The iphone, my wife Jackie had gifted to the Coopers was proving to be as irritating as it was helpful. Helpful in the respect that it was amazingly satisfying to know that the Coopers, if they were ever in any kind of trouble when they were out and about on their seemingly ‘go anywhere’ invalidity buggy was only a few touch numbers away from help and the satisfaction of this seemed to please Jackie no end. The downside of it was, you could receive anything up to 4 or 5 phone calls a day keeping you informed of anything or anyone, even the elements that they believed could affect the badger sett. They were now so 21st Century. The Coopers were never without the iphone and arguably there was never a better gift more suited to the Badger Protection Programme than the iphone in the hands of two who absolutely adored the badgers. That was by far the most overriding factor as far as I was concerned and outweighed the daily annoyance of scrambling to your phone with dirty hands only to hear some other triviality that was occurring in or around the badger sett.
But as each conversation ended with the Coopers, from my point of view it always created a smile of amusement for they were the ‘lynch pins’ that was keeping The Badger Protection coherent from day to day.
Saturday morning, half past seven, still dark, I set out across to the badger sett to continue with the hedging programme I had started a couple of weeks earlier. As I got nearer Beech Wyn I looked into the distant East and saw the sun just making its entry above The Tiger. A sight I had seen a thousand times. But each time I was struck in exactly the same way as when I was a five year old kid. In awe of its magnificence, its beauty and its rawness. One of the most natural sights that I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing or will ever witness.
The Tiger was a forest of mainly hardwoods, Ash, Beech and Oak interspersed with a large range of softwoods. It had been named by a family named Abrahams. One of them had been an explorer chappy and on one of his explorations had met and fell in love with a Tsar’s Princess whose greatest passion was The Taiga Forest. As legend goes, her life’s ambition was to travel the length of The Taiga, the world’s largest terrestrial biome, and from a child my dream also. The Taiga Forest is situated between 50 degrees latitude North and The Arctic Circle. The largest land habitat and northern zone of coniferous forests, evergreens with needles spreading right around the planet from Western Alaska to Eastern Siberia. In North America it covers most of inland Canada and Alaska, through Europe most of Sweden, Finland, and much of Norway and Iceland, on to Russia, Mongolia and Northern Japan. However, before she was old enough to realise her dream along came the Russian revolution and she like most other nobles was having to flee for her life and so she escaped to England where she married the young explorer Abrahams and made the family estate her home. A large belt of Cotswold woodland on the Abrahams’ estate was added to throughout their lifetime to make the glorious “Tiger Forest” what it is today. A typical English name change or an after dinner joke, who knows? But the name stuck.
As I walked along towards my hedge, my gaze averted northwards to the extensive Cotswold valley that runs to The Tiger Forest, this is known as The Horn. A valley with the most demanding slopes. A rugged, hostile environment. When I poached The Horn and The Tiger as a young lad there was something always amazingly eerie and spooky about them and I was always happy to get home after a night’s poaching.
Having been hedging for about ten minutes, Dini, the Fox made his appearance coming from the direction of the badger sett. He had been spending ever more time around the badger sett which the Coopers too had noticed over the last couple of months. He had been named Dini because his great grandfather was a notorious Cotswold Fox that had the knack of getting out of some very precarious and dangerous situations. He was known as Houdini after the great magician escape artist. My own children had shortened it many years ago to Dini and now any fox around Beech Wyn is also known as Dini.
When my children were small my wife and myself would wrap four presents and put down in the old Wendy house which we had built down in the wood. These were presents for Sophie and Sam from Daddy Cool the badger and Dini the fox, and I feel sure that is where my own children’s love of nature comes from. They were always the first to fill up the bird table and feed the baby hedgehogs because in turn, they felt this would ensure the pleasing of Daddy Cool and Dini each festive season.
Dini then passed by me at quite a lick, he had been spooked. I looked up to see a horse being ridden down the side of the hedge. “Morning Allan, you’re making a good job of that.”
“Morning Napper, gorgeous morning.” I replied.
“It is that,”
“That’s a fine beast you’re on there.”
“A Cheltenham Festival prospect,” replied Napper proudly. “Can’t hang about, I’m just putting him through his paces up round The Tiger three times a week.” He gave the horse a quick flick with his riding crop and he was away. As I watched him gallop off down the hedgerow, I couldn’t help but admire Napper. All my life his dream had always been to have a winner at The Cheltenham Festival races meet. Although he had got nowhere near it, I have never seen a man try harder. I stood there with my dogs and we watched him drop down the valley of The Horn to the bottom side of The Tiger. And as I watched him my mind went back to when I was a fourteen year old boy, when I had been honoured with the job of loading for Colonel Abrahams. Colonel Abrahams shot right up until his early nineties. He had a Land Rover made up with a 360 degree rotating seat in the back of a Land Rover pick up, and the day I loaded for him was to give me a memory that I will never forget. It was the last shoot of the day the Blue Ribbon shoot. The Tiger. The stands for the guns were placed in the bottom of the valley. The beaters would start at the Northern boundary and push down through the wood flushing the birds out as they went. By the time they came over this particular valley the birds were high, and for any of you that know anything about pheasant shooting, the higher the bird, the better the shoot. The Tiger was far too vast to shoot all in one day so they would shoot a section of it along with other drives on the estate every week of the shooting season, which was from the middle of October to the middle of January. I was on peg number 1 stood by the side of Colonel Abrahams’ Land Rover. I was in for an education. A shooter is known as a gun in shooting circles and each gun, meaning man, has two guns. While one is being used, one is being loaded and on a good shoot the loader has to be quick. Handing a gun up loaded to someone sat in a seat in the back of a Land Rover is easier said than done, but I was young, I was keen and I was good at it. The Colonel’s pair of guns were Purdy, made in Birmingham by the world’s finest gunsmiths and Purdy is without doubt the best shotguns in the world.
There we stood one early December afternoon, the snow just starting to fall, frost thick on the ground, the beaters had started to beat through the wood. It is always sometime before you hear the beaters movements until you see your first bird. The anticipation of the guns is electrifying. None more so than a day’s shoot on the infamous Tiger. The Colonel sat in his chair with his blanket over his lap with his gun at the ready. I stood by him with a bag of cartridges over my shoulder and a loaded gun ready to pass to the Colonel once he had discharged the weapon he was holding. As I looked down the valley with apprehension. A pair of Labradors sat by each gun patiently waiting for their orders to go and retrieve the fallen birds. The Colonel’s two Labradors sat by his Land Rover, Bill and Bess, their still, statue like stance almost ornamental in the now falling snow. Then I shouted “Bird sir,” then it all kicked off. The Colonel’s gun was up overhead whereupon he released his two cartridges, I passed the loaded gun nervously petrified that I was going to drop it, “Gun boy, Gun damn you,” shouted the impatient Colonel. Hand grasping for his replacement loaded gun. This continued at a phonetic pace. All the way down the valley the exercise was being repeated, there must have been twenty stands at least. In amongst all this excitement of the loading and passing of guns and my determination not to drop and let the gun slip through my hands, the continual barking of instruction from The Colonel, I couldn’t make out whether he was having a fruitful shoot or a disappointing one, all I could glean was that these birds were flying out of The Tiger at an unbelievable height from where we were, down here in the valley. Nonetheless there were an awful lot of birds that seemed to be getting away. For this was shooting at its very, very best. If there is such a thing as a sporting chance then the birds that flew out of The Tiger definitely had one. After ten minutes or so that seemed like an hour, the shooting had been that ferocious that the barrels of the guns when they were exchanged were getting extremely hot. The Colonel was kicking himself around in his chair to get that best shot and although he seemed a hell of an age he could still shoot.
The drive was now coming to an end when the Colonel as I passed him the gun gave me a peremptory order, “Enough boy, now you have a go.” I was dumbstruck. “Give me your bag of cartridges.” The bag was almost empty, he had gone through nearly a bagful of cartridges. The thought in my mind was as unbelievable then as is unbelievable now. Old Colonel Abrahams’ was loading for me. This action had me feel ten foot tall. He then shouted, “Bird.” My Purdy was up, I released both barrels, but the bird flew on. We exchanged guns. I was shooting faster than the Colonel could load all to no avail as the birds were still flying on. I couldn’t manage to shake the tail of The Tiger. The birds were so outrageously high.
The beaters appeared out of the woodland and the Labradors that had once been sitting so statue like had been given their orders to retrieve and were running all but which ways with pheasant laden mouths returning to their owners. The Colonel looked down as I was re-boxing the guns. “Not as easy as it looks is it boy?” I had been humbled, but it was such an unbelievable thrilling experience.
Although I have not shot for years, I look back on this memory with fondness.
The Red Kite in the sky stopped me from my daydreaming. My instructions from Jackie were that the Christmas decorations had to be finished today.
Our Christmas decorations did get done after the morning’s daydreaming and by the way the guy at the front gate with the red suit and white beard is a badger hugger.