Not all who live in the country are country. To help you spot a real country gentleman, Janet Menzies identifies the fakers in the acres
A real country gentleman is hard to spot. Among the ever-growing tribes of countryside pretenders, they can be few and far between. Janet Menzies separates the wheat from the chaff, the sheep from the goats and the real country gentleman from the boys.
If you consider yourself expert enough to already know a real country gentleman from a fake, take a look at The Field’s 11 things to add to your shooting bucket list or 5 things to add to your hunting bucket list instead. Or what to wear when shooting and what to wear out hunting for some useful tips.
A REAL COUNTRY GENTLEMAN
Spotting a real country gentleman is far from easy. Yes, you can recognise one if you come across one – but, among all the different tribes of less-than-genuine country folk, you have to be lucky to see one in the first place. There’s the Rock ’n’ Rural tribe of celebrities who have taken over the houses, and often the role, of the country squire. And what about the Welly Silly brigade flocking in from the towns in their pink polka-dot plastic wellies (rather than gumboots) to live in converted phone boxes? The Terrier-ists – those slightly scary guys bristling with ferrets and dogs – were always here. But are any of them a real country gentleman? It’s often difficult to tell them from the Sabbing Antis, who also wear camo gear and drive quads, but want to catch the hunt at it, rather than join in.
A real country gentleman doesn’t belong to any particular one of the country tribes, and defies stereotyping, but most country and sporting people have a clear idea of what constitutes a real country gentleman, and equally firm views about the fakes. As someone who has guided fishermen and game hunters all over the world, Tarquin Millington-Drake has experience of both. He says, “A real country gentleman is the classic all-rounder – someone who shoots, fishes and hunts (or at least has affinity with all three); who knows their trees and wildflowers; who knows how to handle vermin of all sorts; and who understands dogs. Such a man or woman will have acute observation skills and great knowledge from the proverbial ‘10,000 hours’ of doing all these things.”
As for the fakes, Mark Gilchrist, pest controller extraordinaire and wild chef, warns: “Fieldsports seem to be moving towards rewarding those with the mantra ‘Fake it till you make it’, who believe that credibility can be bought rather than earned. But a real country gentleman has millions of hours of first-hand experience and, because they spend so much time out in the field, they rarely appear on the radar of any of the media.”
The countryside is changing – some might say disappearing – but a real country gentleman never changes. Perhaps that is why it is so important to be able to identify one. He may well remind us of our own failings, but the real country gentleman is also a role model to follow.
Here’s a rundown of the country tribes.
THE WELLY SILLY
Easily identifiable by their silly pink diamanté wellies (not gumboots), the Welly Silly tribe is composed mainly of affluent townies and B-list celebrities. As they can’t survive without at least 3G mobile, easy motorway access, a delicatessen, super-fast broadband, a Harvey Nichols branch within 45 minutes’ drive and a BMW dealership, the Home Counties are the shires most heavily infested by this tribe. However, they are gradually increasing their territory westwards and northwards in pursuit of cheaper property. There is a colony in Cheshire around Mottram St Andrew.
Wherever a cluster of Welly Silly develops, it has a disproportionate effect on the area, owing to the tribe’s great energy, media savvy and propensity to complain. Some, such as former Bond girl and Medicine Woman Jane Seymour, even write books (Jane Seymour’s Guide to Romantic Living) about how to run barefoot through the dew-soaked grass, and so they naturally become exasperated when the farmer has spent the night spreading 70 or 80 cubic metres of fresh muck over the said dew. Little is printable about the farmer’s feelings on having his grass (dew-soaked or otherwise) constantly run through. Many of the Welly Silly tip over into full-on bunny-hugger, such as Queen guitarist Brian May, the badgers’ new best-friend.
Gumboot/welly colour code: pink or powder-blue polka-dot
Probably the most truly rural of all the tribes, and the most likely to contain a number of real country gentlemen and women, the Terrier-ists give no thought to creed, class, celebrity status or any other orientation, judging those they meet solely on their ability to set a snare humanely and handle a ferret without losing their dignity (or anything else). The name derives most obviously from their being constantly accompanied by two or three Patterdale-cross (often very cross) terriers, who live inside their overalls or ride on the back of the quad. However, many people (especially the Welly Silly) believe the name derives from their often terrifying demeanour and undeniable ability to terrorise grockles, especially if they are Sabbing Antis (see below).
Surprisingly, though, it can be very easy to confuse a Terrier-ist with a Sabbing Anti, as the Masters of Foxhounds Association (MFHA) knows to its cost. Both tribes tend to charge around the countryside on quads wearing a lot of camo-gear. Tell-tale differences include a ferret’s head peeping out of the Terrier-ist’s pocket, and his propensity to call those on horseback Sir or Madam, something a Sabbing Anti obviously never does. Rosie Whittaker, daughter of Sir Joseph Nickerson, has more than a sneaking admiration for the Terrier-ist, as they fulfil her criteria for the real country gentleman or woman of having “at least one gundog, terrier(s) and some ferrets. They must also be able to make jam or gut a pheasant, grow vegetables, keep chickens and know their trees.”
Gumboot/welly colour code: not known, since always covered in mud
THE ROCK ‘N’ RURAL
The highest-profile of all the country tribes is the Rock ’n’ Rural. Go to any charity gig in the Westcountry and you will find it swarming with A-listers from Sting to Kate Moss. The band playing at your friends’ wedding will feature more rock legends than the Travelling Wilburys. The first thing every rock god, film star or fashionista must do, having made a pile, is to buy a country pile.
Back in the day, it started with Roger Daltrey (the Who) getting heavily into trout, along with contemporaries Kenny Jones (the Small Faces), who started his own polo club, and Charlie Watts (the Rolling Stones), who needed a retreat more than most. Today the Rock ’n’ Rural tribe is as big as ever, with Matt Bellamy (Muse), Marcus Mumford (Mumford and Sons) and Lily Allen all determinedly going Westcountry. According to Downton Abbey’s creator, Julian Fellowes, that is because, in the countryside, there’s no celebrity culture. “People are judged on what they do rather than any wealth or fame they have.” He is right, because, no matter how much money they contribute to the church roof, the Rock ’n’ Rurals are constantly judged by country standards. When Madonna was at the height of her twee-tweeds phase, the word went out from loaders that the cartridge ratio on the Ashcombe estate often exceeded the height of the birds.
But some stars do become really rural, such as obsessive fisherman Chris De Margary (Simply Red); Irish MFH James Brown (celebrity hairdresser) and Bryan Ferry’s huntsman son, Otis. Blur captured the tribe perfectly in their 1995 chart-topper, Country House. Ironically, Blur bassist, Alex James, has now become so rural that he makes his own cheese and writes about it in the Daily Telegraph.
Gumboot/welly colour code: Burberry check
THE SABBING ANTIS
Forget animal welfare, forget legislation: hunt-sabbing is the new country sport, and anyone who doubts this can go out on a winter Saturday and watch the tribe of Sabbing Antis enjoying their fun. At first glance it is mainly the expletive-laden sabbing language that distinguishes them from Terrier-ists – though when the two tribes meet in battle, the vocabulary is extreme on both sides.
Before the Hunting Act, the tribe consisted mainly of rather charmingly ineffectual students bussed in from nearby colleges and provided with sandwiches and a promise from their girlfriends. Since the passing of the Hunting Act, they have been replaced by a hard core of rural activists who get their kicks from disrupting the lives of country people.
The paradox is that they copy – indeed, participate in – that same lifestyle. They go hunting every Saturday, and dress and behave much like Terrier-ists. If there is no hunting, they sabotage shooting or even fishing instead. Bizarrely, they have become just as much of a country tribe as any of the others – perhaps even more so than the Silly Welly or the Country Faker tribes.
Gumboot/welly colour code: as black as their hearts
THE COUNTRY FAKERS
The more these would-be countrymen try to ape the real thing, the more obvious their efforts, and the farther they are from success. Though a real country gentleman may well possess a pair of green gumboots (often saved for best), the original colour will have been so tarnished by peat bog and dog wee as to be barely green at all, whereas the Country Faker’s gumboots are the box-fresh green of the leather benches in the House of Commons.
It never occurs to a Country Faker that a real country gentleman wears the right footwear for the job, including trainers for beagling. In fact, the lack of such observational skills, and general insensitivity to the workings of the countryside, are among their distinguishing traits. Fishing and safari travel organiser Tarquin Millington-Drake warns: “It’s the people prattling on, none of it making sense, who don’t ring true.” Rabbit supremo and wild chef Mark Gilchrist identifies money as a marker: “They throw money at the problem, like those big, expensive pheasant days, on which they fundamentally misunderstand how to use a shotgun. People who pay big bucks for sport are led to believe they are doing something that is an achievement, but it wouldn’t even count as sport to a real country gentleman, as it doesn’t offer the challenge of outwitting the game.”
Gumboot/welly colour code: box-fresh green
COUNTRYMEN ON COUNTRYMEN
Falconer Emma Ford, a former Young Countrywoman of the Year: “Real countrywomen have the following identifying features – mud adhering to clothing; dis-cernible whiff of dog; haunted look when presented with a(nother) brace of pheasant; filthy 4×4; no manicure; omnipresent dog whistles round neck; glamour sacrificed in the interests of practicality in choice of country clothing; every hair out of place.”
John Pool, international clay-shot and game-shooting instructor: “Misshapen tweed hat for warmth, not effect. Seem simple, but as sharp as razors. Slow in offering advice to newcomers on water courses, drains, etc, but quick to come to aid with tractors at no charge, though bottle of Scotch never rejected.”
Fishing and safari guide Tarquin Millington-Drake: “I would select a man called John Evans as a real country gentleman. He’s the scruffiest Old Etonian I know, but he can fish for anything in fresh or salt, shoot, trap or whatever anything else, knows his onions in every regard and is as tough as old boots.”
Grouse woman Rosie Whittaker: “Hunting and being able to tow a trailer confidently, especially being able to reverse – I’m in awe of people who can do that. And never complaining about the weather if she’s about to go hunting, shooting or fishing.”
Gunmaker Mark Crudgington: “They are few and far between. A real country gentleman is someone who has an intimate knowledge of the agricultural workings of the countryside old and new, an understanding and sympathy for true rural people as well as an encyclopaedic knowledge of the rural flora and fauna. The 10th Duke of Beaufort stood out for me as a real country gentleman.”
Wild chef Mark Gilchrist: “A real country gentleman creates all their own sport from scratch – they don’t need a syndicate membership, gamekeeper, stalker, guide, friend or family member, just a map of the farm. Above all, they don’t need to tell people they are the real deal.”
Top shot Lord James Percy: “A real country gentleman notices everything – subtle changes in the seasons, the weather, the way the crows are flying, pigeon are feeding, sheep are standing, cattle are lying down. He knows where the weather is coming from. He knows how to skin a rabbit, gralloch a deer and guddle a trout. He knows how to fill the pot with fish or fowl, not just by sporting fly or driven bird but by long-netting and ferreting. He relishes a rat-hunt – digging deep and not letting up until the brute is nailed. He knows trees and plants, little birds, tractors and chainsaws and generally looks after his kit. His logs are always in. He doesn’t shout at his dogs – just a low whistle and gentle encouragement. Oh, and a real country gentleman has a knowing smile when the spivs are out.”