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.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Peppa Pig and (the elusive) Signor Stag

My children enjoy Peppa Pig and so do I. It is an easy cartoon to watch, there are enough episodes to ensure the same story is not repeated (all parents will vouch for this) and most importantly it seems to have (so far) escaped the tedious tendency for children’s programs to become politically-correct virtue-signaling exercises. If the television must be on and if it must be a children's program, then one can do much worse than Peppa Pig.

By consequence they posses a number of Peppa Pig toys and games, including a variation on the “Guess Who” game in which two players have to choose a character and then be the first to guess the identity of their opponent’s choice by asking a series of questions designed to eliminate the various options. Whenever I have played this game with my daughters I almost always go for one of the less obvious characters – so rather than Peppa, George or Daddy Pig this means Mr Bull or Mr Rhino or, on occasions, Signor Stag.

Here he is on the Guess Who Game:

Signor Stag, Peppa Pig Guess Who Game

Now, we know that Mr Bull is a binman who appears in the odd episode here and there, sometimes making a general racket early in the morning and waking everyone up, sometimes doing some construction work. We also know that Mr Rhino works for him. But Signor Stag? Who is he? There is literally no sign of him anywhere and the more times we have played the game the greater our curiosity becomes.

Emilia always claimed that she had seen Signor Stag during an early episode, but we took that with a pinch of salt because series one was unavailable on Netflix at the time and she couldn’t expand on what he was actually doing or any other detail. All of a sudden last week, however, after months of fruitless searching, she came running out of the playroom, shouting with joy and triumph that she had found him.

“Come and look, I’ve found Signor Stag!!!!”

Naturally I raced in and watched what I hoped would be a long and rewarding section of storyline to finally feature this mysterious character. What I saw however, was a clip of several seconds in which Signor Stag (a slightly hapless Italian with a spivy moustache) loans a car to Peppa Pig’s family. He only had a couple of lines, struggling to comprehend the family's request to hire a car (which is odd given that he runs a car hire shop - what else would they be requesting?), uttering “auto” and then “broom broom, peep peep,” before disappearing. We replayed it several times – Emilia found the whole thing (mainly his accent and odd demeanor) highly amusing.

Signor Stag's only known television appearance:

Signor Stag, only Peppa Pig episode we can find

Signor Stag, only Peppa Pig episode up close

Well, at least we’ve seen him. Once. Briefly.

The weird thing is that he doesn’t appear to be listed on any of the character lists for Peppa Pig, nor on any comprehensive Google searches, nor anywhere. And yet he does appear in an episode and he is a character in the Guess Who game. So why is Signor Stag so elusive?

Naturally, Emilia has sent an email to the Peppa Pig website asking for more information on him and for him to appear in another episode. We are nothing if not persistent, so we shall see…