In The Bleak Midwinter


We all know that climate change has truly screwed up our old concept of winter. I have enough decades behind me to recall my father having to go and rescue (on foot) my mother who had been trapped in a local school where she worked as a cleaner when I was ten years old. It was a week before Xmas and the last clean of the term. The yard high snowfall was a significant challenge to a lady only five feet tall. I can remember me and my younger sister, noses glued to the frosted windows of our council house, awaiting their return – home alone. There were no mobile phones back then. The rescue request had come from the school’s office to our brand new telephone, one of those with the rotary finger dial.

Fast forward 54 years and I reckon I can count on two hands the amount of truly ‘White Christmas’s I’ve seen since then and if I’m honest the season has rarely brought me enjoyment. Far from it. Most of the calamities and emotional pain in my life have been born in the bleak midwinter. This year, again, the grey drudgery of November has been systemic in creating a worrying December and what promises to be a tense January and beyond. More on that later.

You all know that I live for my shooting and wildlife photography, two hobbies which combine naturally. Access to private land to shoot vermin gives me a doorway to some wonderful photo opportunities. Though not a ‘driven’ shooter my passion is in tracking and trailing. Stalking and ambushing. Getting ‘up close and personal’ to quarry. Giving quarry ‘fair law’ – a concept that seems to be disappearing swiftly from the hunter’s agenda with the advent of technology. No longer can the fox or the hare lie hid in the under-storey and stay safe. While they live and breathe they give off heat and can be spotted (I use that word reluctantly) with a thermal imager.

Whatever happened to pure fieldcraft? Something that I have advocated with every written word printed and every book I’ve published. We are the inheritors of an ancient hunting gene and should preserve it. We are selling it out to a technology that may not always be available to our progeny. All of this ‘tech’ gear relies on energy and internet resources that will, one day, expire. It won’t happen in our lifetime but can you imagine a world where no-one knows how to hunt to survive? The quiet stalk that drops a grey squirrel or rabbit with a spring-loaded airgun transmits into the skill needed to cull a deer or wild boar with a centre-fire. Yet, with the guns removed, that stalking skill can be adapted to survive with a bow or spear. Homo sapiens moving backward is, sadly, an inevitability one day. Can you imagine the post-apocalyptic hunter, depended on by survivors, who says “Sorry, I’ve never been able to find food without a thermal imager!”

Guys and girls, I’m being provocative.

I have more serious issues on my mind. Another ‘bleak midwinter’ calamity that crept up from nowhere. Six weeks ago Mrs. B (who is 19 years younger than me, has never smoked, doesn’t drink, and swims 3 miles a week) was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. The NHS has been superb. Despite Covid & Christmas, her operation to remove the mass which she calls her ‘Bastard Alien’ has been brought forward from late January to January 4th. She is in ‘shielding’ now until the operation. I’m taking her for a pre-op Covid test on New Years Day. She is a strong girl and we’re told all is treatable. Please wish her luck. The fight is on.

As I publish this, Storm Bella approaches and many of you reading this will be already be experiencing Nature’s wrath. Make your livestock as safe as you can, batten down the hatches, and (once again) ride the storm. I’m sure that (like me) you would willingly swap floodwaters and mud for a foot of snow and a crisp blue sky.

Stay safe.

Copyright, Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, December 2020.