Adam re­mem­bers some of his less har­mo­nious keeper­ing days

Sporting Shooter - - Contents -

It must be time to un­veil a few more mo­ments from the rich ta­pes­try of my keeper­ing days, spent in that tran­quil part of Hampshire in the years be­fore it be­came the over­spill area for many of London’s finest (though the plan­ners were al­ready work­ing on it…).

Get­ting on with your fel­low man is an im­por­tant part of es­tate har­mony, not least when the lit­tle patch of heaven in ques­tion houses a small team of work­ers, not all nec­es­sar­ily of one mind. Call it di­plo­macy, man man­age­ment, or just plain com­mon sense; learn­ing to live with al­ter­na­tive points of view does make for a more en­joy­able and stress-free life.

I sup­pose you could say I was just un­lucky to share es­tate space with three very dif­fer­ent farm man­agers over a cou­ple of decades, though nat­u­rally it was my joy and priv­i­lege to work with such gifted paragons. Most keep­ers I knew of at the time seemed more for­tu­nate, set­tled with just the one long-term es­tate ser­vant who did his job to the best of his abil­ity while the keeper did the same, oc­ca­sion­ally cross­ing paths but rarely swords.

I must ex­plain, be­fore fem­i­nists start a pe­ti­tion, that I write of the days when, if there were such things as fe­male farm man­agers and game­keep­ers, they had not ex­panded such for­ward-think­ing ac­cep­tance of di­ver­sity to ru­ral Hampshire (or not to my knowl­edge or ex­pe­ri­ence any­way).

The farm man­ager, well es­tab­lished long be­fore I ar­rived on the scene, was some­what less than keen on the shoot. My men­tor and pre­de­ces­sor, Stan, had warned me to ex­pect lit­tle or no co­op­er­a­tion from Arnold since the shoot, and my job and liveli­hood, was seen as an in­con­ve­nient and ex­pen­sive anachro­nism. It was ‘a rich man’s train set’, to be played with but not taken se­ri­ously (or not by the agri­cul­tural side of things, any­way). No, he had crops to grow and prof­its to make, with the only down­side be­ing that he wasn’t par­tic­u­larly good at it.

So, we ba­si­cally we spent the first 12 years or so of my keeper­ing life in an uneasy truce, though one or two in­ci­dents could be seen as brief pe­ri­ods of all-out war.

One such early skir­mish was over the sleep­ing po­lice­men, or ‘traf­fic calm­ing in­te­gral road-flow im­prove­ments’, as they are most prob­a­bly called to­day.

The drive to The Big House was around half a mile, start­ing at my lodge and run­ning straight as an ar­row through an av­enue of limes, over the river, and on to the house, mar­ket gar­den and sta­bles in the cen­tre of the park. The road was pretty much un­bend­ing and, ex­cept for meet­ing

the odd trac­tor and oc­ca­sional ob­struc­tion, users were in­clined to put their foot down. The Boss was never es­pe­cially over­joyed about this, not least since some of the oc­ca­sional ob­struc­tions were his horses or groups of his pheas­ants, and so he de­cided that speed bumps would be the an­swer to con­trol ov­er­en­thu­si­as­tic driv­ers.

Nat­u­rally, since I was del­e­gated to over­see their lo­ca­tion and height, I was blamed for this in­ter­rup­tion to ac­cepted be­hav­iour, es­pe­cially by Arnold, who al­ways drove his Land Rover at high speed to match the im­por­tance and ur­gency of his daily tasks.

Most of the bumps did their jobs and forced driv­ers to slow, but some – well, Arnold – soon dis­cov­ered that the first and sec­ond could be par­tially avoided by drop­ping both near­side wheels off the road and onto the verge to main­tain speed. Deep grooves quickly ap­peared in the sacred turf, and the Boss got huffy with me for some rea­son (in­ter­nal pol­i­tics are not al­ways fair), so I solved the prob­lem by drop­ping a lump of cord­wood about four feet long and a foot across into each of the ruts.

Sac­ri­fic­ing some of my fire­wood seemed a fair price to slow up Stir­ling Moss, but I’d not reck­oned with the man’s out­rage at all this un­war­ranted in­ter­fer­ence. Al­most within hours, both logs had been hit at speed by the Land Rover’s left front wheel, knock­ing them sev­eral feet through the air, al­low­ing for­ward progress at undi­min­ished speed, and caus­ing quite se­vere dam­age to the near­side front wheel rim, bear­ing, sus­pen­sion and half-shaft.

Af­ter that the sun shone less brightly from Arnold’s back­side; he was rel­e­gated to the dog­house, his Land Rover to the re­pair shop, and that trou­ble­some keeper was, tem­po­rar­ily, in front on points. Ac­tu­ally, a cou­ple of weeks later he won the game out­right when main­te­nance set con­crete posts linked by chains across both sides of the drive, cut­ting off the es­cape route. Round one to The Shoot.

Even be­fore this con­fronta­tion the Boss had made it clear to me that, as his keeper, the buck stopped at my door when it came to who could carry a gun, and when. That’s com­mon sense, and a per­fectly nor­mal state of af­fairs on any shoot­ing es­tate – you can’t have guns go­ing off, caus­ing alarm bells to ring and time-con­sum­ing check-ups to in­ter­rupt the daily rou­tine, but that’s just what hap­pened only a few days af­ter I’d started. The forester and the se­nior cow­man thought they’d pop out for a pi­geon to­gether, with­out telling me…

This re­sulted in a short-lived but huffy con­fronta­tion which ended when the agent sent a writ­ten di­rec­tive from on high to all de­part­ments. There would, he re­minded all par­ties, be oc­ca­sions when es­tate work­ers might help the keeper, or fancy a bit of rab­bit­ing or roost shoot­ing, but not un­der any cir­cum­stances with­out prior per­mis­sion. It wasn’t a blan­ket ban, just a po­lite es­tab­lish­ing of the ground rules, and that sort of solved the prob­lem. Nat­u­rally it also left me la­belled a brown-nosed toady, but you have to learn to live with that sort of thing.

When most keep­ers spend time with their bosses, of­ten walk­ing the drives in earnest con­ver­sa­tion, some might see this as sim­ply an opportunity for toad­y­ing and back-stab­bing. The re­al­ity is that they’re far more likely to be dis­cussing how the birds are do­ing or how a day went, or work­ing out some po­ten­tial ways to im­prove the shoot. You just have to ac­cept it: hu­man na­ture, peo­ple who work on coun­try es­tates, and things in gen­eral, are un­likely to change.

What­ever, peace reigned as far as sur­prise shots were con­cerned un­til the day, a few weeks later, when I hap­pened to be creep­ing up on a crow shout­ing the odds from a tree­top. Un­usu­ally, this ul­tra-wary bird seemed obliv­i­ous to any dan­ger – at­tract­ing fe­males can of­ten lead to all sorts of prob­lems – and I was about to change that sit­u­a­tion per­ma­nently when a shot nearby put him into rapid exit mode.

Not a lit­tle miffed and pretty primed up to con­front an ob­vi­ous poacher, I ran in the di­rec­tion of the bang to find Arnold climb­ing into his Land Rover, gun in one hand and a rab­bit in the other.

Gen­tly and po­litely re­mon­strat­ing with the gen­tle­man, point­ing out that break­ing the terms of the ‘No shoot­ing’ agree­ment was a frus­trat­ing in­con­ve­nience, I re­minded him that he had only re­cently had a memo from on high out­lin­ing the cor­rect pro­to­cols in ques­tion. His re­ply lives with me to this day: “Well, of course I saw that memo Adam, but it doesn’t ap­ply to me!” My fault, of course. Any fool should have been ca­pa­ble of dis­tin­guish­ing Arnold’s 12-bore shots from other, very sim­i­lar but il­licit 12-bore shots… but there you go! Some are more gifted than oth­ers.

He was in a class of his own, that man, and so in his equally in­di­vid­ual way was Arnold’s suc­ces­sor, but that’s an­other story…

‘Not a lit­tle miffed and pretty primed to con­front an ob­vi­ous poacher, I ran in the di­rec­tion of the bang to find Arnold climb­ing into his Land Rover’

When Adam was keeper­ing on an es­tate shoot it led to clashes with the farm man­ager

The farm man­ager’s unan­nounced rab­bit con­trol had Adam hunt­ing for poach­ers!

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