I was heading to my first day at a new job when the date started to resonate with me for reasons other than trying to remember how to get to the new office. I was probably still a bit jet lagged and the sub 10C temperatures were a long way from those that were starting to become a distant memory in Australia!
The London Bridge train was remarkably not jammed to the rafters and despite the manspreading going on beside me I had more or less managed to get a seat.
What was it about the 1st of November..? It took ages but then it dawned on me. All Saints Day, in Ireland was the start of the hunting season, which in our house was a big deal. Now I’m not going to start a whole debate on the merits of hunting etc. and I will admit to being somewhat conflicted, because I do eat meat but I am also an animal lover.
The opening of the season was also a bumper day for the local pub. We lived well into the country, for a time we had a post office and pub in the ‘village’ but after a while that went down to just the pub and the nearest shop was a drive away. Looking back on it, certain things now make me smile. Like the shop that refused to sell English papers, I’m not sure why because you could literally buy everything else from fertilizer to sleeping bags. Everyone knew everybody to the degree that it was pretty normal for us to thumb a lift home from school, safe in the knowledge that nothing bad was going to happen. I did have a ‘near miss’ once when the farmer giving me a lift didn’t quite hear me when I asked him to stop and continued for a few meters before pulling over. He then leaned over across my legs and pulled a Legion of Mary medal from the glove compartment telling me that ‘Prayer would keep me safe’.
In the run up to the opening of the hunting season dogs are trained, guns are maintained and the plans for the day are refined. Now when I say hunting, I’m not talking about horses and redcoats, no, this was really a long walk with the prospect of shooting a pheasant or grouse etc. Growing up we had gun dogs who had specific roles to play, Irish Setters to forage the birds and Springer Spaniels to retrieve them. I don’t know how we managed it but all of our dogs were nutters. Not only that they were horny as well! Like when Boomer went missing, we searched everywhere, went to local farms… nothing, then one day… a farmer stops me and says that he has made ‘friends’ with one of his working dogs and well… she was in the family way! He had been missing for almost a month!
The 1st of November generally starts with a trip to the local church for ‘The mass’. Now we didn’t go to primary school in the wee village school which meant that we were pretty much outsiders. Added to that, I had a Dublin accent when we moved to the area and to be honest that didn’t help either. Sundays were torture. It was the done thing to dress for ‘The mass’, and so ensued the fashion show in the car park afterwards. I was never a religious person and the whole thing used to bore me so when they decided the congregation merited two masses well, I perfected the process of jumping out of my bedroom window, running around the house and arriving back into the breakfast going on with the rest of the family who tended to go to the later showing. I got away with this for years until the Priest was on holiday and the replacement was somewhat of a looker…
Everyone eventually ends up in the local pub after their day out in the fields… stories are swapped and a fair few pints are put away. We don’t usually get much snow in the area but one year we had a dumping that turned everything very white very quickly. That morning the Old Man and his mate Christy had headed out and then the snow started to fall. Turns out that they got massively lost, to the degree that the dogs were getting tired and bogged down in the snow. They had packed a sandwich but the cold quickly got through their wax jackets and into their bones. I don’t know how she knew but my mother suggested that we start to blow the dog whistles from the house…an hour or so later two shapes came over the back fence and trudged up to the backdoor. Apparently the dogs became animated and started to head towards the sound that only they could hear.
After the 1st of November it became dangerous to walk into the glasshouse or utility room without a light. One of my chores was to feed the dogs and we kept some of their feed in the glasshouse for a while. I’d been remiss in recharging our torches so I headed through the door and right into the hanging carasses of pheasants and snipe and God knows what else. My screaming sent the dogs into a frenzy and Mum burst out laughing as I brushed and brushed my clothes to rid feathers, blood and other debris… urgh!
All of this is a long way from the 07:38 East Croydon to London Bridge service and I needed to be all growed up for my first day at work in a new company. I must find out if the old man went out and if he is eating pheasant in the near future!?