THE poets may praise the mellow mists, but what is special about October for real ruralists are the vital, exhilarating mornings, with the sky so wind-wiped clean of cloud you can see clear into the stratosphere. And then the Holy Trinity of smells on the frosted-edged air: rotting leaves, bonfires and gunpowder from Eley cartridges. All of these are a sort of incense.
There is only one place to be in autumn and that is in the country—and, within that geography, in the classic landscape of field and hedge, brook and copse.
For years now, I have been engaged in a history of English farming, using a device I term ‘Method Writing’™, meaning I try to live the period concerned. I have ploughed with an antler like the prehistorics, made ‘tree hay’ in the style of Saxons, scattered seed from a waist pouch as a medieval peasant would have done, eaten a Tudor wedding cake (made from meat, surprisingly) and scythed hay like the Victorian ‘hodge’. Now, I am in my Edwardian age.
Accordingly, on this fine morning of about 1904, I am out and about with a .410 shotgun, seeking something for the pot. In my conjured scenario, I am a tenant farmer; consequently, the targets for lunch are ‘vermin’, such as coney and pigeon—the high-value, high-falutin’ ‘game’ belongs to my landlord.
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