This is a walking stick. A reasonably old walking stick. Not (as it happens) mine, although i’ve been using one recently for various reasons (affectation mainly). But it did belong to a Mark Meynell – my Grandfather (right), who died last year aged 92. He was a spiritual giant in many ways but was full of surprises.
Of which this walking stick is one. My father was going through all his stuff and came across it – and was playing around with it, as you do, only to discover that if you twisted it in a certain way, out would pop a little lever. Then if you pulled it, you would find that it extends, to reveal not only a manufacturer’s mark, but also a small chamber – into which you can place a small cartridge. For yes, this venerable walking stick also doubles up as a small rifle.
It is the product of a bygone age – one not necessarily more innocent (after all the 20th Century had its moments) but one in which those who had the means were able to do extraordinary things. For my Grandfather, after graduating in Zoology but before getting ordained, was working for the Natural History Museum. It was in the years before the 2nd World War and he worked for a time under the great explorer, Wilfred Thesiger. One of his jobs, it seems, was to shoot and stuff unusual birds for the museum collection (oh, how we squirm at the thought in our more enlightened times!) – you can actually see some of them if you visit the museum. He was a great naturalist, and was a wonderful painter of birds throughout his life. So such behaviour hardly represented any avian bloodlust – far from it – it was all done for the purpose of advancing zoological understanding.
So he commissioned this gun – and the reason seems quite hysterically alien to our security-paranoid times: to ease the passage through foreign customs (on trips to the Mediterranean and the like). I mean, having to explain why you needed a gun in foreign parts could be fairly tedious, if not time-consuming. It was simply easier to play the gentleman with his cane, mind your own business and pass straight through. How easy it all was before the irritating intrusion of scanners and x-rays.