We were halfway through a post-Christmas rehearsal of The Thomas Lord Old Gits, just launching into our unique death-metal rendition of Climb Every Mountain, when the distinctive bip-bip-de-bip of an incoming text message resounded through the PA. It was my phone, so I had to endure the traditional hail of abuse and empty beer bottles.
It was another of the handy notification texts from Hampshire Police. But it was one of the recent disturbing ones. “Keep dogs indoors,” it said. “Reports are coming in of suspicious activity near outdoor kennels.”
What this slightly too sanitised text warned of was another incident of burly gentlemen in knackered Subarus targeting the keeping and shooting fraternity, and stealing their dogs.
These “working” dogs are highly bred, extensively and expensively trained and worth a fortune, and, much to the delight of the Men in Dodgy Subarus (Mids), are often not safely indoors.
Now, we know who these Mids are, the keepers know who these Mids are, police on the beat know who these Mids are. But mention their more common name and all hell will break loose; the Thought Police will be hammering on the front door before you can say “I’m a Guardian reader”.
And the Mids are back in force in the central Hampshire countryside, after a few years of peace. It has got to the stage where, if we hear the distinctive thrum of a flat-four hurtling past the window, we’re justified in ringing Plod before even getting the dressing-gown on.
It’s difficult to say what has brought them all back our way. Perhaps it is the Countrywatch scheme, Plod’s answer to the last huge outbreak of Mids in 2008, has proved so successful that the bean counters have scaled back the coverage. It might be the vast areas of untouched stubbles that have attracted the Mids and their hare-coursing dogs.
I’m becoming quite an expert at guessing which Subarus crossed the field: Legacies roll down the stubble between the wheels, Foresters don’t. Spare a thought for the manufacturer itself, which has to live with the fact that its products are the vehicle of choice for these people. Mind you, the off-roading abilities are certainly tested and proven every night.
And why switch to dogs? Is it something to do with the belated but much-needed crackdown on scrap thefts? Has this supply of easy money suddenly dried up? Rumours of what happens to the dogs abound – some verging on hysteria. They are taken somewhere for breeding, used in dog fights. Pickers-up have been arriving on shoots with beloved puppies tucked under their arms, having heard the Mids are tasering dogs to make the theft easier.
I once asked the chief constable what he thought of Mids. His reply? “A gathering [of Mids] is no more trouble to me than a group of farmers.” There spoke a politician, not a policeman. Well, we’re soon to have a new Uberplod in Hampshire, and let’s hope he or she is a little less common purpose, a little less politically correct.
Dave, the bass player in The Thomas Lord Old Gits, trains these dogs, and his suggestions as to what the effing thieves would effing endure if he got hold of them would scare even the most hardened senior policeman.
Wouldn’t it be nice if our new chief constable shared some of these views – perhaps without the bit about where the long neck of a fretless bass guitar should end up.
Charlie Flindt is a tenant of a National Trust, farming 380ha at Hinton Ampner, Hampshire
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