Gamekeeping isn't the best-paid profession but tipping is rather old-fashioned; why can't we simply pay people properly in the first place, asks Alasdair Mitchell
Once, after a rather informal and very enjoyable day’s shooting, I attempted to give the gamekeeper a tip, but botched the handover. My fingers were numb and, as a consequence, a rather wet, slippery and solitary banknote flopped to the ground.
Instantly, my purported friend said, for all to hear: “Oh look — a fiver!”
Cue embarrassment all round. The keeper quickly stuffed the soggy note into his pocket without looking at it, but his face said it all. I started to splutter, but realised there was nothing I could say to defend myself. An unseen ‘mood hoover’ sucked the bonhomie out of the atmosphere, leaving something awkward in its place.
For the record, the note was £20. But how would the gamekeeper ever know that, given the random mixture of notes that had already been provided by the various other Guns?
The chances are that there would have been a fiver somewhere in his pocket. And he will forever think it came from me.
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As for me, there could be no recovery from being publicly outed as an apparent skinflint. It was a mean trick, in all senses of the word. It happened years ago, but I am still plotting my revenge — and yes, the guilty party often reads this column. You know who you are!
Is tipping gamekeepers demeaning?
Mind you, I am uneasy about the very concept of tipping. Not because I am a miser, but because it seems to me that there is something faintly demeaning and underhand about the whole business. Yes, I know — it’s showing our appreciation in a way that goes straight into a deserving pocket. And I realise that gamekeeping isn’t the best-paid profession, so tips are important. I also appreciate that tipping is a long-established part of shooting etiquette.
But still. I sometimes wish we would simply pay people properly in the first place. Tipping gamekeepers is redolent of a rather old-fashioned attitude — and I don’t mean that in a positive way. It reeks of an outdated master/servant relationship rather than an act of gratitude for a service performed well. For comparison, ask yourself this: when did you last give your solicitor or your accountant a tip?
Tipping can, in certain instances, mean that an individual accrues a lot of undocumented cash over a season. HMRC is said to keep a beady eye on the headkeepers of certain famous shoots. And handing over cash is, of course, becoming increasingly frowned upon as the cashless society advances.
How long will it be, I wonder, before a keeper comes around the Guns at the end of the day proffering a brace of pheasants with one hand and a portable card machine with the other?
The amount you should tip is a conundrum. I seem to recall that the basic calculation was often based on £20 per 100 pheasants on a driven day. But even then, it depends on the number of Guns. On a 200-bird day with six Guns, the shoot captain advised us to pay £60. And, of course, inflation must have ravaged such crude calculations over the years.
Newspaper political diarist Kenneth Rose wrote that former prime minister Harold Macmillan lamented the change from gold sovereigns to paper money because: “One never knew what to give one’s loader.” I would face a similar quandary — if I ever had a loader, that is.