Patrick Galbraith: “‘You sound clever, but you’re really stupit,’ he told me. Buoyed by his charm, I stepped outside”

A happy Patrick Galbraith celebrates his engagement by tempting fate in inspiringly cavalier fashion.

I had every intention of asking while we were standing beneath that blackthorn bush on the edge of the pond, but before I summoned up the courage, a pair of teal appeared over the top of the willows. Constance lifted her gun, fired and the higher of the two tumbled into the water.

It was far from a perfect evening for flighting duck. The moon was too big, there was hardly any wind and there was very little cloud cover, but they came steadily, appearing every couple of minutes, and I sat there drinking tea from my flask while Constance took them on. It no longer seemed right. Asking some-body to marry you while they’re in the midst of it, in a duck hide, has almost certainly never improved their shooting.

We did hear mallard and, somewhere towards the sea, wigeon were on the wing, whistling in the stillness, but all we saw that night were teal. After the last of them had come, we picked the fallen, collected Constance’s father from the far side of the pond and wandered back to my Suzuki for a cup of tea on the tailgate.

A braver person would have probably found some moment over the following few days to ask Constance’s dad (I’m told that people do still uphold that convention), but, some days previously, I’d ended up shooting partridges on the peg next to him and I’d probably had enough of his birds to have burned through a fair bit of goodwill.

It wasn’t until this month that I finally got around to asking Constance. It was, she told me, ‘a good idea, and it should be chic, but we should do it on a budget. Like, maybe we could get lots of oysters but open them all ourselves?’

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“As for marriage, I guess there’s no training or qualification per se, but how hard can it be?”

I momentarily considered Whatsapping her father to tell him what I hoped he’d think was good news, but, in the end, formality won and I emailed him, copying in her mum, telling them I didn’t really know what the convention was, but we were thinking of spring 2025. ‘The convention,’ her mother replied, ‘is to have an awkward conversation with a girl’s father.’ Crucially, though, they did confirm that they thought it was good news.

The following day I drove up to Ayrshire to sit the Deer Stalking Certificate Level 1 — the days of one’s local bobby granting a licence for a deer rifle without proof that you know what’s what are gone. They want to be sure you understand deer ecology, hygiene and all of the relevant legislation. I stopped in with a pal from school the night before and opened a bottle of whisky.

The following morning, my head hurt severely, there was snow on the ground and I was late. The man running the revision course and invigilating the simulated stalk, the shooting test and the written paper was ex-army. ‘You’re like some of the officers I had,’ he said when I asked him to tell me again what the minimum calibre for shooting roe deer in Scotland is. ‘You sound clever, but you’re really stupit.’ Buoyed by his charm, I stepped outside for the first part of the exam. It was harder than I thought it would be and he seemed to enjoy every bit of my struggle.

I was out on the hill in Glen Affric a week later when the message landed: ‘Well done. All passed.’ On a serious note, this is a really useful qualification. I learned a lot and feel far more qualified to set out after muntjac.

As for marriage, I guess there’s no training or qualification per se, but how hard can it be?