Three of us, old friends, were meeting to arrange a marriage. The young couple have never actually met. Indeed, they are still unaware of one other’s existence. But it is so obviously a union endorsed by the heavens. Young Florence King has already been heralded in this column. At least since the infancy — did she have one? — of Diana, Huntress and Goddess, no four-year-old girl has ever shown so much interest in field sports. In Ireland, Florence is a bisexual name. One feels that our Florry must be a kinswoman of the immortal Flurry Knox.
The bridegroom will be Charlie. At the age of seven, he climbed a tree and killed a pigeon with his bare hands. When his father regaled a club table with the story, there was general scepticism. Go for a walk, unarmed; pigeons will trill and wink at you from low branches and near fences. Appear with a shotgun and they retreat several fields. ‘It must have been a sickly pigeon,’ someone suggested. ‘Well, we all ate it, with no ill effects.’
Since then, Charlie has moved on to bigger bags. With air rifle and .410, he has hammered grey squirrels and culled magpies, leading to a sharp increase in songbird numbers. He has also slaughtered rabbits and shot a goodly number of pigeons and pheasants. Needless to say, he cleans and plucks his prey. His father is a modern man. He has three daughters. Even though he often quotes Lord Tottering’s dictum from Country Life — that the number of daughters a man has must be related to his wickedness in a previous existence — he believes in educating his girls. I have always assumed that schooling females must be cheaper; surely domestic science costs less than physics and chemistry? I am told that this is not the modern way. So it is useful that Charlie helps to reduce the victuals bill by filling the game larder.
Moreover, pigeon is delicious. Hang it for a few days, cook the breast and thighs bloodily, and it has far more flavour than pheasant. There is only one caveat. Pigeon started to appear on menus in Chinatown around the time that pigeons started to disappear from Trafalgar Square. Those birds did not look toothsome. Omnivorousness has its limits.
It is delightful to watch a boy learn how to shoot: the techniques, and the disciplines. There are idiotic lefties — the sort of politicians who used to support the Paedophile Information Exchange — who would like to prevent any youngster under 16 from using a gun. But it is so much easier to train eight- or nine-year-olds in the crucial importance of safety. Eager to win adult approval, aware that any infringement of the safety code will lead to a long ban from the sport, pre-teenagers are biddable and malleable. Already a good and reliable shot, Charlie will be formidable. He is looking forward to the day that his arms are long enough to control a rifle. Paul Kruger shot his first lion when he was 13. In Somerset, Charlie might have to make do with roe and muntjac. Both of them eat well.
In the absence of a poet, the epithalamion to Venus took vinous form. We started with some Pol Roger 1990; the bridegroom’s father parted with his final bottle. It was a paladin of champagnes. Polly Roger was Churchill’s favourite fizz, and this was a wine for a toast to his immortal memory. The bride’s father came up with a Chassagne-Montrachet ’07, Domaine Paul Pillot, a recent star in the Burgundian firmament and a name to look out for. The principal red was a Côte-Rôtie ’06 from St Cosme, a Gigondas house which makes serious wines throughout the range. This one was outstanding, but their more modest marques are all excellent, and — for the moment — good value. It was a delightful occasion. In the long fullness, the chosen couple are bound to meet, over a shotgun or a rifle or… who knows?
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