Friday 30th April. Alton, England
I've been here on this huge country estate for over twenty four hours now, and I'm still trying to come to terms with the scale and grandeur of the place. After a hearty breakfast yesterday morning at Trentside Bed and Breakfast, I had to walk at least three miles before I found a spot to hitch from. That's not including the extra mile I walked first, on the advice of the girl at the service station who sent me in the wrong direction in search of the A50. It didn't take too long to get a ride, just long enough to really get quite cold in this northern weather. The Pakistani guy who gave me a lift brought me to Uttoxeter, one of the closest town to where my host Tim lives. Tim was already in town, so picked me up on arrival.
Tim hadn't said what he does for a living. Most people don't until I meet them in person, and I don't ask. If I do ask, I probably forget anyway. Imagine my surprise to discover that my host is the gamekeeper on a thirteen thousand acre estate, and I am to be a guest on that estate. What's a gamekeeper, you ask? Well, he makes sure all the chess pieces are in the box, and orders the new sets of question cards for the landlord's Trivial Pursuit. Phew! That joke stinks, but I couldn't resist. Tim is responsible for looking after the game on the sprawling estate, particularly the resident pheasant population. In fact, they have a huge pheasant breeding program here, and at the moment he's busy collecting the eggs several times a day, washing them, and incubating them. Later, the chicks will be moved into pens, eventually to be released into the estate. Over the winter, they usually have several pheasant shoots and before everyone starts jumping up and down about sport hunting, I would point out that every animal that is shot on this estate- with the exception of vermin like crows and foxes- whether reared or wild, ends up on someone's dinner plate. Not much of a consolation for you vegans, but yummy all the same.
An assortment of houses and sheds are scattered around the park, including an in-house abatoir, a large fifteenth century hunting lodge, houses for about fifteen of the staff (deerkeepers, shepherds, and the like) and their familes. Outside this area is mostly farmland, all organic. Actually, the entire estate is organic- even the pheasants are fed organic grain, at more than three times the cost of regular feed.
Tim's been a gamekeeper most of his adult life, but has managed to do his own share of travelling too. He spent a year travelling and working in Australia and New Zealand. In fact as we listened to each other's stories last night- till two o'clock in the morning- it turned out that Tim had spent several weeks cutting cabbages in my little hometown in southeast Queensland. We couldn't believe that he'd driven almost right past my Mum's house to work every day, and probably sat next to old schoolmates of mine every Friday night at the 'Top Pub' or 'The Central'! Strange to come all the way to a huge estate in Staffordshire, England only to hear tales of my hometown from the gamekeeper!
Tim has also recently been around China and South East Asia. As he and I spend our day collecting pheasant eggs by the hundred, Tim's been giving me tips for some of the countries he travelled through. I read what he wrote about his stay near the Thailand/Malaysia border, and his tales make me almost 'homesick' for the smells and sounds and energy that is South East Asia, but I know I have so much else to experience between now and then. "Patience, young Skywalker!"