Wood Pigeons! After baulking - squeamish - at a flea-ridden and tapeworm-infested rabbit the other day I find I'm suddenly very taken with the blissful simplicity of woodies: no need to skin them and gut them; two swift swipes with a knife, a snip with the kitchen scissors, ten minutes under the grill - and they're done! Wonderful! Compared to the grisly wrestling match that is skinning a rabbit, plucking a soft cloud of blue-grey feathers in a sunny green field yesterday felt like a holiday.
I stood around tonight - the sun going down on what felt like the first day of summer; blackbirds singing; a pheasant looking handsome in the next field - poking the still-twitching corpse of a dead rabbit with a twig and shuddering with revulsion.
I'd shot it about twenty minutes before and picked it up only to drop it at once, shocked by the swarm of fleas that were wriggling across its belly. I loathe fleas; I detest bugs of any description - mosquitoes, spiders, earwigs, woodlice - but fleas inspire a special horror for me. I picked it up by one paw and carried it another few yards and then I saw that the paw itself had its own lively colony of these insects - and I had to let it fall again. I waited a few minutes in the hope they'd flee the corpse - but when I looked again there were, if anything, even more of them.
Trying to grit my teeth, I picked it up and thumbed the pee out - then I dropped it again. Finally, I carried it to a fallen tree and laid it on the trunk; dozens of fleas were skipping off the body onto the bark and vanishing as they jumped away - bringing me to another shudder of nauseated disgust.
I waited - looking around, feeling like a fool and hoping that no cheerful dog-walker would happen by to find me by frozen beside a rabbit I couldn't bring myself to gut - but still they wriggled in the fur on its belly, still they writhed on its paws. I tried to stir them away by combing the fur with the blade of my knife and then with a stick; the shadows were lengthening around me as the sun went down.
Attempting to master myself, I sliced open its belly and - picking it up by the paws - flung it so that the guts flew out into a ditch behind the tree. Then I looked into the body of the rabbit: it was utterly crammed with small, white, semi-translucent larval tapeworm cysts: there seemed to be hundreds of them clinging in masses like bunches of grapes around the liver and the stomach.
I stood and looked at the rabbit I'd shot; I thought about my declared certainty that cooking will destroy any trace of tapeworm in rabbits; I thought about my snobbery towards supermarket shoppers who, I like to imagine, try to distance themselves from the visceral reality of meat production; I thought about the picture I hold of myself as an ethical hunter - my reluctance to waste food, my insistence that I'd only take the life of an animal if I was then going to eat it; I thought about all this - and then I picked up the dead rabbit, threw it into the ditch and walked home. __________________________________________________________
Thinking about it, I remember my father talking to me about the French farmers - the family that protected him from the Nazis when his plane was shot down in WWII. One of the things that they did to get by during the war was farming - not a word of a lie, this - rabbits: they bred them in a wire enclosure on the grounds of a ruined château nearby and swapped them with the drivers who stopped in the local train yard for bread and cigarettes. __________________________________________________________
I came back feeling tired, foul tempered and sorely troubled and I went straight out and sat around in the fields while the glory of the afternoon turned into the greater glory of the early evening:
Saying Hail Mary's and snorting snuff, I sat hidden in the woods and peered out at sunlit rabbits and wood pigeons on the grass and, in the end, missed a pigeon at twenty five yards and gave - honestly - gave not much of a damn about it.
Then I left the orchard and was lost for a while in admiration of the grass with the sun setting low above.
Then I lay in a field and watched, half-dazzled, as a dozen rabbits scampered about and I missed two of them and cared not a jot - blowing my nose, snorting snuff and thinking about Woody Guthrie:
I've roamed and rambled and I've followed my footsteps, To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts, And all around me a voice was sounding, This land was made for you and me.
Then I did a bit of half-hearted and clumsy stalking and managed only to startle a couple of rabbits and gave - really and truly - not a hoot about it.
Then I packed up the rifle and just shot my camera at everything and all was fine as the sun went down.
The sun comes shining as I was strolling, The wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling, The fog was lifting a voice come chanting, This land was made for you and me.
On the face of it, this is a hunting blog: I go out into the fields and I try to shoot rabbits for food, I write and take pictures about this and then I post the writing and the pictures here. So it's a hunting blog, yes?
Well, yes and no. If I look round the scene I see that, as well as hunting, we hunter-bloggers are also very much in the business of representation: we are very concerned with how the world sees us and with the face that we choose to show to the world. If this is so, then why are we so concerned about this question of the image? Well, we're concerned about it, I'd say, because we know that - as hunters - we are under siege: we are under siege, these days, because our face does not fit that well.
If you look at the television and at magazines, you'll see pictures of well-dressed people in nicely furnished homes eating food that they've bought from brightly-lit and hygienic supermarkets. You'll see pictures of people at work in front of computer screens, tapping away - laughing and smiling - earning the money to buy all the homes, clothes, cars, furnishings and food that they like. It's a succession of attractive pictures and it's very compelling; this is the way that life ought to look, it's easy to think, this must be the good life.
Hunters, if they fit into this picture at all, fit very, very badly. We kill animals. We track them in the field, observe them at liberty in their natural environment - and then we kill them. We try to do this - at least, if we are not out-and-out sadists - in as painless a way as possible, but we're human, and killing animals in the field is not always an exact and clinical procedure. So we come back from the fields with blood on our hands and blood on our clothes; we gut the animals, we skin them and then we butcher them. None of this is remotely pretty; none of this makes for nice pictures on the television screen.
So hunters - in a society and a culture which mainly understands ethics to be 'conforming to the image of the good citizen' - know themselves to be under threat precisely because we do insist on living beyond the confines that this tidy and attractive series of images allows for us. We do this not because we are sadists or perverts - though these are certainly some of the ways in which our actions are popularly understood - but because we are not content with the half-life that these images offer, we do not want to lose touch with what is real; we do not wish the richness of our challenging and multi-faceted lives to be forced into sterile conformity with an alienating set of pictures.
Like most other hunter-bloggers, then, I am very concerned with this question and I write about it a great deal. So that's why I say that this is not solely a hunting blog - because this matter, the antagonism between life and the image, is, without doubt, a political question. Dealing with it, as I try to, means that if I am blogging about hunting then I am also, and by necessity, blogging about politics as well.
For instance, I've written briefly here in the past about the Greens. If the Green Party got into power in the UK they would - and their manifesto makes this perfectly clear - outlaw the ownership of all guns and firearms and ban hunting entirely. Their picture of what constitutes the ethical conduct of the good citizen would leave no room for us hunters at all - we simply wouldn't fit into the picture. With the Greens in power we could look forward to this part of our lives being utterly 'cleansed' - it would be refused a place in the picture of the country that the Greens had been elected to build and, if we refused to let their image of good conduct rule our lives, then we would automatically become criminals: bad citizens.
Very few hunters, I imagine, will be voting for the Green Party. They won't be doing this because they understand that - at least in this respect - the Greens have lost the plot entirely. They have been seduced by the charms of the image that they wish to propagate and they would - in their zeal - 'encourage' everyone to share their conformity with the picture of the good citizen that is their own ideal. The good citizen - in their eyes - is, of course, mainly vegetarian, certainly has no blood on their hands, is kind to animals, frowns on non-organic food and internal combustion engines, is clean-living, ethical, pure.
Few hunters will vote for the Greens because we know that, for us at least, this image is utterly nonsensical; life - or at least a life worth living - just isn't to be found in this picture. We are not at all seduced by this image and we certainly won't vote to try and live in it.
But will UK hunters be voting for the British National Party in the forthcoming elections instead? The majority of hunters in the UK probably fit into the picture that the BNP has as its idol rather better than they conform to that which is offered for our collective worship by the Greens. Hunters in the UK are mainly pale-skinned creatures; they live in or near the countryside or they have access to it on a regular basis; a cursory flick through any of our hunting magazines will show almost no black faces at all and I've certainly been in gun shops here where it's been thought perfectly normal to bandy the word 'Paki' around with impunity. The BNP has - as one of its manifesto positions - that it would seek to make the UK self-sufficient as regards food production and, over against multi-national Big Farma agriculture, they'd seek a return here to more 'traditional' farming practises. I'm sure that the picture that the BNP wants to paint of their United Kingdom - happy white folks in thatched cottages, double-decker buses, the cheerful white bobby on the beat, trains running on time, honest white folks at work in the fields - would have a very cozy niche set aside for the handsome (white) hunter at home in the rural English countryside. We would, most of us I'm sure, fit the picture rather well; we would fully conform to the prevailing idolatry.
If you go into some supermarkets in the UK you'll see that there's a brand of sausage called The Black Farmer. There are very few black farmers in the UK; this gentleman may not be, literally, the Black Farmer (i.e., the only one) but he is certainly one of only a very few. If the BNP got into power they would set about imposing their image of the good society and, without question, they would therefore attempt to bring it about that there were no black farmers here whatsoever. The gentleman who runs this farm and makes these sausages would, quite simply, no longer be welcome as a citizen and a worker in his own country - and why? Well, it's obvious - his face simply wouldn't fit the picture for the BNP. He's black - and because he's black, he would - as their manifesto clearly promises - be 'firmly encouraged' to 'return to his country of racial and ethnic origin'. The BNP understands that the path to the good life, in their terms, means that you have to expel everything and everyone that doesn't fit the picture. White hunter? No problem. Black farmer? Problem.
Images are re-assuring; I love the few minutes after a successful hunt when I'm walking home along a busy road with a gun over my shoulder and a rabbit hanging at my side; I take a great pleasure in being able to glory at these times in having the image of a hunter.
But I'm not 'a hunter'. I have no idea what I am. The truth is that I'm half-a-dozen things at once and I'm none of them in any very convincing fashion. The pleasure of the 'hunter' image, for me, is the joy of being able to forget this troubling indeterminacy for a little while; the image acts as something like a cooling salve on the raw and unanswerable question of who and what I actually am; for a few minutes, I know who I am - I am this image of a hunter - and it feels good.
So it's not true, but it is a most enjoyable and reassuring falsehood.
Compelling political imagery functions in just the same way as personal-identity images like this one; they offer a reassuring, orthopaedic support and a solace against being disturbed by the truth that's hidden - often very well hidden - within the reality of ordinary, complex and sometimes difficult human social relations. They offer the solace of simplicity. They are a lie, certainly, but they are a most enjoyable and reassuring lie.
Times are hard, we're told, and it's understandable that we should seek consoling fictions with which to reassure ourselves. There is, however, a vast and bloody human price to be paid if we do attempt to seek solace in the particular images that the BNP offers to us of the 'good life' in their 'United' Kingdom. The BNP do not fulminate - publicly, at any rate - against Jews. Their manifesto contains hearty denials that they are in any way comparable to the Nazi's or to any other historical fascist group. On the face of it, the object of their fear and hatred is different to that of the Nazi's. But there can be absolutely no doubt that, were they to gain power, the 'firm encouragement' to 'relocate' that they would offer to the Black Farmer - and to all those millions of others here who would share his 'difficulty' with fitting into their picture - would be structurally identical to the 'firm encouragement' with which the Nazi's offered 'relocation' to the European Jews in the 1940's. Relocation first to the ghetto and then - after 1941 when affairs on the Russian front declined to fit the Nazi picture - relocation via railway cattle-truck to destinations which were - then, at least - unknown.
We know, now, where those rail tracks lead to. So shouldn't we also know where the - for some - seductive images that the BNP offer of a peaceful, prosperous, mono-cultural United Kingdom will lead us, too? Hunters know what it's like not to fit into the pretty picture; we know that a political 'solution' that's based on conformity to an image is no solution at all. The seduction of the image is the problem, in fact, never the solution.
The Rabbit Stew Blog says: Don't Vote BNP on June 4th. __________________________________________________________
A mesmerisingly beautiful afternoon in the fields today: blackbirds singing, warm sun on my back (snuff plastered all over my nose, ants walking up my sleeve) - and then a rabbit hopped out at thirty yards. I took a shot at it and it disappeared.
I'd taken another shot about half an hour earlier and, though I'd seen the rabbit leap into the air and disappear from my sight in the scope, I hadn't been able to tell if it had jumped because of the noise of the rifle or because it had been hit. I climbed out of my cover behind a bank of nettles and scoured the field. I found plenty of dried cow pats in the grass but I didn't find a rabbit. I must have missed and it had scarpered.
So this time I just lay there and looked around. Further down the fence-line I could see three or four reddish-brown, long-eared heads peeking out and looking around but I couldn't see anything at all where the rabbit at which I'd fired had been. I assumed that I'd missed again. I went back to gazing across the field at the patterns that the sun was making in the grass - deep, wonderful greens criss-crossed with bands of shade and everywhere dotted with buttercups and the seed-heads of countless, gently-waving dandelions.
Quite happy, I got up after twenty minutes of dreamy dozing and decided that before I walked home I'd have a quick check up the field where I'd fired. To my surprise, I found a freshly-killed rabbit.
Junk in the abandoned orchard where I sat today for hours, enjoying being out of my damn flat and in the glory of the late Spring afternoon.
The Tom Buck snuff thanks to which I became well and truly toffee-nosed today.
Beautiful lichen on the branch of a tree.
More of same but with exuberant and glorious, fresh leaves.
I signed my name - after a piece of hunting stupidity - on the bough of a fallen tree as a reminder not to be such a daft, careless git in the future. __________________________________________________________
Courtesy of Sitemeter, I note with pleasure and amazement that a visitor from the Pentagon has just spent a quarter of an hour perusing my musings on the efficacy of the Crosman 2250 Ratcatcher in regards the hunting of rabbits.
I would like to take this opportunity of welcoming Mr. Obama to the Rabbit Stew blog, extend my most cordial wishes that he return again soon and take the liberty of pointing out that the US defence budget - of five hundred and fifteen billion dollars - will buy quite a lot of Ratcatchers. __________________________________________________________
Every time I go out hunting these days I make straight for the same spot at the edge of an abandoned orchard - it's such a great place, I've realised: I can see open land and hedgerows in two different fields and I've got very dense camouflage from nettles, fallen trees and overhanging branches.
There were no rabbits to be seen when I arrived there yesterday afternoon and so, after I'd sat there for a while, I ended up taking a few pictures of the Ivy-covered tree above my head.
I'd already noticed some Wood Pigeons grazing nearby but I'd ignored them in favour of a possible rabbit. But since it was now getting late and they'd - by this time - walked up to within twenty yards of me, I reluctantly decided to change the plan. I took aim, waited till the closest one had turned to give me a clean shot and fired.
I'd run out in to the field to retrieve the bird - its feathers were spinning around me in the wind - and I was thinking that all of this commotion must surely mean the end of my evening's hunting. But no, when I finished plucking the bird and looked up I saw to my surprise that a rabbit had just appeared from a hedge about fifty yards away in the next field. I knew I couldn't hit it at that distance so I just sat and watched it through the scope for a while. To my surprise, it then ran towards me and stopped about twenty-five yards away. I'd been sitting with my elbow resting on the branches of a fallen tree and, while this had been fine for keeping an eye on the rabbit, the wind was moving the branch so much that I couldn't keep the cross-hairs steady enough for a shot. I shuffled sideways up towards the trunk of the tree, found a better support there and - despite some pre-shot jitters - fired again.
The rabbit was still kicking when I got to it so I had to grab it by the back legs and break its neck. Back in the orchard, I used the branches of the fallen tree to hold it up at waist height while I gutted it.
Walking back, my hands were messy with blood and feathers; seeing a rusty saucepan among the rest of the farm junk in the orchard, I turned it over in the hope I could use it as a washbasin next time and left it lying where it might collect some rain.
I've never come back from the fields with a rabbit and a pigeon before. The pigeon will make a good lunch tomorrow and the rabbit can soak overnight and make another two good meals after that.
I fired five shots at a rabbit yesterday before finally - after having re-estimated the range at 35 rather than 30 yards and moving the aim point up a corresponding notch in the reticule - hitting it on the sixth attempt. It didn't go down cleanly, however, and I had to jump a fence, dash up to it and snap its neck while it kicked in my hands.
Someone wrote a comment on a post of mine recently: 'I've chosen a less violent path precisely because I experience these things with such intensity, that inflicting additional pain on any being is unfathomable to me. My life is no less "real" than yours. In fact, when I immerse myself in the outdoors in peace with other living entities, I could argue (but I don't) that my experience with nature and animals is far more genuine than yours. Being a predator robs you of the symbiotic interactions you tend to have when you become a non-threatening presence.'
Doubtless wringing the neck of a wounded and struggling rabbit doesn't count as being a non-threatening presence enjoying symbiotic interactions with the natural world.
I spent last night drinking cheap wine, messing about with a dodgy internet connection, snorting snuff - and thinking about romantic images. It's difficult for me to avoid romanticising hunting - romanticising the image that I project of what it is I'm doing when I'm out in the fields with a rifle. I take photographs when I'm out there and I muck about with them to try and make them attractive. Here's one:
A charmingly pastoral picture of the unspoilt Staffordshire countryside. Well, to me it's a pretty image - but it's just that: an image. The M6 motorway lies about a hundred yards behind the spot from which I took this photo; the noise of traffic is a constant background to all of the time I spend in these fields.
I took another photo yesterday - just before I started shooting at the rabbit - of the ground beneath my feet: old bottles, nettles and feathers from the Wood Pigeon I'd shot the day before:
I've mucked about with this image too, of course; I can't stand photographs that haven't been diddled with at least a little bit in Photoshop: I can't bear the unvarnished image.
I get a keen pleasure in imagining the image that I present to passing motorists when I walk home with a dead rabbit swinging at my side; I am enjoying being - myself - an image in these moments.
In my opinion (and I don't say 'humble opinion' because, for one, it's a cliché to do so and also because, in any case, there's little that's genuinely humble in my saying this, I'm being rather rude in fact) to see oneself as a 'non-threatening presence' at one with the animal world in a peaceful symbiosis is, actually, just another image: an image of a beautiful soul that contrasts with the - one must suppose - unattractive image of the predatory hunter.
As the rabbit cooked last night I took a photo of my laptop and snuff tin & pipe-strewn coffee table - but it seemed too bleak and ugly a picture to me so I Photoshopped it until it seemed less appalling to my eye.
I've left out some details of the dying rabbit too - there's no way that I could include them in any remotely 'acceptable' presentation on this blog. I've presented one image in the words I've used but I could have chosen other words in order to make it a more anodyne or a more purposefully shocking image instead - but this amounts to little more than a tinkering with the niceties of the picture. Am I offering the image of a tidy, responsible and humane hunter? Or am I offering the image of a gritty, chain-smoking Hemingway-esque hunter? Which is the real one?
I don't think any image is real. Images are always imaginary. You can pick the ones you like (I certainly pick the ones that I like) - but 'real' isn't about images at all. Real is something else; the real always refuses to be caught in the image. __________________________________________________________
Yesterday I was watching a group of wood pigeons feeding on the ground alongside a shifting community of rabbits; four birds and three or four rabbits all coming and going on the same patch of field beside a hedgerow in the sun. They were all about fifty yards away when I found my place, close beside a large tree in the abandoned orchard where I've taken to sitting of late. I sat and watched them for twenty minutes or so - just sitting quietly and looking; now through the scope; now just with the gun in my lap. It was a windy day and I'd walked to the field thinking that the weather might make shooting difficult - but I was so hugely fed up with sitting indoors that even a spell of fruitless time outside seemed vastly more attractive than spending any more of my day in a smoke-wreathed web-search for new work and housing opportunities.
Two small rabbits dashed through the orchard to my right; a minute passed and another one appeared in the same place - about five yards away - and sat quite still. It was a young rabbit and I watched it for a few moments without moving my head; it looked as though it had sensed that something was amiss in the woods around it - but not quite sure what to do about it. I couldn't have levelled my rifle without frightening it and even if I could have done the gun - with its scope set at twenty-five yards - would have been quite useless for a target so close. Presently, it scampered away and I went back to looking out at the field.
The rabbits had disappeared from the grazing group ahead of the me and the pigeons had made their way down the hedgerow towards me. Shall I try and shoot one, I wondered? Well, why not? They were now at about thirty yards, so I sighted on the closest of the group, waited until it had moved so as to present me with a clear shot at its chest - and fired.
When I got to it, it was lying on the grass with its wings spread out - still alive. I picked it up and quickly broke its neck. This was the first time I'd ever shot a Wood Pigeon and, while I carried it back to the orchard, I marvelled at the size and beauty of the bird as well as reckoning with my own slight shock at having just killed it.
Starting to pluck it, I was astonished at how easily and cleanly the feathers came out - stripping it took only a minute or two and there I was in the woods with what suddenly looked like a small, dark supermarket chicken in my hands. Not what I'd expected the afternoon to deliver at all and an altogether different experience to gutting a rabbit; clouds of grey-blue feathers were being whirled around on the ground at my feet by the still-blustery wind.
Later, I watched a video about preparing Wood-Pigeon and then pan-fried the breasts and legs - eating them with just salt and a tumbler of ultra-cheap Tesco wine as an accompaniment. Not a lot of meat on one bird, really, but good eating nonetheless: a rich, game flavour like a combination of both steak and kidney. I licked the platter clean. __________________________________________________________
After reading a post about my inability to successfully sharpen a hunting knife, Tom (the author of Boomers and Bullshit - which is a monument to softly-spoken & genteel blogging) very kindly popped a Sterling Knife Sharpening Tool into the post to me.
I got it this morning. In my excitement I snatched it from the postman's hands, tore open the envelope - more or less with my teeth - and hurled myself into an orgy of fevered knife sharpening.
And yes, the bottom line is this: it works; it works very well indeed.
I'd done a good deal of beavering away with stones and strops and Dremmels and suchlike in the past but I'd never managed to get anything like a really sharp edge on the little CRKT Mirage knife that I carry when I'm out hunting. A few swift swipes of the blade through this little Tungsten-Carbide jobbie, though, and it's now sharper than a very sharp thing indeed; honed - in fact - to a perfection that's well-nigh terrifying.
After I'd confirmed this - silently shredding a sheet of paper by merely wafting the knife across it - I dug out every dusty penknife I possessed and used the cunning little tool to zip each of them into a similarly unnerving state of perfection. Then I surveyed my new-found arsenal with a deep, deep satisfaction.
I've been in the habit of using an utterly blunt little blue penknife purely to move small piles of snuff around en route to my nose - using the blade to shift the finely powdered tobacco between my snuffbox and the back of my hand. So of course I sharpened the hell out of this little knife as well and - once done - tested it on the back of my arm. Yes, it was monsterously sharp and produced an instant bald patch on my forearm. Tremendous!
But once I'd done this I thought, Well yes, but you use this on buses and trains quite a lot - don't you? - to keep yourself hopped up on nicotine. What's going to happen now when you've a dab of snuff on the blade and the bus goes over a pothole? You're going to slice your damn thumb off, aren't you, you daft bugger?
So, yes; I'm probably going to have to use a Bluntening Tool on that particular knife if I don't want to risk opening an artery or losing a limb. But that aside - it's a totally cool little gizmo. Thank you very much indeed, Tom! __________________________________________________________
One of the two rabbits I shot tonight had a cyst on its shoulder about the size of the top joint of my thumb. My first response was: Arggh! Yuck! Throw it away!
Rather than do this, I Googled it.
First up, the AirgunBBS site where there's a discussion on the matter (here). This isn't terribly clear: it might be tapeworm, it might not; it might be O.K to eat it, it might kill you stone dead. Many shades of opinion.
I Googled a bit further and found this. Well, this is better: The cyst means that the rabbit is, indeed, carrying the larval stage of a tapeworm that can go on - if eaten raw - to reach maturity in the stomachs of dogs, coyotes and foxes. It doesn't grow in humans - and cooking kills it anyway. Bottom line: it's safe to cook and eat.
I cut the cyst off, chucked out the innards, stuck the rabbit in pressure-cooker, whacked the lid on and boiled the hell out of it for about an hour and a quarter. I was going - belt and braces, this, I know - to roast it after I'd boiled it, but seeing how it came out of the pot, though, I thought I wouldn't bother: I curried it and scoffed it.
Now, I am - by nature or nurture, whatever - a very squeamish person. Gutting rabbits? Every single time I do it I grit my teeth and wince with nauseated disgust. So seeing the cyst on the rabbit did indeed give me the willies and no mistake. But I know that I'm already the carrier of one bizarre, parasitic and debilitating organism: I carry the belief that food whichhasn't come from a supermarket must, therefore, be worthy of profound suspicion: if it isn't from Tesco's it's bound to be deadly. I certainly share in this delusion and much of my hunting is a conscious attempt to refute this belief which I know - to some degree, anyway - I share. This nonsense lives and prospers within me and, seeing the cyst, it reared up and - for a while - took me over completely: What if I get sick? What if it's bad? Perhaps I'll die?
But no, bugger it: I'd sooner get a sodding tapeworm than be afraid to eat anything but Tesco ready-meals for the rest of my life. __________________________________________________________
I've got a chum coming to visit me tomorrow. I've been telling this friend about hunting rabbits and I felt duty-bound to at least attempt to get a rabbit to put before them tomorrow for dinner. So I was sitting around this evening - pooped, after a day spent bringing my flat up to the hygienic levels that, in a dim light, might just pass muster as civilised - thinking, Well, I'd like to just sit around on my bum now, drink wine and snort snuff, but - oh, gawd - I'd better get out there and try and get a rabbit.
So I walked to the fields thinking, what I really want to happen is that I'll just get there, bag a rabbit immediately and then I can go straight damn home again. My perennial, Eeyore-like gloom supplied the coda: Oh, fat chance of that...
I got to the old orchard and tiptoed up to the tree where I sit; peeking round it, what did I see but a rabbit! Extraordinary! I levelled the rifle and gingerly nudged round the tree until I had it in the sights - and fired. It jumped up and fell down: I'd got it! I was about to get up and retrieve it when I noticed that - right next to it - there was another rabbit. (I tend to avoid - if I can - anthropomorphising rabbit behaviour on this blog; that kind of thing strikes me, very often, as being in bad taste. This time, however - bad taste or not - I'd struggle to find a better way of describing the attitude of the second rabbit other than to say that it was regarding its suddenly fallen comrade with a cautious perplexity.) I ducked back behind the tree, reloaded, stuck my head back round, sighted, and fired. It jumped up and fell down. Two! I'd got two rabbits in the space of as many minutes!
I walked home along the busy road that leads to my flat, watching the cars go by and gaining an embarrassingly large amount of enjoyment from being seen to be carrying a rabbit in each hand.
I'd read an article about the 'Thatcher Years' earlier that had referenced Bowie's Ashes to Ashes as being the soundtrack to that florid era in British history. As I walked home, then, it returned to me and I found myself singing out loud:
"Do you remember a guy that's been, In such an early song, I've heard a rumour from Ground Control, Oh no, don't say it's true, They got a message from the Action Man, I'm happy, hope you're happy too..."
I was feeling quite pleased with myself yesterday because I'd come up with - what seemed to me, at least - a nifty way of supporting the rifle while I sat and peered from the cover of the orchard. I'd put an old fence post up against a tree a while back and this had provided some support - but I still had to hold the weight of the gun and stop it sliding to the right and down the post. Sitting there yesterday, it occurred to me to loop the strap from my gun slip over the top of the post and rest my hand and the rifle in the 'V' formed by the slope of the post and the hanging, rolled-up slip. This felt comfortable and it also felt as if I would still be allowing the rifle to move when it was fired. It's important, I gather, not to rest springers on a hard surface when you're firing or their recoil will bounce the gun up before the pellet leaves the barrel and cause the shot to go anywhere but where you would have liked.
What an resourceful chap I am, I thought, and, in celebration, fired off a couple of 'noble hunter' self-portraits with my camera phone.
But soft! What's this? A rabbit had appeared at the far end of the hedgerow and had started to hop, skip and jump towards me (I'm much obliged to them when they do this, it always makes me very happy).It stopped at a convenient thirty yards and then turned to look at the field and present me with its profile. I sighted up the shot - marvelling at the steadiness of the view through the scope and congratulating myself once more - squeezed in the first stage of the trigger, breathed out and, as I reached the steady point before breathing in again, increased the squeeze for the second stage of the trigger pull...
And realised that I'd forgotten to break the barrel and cock the rifle. Whoops! By the time I'd finally done this and stuck my head back round the tree again, the rabbit had scarpered.
A loudly-mooing herd of cows came into the field just then and - spotting me - came cheerfully towards me to say hello and moo some more. There was no more shooting to be done in that part of the field so, instead, I had a couple of refreshing, citrus-and-bergamot-flavoured sniffs of snuff, took a few more 'noble hunter' snaps for good measure - and then wandered home; empty-handed but, inexplicably, rather cheerful. __________________________________________________________
Now [I wrote in an email to BSA about a months ago], given the current recession, it's plainly daft of me to be constantly advertising German guns when UK manufacturing needs all the boost it can get. BSA is a shining star among UK industries and a byword for engineering excellence worldwide; it's shameful and ridiculous that I'm not using one!
I know this is cheeky, forgive me, but I thought I'd at least write with a small proposition: If you have, somewhere on a testing bench in your factory, a thoroughly used, scratched up, unsellable pre-charged pneumatic rifle, that was just getting in the way, then - if you were so hugely generous as to throw it my way - then I'd stick a dirty great banner ad at the top of my blog saying BUY BSA! and I'd write about the (undoubted) marvels of the gun to the exclusion of all others for ever more. What do you think?
As soon as I hit 'send' I thought, 'Oh God, what a fool I am! Is there any end to my stupidity? What in god's name makes me think that BSA will throw several hundred quids worth of rifle at me in return for a banner on a blog which gets forty visits a day?
I am profoundly grateful for the fact that whoever received this at BSA had the outstanding good sense to delete it at onceand not bother to reply.