True sporting gents and ladies are a pleasure to share a day with. Giles Catchpole has some sterling advice on how to achieve this coveted status
The knight errant is not a concept one hears discussed much these days, which is a pity in my view, because the idea of a gentleman wandering about the vicinity rescuing maidens, slaying dragons, righting wrongs and generally being something of a good egg to all and sundry is an attractive one that merits wider consideration.
Which brings us to sporting gents. And when we say “gents” of course we include equally ladies of a sporting disposition too, because ladies can always be quite as sporting and just as gentle as any chap, and being a sporting sort of chap does not by any means depend on gender.
The first thing to consider is the transport
Much like the elephant, the sporting gent is easy to recognise but hard to define. So it seems to me that if we consider the subject in the round, there will be clues that lead us inevitably to the definition we seek.
Like the knight errant, the sporting gent spends a good deal of time travelling and so the first thing we should perhaps consider is the transport. The knight errant’s faithful steed would carry him about the neighbourhood but would also cart his equipment and play its part in combat too. It would plod loyally from town to town and then charge straight and unflinching into the lists.
So we are looking for an old friend. Rugged, dependable, capable of carrying the load but also able to ford the occasional stream, weather the odd storm and yet share the sometimes austere lifestyle of the wandering knight. Which rather suggests not a Range Rover. Unless it’s an old one, of course, from before they went bonkers posh. This is not a motoring column and I would never advertise anything, but the car will have a lot of miles under its belt, many of them off-road, some of them a long way off-road, it will still look good when given a bit of a hose down, and it will not consume too many oats.
Old but serviceable
And very much the same can be said for most of the sporting gent’s equipment as and when it emerges from the saddlebags, as it were. The armour may be old and bear the marks of many adventures but it will also demonstrate that the man who made it knew well enough his client’s purpose. “Old but serviceable,” are the words that spring to mind. The tweed may be a complex pattern of muted hue but will probably be the estate livery of some far-flung sporting house, in the Hebrides for choice, and mostly lost several generations back on the turn of a card or perhaps for love.
Every darn and patch contains a story of fetching fallen grouse from across the march, dragging stags from peat hags and collecting pheasants from the icy roofs of churches after the keeper’s dog refused point blank to jump out of the steeple window.
Dogs and Guns
Which brings us to the dog. Or more probably dogs. Really sporting gents always have an old friend “who still enjoys the odd day” and who will swim a raging torrent to beat the pickers-up to a long partridge, as well as “a youngster coming on”, which is already better than everyone else’s dogs put together.
Sometimes the guns are of the same ilk. Old but serviceable. They may once have been smart – the only good things rescued from the great Hebridean house disaster or so the story goes – but they have seen a lot of action so the chequering will be worn smooth by a couple of generations of palms. And the stocks may have been shortened and lengthened on occasion to suit their latest owner.
Sometimes the guns are modern – but serviceable. They may be Spanish, “because the insurance on the Purdeys was getting crazy”, or Italian, “because I never dared to leave one of the Woodwards in the car all day”. But the elegant stocks and horn-capped grips and the discreet engraving – perhaps of a storm-lashed castle on a distant Hebridean island – show that these have been custom-made and hand-finished notwithstanding.
Selective and generous
All of which is fine and dandy but counts for nothing flat if the owner is nonetheless a complete arse. Not so much a knight errant as a black knight, representing everything unnecessary and unpleasant. No, a sporting gent is both sporting and a gentleman.
He is a gentleman because he brings gifts for his friends. And not just whisky and flowers from the petrol station. Thoughtful gifts. “… Because you said that you had always wanted one.” “… Because we enjoyed it together so much last summer.” And whisky and flowers as well, obviously. And still not from the petrol station.
And he is sporting because he behaves sportingly. That he shoots superbly is a given, many can do that. The sporting shot adjusts his shooting to suit the circumstances. If he is shooting early grouse he ignores cheepers and focuses on older birds. But in the back end when the keeper has asked that the cocks be thinned he will be utterly ruthless. He only shoots partridges in front. He bides his time on a pheasant drive until his neighbours are unloaded and then snatches down archangels. The style is economical, elegant and exquisite. Small movements perfectly executed. He never, ever lets a pricked bird by him if he has a loaded gun. He never shoots more than his fair share.
He is quick to congratulate others and is modest in return. He encourages and enthuses the young and engages and assists the old. He has the beaters chuckling as they go by him at the end of the drive and he is generous with the keeper. That is what sporting gents do. Charm not smarm, that’s the ticket.
Where to find one…
Now you are probably wondering where these paragons live and where, perhaps, you can get one? All of which is a bit of a mystery, I’m afraid. And of summer migration patterns, I fear, the research is sketchy to say the least. You can, sometimes, run into them unexpectedly – at Ascot perhaps, or Goodwood. Some of the ghillies on the nobler Scottish salmon rivers seem to know who you are talking about when you refer to a sporting chap of your acquaintance. There are, betimes, family weddings and family funerals but few actual references to families. There are very occasional vague mentions of “meetings” but very little evidence of work and quite a lot of staying with friends. The fact is that knights errant are mostly solitary and largely nomadic. They do, from time to time, pitch a tent beside a convenient ford perhaps, for a season. Or even dally for a while with a recently rescued maiden.
But when the days grow shorter and the nights grow cold and the frost lies heavy in the dawn o’er the lea, the knight errant once more straps on his sword, hefts his shield and tightens the girths on his saddle.
And the sporting gent buckles his guns into their cases, whistles his dogs into the truck and programmes the far horizon into the satnav.
It’s just the way it is.