Last week I was invited to go ‘beating’ by one of the Game-Keepers on a posh Estate. Scooter, my dog would love it, he claimed, and it was about time I got up off my arse and did some exercise. He didn’t say that, but I know that’s what we were both thinking. That was the clincher of the case he made. ‘When in Rome…’ I said to Linda, after he had gone, leaving me outmanoeuvred ‘…and in any case I LOVE throwing myself into island life – you know me…’
At farrow-spart the next morning I was driven blindfold in a 4×4 to a remote location – well, I say blindfold, it was a bitterly cold morning and the windows were steamy so I couldn’t see where we were going …which amounts to the same thing. We pulled-up outside a windowless building hidden in a remote valley where I was ordered to get out of the vehicle. A group of men – respectable-looking men for the most part – leaned against their Range Rovers puffing on cigars, and drinking whisky from hip flasks, chatting in English, I think, though the only words to reach me were ‘Fwar fwar fwar’.
Well this isn’t too energetic. I remember thinking.
A moment later I was ushered away from them and added to a different group – hardened grizzly men, this bunch, who were wearing the unusual combination of army camouflage-fatigues together with a high-vis sash – they looked me up and down until I felt quite uncomfortable in my Onesies and trainers. We were each handed a stick ….at that point I began to smell a rat because I’d noticed that the first group were armed with guns.
Then we got our instructions: ‘See that hill?’ we each turned to the other, grunting – there was no hiding the fact …Yes, we could see it; ‘Well, walk up that hill and hide in a bush …then, when you hear a whistle, let go of your dogs, hit the bush with your stick, and start shouting …that’s all there is to it. Even at that stage I was happy to go along with it because I imagined that after lunch we’d change sides: the ‘other’ fellows would be sent to climb the hill, and we’d stand around in silly hats drinking whisky, balancing guns over our shoulders, smoking cigars, and saying Fwar fwar fwar.
So we went up the hill and hid in a bush, and when we heard the whistle – complying with their wishes to the letter – began hitting the trees with our sticks, and shouting. It was difficult to know what to shout. We were all so very British that shouting didn’t come naturally to us at all. Some went for ‘Ooo, Ooo, Ooo’; others: ‘Yah! Yah!’; whilst I racked my brains for the most commonly shouted word in the English language – so as not to make a fool of myself – before hitting on: ‘FIRE!’
I could see why we’d been taken somewhere remote to do this – it’s like when you go on one of those new-age retreats in Wales which you’ve attended in the hope of saving your marriage; and they ask you strip-off, roll on a cactus, and bellow like a donkey – you wouldn’t do it unless you were so completely out-in-the-sticks that there was no danger of bumping into someone you knew. And you stop doing it pretty quickly when someone comes up to you and says: ‘Hello! Justin isn’t it?’
But get this: No sooner had I begun shouting and banging my stick than a gun went off. Which I found a bit sinister. I shouted again and another shot followed, straight over my head. Before I knew it, I was yelling like a mad man whilst gun-fire cracked-off all around us – aimed in our direction! We didn’t know which way to run. I’m not brave – I’ll admit that …I was first away – I leapt from bush to bush; yelling, – yet the more I ran, the more frenzied the gun-fire became.
Then things took a serious turn – from where I was hiding I overheard one of the men shout: ‘GOT ONE!!’ and another say: ‘No – he’s only winged …fetch him over here and I’ll wring his neck.’ Blood lust, you see …that’s the effect it has – the Gentleman in them had gone; the savage returned: it was like a cocktail party in West Kensington.
How I survived the next eight hours I am at a loss to explain …though I have read a lot of WWII books written by deserters. Even my creator expected the day to end differently and was busily preparing me a place downstairs. But just as it was growing dark, and I was resigned to spending a winter’s night cowering amongst the roots of a tree, I saw a pair of gaiters standing by my side and looked up to see the Keeper. He knocked the breath out of me by asking; ‘Did you enjoy it?’ When the good Lord had reinvested me with the power of speech, I said: ‘Have you taken leave of your senses? …You drag me out of bed in my PJ’s to crash through the undergrowth for eight hours as part of a live-firing exercise manned by lunatics – and when you find that by some chance I’ve survived, you ask me if I’ve ‘enjoyed it’ – what on earth do you suppose I get out of a day like this?’
‘Oops nearly forgot…’ he said, and handed me an envelope with thirty quid in it. THIRTY QUID!!! I mean, I wouldn’t mind but the minimum hourly wage is set at six-nineteen – and that’s for being indoors …in a heated factory …plucking fish.
Just after I got home, there was a scratching at the door, and I opened it to find Scooter dragging the corpses of two deer up the steps. ‘Put these in the freezer,’ he said, ‘I won’t be a minute… I’ve managed to get us some rather nice cigars.’ As he was leaving he stopped and called back over his shoulder; ‘Oh and …you don’t want a shed-load of Woodcock, do you?’
Phoenix from the Ashes is an even less likely – but true – story which describes one thrilling way in which you could take maximum advantage of the fact that your house has been lost in an uninsured blaze. Don’t worry, it’s funny.
If you’ve read the book, and could offer others the benefit of your thoughts by way of a review on a site like Amazon – thank you, it helps me a lot, and I shall be forever in your debt.
Book two – provisionally titled Linda catches Crabs - is well on it’s way …more news soon.