Even by the most elastic and gymnastic stretch of the imagination I could hardly be called an outdoorsman. Months can pass without me crossing the protective boundary of the M25, unless it is by plane. However, at this time of year I will occasionally make it out to the country to inhale those rich, invigorating lungfuls of a substance that I believe is colloquially known as “fresh air”, when kind friends invite me to shoot with them.
I am not much of a shot. Indeed, until I got Sheel Davison-Lungley at Meyrowitz to make me some shooting glasses I could hardly see to the end of my gun barrel, let alone pick out the birds in the sky – unless they happened to be large and slow moving (and the last time I looked, condors were not native to British shores). However, the activity of strolling from the car to the peg, the repeated lifting of the gun and the turning to left and right to miss our feathered friends as they zip past in mockery of my poor skill is about as close to a full workout as I am likely to get.
It is the clothing, accessories and equipment that really get me excited: I can get almost as worked up about a fine gun as I can about a great wristwatch; the sport is the gateway to a whole new world of sartorial self-expression; and then there are the other bits and pieces that would otherwise have passed me by completely – for instance, the thumbstick.
I am all for another bit of paraphernalia that I can chuck in the back of the Fiat 500 or use to annoy fellow rail travellers as I make my way to the country, and the thumbstick is just such an item. I have yet to determine what it is that a thumbstick actually does, beyond give one the gratification of owning another handmade object, but for the time being that is enough. I was discussing this the other day with Peter Holden at the Beretta Gallery, who works with a trio of thumbstick makers in the Borders, and he had a splendid selection of these tall hazel staves, each topped with “handles” of bone, horn or antler. I barely managed to restrain myself from clearing him out of his entire stock and optioning the next year’s production.
It seems that one can never have enough thumbsticks, as there exist some that feature a whistle incorporated into the handle and others with handles cunningly carved into all manner of animal shapes. At my time in life it is wonderful to stumble upon an entirely new area of creative human endeavour.
The only thing is that with a bundle of thumbsticks, my tweeds and what have you I fear that I might get mistaken for a country gentleman. While I could probably muddle through the country side (countryside, geddit?) of things by the simple expedient of having an ear of wheat dangling from the corner of my mouth, I might have a little more of a problem with the gentleman bit.