An Apprenticeship in Field Sports - Part 1
by Dick Nutt
For many people 1944 was the year of 'D' day and what Churchill called 'the beginning of the end', but for me it will always be remembered as the year I first made contact with Mustela Putorious Furo. No not some dread disease, but that wonderful, addictive little creature the Ferret!
I was then aged eight and living in a tiny remote village in the Yorkshire Dales, which apart from the intrusions of the telephone, the infernal internal combustion engine and some fifty Italian prisoners of wars, had seen little change since Victorian times and where the war seemed very far away indeed. Its progress, however, was followed on accumulator powered radios, the village having no mains electricity at that time. These wet cells were exchanged every two weeks for freshly charged ones brought around on a barrow by the owner of the village shop, who possessed a petrol driven charging plant, making a nice little sideline for him and enabling people to keep up with current events as well as listen to Glen Miller or Henry Hall.
On another evening each week the same barrow was used for a different sideline, the selling of (fairly!) freshly killed rabbits, all paunched and legged, hanging on a wooden frame in the barrow, priced at one shilling and six pence each or a bit less if small! Meat rationing hadn't made much difference to this community, because even though beef was only seen in minuscule amounts, there was always the illegally kept and even more illegally slaughtered pig to be shared around. Most fireplaces had a ham hanging out of sight in the chimney with the peat smoke doing a fine job. There were no 'Ministry Snoopers' hardy enough to brave the high fells in March to count the lambs! Even so, the trade in rabbits was fairly brisk as most housewives would put it on the table at least once a week either as a pie, a casserole or roast.
Just about every lady could skin, dress and joint a rabbit, just as she could kill, pluck and dress a chicken or goose, a far cry from today where if something isn't wrapped in cling-film and ready to cook, most are baffled! Last year I actually had a young lady ask me whether one plucked or shaved a rabbit prior to cooking!
Wilf the "Rabbit Man" and his wife were a kindly, childless couple who, probably because they knew I lived with some rather uncaring distant relatives, took a liking to me. They became, for the next two years, more like parents and Wilf decided that it was up to him to undertake my education in country matters. His wife did most of the running of the shop and post office, leaving him time to see to his "sidelines" and his self imposed task or my education, which he undertook whenever I was free from the iron hand of Miss Violet at the village school. This formidable lady had retired in 1938 and had been asked back in 1942 due to the war. Despite her advanced years she could wield a wooden yard ruler with incredible (and unforgettable) force and accuracy!
"Nowt wrong wi' what yon owd lass beats into thee, lad", Wilf would say, "But she can't show thee 'ow t' set a wire, work ferrets or shoot - on t'other hand I can, will and more besides!" And on that score, as we shall see, he kept his word. . . . . . . . . . .