In those little diaries you were given as a kid at Christmas time, under August 12 it used to say ‘Grouse shooting begins’. This information was of limited value to a kid living in one of the less salubrious quarters of Liverpool. (On a recent visit I tried to find Arthur Street, my natal residence, but it wasn’t there. Neither was the next street, Herbert Street. It says something about the living space in those houses if I tell you that Liverpool City Council, after bull-dozing the bits that the Luftwaffe had left standing, built them into a single street of reasonably sized houses and subtly named it Herbarth Street.)
When I asked my Dad what ‘Grouse shooting begins’ meant, he, not wishing me to know that we lived in a lace-curtained jungle, explained that it was the date after which one was allowed to shoot grouse for the table. When I asked him if he would point out to me the next grouse to fly over Arthur Street, he told me that grouse prefer to nest in heather and bracken and that concrete and tarmac were not their natural habitat. He suggested that if I were to go to nearby Walton Jail I would hear nothing but grouse... Bit of a punster, my old man.
I've still never tasted grouse - and doubt I ever will. I hear they're running at £4,000 a brace - and you don't get them at Tesco's. You have to go all the way to Scotland yourself to shoot them, which puts it out of the question.
It may be a bad day if you’re a grouse, but it’s a good one for lepers: this is the day of their patron saint, Louis of Toulouse. He was a bishop at 20 and a saint – albeit dead – at 23. I’m not sure how he managed this fast-track promotion when old John Paul II hasn’t made it yet, but I guess being the son of the King of Sicily didn’t do him any harm. He must have made them an offer they couldn’t refuse.