Mr Lavish contemplates the approaching season.
Every year some normally intelligent people pander to prejudice and do a stupid race to be the first restaurant in London to serve the first grouse of the season.
Frankly, if grouse hasn’t been hung for a couple of weeks you might as well be eating battery raised chicken. These people do the same thing with Beaujolais Nouveau (somebody’s piss would taste better).
There are a few things new that are all right. New season’s Calvados is worth a shot, as well as Vino Nuovo from Tuscany, which cannot be sold until about 5th November, but in general the worst of the lot is the grouse on the 12th.
When I was younger I was a pretty decent shot, but I stopped when I was 30 odd. I still enjoy the day out, but I no longer shoot. Quite a few of the chums I used to go with have fallen away, and I have no desire to shoot with some tourist Johnnies who don’t know the difference between a partridge and a pigeon.
So we don’t rear pheasants for the shoot any more. Like Sandringham, we have done everything to encourage the wild ones. The keepers undertake a small cull of the cocks to keep things in balance.
There is no shooting over our land, but we never mind if a few birds stray next door. And I never mind the odd bird being taken for the pot. Some of my fondest memories are sitting with poachers hearing them tell tales.
We do the same on the Scottish moors. No shooting, but good keepering to allow the stocks to increase. We burn heather every year and trap vermin, and overall things are pretty good for our grousicles.
Of course, everyone I know is in Scotland for the 12th, so I go to one or other of my estates there. It’s always a bit of a hoo-ha with a lot of very excitable young people I wouldn’t even pass the time of day with, but there’s usually a chum or two about for a dram or three.
Scotland in August, with the heather aflame and a stag or two wandering about is just the most magical place – as long as it isn’t raining or the midges are out.
The Wife always has these ghastly house parties, when I have to get dressed up for dinner. You might think I’d be happy to down a glass or two and keep quiet, but frankly it’s no fun if you don’t have a chum with you.
Warrington is very good. He brings me a decent bottle of red whilst I’m dressing, and makes sure the hoorays get Tesco. Or maybe it’s Asda – I leave it to him.
Of course, the Wife always has her chums there. La Balderdash is ensconced in the best guestroom and Winnie Wokingham and her boring boring husband are in No 2.
The rest are scattered about but fortunately I have my own suite where I can escape when not wandering about the hills chatting to the keepers and the like.
Wokingham was at School too, but he created so few waves that the first time I ever noticed him was when some bright spark let his pet hamster out of it’s cage. It chewed through the electrics. Now all he ever talks about is his hamster breeding programme. Still, it’s better than the grandchildren.
I’d managed to avoid being in such close proximity to La Balderdash and the Wife by the simple expedient of saying I couldn’t come until the 11th as I had an appointment with my tailor.
I nipped up on the good old Caledonian Sleeper and ran into Binky and his son, so we had a jolly evening before retiring to bed. Binky always takes his own drink with him so we didn’t have to gargle with the hogpiss BR (or whoever it is now) provide.
So when I appeared on the morning of the twelfth at breakfast all eyes from the table swivelled towards me. La Balderdash in particular was looking very venomous and Lady MacBeth-like – or do I mean Cruella de Ville-like? She’d certainly skin a few puppies for the fun of it.
“Ah, there you are Douglas,” the Wife intoned. “We don’t need you today, but dinner is at seven sharp.” So saying she rose, as did everyone else and swept out. Wokingham made to linger and opened his mouth to say something, but a peremptory ‘St John!’ from down the corridor thankfully disappeared him.
There didn’t appear to be a place set for me but as I was looking forlornly at the shambles that had been breakfast, dear Mrs Blakey, the cook, bustled in followed by her robust two daughters.
“Oh, sir, have they gone and left you nothing again? Just you give me five minutes and I’ll have your favourite all nice and ready.” So saying she bustled out again and left the two girls tidying up.
As I sat down, two black noses peeped round the corner of the door, and, seeing there was only me came bounding over for an ear scratch.
I sometimes think they know when I’m on my own.