Taking to the Skies

It hardly seems as if I’ve touched down before I’m packing up my essentials and setting off to the airport for another trip. Sometimes the opportunities come up inconveniently close together and I just haven’t learned to say “no” yet. Well, not to South East Asia anyway. Grahame is going to be very busy with his garden and his bees during June so I’m not taking him on this trip but I can’t help feeling a bit guilty just the same. Not about my own garden because I have an excellent gardener and not about Ghillie, who is not actually my falcon, but about the grandchildren and my beloved little dog Molly, who is not getting any younger.

Molly doesn’t come to the falconry displays; not even to shows like the one Bob, my tutor, and I did last week at Badminton where the main audience consisted of parties of schoolchildren. She would be jealous of the birds and it is much too late for her to learn how to behave in their company, besides she is not much bigger than some of their quarry. A bird of prey is motivated only by reward and no matter how skilled a handler you become she will never love you in the same way as a dog, however, she can certainly turn against you if you make a mistake. What I think I am trying to say is that, while Molly would almost certainly forgive me if there was an altercation, the birds might be disinclined to work with me again. To say nothing of Bob, whose word on such subjects is law.

I did almost find myself beyond the pale when I got home from Tuesday’s session though. Since a substantial part of our display involves working with ferrets (sharp toothed, smelly little creatures closely related to the skunk or the rather more desirable mink) I have to admit that I must have wielded quite a pungent aroma. As soon as I opened the car door a hive guardian went straight for my face and I ended up with a real “bee stung” upper lip and then Molly refused to come near me until I had washed and changed my clothes. Later, while I waited for the pain to settle down a bit, I reviewed my bite marks and the usual crop of talon wounds and reflected on the joys of country living.

On the subject of country living, we were certainly in the thick of it, flying hawks and falcons on the Gloucestershire estate of the Duchy of Beaufort. The event was admirably organised and, in addition to a well-stocked bar in the back of a horse truck, we were given packed lunches and the opportunity to visit the kennels. I have to admit to being somewhat taken aback by the strength and apparent ferocity of a large pack of foxhounds engaged in tearing apart a couple of sheep carcasses but I couldn’t fault either the safety arrangements.or the standard of hygiene.

The arguments over foxhunting in the UK have dragged on for decades now with rather a lot of silliness on both sides but I’ve long ceased to have much of an opinion either way. Foxhounds kill foxes just as captive-bred birds of prey kill rabbits (and the occasional illicit pheasant) but it’s badly trained pet bulldogs that kill children in this country. And these terrible fatalities occur again and again but however many times they do, they spark nothing alike the outrage that is caused by hunting, the hopelessly outdated and ruinously expensive pastime of a disappearing class of aristocracy. I wish people had more of a sense of proportion.

Of course, noblesse oblige! So I kept my opinions to myself while actually on the estate but all the same I didn’t get my G&T. Bob has strict rules about not drinking alcohol before handling the birds and I had a long drive home after the show but I certainly enjoyed a drop of “medicinal” later that evening.

Categories: Britain, West of England

1 Comment

  • Nicola says:

    I thought I’s been pretty even handed but when I asked Bob if I’d overdone it in my description of foxhunting he replied

    “You are a big girl now, so if you wish to stick your head into boiling hot oil, you only have yourself to blame. A ferret bite will be nothing in comparison to the vitriol coming your way, but thank the Lord we live in a free democracy !!!! choke !!! choke.”

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