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January 26, 2005

Hunting Life - Any More for Tea?

Posted by Jorocs

Traditionally, in a crisis, the British would always turn to a cup of tea. In the gathering darkness at the end of a day's hunting, the horses and hounds are put away in the hunt lorry and we retire to the oasis of warmth in the farmhouse kitchen. In the past, this celebration of a day's hunting was attended only by a select few, who discussed the day's events over tea, whisky and cake. Those who attended never needed to be invited. If you needed to be invited, you didn't qualify to attend.

The huntsman ambles in, acknowledged king of the proceedings, so bow legged from a life in the saddle, "he'd never stop a pig in the passage" as the old country saying goes. His young whip, whose day is spent ensuring the hounds carries out the huntsman's commands, follows dutifully behind. He knows one day he shall take the crown as huntsman but for the moment he is happy to keep his place. The terrier man in his earth stained clothes slips unobtrusively in through the back door. Farmers wobble in on hips arthritic from a life time of hard work. After a day of hacking around at the back of the field, they have loaded their sturdy cobs into the back of rusty trailers and battered Land Rovers, no brand new 4x4s here.

This tight knit group have a real knowledge of hound work, far more than the average foxhunter. All gather round the Aga to discuss and dissect the day's events; if a particular hound put in an outstanding performance, was there any smell? Were any large hedges jumped? Which horses and riders distinguished themselves either by failing or succeeding at these obstacles? How did the hounds go? These are all subjects discussed as the whisky flows and the temperature rises and the faces glow.

Because of the current crisis in fox hunting, due to the imminent ban, these tea meetings have escalated in numbers to a point where the farmhouse kitchens are barely able to cope. An endless stream of cups of tea are passed from hand to hand to the outer periphery of the assembly, as more and more want to know what the future holds.

Questions are posed as to what will happen next? What should each individual be prepared to do in the face of the ban? Self-opinionated barrack room lawyers step forward with posturing importance and opinions. Anyone who lives and works in London and travels down to hunt is suspected of having the ear of the government and is considered party to hitherto unknown knowledge or information. Although, in the past, their lack of horsemanship has caused great derision this has now changed. Suddenly their opinions are eagerly sought and they hold sway, as all listen spellbound to their utterances.

Old farmers who have spent a lifetime fighting the battle against wind, weather and changing government and usually winning, doggedly state, "We can't be beat". The certainty in their belief is constantly reinforced by the number of people who have suddenly taken up hunting due to the antics of Mr Blair's backbenchers. These people arrive at the start of the day, unknowing and uncertain, yet very soon becoming part of the living and breathing countryside. They experience the thrills and spills, the mud and the glory, and the virtually unfettered access to fields and woodlands. Realising that tomorrow they will be back to hacking around on the roads, never again will they view a hunting scene in two dimensions. Their expressions of delight at the end of the day are expressed through comments such as, "Wasn't it fantastic!?", "It wasn't at all like I thought it would be, when can I come again?", such sayings become clichés. Even people who disliked hunting but came to see what it actually involved always leave converted. As one farmer said, "if only we could bottle and sell hunting, we'd make a fortune".

The talk is all about how Parliament could spend seven hundred hours debating hunting and only seven hours debating Iraq before going to war? Why should it use the Parliament Act on a subject so inconsequential when there are so many other problems besetting the country at the moment? The talk continues as to how the government could be embarrassed. If only John Prescott would come out to the countryside, they say, we could organise egg throwing competitions at his car. This would be invaluable media coverage and would demonstrate how the government is losing popularity and control.

The current mood is changing from one of anger and disbelief to questioning the uncertainty of the future. We are in the ring with an opponent with no stomach for the fight. The Government has once again taken a step backwards by offering not to oppose the injunction on the Parliament Act which we the hunting community are seeking while we await a decision.

Where will this leave us, many ask? Are we better to fight our battles now than face uncertainty in the future? People who have spent a life time hunting together are now locked in heated debate nearly to the point of blows: one wanting to carry on hunting and break the law regardless, the other determined that the hunting community is continued to be seen to be a responsible set of people who will defend their sport within the law. Gradually, common sense permeates through the whisky fumes. No future government would wish to back an unruly mob, but a reasoned common-sense approach by a large law abiding minority maintaining the respect it has already gained, may just hold sway at the end of the day.

When all wobble out, arthritic or whiskyfied, they remain resolute to fight on, hopefully within the law until they are pushed beyond it. We expect those that are leading the fight, to do whatever is necessary to maintain the self-financing pest control service offered to farmers. Let us hope that this way of life, enjoyed by all people and classes of life in the British countryside, may yet have a future.

Jorocs writes about hunting life for the Social Affairs Unit. To read more by Jorocs, see Hunting.

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