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 Jottings From A Factors Scrapbook
Colin Scott

Taking a none too serious look behind the scenes of a rural estate.

The aim was as usual, quite to perfection, and just above the rim of the green welly. My dog Widdle had struck once again and by the time the recipient owner of the target leg became aware of that feeling of warmth trickling down his leg, our Setter was already seated by my side innocently observing the result of his latest foray.

His prowess was such that he was seldom if ever seen perpetrating what he obviously considered to be his function at a shoot. At least that was the case initially and my own embarrassment was therefore short lived for a time. As the season wore on however the reputation of the oft times phantom waterspout became more widespread and my circle of shooting friends seemed to diminish.

His every move, from his joyous exit from my car in the morning to his jaded return that evening was observed with military precision. Conversations became disrupted by sideways and downward glances.

Only when the next mighty oath erupted and a considerable shaking of wetted leg ensued, would something like normality reign in the knowledge that there would be a respite for perhaps ten minutes.

As invitations to shoots became fewer and further between, other targets became of interest to Widdle. An afternoon nap on our local park bench became a thing of the past as those lovely inviting legs were homed in upon.

Sadly he never did learn the real purpose of lamp posts and trees.

This particular flying visit by the Laird, Sir Jeremy Notting-Badley, had already taken on its usual breakneck pace as I endeavoured to fit in a variety of business projects amidst his somewhat more important social calls. At last we had reached the final site for inspection, and Sir Jeremy and I, accompanied on this occasion by the Head Forester, Burke, stood on a barren windswept stretch of land about to make the momentous decision as to what trees should be planted in order to provide an attractive amenity wood.

I had already had the temerity of prejudging the situations and stating that it would be a mixture of Scots Pine and oak. In my mind's eye I had the vision of several thousand transplants which had been languishing in our forest nursery for several years awaiting such a chance as this since I couldn't think what else to do with them. Burke was beginning to cloud the issue by appearing to wish to preserve an open mind whilst the matter was given further consideration.

We all stood about gazing at the wilderness around us and Sir Jeremy having now taken his place on a shooting stick, hip flask at the ready, eventually remarks that as it was oak last time it really should be conifers this time. I applaud this solution heartily since after all that would take care of half of my problem and no doubt the oaks could surreptitiously find their way here too. To my amazement Burke bends over an adjacent rabbit hole and scoops up some of the soil. It is passed from hand to hand and sniffed occasionally. No one seems quite clear as to the merits of this process although Burke refers to it as a scientific soil test. Sir Jeremy confines himself to knowledgeable grunts. He then looks at his watch and informs us that he must be pushing off now so what was the decision to be. "Thuja Plicata", came the astonishing reply from Burke. Until that moment Sir Jeremy had considered this to be some form of notifiable disease and rather than look foolish appeared to agree vigorously. Fortunately his enthusiasm was short lived when he became more concerned with moving rabbit droppings from his breast pocket, blown from the soil sample by an inconsiderate gust of wind. "That's it then", I said, "oak and Scots pine, don't you agree Burke?"

After all, what are we going to do with the transplants in the nursery? It was inconceivable, but I was almost certain that he mumbled something about being in favour of burning them. Sir Jeremy finally decides to push off but instructs us not to decide upon anything that won't give a bit of holding for the birds later on.

And so it came about that after such careful planning and deliberation there was planted a woodland of Scots pine with, here and there, some oak.

But this is the Notting-Badley Estate. Perhaps it couldn't happen anywhere else. . . .

In closing these ramblings from a factor's notebooks I am reminded of the following jingle -

In boyhood days I woke from sleep,
And listened to the rain,
And thought how snug it was in bed;
And turned, and slept again.
But now I think of my Estate,
The farms and buildings here,
O Jupiter, what sleepless nights
You've given me this year!
Rain is seeping into footings, into valleys, under eaves
It's trickling into cellars down below.
It's driving under doors
Rotting rafters, sills and floors,
And someone always lets the Factor know.
In Abadan or Gobi, Arizona or Matruh,
There's little but the scent of desert air,
And the locals don't complain
Every time it starts to rain
I think I'll go and be a Factor there.

D.H. Chapman
T.W. Tallents

This article first appeared in the Caithness Field Club Bulletin April 1987