Poor old Ed Miliband. I watched footage on television of his much-touted comeback speech last week and I found that it didn?t matter what he said, because his words took backstage to his appearance and voice. He may or may not be a brilliant politician ? no doubt we all have our own views on that. But he doesn?t really have a chance to make his case, because he comes across as a weird geek with a mouth stuffed with cotton wool. Terribly unfair, I know, but we live in a media age where these things count for more than they should. Now, I am not exactly a paragon of presentational virtue myself. Sartorial elegance has never been my strong point. On the few occasions when I have been found lurking in an office, visitors have been known to mistake me for a janitor who has seen better days. I do sometimes struggle into a suit (funny how all my clothes seem to have shrunk over the years), but nowadays I tend to wear the sort of kit smarter people reserve for walking the dog, even when I am in town. I am just too damned idle to change.
What we look and sound like is, sometimes, a problem for shooters ? particularly when we encounter members of the public. A properly clothed wildfowler or a pigeon decoyer might appear to be a rather frightening figure to the uninitiated, especially when encountered in a lonely spot in the half-light. And when a camo-clad man wearing a face mask happens to be wielding a synthetic-stocked semi-automatic shotgun… Well, you can imagine the consternation this might cause. And it?s not just that particular section of the shooting community that can seem, at times, to be distanced from the ordinary realm of urbanite acceptability. Some driven game Shots get decked out in a manner that seems deliberately calculated to look faintly ridiculous.
I make a notable exception here for gamekeepers in full tweeds. They invariably look smart. Even if they are mistaken for Downton Abbey characters, the public perception accords their uniform a degree of respect. And Guns wearing decent breeks and covert coats are also in a sort of uniform that the public expects and accepts. On the other hand, some of the more extreme fashions worn by certain Guns really should not be seen away from the shooting field if the wearers want to be taken seriously. Often, the hat is a particular offender. Not that I am one to talk. My own hats cause deep embarrassment to my sons when we are shooting in company. This is right and proper, of course. You know you have reached respectable middle age when your children are embarrassed to be seen with you.
I favour an ordinary flat hat for most outdoor tasks, or a peaked hat with earflaps if I am on the quad or up in the hills. And I look quite silly enough, I am told. But even I look askance at the more extreme sorts of cowboy hat worn by some Guns. Even worse, arguably, are those exaggerated, baker-boy fl at caps which create a sizeable rain shadow around the wearer, who ends up looking like a walking toadstool, or an extra from a Hovis advertisement. Yes, I know they have a practical function, and I also know they are considered socially smart in some circles. But I sometimes wonder if the wearers really understand just how ludicrous they look in such inflated headgear.
Voices also matter, as the Miliband experience shows. If somebody representing the shooting world appears on television or radio, then either a moderate regional accent, or so-called received pronunciation (what used to be called BBC English) allows the speaker to get his or her point across with minimal distraction. The same is not true of a hoitytoity braying, especially when it emanates from a red-faced, tweed-clad caricature in plus-eights sheltering under a stupendous hat. Sorry to be blunt, but when it comes to defending fieldsports, keep toffs off TV.
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