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Thursday, 1 September 2011

Back home we often think of September as marking the onset of autumn. It’s actually a summer month, but not always. Even if the weather is fair, the mornings are likely to be cool, and characterised by heavy dews. It’s the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’, to quote the Bard. I suspect I’ll have to wait a while for any appreciable cooling here. I still remember what the mid-September sun did to my tender skin on that bike ride in 1994, although I also recall some very chilly mornings.

I finally got back to work yesterday, and sweated horribly while doing so. The temperature had reached 97 degrees by mid-afternoon. I lurked indoors most of the time, just making the one trip up to the house to do my emailing. Up at the center pivot, I noticed, the millet crop is coming on, forming its seed-heads. That hasn’t taken long. It went in around the 12th of July.


I have now viewed just about all the movies that are stored down here. Well, all the movies I thought might be worth watching. There is still a whole collection of around a dozen John Wayne features – but they aren’t what I’d call classics, more ‘items of historical interest’.  The other day I tried out one of his ‘B’ movies from the mid-1930s. Paradise Canyon lasted 53 minutes and probably took about 54 minutes to make. It reminded me of those long-ago Lone Ranger episodes that so excited us back in the late 1950s. Even then we were canny enough to notice that the bad guys kept riding past the same piece of scenery, that the minor characters couldn’t act, and that our hero seemed to emerge from one fight after another with his Stay-Prest pants in perfect condition. When we re-enacted the fights in the woods afterwards we always landed in trouble for ripping chunks out of our clothes. Anyway, you could see that The Duke was a star in the making. Not so his co-actors, who were either on the decline or would never make it.

Having more or less exhausted the supply of in-house entertainment I am left looking at a collection of sports bloopers, rodeo bloopers and instructional films about deer-hunting. I got one out last night and found it more interesting and informative than I expected. I now know what an elk sounds like in the rutting season, and am glad I’ve never encountered that while cowering in a tent in the middle of nowhere. I also have a better grasp, now, of the differences between white-tail and mule deer. Whoever made the film had a political axe to grind, that’s for sure. Actually, I remember very clearly who made it: how could you forget a name like Mel Hardman? He spoke at length, and quite persuasively, about the damage done by people who oppose hunting, and their failure to understand the extend to which hunters benefit wildlife by subsidising conservation and management schemes.

Back home we have nothing that remotely resembles the hunting culture here, and what we have is very much associated with class. Plenty of ordinary people will go and shoot rabbits; some will have rights on land where pheasants, pigeons and partridge are available. But deer? You need a lot of spondoolicks or some good friends to go hunting them. Most of our land is tamed – was tamed centuries ago. It’s fenced, privately owned and intensively farmed, although we have the right to access it so long as we don’t damage fences, crops or livestock. I do all the time. It’s even better up in Scotland, where there is no law of trespass pertaining to the land. (There are also a lot fewer people.) Most of the wilder country in England is in private hands; some is public. And of course there is next to no gun culture in the UK. The private ownership of hand-guns was completely outlawed, other than for certain very specific categories of licence-holders, after a couple of mass killings several years ago. The majority of our police are still unarmed. If an ordinary copper thinks that a suspect is carrying a firearm, he or she will call in an ARU, or Armed Response Unit.

My first awakening to the extent of gun ownership here was in Albuquerque back in the 1980s. I was at a yard sale one Saturday afternoon, browsing amongst the books and ornaments and kitchenware. ‘Got plenty more inside,’ the guy said. He sure had. Laid out on an antique sideboard, on lace doilies, were several handguns and a couple of automatics. I don’t know whether the guy was nuts, or a bit of a jester, but I’ll never forget what he told me. ‘I’m updating my arsenal,’ he said. ‘I’m telling you, when those Russkies invade, they ain’t coming up my front drive.’ I was very grateful to that guy. I went right home and wrote down what he said; published it in a feature I wrote for the Times Higher Education Supplement a few weeks later.

We had a short storm last night. Not much more than a sprinkle of rain but a lot of lightning. I sat outside and took something in excess of a hundred photographs. I got a  couple that weren’t bad.