Saturday, 28 November 2009

In the Line of Duty

Poor Dulcie.

We were shooting yesterday and Dulcie and Podgie were the picking up team for the day. It was a hard day for them; they did extra 'dog' jobs - working birds over the guns as well as retreiving them. By the penultimate drive, Podge was limping. Her front leg. Probably twisted her wrist. She was retired for the last drive, much to her protestations. I learned that a dog's bark echoes quite a lot in the back of a covered truck. Excellent acoustics for a cocker spaniel.

Dulcie looked tired, not like the usual manic retrieving machine that she is. But she picked up 6 birds on the last drive which she hunted hard for, and then she stopped. She wouldn't go any further. I thought she'd just overdone it and needed some sugar water and electrolytes, and a good night's rest. I carried her back to the truck and brought her in the house to warm up. In the back of my mind something wasn't right and I knew to keep looking for the answer.

Although I had checked her for cuts, it wasn't until an area started to swell and get very hot that I found a small puncture wound. Puncture wounds are a 'big flashing light' injury. They look small but have the potential to be extremely serious. I felt an object behind the hole. Something had punctured Dulcie's lower abdomen and was still in there. Infection was setting in.

We rushed her to the vets at 6pm. By 8.30 she's had the operation and the vets removed a 2" piece of wood from underneath her skin. Very luckily it hadn't punctured the muscle or any organs.

The 'shiv'

She's got a drain in her and has pills to take, and she's going to be off work for a few weeks. She's recouperaing in the kitchen so I can keep an eye on her while I'm cooking, and Dakota seems happy to help keep her company. Or she's waiting for me to drop some food; it's hard to be sure of her motivation.

We're having a belated Thanksgiving dinner for a few friends tonight. I changed the menu to roast chicken so there are lots of leftovers to spoil Dulcie while she gets better. To think that little spaniel kept working until the end of the day, until the last bird was found. It's making me well up to write that.

Remind me again how much I love and admire her in 2 weeks' time, when she's doing the wall of death in her crate and howling to come out on a shoot day.

We've added the stick to the nature shelf.

Monday, 23 November 2009

View Halloo!

There is a small shelf in the kitchen. One half is the "nature table" - found fossils, interesting seeds pods and bug carapaces. The other half is the "information centre" where we prop up invites and schedules to try and remind us when we're supposed to be at some function or other. This time of year it's filled with lists of dates for local hunts.

I should clarify the terminology. In England, 'hunting' means 'foxhunting' - riding a horse in pursuit of a fox (nowadays, only the scent of a fox). What Oscar Wilde described as "The Unspeakable in pursuit of the Inedible". Mike informs me that, in his experience, you would have to be pretty damn hungry to eat a fox. (Being experimental in college had a whole different meaning for him). What we Americans term 'hunting' - going after birds or deer with a gun or bow - is called 'shooting' (birds) and 'stalking' (deer) in England.

Semantics or no, I've never been foxhunting. But one of the local hunts crosses our land, and I thought it would be fun to go and watch the horses and hounds running over our little piece of England. Landowners who support the hunt are invited to attend hunt meets and sent a list of dates. The MFH (Master of the Fox Hounds) also called to ask if she could put a jump on our land for the day, so it looked like it could be a promising show. Particularly for an American who still finds British traditions a great source of hilarity.

But hunting is considered a rather upper class pursuit. And I didn't want to embarass the hosts by making too many faux pas (or is it fox pas in this instance?) Hurrah then for a guide to the British upper class - Debrett's.

I consult Debrett's - the bastion for etiquette and manners - for information on social matters. They publish books and have a handy website. They are the very definition of antiquated snobbery - in the nicest possible way.

In the appendices of its Correct Form guide is something called the Table of Precedence. This guide arranges everyone in England according to rank and status. Having a dinner party and you're not sure whether to seat your Baron or your Viscount at the head of the table? Why, simply check your Debrett's guide. (It's the Viscount in case you were wondering). There are even Tables of Precendence for ladies, and for Scottish people.

I guess, then, the starting point is finding your place on the list.

At the top of this list is HM The Queen, and at the bottom of the list is 'gentlemen' (and 'ladies'). Because we own land, we are raised one rank above 'gentlemen' to 'esquire' (and 'wife of esquire'). Only 90 places or so below the Queen! And to think, last year we were 91 places below Her. We're still below sons of knights and circuit court judges, but I'm begining to feel my own sense of self-importance growing. I may even start ironing my tractor overalls in keeping with my new status.

Armed with foxhunt how to's, I was ready to attend my first hunt meet. As with everything I arrived late, and my first image of the hunt was this -

Those minute dots on the horizon are actually horses. My initial thought was "Huh. Not much of a spectator sport then..." But I stood there, and then a horn blew and soon after the view changed to this:

And a second later, to this:

Then suddenly all the other spectators except us went running off in some pre-ordained direction to intercept the hunt at its next location and watch the whole 10 second spectacle again. So we just followed the pack, not unlike what the hounds were doing.

By the way, I am told they are called 'hounds' not dogs'. And they have a 'stern' instead of a tail.

I think that it's similar to watching professional cycling races like the Tour de France. A few seconds of frenzied excitement as the participants whizz pass at speed, followed by long periods of lull. I don't know about cycling, but a hip flask with homemade sloe gin is essential for watching the hunt. I'm glad I knew this bit of information before we set out for the morning.

We watched The Field (as the group of horses and hounds are called) ride off to our field (of the grass variety) and jump the hedge jump. Then it started raining again. That dampened my enthusiasm to follow them any further. I think I got the jist of this hunting thing, even if I haven't masterted all the terms yet. The next task is to actually get on a horse and join in. I have a plan for that too. Tally ho!

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Indoor Days and Outdoor Days

The weather in Britain is less than predictable this time of year. Mike checks the BBC news at stupid o'clock in the morning when it's still dark outside to see what the weather's going to do. You can only have faith in the weather for up to 6 hours from the forecast, so checking the weather becomes like a compulsive disorder.

We cope by planning 'indoor days' - ie all the work that can be done inside when the weather is horrible, and 'outdoor days' - extra outdoor chores that are more pleasant to do when it's sunny, or at least not squally showers and hurricane-like winds.

Most days are hybrids, like today. A bit of outside and a bit of inside. But that can mean starting your day at 5am in order to fit in some outside time. It's nice being up though. It's half 9 in the morning now; I'm on my second pot of coffee, but I squeezed in a few extra outside chores before the winds and rain beat me.

This morning I found the first Barbu D'uccle chicken egg from this year's chicks -

And I found that my rat trap had worked -

Look at the size of her - she's as big as my hatchet! And fat from helping herself to the meat chickens' food.

The chickens are nonplussed by the weather and carry on their chicken business. Although Paula didn't make it (old age), the Barbu D'Uccle chick is recovering. She injured her leg or hip joint but was getting around fine. Then she started to go backwards and I couldn't understand why until I caught one of the young roosters showing her a good time - at least from his point of view. I think it was aggravating her condition, not to mention it was taking advantage of her inability to run away, which it what the other hens do when they don't feel receptive. The equivalent of a chicken headache.

She now gets her own day retreat with a personal food and water supply.

Our chickens have learned to recognise vehicles which have food in them. There is often wheat or pellet spilled in the back of the work truck or quad bike from feeding pheasants. The chickens offer a kind of valeting service and clean up the loose food. I've seen sparrows doing the same.

Or maybe she's waiting for a lift somewhere. Adventure chicken. They're smarter than you would initially think. As a child I lost more than one game of Tic Tac Toe to a chicken at the Aqua Circus in Cape Cod. I'm still harboring a grudge.

The little phoenix hen is still determined to hatch her small clutch of eggs. No sign of chicks yet, and I'm not sure when they're due. She's a sneaky sitter.

I would like to put some hay under her for her comfort. But I've tried that before and the hen thought the nest looked different and rejected the eggs. I guess if she chose to sit there in the first place she's happy enough. I can put some hay in when the chicks come.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Shock Tactics

It's miserable outside. I can't remember when the rain started, it seems to have always been here. The wind is picking up and gale force winds are expected overnight. I've been checking the animals by flashlight - the sheep are tucked under a hedge chewing cud with their eyes half closed, seemingly unperturbed by the storm. The horses have moved to the lower side of their field and turned their bottoms to the wind, but they exude a zen-like acceptance of the weather. I guess they know it will pass eventually. They've not even bothered to go in their shelter, which they prefer to use on hot sunny days (the few we have) to get away from the flies.

The dogs are less impressed. Jazzy and Nellie, who have definite likes and dislikes in life, do not go for evening walks in very bad weather. I leave the door open in case they wish to nip out of their kennels and do their necessaries. The others are mostly immune, including Pip who is the wimpiest dog I've ever known. She came out with me to feed the horses and happily mooched around, checking out the rabbit holes in the hedges. They will work in this weather without complaint.

Hazel is another tough little spaniel; as long as you offer her a game of fetch with a tennis ball, she will follow you anywhere in any weather. But, there's a problem with Hazel. If she's hunting in cover, she will not come back when she's called. And very occasionally on a morning walk, she makes a beeline in a flat-out run to the corner of the field, across the road and into the neighboring woods to hunt. She's what's called a 'self-employed' spaniel.

It's made taking her out on shoot days a huge gamble. I can't afford to lose a dog and hold up the team, or fall behind and leave them to pick up my slack. But Hazel is a great retriever. She lives to retrieve. When she brings me back a bird, she doesn't want food, or praise. I reward her by giving her a tennis ball to carry. She sits, obeys hand signals at a distance, waits to be told to retrieve. It's just this running away thing, but it's a BIG thing.

Assorted dog training goodies hanging in the porch

Hazel was offered to us as a working dog that wouldn't retrieve. Mike needed a dog just to run birds home, no retrieving involved, so we thought we could give her a home and a job. We adopted her at 4 years old and she'd had a rough time until then. We put her in the kennel with Nellie and they have become firm friends. At the beginning Hazel was aloof but over time she has become a lot more affectionate and involved.

I've done nothing but be consistent with training based on positive reinforcement. Turns out she retrieves like a thing possessed when she's rewarded for the behavior. But unless she has something to bring me, I can't trust her to come back. Mike and I have had many discussions about rehoming her. A dog that won't come back is no good for chasing birds or retrieving them. I am running out of options to give her a good working life.

In desperation, I have bought a shock collar. I'm really conflicted about this. Hazel had a shock collar used in her training before we had her, and it was used on her with cruel intent . I feel like a heel even thinking about it.

Yet, under circumstances such as chasing deer or cars, or running off, these collars are said to be effective. I've seen it work - in one case I know it saved the dog's life. I charged it up and put it on setting 2 (1 is lowest, 8 is highest) and put it around my neck and stood barefoot on the carpet, and pushed the button. It made me squeal. This sucks.

My plan is to put it around her neck every time she comes out of the kennel, and just work on our basic training with positive reinforcement as usual. And I should never have to use the collar until that day she makes a break for it. I will blow the 'stop' whistle and if that doesn't stop her, I'll give her a #2 shock, and praise her when she comes back. In a perfect world, she will learn the first or second time. Even if she has to wear the collar as a 'just in case', it means I can take her out into the shooting field to work more. And she'll be happier doing what she's bred to do. Is this the end justifying the means?


It's been charged up, sat on my desk for a few days and I haven't had the heart or stomach to put it on the little dog. I don't want to re-home her, she's had enough upset in her life. And Nellie would be just as heartbroken to lose her.

Mike always says "No dog should be an only child". This was evident today when Dakota was sulking about the house by herself. It was too wet to be outside and all her playmates were in the kennel. She looked forlorn. I brought her favorite playmate Podge in the house for a bath and left them to play together for the afternoon while I made soup.

Play date

Podge makes use of the furniture to dry off on. She's found one of my homemade dog retrieving toys: a length of tubifast bandage stuffed with old socks and tied on each end. Much cheaper than buying the canvas dummies, especially at the rate we go through them. The other favorite toy is a pheasant, sans stuffing, which is great for a game of tug-of-war

One day I'll be bigger than you!

I fell for a gamekeeper which means I fell into a gamekeeper's life. Dogs are the remit of the 'keeper's wife. I'm trying to learn as fast as I can, to make sure the dogs have the best quality of life they can. I wholeheartly love these little dogs and it's hard when you think you fail one. I hope this chapter will have a happy ending, for the dogs first and for me second.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Dia de los Muertos

Yesterday I put the rest of the meat chickens in the freezer. In a fit of self-reliance, I thought I would despatch them by myself. Turns out if you're doing this in your garden instead of in a well-equipped abbattoir, it's nearly impossible to do with less than 3 people. I couldn't stun, bleed, and hang a bird quick enough to be sure it was as humane as possible. I managed one by resorting to a hand axe but the flapping covered me, the shed, and the side of the truck in blood - just in time for a group of hikers to stroll by. We each pretended we didn't see the other. How do you make polite conversation in that situation? - "Lovely day strange lady with bloodied axe, please don't kill us". Mike and Ron came to help and we finished them (the chickens, not the hikers) in under two hours. I need to set a few rat traps and re-seed the grass where the chickens were scratching. Then I can just sit back and enjoy many months of fresh home-reared chickens.

There are still 3 or 4 meat chickens running free in the garden; the ones I had accidentally fostered under hens. They were leaner than their coddled counterparts and can go on until the freezer is looking empty again. There would have been one more but Pete's terrier jumped out of the truck and nailed it. I had the game dealer pluck it and prepare it for Pete. I presented him with the chicken the next shoot morning, with a rememberance poppy stuck to it. Pete said he'll share the chicken with the terrier, and he's taking a lot of good-natured ribbing from the rest of the team about it.

Just to round out my day of death, I had an appointment to meet Peggy, a qualified butcher who lives and works from her farm in the neighboring village. She very graciously offered to help me develop my butchery skills which currently can only be described as well-meant hacking. She talked me through a lamb and a pig, and showed me her own processing set up. She raises prize-winning Saddleback and Gloucester Old Spot pigs, and Suffolk sheep which she butchers and sells straight from the farm.

I don't know if this is me being a "rural geek" but I am obsessed with fencing and farmyard layouts that are particularly efficient. Peggy's was both, and cleaner than my house. Even her pig pens were clean, I mean REALLY clean. I left feeling envious. She's invited me to back this week to observe her processing a barren ewe, and next week to process a pig. I'm not expecting to become a proficient butcher in a few lessons - it took Peggy 4 years' schooling to qualify - but I hope to pick up some tips in order to butcher my own deer, wild pig, and lamb carcases better in future.

There's a bit of chicken illness going around too. Nothing specific, but both Paula and one of the Barbu d'Uccle chicks are unwell. Paula may simply be getting old. She didn't make it to roost last night and Mike found her sitting on the front step this morning. We were lucky Mr Fox wasn't by in the night. I put her in a biscuit box by the woodburner to warm up and used a dropper to give her water and egg yolk every few hours, just to rehydrate her. If she picks up, I might try a small dose of meds. Peggy swears by homeopathy for her pigs as a preventative. I might try it on Paula.

The wild birds are hitting the peanut feeders hard, which is usually a sign that a cold snap is coming. Some of the chickens are using the greenhouse like day center, to keep out of the wet weather. It offers amenities like dustbaths, heat, shelter, and a variety of places for perching.

It's a regular poultry playground. A kaffeecluck. A Chik-Inn. Cluckingham Palace.

OK I'm done now.

At least one hen is oblivious to the change of seasons. A little bantam has been incubating a clutch of two tiny eggs for at least a week now. Maybe they will hatch. Barbara the silkie hen has been incubating one of the china 'dummy' eggs for a month. That will never hatch, but it seems to fulfil her needs at the moment so I leave her in peace.

It's a shoot day tomorrow and a big bag is expected, and so is a day of heavy rain. There will be wet dogs and wet clothes and cold keepers to sort out. The horses got a rudimentary bath today. Both managed to get their cooler sheets off and roll before I had a chance to put their blankets on them. If I can keep them marginally less filthy than normal and keep them rugged so their heavy coats don't grow, then I can start riding regularly. What would Peggy think if she saw the state of our animals! I am definitely losing the battle.

Monday, 9 November 2009

The Braidy Bunch

The dogs and I have had 12 days in the shooting field so far this year, and it's now painfully obvious to me (and to anyone within shouting distance of me) that the dogs need some refresher training. Dulcie and Pip are passable, but Jazz and Podge...well, I despair of them both at the moment. But there's no bad dogs, only bad training so I got my faithful book out last night - Joe Irving's Training Spaniels - and I'm going back to the beginning with their training. Watch this space for progress reports.

While I was inflicting the first chapter's training on Spud, Mike went off to feed the horses and found that someone had put a single plait (braid) in Kitty's mane. There's been a spate of these 'hit and run' braidings of horses' manes in the local area (we get an daily email update of country crime from the police, to help us stay vigilant). There are two theories to explain the braids - one a harmless activity, the other a more worrisome one:

1) It's a hallmark of the Winter Solstice in the Pagan calendar. The days get shorter and darker, and the darkness allows the gremlins usually banished by the light to come out and create mischief. This includes braiding horses' manes or tails, as well as less savory practices like putting out fires in the hearth by peeing on them. Apparently the gremlins have good motor skills but poor toilet habits. To keep the gremlins away, you can burn old shoes - the smell repels the creatures. Mike has a pair of stinking old leather Fell boots I'd like to burn. That would not only repel them, but probably violate the Geneva Convention rules on torture.

2) It's an old gypsy method for marking horses to steal. The idea being that if a horse is socialised enough to allow a stranger to come up and handle them, then it's probably rideable and therefore saleable. Our horses are gypsy vanner (cob) horses.

So far none of the braidings in this area have resulted in the theft of a horse, and we do have a strong pagan community so I'm hopeful that it's just a religious practice. I'm happy for Kitty to participate. She's non-denominational. But just to be safe, we moved the pair to the small paddock closer to the farmhouse where they live, and checked all the gates. Mike will drive by later, and probably find nothing more than horses with their heads down, contentedly munching the fresh grass. I might burn his boots anyway, just to be on the safe side.

Friday, 6 November 2009

The Woodcock Moon

picture courtesy of wikipedia

We've had the first full moon of November - known as the Woodcock Moon - when the woodcock begin their migration from Europe to England, presumably to feed in a milder climate. It will be a little while longer before we see many here in the west, but I can hardly wait. They are my favorite little bird because of their appearance, and because of the strange behaviours and folklore associated with them.

Their eyes are nearly on top of their heads so they can watch for predators while they feed. It's rarely observed but a female with a chick, when disturbed, will fly off carrying the chick between her legs. What a wild ride that must be for a youngster!

They are also crepuscular, a great word I rarely if ever get to use in a sentence. It means they are mainly active at dawn and dusk.

They are also by far my favorite game bird to eat, and also the hardest to shoot which makes the reward that much sweeter. I have only ever shot two. If you shoot two woodcock - a 'right and left' as it's known - without reloading or lowering your gun and in front of two witnesses, you can be admitted to the Shooting Times Woodcock Club. I don't know any members personally. All I know is I can't wait until I hear the whirring wingbeats crossing overhead at dusk.

At the moment, I'm doing 'indoor jobs' as the weather is horrid and uncooperative. It makes everything so much harder slogging through mud, wiping paw prints off of everything, toweling off dogs every time they go outside, wearing layers and peeling them off one at a time as they get soaked, and hanging them in front of the woodburner to dry. I'm down to a t-shirt and apron now. Both fires are going at the moment to keep the house warm and, more importantly, dry. We're shooting tomorrow so I'll have to face this wretched weather then.

Part of the indoor jobs included cooking. I finished tomorrow's lunch for the workers, plus some pureed pumpkin for the freezer and a pumpkin bread. I collected our half a pig from the farm today which means a nice change from venison. I boned out the front leg and roasted it for our tea, and all the pork fat will go to the dogs to help keep their weight up as work and the colder weather takes its toll on their reserves.

The next lot of meat for the freezer is the last 14 meat chickens which I will dispatch this Tuesday. Then it will be big lamb and little lamb. I'm still not looking forward to that day. I keep putting it off.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

A Day in the Life of a "Working" Dog

We had a busy day's shooting yesterday. Pip worked the WHOLE day (with Jazz in the morning and Dulcie in the afternoon) and picked up lots of birds. Pip had a bath, and her dinner, and went to bed early.

We all got up this morning and did our regular chores.

"Pip - Do you want to come for a walk?"

"No Thanks. I'll just let my breakfast settle first. I had a busy day yesterday you know."

The sun came out and the pheasants all went for a wander. I needed some dogs to chase them back home.

" Pip - do you want to come and chase the pheasants back home?"

"Oh, no thanks. I just found this primo spot on the couch in the sun. It's keeping my muscles warm. I worked hard yesterday bringing back all those birds."

I needed to run to the farm shop and pick up chicken feed and supplies.

"Hey Pip - do you wanna come for a ride in the car with us?"

" thanks. I'll stay here and keep an eye on the house. I know my main job is retrieving but I'm a skilled guard dog too..."

When it got too dark to do anymore chores, we stopped in to see a friend.

" Pip - do you want to come and see Mr and Mrs H?"

 "No thanks. It's raining outside and I just had a bath. I need to stay clean for Saturday's shoot."

We had a quick visit over a glass of wine in front of the fireplace. It's Guy Fawkes' Night and the fireworks and celebrations were starting. But we had to get home and tend to the animals' dinner.

" Pip - would you like some dinner?"

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

It is most definitely a small world...

So I'm listening to Chicago Public Radio on my iPod - this past week's This American Life - and the first story is about a woman, our neighbor, living a stone's throw from our house in our tiny village of a handful of people. What a small world.

She moved in around the same time as Mike, nearly 20 years ago. Yet we both learned more about her from a small segment on an American radio show than we've ever learned from speaking to her directly.

I know I posted recently about the bartering system in our little village and how it can lead to a real sense of community. But I think this coincidence shows that we still don't really know each other. As I started to explain the story to Mike, he shared with me other stories from his experience of village life. And not all of them were nice stories. Some were secondhand, based on heresay or gossip (which he is always quick to point out is only that). There's always a lot more going on beneath our daily exchanges.

It's a shoot day tomorrow. Dinner isn't finished, Mike's suit jacket needs cleaning and I'm worried about Dulcie who is looking stiff in her right hind leg. I guess at the end of the day, we all get absorbed in the minutiae of our own everyday life and the minutiae of our neighbors' lives don't even cross our minds. It's not until we hear about their experiences and realise how much we have in common that it comes into focus. Then it really feels like a small world.

Sunday, 1 November 2009


Usually I'm posting about a disease outbreak or injury to the animals here, a worrisome aspect of keeping livestock. Just for a change it's us who're sick. Mike and I have been "cooking something" as he puts it, probably some low level influenza. Enough to slow us down, and just in time for a busy week of shooting.

Neither of us is good at diagnosing the exact cause of human illness, and our cure is always the same: a glass of brandy and ginger ale, and a hot curry to combat any lurking virus. A friend of ours, a veterinarian, once treated Mike for a human virus similar to hexameter in birds by prescribing him to eat the hottest curry he could cope with. It seemed to do the trick so we've been converts ever since.

Neither of us is a very good patient either, though Mike would definitely take the title if impatience was a sport. He beasts through his sickness, stopping behind a tree occasionally to do what he has to do, as he did yesterday while the guns carried shooting, none the wiser. I felt sorry for myself quietly, while picking up birds and coaching a new lady shooter for a few drives.

Now that heavy rain and winds are buffeting our part of England, I have a good excuse to stay in and mend both my health and a backlog of clothing. The shoot takes its toll on our uniform. Besides spot treating the blood stains and general muck on Mike's suit and my breeks, I have to patch holes made by barbed wire and brambles, darn holes in sweaters and pull threads back through that got caught by thorns and branches.

The uniforms are not disposable like most clothes these days, nor are they machine washable. I've had to look back in household hints books from the earlier part of the 20th century for tips and solutions to keep the woolen cloth clean and in good repair. Shooting suits worn by guns are often threadbare in places and patched in others. Some guns have worn the same breeks for 40 years, or passed them on to sons as their waistlines expanded. It's almost a sign of "good breeding" to have a well-worn suit. Only new money have new suits. There's a lot of history and tradition even in a single pair of breeks.

There are stories in them too. Mike tells me of a gun who's affectionately referred to as Mr "Wrong Trousers" because when it comes time to tip the keeper, he pats his pockets as says" Ah - I appear to have put the wrong trousers on. I left my money in my other pair. I'll shall see you double next time." But he always seems to have on the wrong trousers. I think the story more than makes up for the tip anyway.

All of the dogs are off duty today, resting up for tomorrow's shoot, except for Dakota. She's at her sentry post next to my desk, keeping watch on the front yard for intruders or visitors. We don't have a doorbell but we have a vigilant shepherd with a loud bark, which functions just as well and doesn't need batteries.

All the mending is done, all the shooting socks and dog leads are washed and drying above the fireplace ready for tomorrow's shoot. I think I will go and see if I can interest Mike in a brandy and ginger ale - for medicinal purposes of course.