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  1. Wealth
August 31, 2007updated 25 Apr 2016 1:33pm

She Bangs

By Alessandro Tome

Two things tell you all you need to know about a nation: its women and its shooting parties, says Alessandro Tome.

Two things tell you all you need to know about a nation: its women and its shooting parties, says Alessandro Tome.

It was a large, mostly Anglo-Euro party for an old German friend of ours, supposedly to celebrate her 40th (not so old you will say), although it seemed to me that most of the people who actually knew her well at the party (all ten of them) were celebrating the end of another in her growing list of ill-chosen relationships, the last suitable one really having been her only marriage to date.

‘So how was your summer?’ It must have been the 23rd time I was asked the same question that evening. I contemplated giving up the semi-successful attempts at disguising my irritation at the platitudinous enquiry. I started considering conversation-ending retorts ranging from ‘I can’t remember’ to ‘absolutely terrible, thanks’, and so on. I mean, isn’t the only answer you have ever heard to that question, ‘Wonderful, thank you. How was yours?’

Would anybody ever really answer that they had a horrible time even if they did? As the words formed in my mind, from the corner of my eye I saw my Best Wife in the World and could already hear her saying that I didn’t need to be so rude, they were just being nice and so on – all perfectly true and justified. And so I mumbled some story about the beautiful weather, healthy lifestyle, early beach trips with the kids followed by early night – in Ibiza. Which created a long enough moment of surprised silence for me to retire to a quieter corner of the room and think happy thoughts.

It suddenly dawned on me that being asked about my summer 23 times in one evening must mean the summer is officially over and the shooting season for the mere mortals that can’t afford to (or in most cases don’t schmooze enough to be invited to) shoot grouse, is about to begin in earnest. Now there was a happy thought. I enjoy shooting enormously, particularly because of the variety of beautiful locations, traditions, not to mention quarry.

I find that traditional shoots express a distilled extract of what each country is really about, in some ways just like women do. And as I looked around the room I could see my theory take shape, in the little clusters of women, like little national gatherings, kin attracting kin. Each country’s shooting is a bit like their women, is it not?

Take the French grouping with attendant Belgians. Allure and over-manicured style, with a hint of self-centred intellectual grandeur, slightly hautain air, as the French would say, but at times teetering, albeit on Louboutin red-soled gravity-defying heels, on the edge of French-maid vulgarity. French shoots will tend to be fancy affairs, grands châteaux-hosted dos, in heated and generally modernised surroundings, black- or white-tie small dinners, impeccable food and wines served by innumerable waiters, after-dinner socio-politico-philosophical discourses, with the occasional smattering of ill-received jokes from Belgian or British guests.

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Impeccable shooting attire is required: elegant, bordering on snazzy, and certainly unmuddied and unfrayed, or whenever possible, new. Ideally no wellies, no matter how wet; ties, jackets, sometimes tweeds, but only if matching and only as a reticent acknowledgment to an English shooting heritage.

The shooting itself, unless it is for boar or deer, is a mere, potentially dirtying, distraction to conversation and the clothes show, thankfully assisted by liveried beaters, game keepers and loaders and happily regularly interrupted by delicious food breaks (can’t call them elevenses) in a sea of whites, from table linens to white gloves, and champagne. As I said, elegant but sometimes teetering on the over-done.

The German corner is a numerous mixed bag of tradition, structure and slight dourness à la Jil Sander, counterbalanced by over-bleached big hair and over-elaborate big make up and big jewellery resulting in a cacophony of light and sound which ultimately takes away from the underlying sense of occasion.

Grafs and Prinzs, either von or zu something or other (sometimes von und zu for that matter), gather their hundred closest friends in their enormous schlosses surrounded by enormous forests in the middle of their enormous estates to join the enormous shooting parties which will try to kill an enormous amount of enormous wild boar whilst wearing an enormous amount of clothing to combat the freezing cold, finally ending in, you guessed it, an enormous ball with lots of big hair, big dresses and big jewellery.

An enormous amount of alcohol will be consumed, and an enormous amount of fun is had by all. The shooting itself is better organised than their last invasion of France (needs to be with 100 rifles firing high-speed bullets at fast running monsters) and highly efficient. It is also steeped in great tradition, with a beautiful display of the game shot, laid on fir tree branches, lit by huge bonfires, with the mesmerising sound of hunting horns taking you back to by-gone eras, surrounded as you are by what must be the largest gathering of green and grey loden, Tyrolean jackets, lederhosen, big moustaches and friendly banter you can’t understand. As I said, structure and tradition somewhat overshadowed by the enormity of it all, but so much fun and I love them for it.

Then I noticed the Italian clan, very chi-chi, lots of bling, great design and packaging, lots of talking and gesticulating with no apparent result, probably much ado about nothing, seemingly fairly unorganised, but you have heard all about them in the last issue already.

Now to the Brit Pack. They exude that sense of belonging there, of having been there all along, like it or not. Elegant in a British way, discreet to the point of invisible, understated to the point of underdressed, classic to the point of antique, traditional to the point of ancient, eccentric to the point of bizarre, but somehow still just at it should be. An English shoot is about all the above, a beautiful grand old house or possibly palace, retaining all the period features, including drafts, dodgy electrics and underused, overstretched heating, Old Master paintings and medieval beds and mattresses, Renaissance sculptures and antique plumbing.

The shooting parties are usually a wonderful mix of best of brits and one or two foreigners for entertainment purposes, whether it be for their odd attire, always too new and too bright; or their odd-looking shotguns; or their over-enthusiastic response to a rare good shot which luckily came close enough to an incredibly high bird to frighten it into landing as if killed. But most of all for the embarrassed ridicule they show when made to play the famed after dinner games. Fabulously difficult birds, clashing, frayed blood-spattered tweeds, raging winds, rain, sun, sticky mud, mad dogs and madder English men, lots of sloe gin and mediocre food, silly games, great humour – an English shoot is exactly as a shoot should be.

Finally I spotted a small, but nonetheless important, gathering of Spanish ladies. More muted than the rest, very conventional, down-to-earth in their dress sense at least, as if still somewhat stuck in an ultra-conservative and male dominated Franco-esque mode, but simmering with Latin heat just below the surface, quite content in their ways and disregarding of their more forward and modernising Euro-friends.

Spanish shooting is macho at its most obvious. Hot-blooded men, under a hot blistering sky, followed around by troops of admiring women, cooing and awing at their every shot, compete to be the best shot on every drive. It is all about how macho they are. Beautiful private fincas like El Albercial, stunning landscapes, the friendliest of hosts, a continuous flow of fino or wonderful Ribera Del Duero, jamon and tapas with cold beers!

Huge coveys of roquet-proelled partridges, hot guns, innumerable beaters, some on horseback, loaders, secretarios that scuffle at the end of drives when trying to claim your neighbours’ birds, picker-uppers, whole armies of people, all to serve the macho ego, to sustain you through the courting ritual that shooting really is, for we are by nature hunter-gatherers and need to provide in order to get the girl. Strong, intense primeval human instincts brought to the fore without too much care about political correctness.

Evenings carry on the sense of fiesta well into the night and early hours of the morning as flamenco follows sevillanas in a fun and relaxed atmosphere unhampered by formal dressing, or formal conversation, where passion and warmth mix in a wonderful blend which makes this my personal favourite country to shoot in, given the chance.

But just as with women, when it comes to shooting, it is to each their own.

‘So what are you plans for Christmas?’ I heard someone ask me as I reticently re-joined the party. All I could think about was how I wanted my shotgun to still be within reach.

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