Today I joined the Elcombe shoot at Alvediston, near Salisbury in Wiltshire, for their first day of the season - and met Doug Titt, the winner of our Beater of the Year Award for '06-07.
It's a real family affair, with farmer Trevor running things, his wife Sue helping out and cooking up a hearty lunch, and daughter Christina keepering. It was a glorious sunny day, and everyone was enjoying getting back out shooting again after the close season. You couldn't ask for a warmer welcome than I received, and the whole atmosphere of the day was fabulous.
Doug himself is a real inspiration. A keen pigeon shooter, he had been beating and picking-up at Elcombe for 6 or 7 years when, last July, he suffered a stroke. He was in hospital for more than 3 months, but couldn't wait to get back to the shoot: "That's all that's worth living for," he told me. "When I was in hospital, it just wasn't worth waking up in the morning."
He went out on the shoot at the end of last season, first just sitting in the pick-up and then getting out to work his black lab, Missy. That's when keeper Christina nominated him for our award - and when Mark Elliott of NOBS and myself judged the entries, Doug's story really stood out.
Doug was great company - as were the rest of the bunch at Elcombe. He's always ready with a quip or a joke, and keeps a very positive outlook despite the difficulties he has to overcome: he suffers fits every now and again, which he finds very draining, and he's bought extra-warm fur-lined boots as he finds his feet get very cold now.
You won't hear him complaining though - he's always looking ahead. In fact, he told me he'd like to look into training dogs for drug detection work as it would be a new challenge while still doing what he loves best, working with dogs.
Next time I'm under the weather and starting to feel sorry for myself, I'll think of Doug!
Listen to my interview with Doug on the podcast.
Special thanks to Nestle Purina BETA dogfood and Runnarkop for providing a superb collection of prizes for Doug and his colleagues on the beating team at Elcombe. Thanks also to Mark Elliott and NOBs for their support of this award.