Rambling on . .

Collecting Handshakes #1 - Dorset Rabbit Catcher

My father collects handshakes. He proudly tells us who he has shook hands with. Not just famous people - though living near Henley on Thames he has collected his fair share of Olympian rowers - but anyone at all who fascinates him.

I was cycling to the outlaws on Boxing Day. Whilst I was perusing my map at a tiny crossroads near Drimpton, Dorset, I saw an elderly man approach. He carried a stick but was in no way reliant on it.

"Are ye lost?", he asked as he got nearer. There was a gentle rasp to his voice.

"Not yet", I replied. "I'm on my way to Mosterton".

"My wife is from Mosterton", his face lighting up. "Her family had farmed there for years".

As so the conversation continued. He had lived here for every one of his 90 years. He caught rabbits on the local farms and sold them to the butcher in Axminster. The rabbits were net caught, had no lead shot in them, and therefore commanded a better price. He bred ferrets successfully. He told me that only the 'jill' ferrets were good for catching rabbits. The 'hob' ferrets (full males) would kill the rabbits underground, fall asleep and require digging out. I told him about my unsuccessful ferreting adventures as a kid. He laughed. I laughed. We were pretty crap at it to be honest and didn't quite know what to do even if we did catch a rabbit.

He continued catching rabbits until the Axminster butcher stopped buying them. He still gets people contacting him who have ferrets descended from those he had bred. There was a quiet pride in his voice when he said this.

Sadly his wife was in hospital. Unable to walk she had been moved from Axminster Hospital to somewhere else, he couldn't quite remember where. His son was picking him up today to visit her. The simple power of family at this festive time.

I shook his hand and it was like shaking a little piece of rural Dorset. A piece of Dorset that has seen enormous change over the years. Long may he continue to walk that lane and long may there be people there to listen to him.

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posted in : Ramblings
on 26 Dec 2016

Post tags - #handshakes 


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