I’ve been chatting with some of my mates recently about getting the proverbial “knock on the door,” not from the boys in blue, but from the far more sinister boys (and girls) in black, and I’m not talking about the Salvation Army! I know some readers will have had a visit from the RSPCA because I’ve hunted and supped ale with a fair few of you and we’ve swapped stories. Even when you’ve done nothing wrong, the sight of these charity workers at your front door is enough to put the wind up you. And when you have done something wrong, well, your nipper can go like a koi carp gasping for breath!
The first time I had a visit was late on a Sunday morning and I’d not long returned from walking the dogs through the autumn orchards where we’d taken a fox from underneath a hedge which bordered my permission. I wasn’t technically sure if I’d strayed over the border or not, but if I had it would have been only a matter of inches. Back then I lived in a tiny, terraced house that was (only just) two up, two down. The second bedroom had been converted into a bathroom and there wasn’t much space in there. Due to these constraints, I didn’t have space for a luxury such as a bath, so I made do with a shower. Due to my house being in the middle of bloody nowhere, the water pressure was shocking. If I wanted to fill the kettle from the tap, and next door turned on their tap, my water source dried up immediately and I’d have to wait until my neighbours had finished. This made for some long waits which, considering I had no central heating either, often meant freezing my knackers off standing in a shower cubicle until my neighbours had finished washing up, or filling the bath. I swear the b*****ds used to wait until they heard me going into the bathroom and then go and turn all the taps on! Inconvenient at best, but when you’re trying to have a shower at 5am on a frozen January morning, inconvenient turns into life threatening! Anyway, my dogs lived inside at this point in my life and whilst I used to love going foxing with them, I wasn’t so pleased to share my house with the stench of Charlie, and I’m not talking about the brand of perfume! I couldn’t chuck the dogs in the bath, as I hadn’t got one, and if any of you run bull terriers out there, you will know that despite them being tough little buggers, turn a hose on them and they become the gayest dogs on the planet. It’s like you’re torturing them and I couldn’t do that to my little pals. So there was only one thing for it…..I took the dogs into the shower with me. Not ideal but needs must and all that. My mates thought I was insane and delighted in telling birds we were chatting up down the boozer that I regularly showered with my dogs. Thankfully, none of them actually believed the tales. Back to the story in question.
So there I am; toast, marmalade and a mug of tea on the go, watching speedway on the box, when there’s a knock on the door. That immediately told me that the person on the other side of the door wasn’t someone that I knew because A: no-one I knew knocked, they just came in and B: most people used the back door. I’d actually been looking at some bull terrier websites only a few moments previous to this and my “computer” was still showing the home page of some game-dog site. I say “computer” but it was actually an Amstrad phone that had a little screen where you could get on the internet. Cheap to buy, which being a skinflint appealed to me, but very expensive to run! I ditched it after a couple of months as it was bleeding me dry. My door was a heavy wood affair and cost me a fortune. There was a window in it, but it was head height and one of those bullseye things, so I couldn’t tell who was knocking until I actually got to the door. I lifted myself up off the sofa and put my toast on top of the bookcase (anything below waist height was within reach of the terriers and was considered fair game) as I peered though the bullseye. Oh shit.
He’d seen me; I’d seen him so there was no question of not answering the door. My computer! Oh shit. Do I go and close the site down before I open the door? That would raise suspicions because the computer was right there in full view. Or do I just bluff it out? Maybe he was just lost and wanted directions back to the main road? Aye, that’ll be it. So I opened the door to greet Mr. RSPCA. I stood and looked at him and thought “do they not feel like right berks in that uniform?” I mean, who do they think they are? Soldiers? Police? I felt like telling him that the fancy dress party was last week, but I kept my mouth shut. He dispensed with the niceties and eventually got around to telling me why he was there. Barking. He’d had reports that my dogs barked all day. This was a surprise to me, as my dogs didn’t bark….at all. Had they barked when he knocked on the door? No they hadn’t….which I pointed out to him. I asked him who’d complained but apparently that information was a matter of national security and if he told me, he’d have had to kill me too. Knowing what was on my computer screen, I kept the Obergruppenfuhrer at the door and prayed that the screen saver would kick in…..I kept glancing over surreptitiously, but nothing was happening! I don’t think he noticed me looking though, or if he did I think he must have thought I was winking at him or had a facial tick. As we stood there at my front door, the dogs pushed their way forward to inspect the inspector, which gave the bugger a chance to give them the once over. I established that he was there under false pretences, and he established that I knew this. With a warning that my little bitch was too thin, he was soon on his way, leaving me worried and pissed off in equal measure. When I’d calmed down, I did have a little chuckle though as I’d washed the stink of Charlie off the bitch only moments before he’d turned up and he must have thought he’d got the wrong house. Instead of finding smashed up dogs dripping in blood and stinking of fox, he’d have to make a report stating that my dogs smelled of Garnier Fructis fortifying shampoo with a hint of apple! Suits you!
I’d recently started seeing a lass who lived on my terrace who worked for another, unrelated animal charity and she hated the RSPCA as much as I did, albeit for different reasons. She was a lovely girl who got an awful lot of attention from my mates as she was a petite blonde with natural curves…..massive natural curves actually but if I want to finish this article, I won’t dwell on that thought for too much longer……..The reason I mention her was because the next time I had a visit, the buggers were just sat outside my house in their van. They were there for hours and I waited for them to knock, but they never did. They just sat and stared at my house. Were they waiting for back-up? I fully expected the coppers to turn up at any moment armed with a warrant, which caused me to think about my bookcase. Like many of you, I hold my hunting books in great affection and I was very proud of my bookcase and its contents. I think the RSPCA would have loved it too, but maybe not quite for the same reasons. I had countless books on fighting dogs on my shelves, not because I fought dogs, but because they contained the history of the bloodlines that were in my own animals. I don’t think the powers that be would view it this way though and it would all add up to circumstantial evidence to my detriment. By the same token, I seem to remember I had a book on Jack the Ripper up there too, but as far as my memory serves me correctly, I hadn’t murdered any prostitutes in East London recently.
My phone beeped, telling me a text had arrived. Little Miss Voluptuous had seen the van and was on her way around! Oh great….just what I needed. What happened next had me in stitches! My lass didn’t actually make it around to my house as the temptation to berate the charity/paramilitary blokes sat in their little van was too much for her! She launched into them as soon as they were within ear shot, and these blokes who’d seen the attractive little blonde coming towards them, soon had their lecherous little grins wiped off their faces! Windows were furiously being wound up; tops being put back on flasks and the engine was started as it became apparent that this large breasted lady wasn’t on her way over to shoot the breeze. I was doubled over laughing which served to infuriate my lass even more and she shouted at the van as it drove off back down the lane. How dare they victimize her poor boyfriend? No cops turned up so I guess they were just trying to put the fear of God into me, which to be frank, they did. Despite my laughing, I was seriously concerned that I was on their radar and some lads I knew had actually been visited by them the night before. I hadn’t known this of course and if I had, I think I would have been even more worried. I would have been out the back door muttering “no b*****d copper’s gonna take me alive” and heading for the hills to live the life of a Japanese sniper who doesn’t believe the war is over. One thing I did make sure of was that once the van had gone I removed the more salacious books from my collection and deposited them round my Mam’s house. And there they stayed until I sold most of them a few years later.
Fast forward a few years, and I was in trouble again. Some of you might remember me alluding to a spot of bother I’d gotten into with the men in black in an article about 4 or 5 years ago? Well, this time they had me by the short and curlies. I’d been contacted by Ronnie (not my mate who I occasionally write about – this Ronnie was a farmer whose land I did the pest control on) and he was having trouble with foxes. Magic…music to my ears. What had been happening was that a large part of Ron’s livelihood was growing strawberries, and the irrigation pipes that watered his crop were being chewed through, thus depriving the plants of their sustenance. We’d been experiencing a particularly dry spell which meant that the water was even more necessary than usual. I was told in no uncertain terms to get it sorted and kill the foxes quickly. It was summer but I couldn’t afford to relax or I would have lost my permission. I hit the ground running and me and my little pack of terriers and lurchers soon accounted for a good number. Apparently this wasn’t enough though and the vacuum we created served to suck in more foxes.
Have you ever had them feeling where your heart just sinks? When you know you’ve just fouled up big time? A feeling of impending doom and there’s nothing you can do about it? That’s what I got when I answered the phone and I remember feeling physically sick. A badger had been found and the blame landed squarely at my feet. The local badger watch group had been keeping an eye on me and when they’d put 2 and 2 together they made 5. In their eyes I was guilty and if they’d had their way, I am sure they would have executed me then and there. The RSPCA had been called and they would be coming around to my house to see me that evening. I tell you what; work wasn’t much fun that day. I had a few pints with my mates at dinner time and told them what had transpired and they took the piss mercilessly. Horrible buggers that they were!
During the day my Mam had been over mine and removed any other books which might have caused concern and any trace of hunting was removed from the house. My guns were all locked away in a safe in the cellar and the place was spotless in terms of incriminating evidence. The two terriers were left in the house and all the other dogs were in the kennels.
As I answered the door, I was greeted with two inspectors who were total stunners! As I looked at them, I immediately thought “I would” and then I remembered those two inspectors who’d sat outside my house all those years ago and probably thought the same thing as my then girlfriend walked towards them. No, be on your guard Rich, I told myself. These Sirens were here to do me harm and however much I wanted to, they probably wouldn’t let me anyway! So my initial reaction of “ding-dong” in my best Terry Thomas accent was wiped clean off my face when these two birds started reading me my rights. That brought me crashing back down to earth with a bang. I ushered them in, and the first thing I noticed was that there were no bobbies with them. Something to be thankful for I suppose! They both sat on the same sofa and I sat opposite them with the two terriers lounging at my feet. Paintings! Oh shit!
Above the two inspectors was a yard wide painting of the front cover of The World of the Working Terrier showing the editor’s dogs coupled up after a dig. How on earth could I have missed that bloody thing? It was huge! And it sat there, right above them and I prayed silently that they didn’t look up or turn around. How was I going to manouevre them out of there when they’d finished with me? I was thinking of this as they spoke to me and I realised I hadn’t listened to a word they said. Not good. Come on Rich, take this seriously. As I attempted to get a handle on what they were talking about, I couldn’t help thinking that the brunette was nicer than the redhead, which clearly showed I wasn’t listening again! I had to physically stand up to focus my mind and that did the trick. They informed me that they would push for a prosecution which carried a maximum fine of 5 grand and a possible prison sentence of 6 months. Which was nice. That removed any amorous thoughts that might have lingered.
I knew I wouldn’t sleep well that night so I had more than a few medicinal rums and ruminated on my future. I’m one of those blokes that like to prepare for the worst so I tried to think about doing a short stretch inside. A good looking bloke like me would be passed around like currency…..it didn’t even bear thinking about! I was seeing a lass at the time who was a copper and she wasn’t bothered by the allegations at all. Now I know what you’re thinking, previous bird was from an animal charity and the present one was a copper – must be a glutton for punishment. Relationship Russian Roulette I call it. What can I say? I guess I must like uniforms!
The Right Reverend and Right Worshipful Professor Barry Peachey came highly recommended from the Farmers Self Help Group and after a visit to my permission (he went home laden with apples!) told me what the likely outcome of my alleged indiscretion would be, which I think I’ve mentioned before. The long and short of it was that I’d be mentioned in the local papers as a badger baiter, my house would be vandalized, as would my car and ultimately I’d end up moving away to escape the abuse. That’s if I stayed out of prison. Oh, and I’d probably also lose my job. Great. Barry also told me that they had 6 months to bring a case and they would wait until the very last minute to let me know what was happening….which is exactly what they did. b*****ds. However, I got off and this was one handsome young man that wouldn’t be bending over for Big Errol in D-Wing. I then proceeded to have a few celebratory rums and toasted the scrumping Bishop many times over. Barry, if you are reading this, thank you so much. I owe you one big time.
So there you have it, my short history of dealings with the RSPCA, which reading this back, sounds quite funny really. It certainly wasn’t at the time though and I put my “follicly challenged” hairstyle down to the worry I experienced over the whole affair.
A few months after I’d gotten off with the charges, I found the confidence (Dutch courage!) to broach the subject with one of the bosses at work, who I knew had hunting sympathies. I felt very relieved telling her all about this and she listened intently as I explained about all of the worry that I’d gone through. When I’d finished she exclaimed “all this, just for a badger?” which was pretty much the reaction I’d gotten from a lot of people. She told me that her land is crawling with them, which, considering she is the Duchess of somewhere-or-other, that’s a lot of badgers!
“You know you’re very welcome to come over with your dogs and keep the buggers under control”
What could I say? I just laughed.