day was had by all.   My auto decided to play up; not cycling the light clay loads, so I swapped it for a rather tasty Berrata, which unfortunately I had to give back @ the end of the session.  Grrr.

I managed to fluke winning the High Tower competition.  A jamming auto did my chances in the first flush, but swapping guns led to a respectable second in the pairs flush.    If you are in North Yorkshire and looking for a clay ground, I can’t recommend Warren Gill highly enough.  Pretty, challenging, and with a highly professional team, this has to be one of the best grounds in the country.
The afternoon was finished off with a few beers and a meal @ the White Bear in Masham, the local pub of the wonderful Theakstons brewery.   Who am I kidding, a few beers, a lot of beers more like.
A lovely way to end my birthday week.  That’s me back on the wagon for another 12 months..........It was nice for a week to go back to my old ways.

Friday, 29 July 2011

It’s a Small Small World...............

Go figure this;  What are the chances of two people who have re-invented their lives in a serious fashion, who worked unknown to each other, within close proximity in this previous life, meeting up as a result of their re-modelled life-style?  Greater than you think, because it’s just happened to me.....

I’ve just got back from Fife.  A little trip away to meet Andy Richardson, a country man, an ex-gamekeeper and one of the nicest guys you could ever wish to meet.  More about Andy and me to come, but in the meantime I got Suburban Bushwacked along the way!

Sten is the Suburban Bushwacker – a guy from East London who has a fire in his belly about all things country.  The SBW is a walking paradox; a guy from the Smoke who blogs about shooting and fishing in a vibrant and completely fresh way.   He looks like he’s just fallen out of the set of Lock East-ender, whose association with shotguns is likely to be sawn-off.    More bank-job than banker.  If you like your sacred cows bow-hunted and BBQ’d – this is your man.

Like me, his life is just a bit different to what it used to be.   Re-trained as a plumber, divested of a life in sales and marketing (working, as it turns out, for two of the biggest shits I ever had the misfortune to meet), Sten has quite a following as the SBW.  If you have any interest in country pursuits and I assume you have or why the hell would you be reading this, you need to check out his blog; a breath of fresh thinking in a field where the current media is a private members cluster f*ck.

It turns out the SBW is staying with Andy as well.  It also turns out that this guy used to work within a 100 yards of my old London company TRBI.  You get to know a little bit about people when you share a pigeon hide for the day.  In London, the chances that I would have got to meet the SBW were pretty negligible; it took my retirement, the power of Face Book and Blogger and god knows how many other weird coincidences to bring us together. 

I’m very glad it did – well met fella!  Oh and if he offers to cook for you...........bite is bloody hand off.

The SBW all pigeoned up