NOTES FROM IRELAND: Remembering a true countryman
Rupert tells the touching story of his old friend Stanley – a true countryman whose day was made not by the size of the bag, but by precious time spent in wild places
He opened the back door of Scotchrath House to meet us, a convoy of dogs rushing past him to make our acquaintance. He was dressed in corduroy trousers and an old woolly sweater which hung loosely from his shoulders. This was my first sight of Stanley Foot many, many years ago, and I couldn’t help but smile. I knew immediately that we would be friends.
Some years later, with yours truly on a placement year from forestry college, he invited me to stay while I was doing a course nearby. It was around harvest time and pigeons were on the menu. Needless to say, my attendance was almost non-existent as we chose to spend many a day on every golden stubble within reach, attempting to entice those grey masses within range. I must admit that wife Phyllis’s culinary exploits, together with son Lionel’s tales from the countryside, made my stay extra special.
As the years passed we always stayed in touch, probably not as much as we would have liked, but such is life. It got to the stage where Stanley had to have his hips replaced, the wear and tear of the countryside together with his advancing years having taken its toll.
Amazingly, that same year Dad invited him down for a crack at some grouse, not knowing whether or not his recent operations would deter such wanderings. We should have known better. There were very few that loved those purple monstrosities as much as Dad, but Stanley was one of them. Although still walking with the aid of a cane, he jumped from his jeep with the enthusiasm of a much younger man, a glint in his eye betraying excitement for what was to come.
An hour or two later, after winding through some forestry roads, we finally reached our destination. The others, of which there were six, decided to go in one direction while Stanley and myself went the opposite way. Stanley, ever the gentleman, did not want to hold up their progress. I was delighted to be in his company on that day for several reasons, the main one being that I loved his company, and his love of those mountains was infectious. I was also very hungover, the remnants of a late party the night before still very fresh in my head. The fact that he owned Flint, one of the best grouse dogs that I have ever seen, was also a bonus.
Initially, I thought he wouldn’t make it past the first hill, not that I was much better given my state, but it’s amazing how one gets a second wind once the first peak is negotiated. An hour or so into our walk, Flint, his lovely sleek English pointer, froze on a slight incline. Stanley was about 20 yards behind me, still walking with the aid of a pole, his gun strapped over his shoulder. Without too much movement I ushered him forwards, but, being Stanley, he told me to go and take a shot. I was having none of it. This might be his only chance, I thought, and beckoned him on past me. Just as he passed where I was, 12 fat birds burst from the heather all around. You’ll never believe what happened next, because I’m still amazed by it. He dropped his pole, slipped his gun from his shoulder, and proceeded to shoot probably the best right-and-left I have ever seen, given the circumstances. To be honest, I was just hoping he would be in time to release a barrel in their general
direction. Turning back to me I knew by his smile that he wouldn’t mind if he never shot another grouse, such was his delight, although he was slightly upset that I hadn’t fired.
On the homeward journey I managed to connect with two single birds, the second an old cock that ran for miles before alighting. I think he thought he was safe enough, but by then I had my second wind and I was fit as a fiddle in those days. Stanley didn’t take his gun from his shoulder again; he didn’t want to, his day was already made.
Fast forward some years and I’m living close to the Solway, on the Scottish side. I have invited Stanley up for the week in the hope that we might connect with some pinkfeet, a wigeon or two, and whatever else decides to cross our path. Rising an hour or so before dawn to stick the kettle on, I’m rather startled to hear the latch rattle on the back door. In walks Stanley with a large grin on his face. He has been out with my springer, Otto; even in his twilight years, his enthusiasm for what the morning may bring is infectious. Thousands of pinks pass over that very morning, most several gun shots high, but much to my delight he does connect with two stragglers.
Later in the morning we tide-flight a small bay close to where I’m living. A large pack of wigeon alight a hundred or so yards out from the rushes in which we hide, before being pushed closer by the incoming tide. We crouch ever lower, waiting for the right moment to jump up and ambush the whistling masses. Before we get the chance, Otto bolts from our temporary hide, scattering these delightful birds back out to sea without a shot being fired. I’m furious with my furry friend, but Stanley just smiles in amusement, the sight of the wigeon feeding so close more than compensating for any missed opportunities.
Stanley has long since gone to the happy hunting grounds up above, but this delightful country gentleman will always be in my thoughts. Game shooting to him wasn’t about how big the bag was, but rather the thrill of being in wild places with even wilder quarry. He loved the countryside with a passion that few others could ever match. I will always remember the warm welcome that awaited anytime we went to visit, with a kitchen so full of dogs that a seat was sometimes hard to come by. He will be missed always by Phyllis, Lionel and Robin, and those of us that knew him dearly. I will always be glad that Dad made that detour all those years ago, otherwise I might never have met this special, special man.
Few loved the purple mountains of Southern Ireland as much as Rupert’s late father, but Stanley was definitely one of them
An over-eager springer sends the wigeon straight back out to sea
Stanley in his element