Next Friday, February 1, rounds off a busy part of the year for me. The game-shooting season has drawn to a close, the only reminders being the mud all over my aged Toyota Land Cruiser and the piles of game in the freezer. Mr M groans when he is confronted with yet more pheasant pie, pheasant risotto or pheasant pâté.
To be honest, I am usually done with shooting by Christmas, as being outside in a British January is deeply unpleasant. But this month I made an exception and shot on four – highly enjoyable – days, which just shows how wrong I can be.
In early January, Cost Centre #3 and I joined an Anglo-Australian driven shoot in Hampshire. Adults and teenagers shot alongside each other for a morning in perfect harmony but to relatively little effect, as demonstrated by the total bag of 18. We had been predicted 50, so I am not sure if our host was disappointed by our performance or – if paying per bird – grateful.
This was CC#3’s first driven shoot. Because we were invited guests, I was able to set aside my usual stance on children and driven shoots. This mirrors my views on children and air travel, namely that I am happy for them to fly business class, or to have a peg on driven shoots, provided they are paying for it. Until then, walked-up shooting and economy class will do.
Two weeks later I was the guest of Pol Roger at Highclere Castle, more familiar to millions of television viewers as Downton Abbey. I had never been invited on a shoot by a champagne house before so I accepted with alacrity, and not just because the venue’s châtelaine is a qualified accountant (Fiona Carnarvon, that is – I can’t see Lady Cora getting to grips with a balance sheet).
But the main reason that I was keen to attend was that I knew the guests would be totally different from the very pleasant but highly predictable people one meets on most corporate shoots. I am used to being on the line between a captain of industry and an investment banker. By contrast, Pol Roger’s guests ranged from the proprietor of the Glenfarclas distillery to a wine distributor from Chichester. Another was the Australian chef Brett Graham, who owns and runs the two-Michelin-starred The Ledbury in west London. This is the restaurant whose diners were robbed by a gang during the London riots of 2011; footage broadcast on the news at the time showed the staff trying to drive off the rioters and defend the diners. But no one had ever told me that Graham is – and there is no other way to say this – drop-dead gorgeous.
When I saw him arrive at Highclere, dog in tow (no, not a typical gun dog, although Winston, his two-year-old pug, does valiantly try to retrieve), I took one look and became uncharacteristically short of words. And then I found myself driving both Graham and Winston around in my muddy Land Cruiser; the chef seated less than a foot away. At the age of 50 I am not used to such proximity to excessively attractive young men and it can have a distracting effect. On the first drive I managed two birds for 11 shots. Enough said.
We got rather wet, for it both rained and snowed on us. My Headhunter Girlfriend, hosting her first shoot later that week, called me in a panic when she realised snow was forecast. Would the shoot still go ahead? I explained that in Britain at least, as I have been told many times, there is no such thing as the wrong weather, just the wrong clothes.
By the time the Highclere day was over (we shot more than 18 birds, even with my temporary handicap of impromptu swooning) I had been instructed in at least five new ways of cooking pheasant. (Boudin of pheasant, wood pigeon with chestnut soup and a velouté of Wiltshire truffle, anyone?) I had also developed a serious taste for Pol Roger’s 1988 Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill. I could definitely get used to this. Maybe shooting in January is not so bad after all.