Thursday, 7 February 2019

How to break the closed shop of exotic pursuits

James Delingpole recently wrote a piece in The Spectator magazine concerning his efforts at joining the country set, in which he describes having made some positive inroads in his quest to gain acceptance into the spectrum of countryside pursuits, not to mention the peripheral benefits that this status brings. Whilst Delingpole is much older than me and I suspect started on his journey from a considerably higher platform, I can empathise with his predicament. There is a magical lure to the ways of the countryside and an intoxicating aura about the countryside set, but the main reason for these exotic scents being so potent is because they are so damned inaccessible.

Want a tweed jacket? Easy, you can buy tweed-styled blazers at most formal clothing high street retail stores. Want a proper tweed jacket? I.e. one with a thick woolen density and proper cut? Your options are slashed to a handful of hideously expensive stores, usually located in West London, Bath or Harrogate.

Keen to try a new pastime? Fishing and shooting are not quite as accessible as other sports. You typically need some sort of lead to pursue and even something as relatively straightforward as fishing isn’t as straightforward as joining a club. Whilst you can certainly procure a license and toddle down to your local canal or fishing pool, some degree of coaching is required and this invariably involves knowing someone. 

Shooting game was until recently almost a complete closed shop and even now it costs a fortune for a common pleb to join an organized shoot. Clay pigeon shooting is of course readily accessible as a form of corporate entertainment or stag party; however, if you actually want to pursue it as a hobby, matters are somewhat trickier. A few weeks ago I took an early morning drive one Sunday to a remote farm not far from where I lived from which a dedicated Clay Pigeon shooting station is run. I had discovered that they offered a “have a go” stand so I parked up to find the field packed with cars and vans and an army of shooters making their way up to the building where the chaps runs the thing. I’ve never seen so many people in such an isolated place.

Despite being one of only three novices, I had a coaching session (shot quite a few clays much to my delight) then went for a walk around the stands, ruminating on how exactly all these people made the transition to “having a go” to owning a gun and becoming fully-fledged members of the club. I’m now contemplating going back on a few occasions, ostensibly to improve my skills but mainly to try and fathom how this shift takes place. To own a gun, one needs to obtain a firearms and shotgun licence but to justify the expense of firstly applying for this and then investing in a decent shotgun, one has to have access to a gun club or organized shoot. It’s a Catch 22 situation that genuinely makes me curious – and of course when it comes to shooting game that’s another level removed, something I will come back to in due course (though I still harbor the vague aspiration to one day attend a shooting holiday in the Highlands).

Fishing is next on the list and I have something in the diary in April to try this out. Rather like shooting, the entry-end of the fishing experience (dangling a clothes line and catching an old boot in the cut) is somewhat more accessible than the more aspirational end and I dare say that if I aspire to travelling to an Irish hideaway location for personal salmon fishing coaching with Mike Daunt, I might be waiting slightly longer.

Anything is possible though if you dare to dream. As an optimist, I’m of the view that if I turn up to enough places wearing my flat cap and country-attire then I’ll be in with the landed gentry, drinking single malt whiskey from a custom hamper out the back of an L322 Range Rover in no time. Or at least before I’m fifty.

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