Monday 27 December 2010

A great day's ferreting

It wasn't the biggest bag ever - just four rabbits in fact. But it was a great day out, and a momentous one for my elder daughter Emma's new ferret, Boo. That's him above, with the punk hairdo after a bit of a tussle underground. And below, Emma with Boo and one of my jills - Emma is sporting her furry headband thingy she got for Christmas, and looking a bit more stylish than my usual ferreting companions.

It was Boo's first introduction to working, and he took to it very well - bolting three rabbits into the purse nets, and coming back up straight away. On the last hole (why do we always have to do that 'one last hole'?) he killed one underground. As it turned out, someone long ago had dumped a load of old chicken wire, concrete slabs and rolls of barbed wire into that very spot, and covered it over with earth. That made digging somewhat difficult.

Fortunately we had Emma's boyfriend Steve with us. That's him in the photo above. He did a splendid job of pulling up wire and slabs, then digging down to find the spot indicated by the Ferret Finder (being the oldest member of the party, these days I get to operate the Ferret Finder, and delegate the manual labour). And sure enough there was Boo, watching over rabbit number 4.

After that we decided it was time for a cup of tea and turkey sandwiches, took a few photos and called it a day - one we'll all remember for a long time!

Saturday 25 December 2010

Thursday 23 December 2010

Tribute to Michael Cartledge, of the Beretta Gallery London

Readers may have heard the sad news that Michael Cartledge, from the Beretta Gallery in London, was killed last week on his way home after the Beretta Christmas party.

George Juer, Michael's close friend and flatmate, has kindly written the following tribute to Michael, and given permission for me to reproduce it here.
Michael “Spike” Cartledge

2nd April 1978 – 17th December 2010 

A Tribute by his friend George Juer

The death of my dear friend, Michael “Spike” Cartledge will come as great blow to all who knew him and a tragedy to those of us who loved him. One of the brightest stars of the London Gun Trade, Michael was killed not long after returning from hunting dangerous game in Africa. He was run over in the Mall after attending a joyous Christmas party with his colleagues from the Beretta Gallery in London where he worked.

Michael, 32, was educated at UCL (studying languages). He began his working career in the City, followed by trading futures in Paris. He made the decision that this was not the way forward, and that guns were his real interest. He returned to the UK where he secured a job in the Arms and Armour department of Bonhams. Shortly afterwards, he heard that I was leaving J. Roberts and Son Gunmakers, and he applied for my old post as Paul Roberts' assistant. He spent two happy years there honing his skills and knowledge. There was not a shooting or hunting book or journal that he had not read and committed to memory, and many consulted him for his expertise. It was also at Roberts that Michael met Catrina Kennerley, with whom he formed a very special and lasting relationship.

In 2005, when John Ormiston was asked to oversee the opening of London’s Beretta Gallery, he asked Michael to help him in the running of the Gun Room. And, when John retired, Michael continued working in the Gallery, reporting to Tim King, the manager, and working closely with him to ensure that Beretta’s flagship London store maintained its pole position.

We are told to celebrate the life of the departed, but, writing this, I find it difficult to be in celebratory mood (though Michael would no doubt chastise me for it and suggest we go out for a drink). Grateful is the best word to describe how I feel. I was Michael’s flatmate for the last 18 months of his life and a friend for far longer. I am grateful for his friendship, his loyalty, his knowledge, his inimitable character, and the maturity beyond his years. He had a fundamental kindness. He shall be missed; missed as a friend, missed as a font of ballistic knowledge, and missed as the most English of English gentleman.

Richard, another of Michael’s close friends, has put it more succinctly than anyone else: 

“The world is an emptier place now. We will miss you, Spike, but whenever we are out with gun, rod or glass in hand, you will be with us and in our hearts.

Rest easy, Sir.”

Tuesday 21 December 2010

MPs debate firearms control

Just hours after the Home Affairs Committee published its report on Firearms Control, the subject was debated by MPs in the House of Commons.

The debate was available live on the web and can still be viewed in the box at the foot of this post if you have the necessary add-on installed (I don't so I can't see it!). Or read the full text here (scroll down towards the foot of the page, or search for 'Column 1234').

Coming so quickly after the report's publication, the debate didn't amount to much - and many MPs were absent, due to commitments back in their constituencies and, no doubt, the difficulties of travelling.

Therese Coffey (Con, Suffolk Coastal) read a prepared speech which made many positive points about shooters and shooting, and emphasised the need to "tackle criminals, not the innocent".

Keith Vaz (Lab, Leicester East), chairman of the committee, ran through the report - admitting that his only previous experience of firearms had been using a water pistol "many years ago". Considering his reputation of being firmly anti-gun, he appeared to have learned a lot in recent weeks, and had clearly been impressed by the responsible attitude of shooters.

He highlighted the muddled state of Britain's gun laws, and suggested they should be revisited, not to make them "tougher", but "even better" - ensuring they are effective but reducing the administrative burden on police and legitimate sportsmen and women.

Chris Williamson (Lab, Derby North) made a muddled speech in which he appeared to confuse legal and illegal firearms use, referring to "gun culture" as though it was the same thing as sporting shooting.

Home Office Minister James Brokenshire (Con, Old Bexley & Sidcup) said the government would "consider" revising the law to make it less complex; in the meantime they would consider the need for revised Home Office guidance to make existing law simpler to administer.

Other issues discussed included pistol shooters training in Britain for the Olympics, and concerns over young people being granted certificates. Again, the debate was calm and rational, and acknowledged that legitimate shooters are safe and responsible.

All in all, I felt we could hardly have expected better from this debate - and it raises the possibility of rewriting our confusing and bureaucratic gun laws to make them simpler and easier to follow, freeing up the police to concentrate on the real problem of illegal guns used by gangs and organised criminals.

Monday 20 December 2010

Home Affairs Committee report on firearms control

Well the report is out - and it might have been a lot worse. And it seems Parliament will be debating the subject of Firearms Control this afternoon! I wonder how many MPs will even have time to read the report first, never mind consider its implications or discuss them with their constituents.

Under the heading "Gun laws a mess, says Home Affairs Committee" the report "recognises that thousands of people use firearms responsibly for recreation and in their work". and says it "has no intention of restricting such activity".

The committee does say, however, that our complicated firearms laws "place an onerous burden" on the police and on members of the public who wish to abide by the law, because it is “so complex and confused”.

The committee urges the Government to "codify and simplify the law" - recommending a single licensing system to cover all firearms which require a licence "(which would also add greater safeguards)".

And it identifies age restrictions on firearms use as "a particular area of uncertainty".

BASC has welcomed many of the committee's recommendations. Their pre-released statement, embargoed for 0001h today, reads:
BASC welcomes many of Home Affairs Committee recommendations on firearms control

The UK’s largest shooting organisation, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) has welcomed many of the recommendations on the UK’s firearms laws made today by the Home Affairs Select Committee.
Bill Harriman, BASC director of firearms said: “The committee’s report contains several recommendations which we think will help to secure the dual purposes of the UK’s firearms laws: to protect public safety and to allow the continued lawful use of firearms. BASC thanks the more than 900 people and organisations from the shooting world who submitted evidence to the enquiry. The volume of responses indicates the seriousness with which the shooting community views these deliberations.”

“In particular BASC welcomes the rejection of tagging every firearms certificate holder’s medical records, the dismissal of proposals to require guns and ammunition to be kept outside the home and the rejection of a reduction in the license term from five years to two. BASC welcomes the proposal to update police guidance on the licensing system and to smooth out the peaks and troughs in the flow of grant and renewal applications. BASC also welcomes the rejection of licensing for low-powered airguns and the emphasis on enforcement of existing law to deal with any problems.”

“However, this is not the end of the road in terms of the political battle to secure effective law which serves both public safety and firearms users. The report highlights several areas for future debate. BASC does not agree with recommendations to impose minimum age limits on certificate applicants, in the knowledge that the current laws and police powers are robust and allow people to be introduced to the sport with increasing degrees of responsibility until they can shoot unsupervised.”

“BASC firmly rejects the recommendation to apply the current complicated section one firearms licensing system onto shotguns and to increase licence fees to cover costs without firm and reliable evidence of what those costs actually are. BASC will continue to work with the Government and the police on the issues raised by the report."
The Countryside Alliance are less enthusiastic. Their release, which reached me at 09.26 this morning, reads:
Home Affairs Committee misses the target

The Home Affairs Committee’s Inquiry into Firearms Control has proposed a series of recommendations which would penalise the law-abiding shooting community and do little to protect public safety. Proposals will affect hundreds of thousands of people.

Following the terrible murder and maiming carried out in Cumbria by Derrick Bird earlier in the year, the Inquiry was set up to look at the firearms licensing system. The Countryside Alliance submitted written and oral evidence to the Committee’s Inquiry.

Robert Gray, Countryside Alliance campaigns director, said: “The Home Affairs Committee report presents a missed opportunity. The vast majority of gun crime is carried out using illegally-held weapons yet only a tiny minority of the report explains how the government might address the problem. The shootings in Cumbria were the main reason for the Firearms Inquiry but the police report into the incident reveals that none of the Committee’s main proposals would have stopped Derrick Bird.

“Proposed restrictions on shotgun owners and young shooters, and the broad-brush involvement of GPs, domestic partners and increased licence fees would be hugely disproportionate. The Countryside Alliance welcomes the proposal to simplify the existing gun laws but simplification must not mean tighter restrictions. We will strongly resist any recommendations brought forward that penalise law-abiding shooters without improving public safety and preventing criminals from breaking the law.”
Elsewhere, Nigel Allen blogs that the signs are good for airgunners.

Tuesday 14 December 2010

The life of the rabbit, 1945 style

The Life of the Rabbit (1945) from British Council Film Archive on Vimeo.

An old black-and-white 'public information' style film - no PC waffle, just good honest facts presented in straightforward style. Can you imagine this film being made today?

Saturday 4 December 2010

10 ferrets stolen - reward offered

Russell Summers, who I blogged about recently, called to tell me he's had a break-in at home, and 10 of his ferrets have been stolen. He's devastated - the stolen ferrets represent 10 years of careful breeding to produce his own line of great workers, so it's a real setback for him.

Russell lives in the Cranbrook area in Kent, and is offering a cash reward for any information that leads to the recovery of his stolen ferrets. If you have any information that might help him, drop me a line at, or call me on 07836 350652 and I'll pass the information on.

Since posting last time, I've saved the audio file of my interview with Russell - listen to it by clicking the 'play' button below.