My Own Private Royal Agricultural College

My rural education in country drinking establishments continues. Last night J. showed up at the wine bar still in his gear from the day’s shoot. I made the mistake of asking him if he had been out hunting, to which he responded that no, he hadn’t been anywhere near a horse nor a fox. The immediate coterie of men around me then chided, almost in unison, “You hunt foxes, you shoot birds, and you stalk deer.”

Well, excuse me. In south Florida where I grew up it’s all just got called huntin’, unless of course you’re fishin’ (which the British have to tart up to angling) or, at a stretch, lobster trapping. It would be rather amusing to send this contingent out for a day’s hunting with my cousin Jason or, even better, Berta (short for Robert), the older brother of one of my best childhood friends. Such an outing would include copious amounts of camo, ammo, Busch beer (in cans of course), and possibly an airboat. They would probably all get on like a house on fire.

Just to further annoy J., I told him I liked his knickers, which happens to be Brit speak for panties. I was referring to his knickerbockers or plus 2s as they’re known — pants that fall just below the knee that Americans associate with old fashioned golfers but are also worn for shooting here.

Following my brush up on country sporting verbs, J. introduced me to the wife of our local celebrity, also American. She’s apparently a keen hunter (of the fox variety), but we spent most our time talking about the election. At least now I can say I’ve met her since, inexplicably, people always ask me if I know her when they realize I am American too.

The evening returned to theme when I was introduced to two modern day shepherds. D. manages the estate that borders our town, M. an estate in a neighboring village. They were forthcoming with sheep trivia, including that they raise a Welsh variety and that a ewe has about five years of lambing in her. When I asked what happens to the ewes after that, they both laughed and said “Asia.” By which they apparently meant Birmingham. By which I have no idea what they meant but presume it’s to supply a vast network of Brummie curry houses or to export it.

But both D. and M. wanted to talk about sheep dog trials more than sheep. Apparently the Americans are crazy for the sport, and D. and M. just had a group over for a week to teach them the finer points. The closest I could come to contributing to this conversation was anecdotes about my childhood pet, Greta, an old English sheep dog known for her prowess at running through sliding glass doors. It turns out sheep dog trials are run with border collies.

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