Paddy Maloney has gone through many a metamorphosis in the 25 years I've known him; though I'd better say from the outset he's never been Irish. He is called Paddy simply due to his surname. There are many in west Cumbria with Irish ancestry and Paddy is one of them, but if he was called Finklestein he couldn't be any less Irish than he is. Burly, blond and battered there's more the look of a Norse about Paddy than a Celt.
When I first knew Paddy he was a crag-rat. That's how he would announce himself to all and sundry in the George: "I'm a crag-rat" and then give a deep chuckle. It's a term like beatnik which has now become almost obsolete. It was used to describe someone who spent all his time rock climbing but who had basically no money to support his interest - save the dole. Nowadays there are far more job opportunities for people of that inclination - leading treks in the Himalayas, working in outdoor centres, at worst working in an outdoor shop. But in the late sixties and early seventies cragrats had only the dole to rely on. They had little they could therefore spend on accommodation, not even for a campsite, so they would doss down in barns, in park shelters or, famously as one of their number once did, under a large board propped horizontally against the back of a cafe - and hence, I suppose, the derivation of the second part of their soubriquet. That was Paddy's mode of existence back then. In those days he only had a rugby shirt and a pair of breeches to his name - and the rugby shirt was fairly holey.
For a while Paddy disappeared from the scene. I can't say that I noticed: but I certainly noticed when he came back. He was festooned in climbing gear. He had returned; walked in to Fishers and bought the most expensive gear that the shop had on offer. Paddy had come into money - and in no ordinary way either. He would have us all believe he was now a mercenary: the Royal House of Saud had found need of his services. He had many a tale to tell. And poor gullible fool that I was I almost believed him; until the day he told me how he and three of his colleagues had chased a gang of terrorists all the way through Iraq and Iran and into Turkmenistan. Even I wasn't gullible enough to swallow that one.
No, the source of Paddy's affluence was far more prosaic: he was working for Wimpey on some construction site in Riyadh. It was a mutual friend who told me. Paddy had been using his address as a poste restante and every day he was getting letters from the company asking when Mr. Maloney intended returning to work. But Mr. Maloney was very reluctant to go back; he much preferred to be wearing his climbing gear, rope slung over his shoulder each day tackling Main Street Direct between the Bank Tavern and the Twa Dogs.
The next time Paddy returned from Saudi he came back as a biker on a splendid Japanese model and all kitted out in striking, shining leathers from top to toe. He spoke little about his exploits as a mercenary that summer nor did he talk much about climbing. Most of the time he spent carousing in the Twa Dogs.
I met Paddy two Saturdays ago. He has now become a huntsman: and very resplendent he looks too. He wears nothing that a true huntsman wouldn't wear: stout brogues, gaiters, moleskin breeches, a fine tweed jacket, check shirt and a very dashing wide brimmed hat. His hat was festooned in badges: badges of half the hunts in England it seemed. And on his lapel a badge for the "Countryside March - March 1st". Paddy may no longer be a mercenary, not even in his own imagination, but he is still a warrior. He is fighting against the banning of fox hunting. I asked him how many was reckoned to be at the march in London. "A quarter of a million," he answered without hesitation. "They reckon as it will be the last non-violent march there'll be," he added with a glint of expectancy in his eye.
Here in Cumbria fox hunting is a very egalitarian activity - or rather inactivity. The "huntsman" mostly lean back against their cars and peer glumly through their binoculars at the fellside trying to spot the odd hound scouring for a fox - exciting and energetic it isn't. It is the mildest of pastimes to witness. Even so it does involve the killing of an animal for entertainment which cannot be good for a man's soul. Though given the choice I'd sooner see the banning of football than fox hunting - I'd sooner run into Paddy any day than a horde of football supporters: Paddy makes me smile - football supporters don't.