The Beaujolais n'est pas arrive

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It sounds as if the 12th of August will be somewhat inglorious this year. According to the (ex-Glasgow) Herald, there are not nearly enough grouse around in Scotland in 1995 to satisfy the demand for shooting, which will cause distress to, well, who will it cause distress to? People who like grouse-shooting, I suppose. It will also cause financial hardship to large estates in Perthshire, and passing happiness to a lot of grouse, if there were a lot around, which there aren't.

The Herald's theory to explain the absence of grouse is all to do with the prevalence of a tick that lodges in the grouse and infects them, causing anaemia. I don't know what form anaemia takes in birds, but if it is anything like the human form, you can understand why anaemic birds are not much fun to shoot. Imagine the beaters being sent out across the moors, thrashing away like mad, and none of the grouse taking to the air because they are too anaemic and just don't feel up to it.

"Oh Lord," they grumble, "any other day I'd jump at the chance to take off and whirr through the air and be shot by some stinking rich Belgian businessman, or an arms dealer taking a few days off, but somehow today I can think of better things today. Like rolling over for another bit of shut-eye. I just feel so ... lackadaisical somehow."

And there's not a lot that a beater can do about a grouse that's too anaemic to fly. Kick it? Beat it? Pick it up on your beating broom and hold it up for the chaps to fire at? Not fair, really. Not very sporting. And that's what grouse shooting is all about: sport.

And eating, I suppose. There used to be a wonderful tradition whereby the media would try and track the first lot of grouse to be flown to London on August 12th, and brought to table in some posh restaurant having been cooked on the very same day it was shot. You would see a chef proudly holding up the poor wee birds, done to a turn - no, I'm sorry, you'd see the helicopter pilot who had rushed the poor wee birds down or the driver of the train bringing them to London, or the daredevil faces of the two young begoggled men who had driven at 100mph all the way down the motorway in their vintage open car.

It was a sign of the way the media are centred on London that these grouse had to be brought to the English capital to make the news. If they had been rushed to a top Edinburgh restaurant it would not have made the news. If they had been taken home by Lord and Lady Dunhuntin and cooked on the kitchen range, it would not have made the news. If the grouse had been cooked al fresco on the moors, long before its competitors got to London, it would not have made the news.

The same thing was always true of that other artificial event, the Beaujolais Nouveau race, in which squadrons of daring youg men set off from somewhere in Beaujolais at midnight of the day when the stuff was legally released, and raced each other through the night to bring it to London, though I can't remember now if they had a party as soon as they arrived, after all, cracking open bottles of new Beaujolais at breakfast time does look a little sybaritic. But the race to bring the first new Beaujolais over, like the race to bring down the first grouse on August 12th, never quite maintained its attraction and although the new Beaujolais still arrives in England every year, and is greeted modestly in restaurant windows with stickers saying "Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrive!", I can't say it seems to arouse much excitement among the customers.

I was once asked by an advertising man if I could come up with an idea like the Beaujolais Nouveau race, and I said: "How do you mean? Something silly that is over in a flash?"

"No," he said, "something silly that goes on for years and years."

And thus it was that I came up with the idea of the Beaujolais Vieux race. The idea of this was that as soon as the new vintage of classic Beaujolais wines was released, the competitors in the race would set out to get home to Britain.

"Yes," said the ad man, "but classic wines need time to mature. Years and years. The bloke that came home first would have rubbish on his hands."

"Ah," I said, "but this is a completely different kind of race! The bloke who came home first would be the loser. In this race the guy who came home last would be the winner! He would have been out on the road so long that his wines would already be ready for drinking! The race would go on for years and years and you would get incredible mileage out of it!"

He looked at me oddly and said he would let me know. Alas, he never did. I often wonder why.