‘Somebody in North London wondered if four plump squirrels would be beyond my remit and a chef in Camberwell wants enough venison offal for a pop-up event’

It was interesting enough to study Freud, sex, gender and the English language, says Patrick Galbraith, but looking back, he wonders if it was really worth the money.

Towards the end of sixth form, my headmaster accosted me, in a friendly way, and asked if it was true that I was thinking of becoming a gamekeeper. I told the old guy, who had been at Oxford (and felt it keenly), that it was true. On the basis that I could spell, count and had an interest in terriers, they’d offered me a place.

The headmaster didn’t try to dissuade me all that much, but did note that I had other offers, which weren’t for gamekeeping, and he felt I should give those options some thought. Six months later, after parental pressure, I went to Bristol to study English. I took my terrier with me and spent a fair bit of time at the local hunt kennels.

There were no gamekeeping modules on the course, but it was fun. We spent three years talking about sex and Freud and gender and then I went to UCL for another helping of English literature, before deciding to drop out in order to edit Shooting Times. The experienced subbing team there didn’t spend much time talking about Hamlet, James Joyce or synecdoches, but they knew what a good piece on wildfowling looked like and their eye for poor grammar was ruthless.

Recently, I’ve been spending time with hedgelayers, chefs and venison wholesalers for a podcast and it’s made me think that my headmaster was quite wrong. I probably should have done game-keeping: a trade is a trade. ‘Thing about butchery,’ a guy explained the other day as he was boning out a lamb, ‘is that it can take you almost anywhere.’ As he said it, I realised that knowing your way around Hamlet via Freudian analysis is a ticket to almost nowhere.

In a field near Ely Cathedral, I met Richard Negus, who was coppicing a hedge to create habitat for songbirds and a refuge for the endangered grey partridge. One of the difficulties that landowners are having, he explained, is that they can’t find people who have these conservation skills — it’s estimated that there is a 72% shortage in forestry workers in Britain.

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At the same time, jobs in the likes of magazine publishing, book publishing and the world of theatre — the media — are hellishly hard to come by and those humanities graduates who do manage to land one would be doing well to be paid the £35,000 salary currently on offer for a butcher’s job in Mayfair. And butchers get paid while they’re training, rather than lumping themselves with student debt. Nonetheless, a specialist game butcher in Holt, Norfolk, recently said that they couldn’t get apprentices for love nor money; they had an advert up for a whole year and didn’t receive a single application.

I have previously mentioned that I’d passed my Deer Stalking Certificate Level 1, essential in order to get permission to carry out muntjac and Chinese water deer management on a Norfolk estate. Since then, I’ve got a Saturday job supplying venison to the Walsingham Farm Shop, which has big plans for muntjac pies. Since going public about my new gig, which is chiefly paid in pork scratchings, I’ve had all sorts of requests.

Somebody in north London wondered if four plump squirrels would be beyond my remit and a chef in Camberwell wants ‘enough venison offal for a pop-up event’. With Britain’s deer and squirrel population rising, maybe I’ll knock writing on the head and go full time with the meat supply. Although the Student Loans Company probably doesn’t accept artisanal pork scratchings in lieu of cash — all that time talking about Freud in Bristol plunged me into the red.

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