Wednesday 21 August 2019

Country Matters: 'Copper Jack' sniffs out the lanes

Parson Jack Russell terrier
Parson Jack Russell terrier
Reverend John Russell terrier

Joe Kennedy

About 35 years ago, when the first Country Matters column began appearing in the Sunday Independent, it prompted a colleague to refer to me as 'Boot' after the hero in Scoop, Evelyn Waugh's comic novel.

William Boot, Waugh fans might recall, was the nature notes contributor on a London paper who got sent to an African war zone through mistaken identity. There was another, more famous Boot among the paper's writers, you see, but top newsroom persons muddled things up, being anxious to comply promptly with the wishes of the proprietor, Lord Copper.

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Anyway, Boot became my lot - though not dispatched to world conflicts - and Copper my learned colleague back at the coalface. It was a type of communication code and, in recent years, acquiring the slang of ever-changing print technology, there began queries if the weekly "shape" had appeared on my computer. This is the allotted space into which a writer has to place a specific word-count.

By then I was long retired from the bustle of a newsroom but still continued to note some rural curiosities from wherever I might find myself. I remembered from many years before an assistant editor starting a significant new career as a bee-keeping expert. One never knew what the future might hold.

Now it is the turn of Copper to untangle from the cables of communication and he may be found touring in some comfortable vehicle throughout these islands with his lady partner and, inevitably, his faithful madra stretched on the back seat, waiting patiently for the next roadside halt to sniff out the local wildlife.

This dog is a Jack Russell - whether a 'Parson Jack' or a 'Reverend John' we will come to anon. There are two distinct types, one much better known.

Years ago I had a Jack in my menagerie of springer spaniels and eccentric cats who always enjoyed a morning ramble along an ancient laneway and his lively spurts of exploration provided a little drama. His bewhiskered face would look up for approval as he trotted along in anticipation of some adventures ahead. He might slip into a ditch and disappear and, having scented some wild creature, would emit a curious whine from the depths to force some animal to bolt.

My dog was a 'Parson Jack' of the Chippendale legs and chest like the stern of an oil tanker but the 'Reverend John' is a taller animal and considered to be a superior hunting dog with long legs like a vixen and good shoulders.

This terrier's origins were in north Devon in the early 1800s, from a famous bitch named Trump, owned by a Rev Russell, a renowned huntsman in that rough wild country. There is a Rev John Russell Terrier Club of proud enthusiasts but the Parson Jack is registered with the English Kennel Club as a show breed.

Some 'John' owners may turn up noses at the little 'Parsons' as being in some way inferior but they are the more popular breed, constantly proving their worth as vermin controllers. I trust my ex-colleague Copper's Parson will have many pleasant chasing prospects along rural lanes, as I plod along seeking a "feather-footed questing vole" through "plushy fens".

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