Magazine article The Spectator

My Trouble with a Thug from Whom I Urge His Lordship to Dissociate Himself

Magazine article The Spectator

My Trouble with a Thug from Whom I Urge His Lordship to Dissociate Himself

Article excerpt

One of the disadvantages of living in London, or in any of our other big cities, is that there are so few places, apart from the splendid Royal Parks, to give dogs a good run. But after moving nearly ten years ago to Hedgerley in south Bucks, I am not at all sure that conditions around our village are not becoming as bad, if not actually worse.

I say 'becoming' because this is a fairly new development. When I first arrived in Hedgerley there were about five lovely footpath walks on which the dogs could run free. There were signs, faded with age, requesting walkers to keep the dogs on leads, but in practice farmers and landowners did not enforce the rule, generously recognising that walking dogs on leads is fun neither for masters nor beasts.

I hasten to add that none of these particular walks went through land where sheep graze, since manifestly zero tolerance for unleashed dogs must always be the rule there, as it must be in woods where pheasants are being raised. But except in these extra-specially sensitive areas, unleashed domestic dogs have been tolerated with good grace - not welcomed, no doubt, but at least accepted as one of the new facts of contemporary rural life, rather as in towns parking meters have now come to be accepted as one of the new facts of urban life.

Over the past five years, however, with no warning, a reign of terror has been introduced. I mean this literally. The oldfashioned keepers who had some recognition of the need to live and let live have given way to a baseball-capped bossman in his mid-thirties, I would guess, who absolutely and repeatedly refuses to give me his name, more like a security guard than a gamekeeper, who scours the country in a jeep-type vehicle for walkers with dogs. I experienced his threats and harassment towards the end of last year. It happened on a footpath leading up to a beautiful narrow lane where I have always felt least worried about the dogs running free, the hedgerows flanking the lane being so high and impenetrable that the dogs - of which I have, or rather had, four - have no chance but to keep to the straight and narrow. In any case, even if the dogs could break or burrow through the hedgerows, the land on either side is such that they could do no possible harm. Half a mile on, where the lane merges into open country, I always do put leads on as part of an accommodation my wife reached years ago with an earlier generation of gamekeepers proper.

Anyway, half a mile before reaching that point, this jeep-type vehicle roared up behind me at a speed more appropriate to the motorway than a narrow country lane, screeched to a halt, and the bossman driver, with what looked like a wrestler's tattooed arm resting on the open window and a little boy cowering on the passenger seat, started shouting foul-mouthed abuse. `What the effing hell are those dogs doing off their leads?' When I explained this was my normal practice he replied, `Not any more, mate, it effing ain't; you effing locals have to learn a lesson.' At this point, unwisely, I tried sarcasm: `I'll put my dogs on a lead in your lane when you stop your grossly inflated pheasant population running free on the public highways.' At this the balloon went up. After reversing 50 yards or so, the thug came towards me and the dogs at full pelt and actually ran over the dachshund which, being close on the ground, emerged unscathed. `That's an effing warning. Next time it'll be the big ones,' he shouted before roaring off. …

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