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March 07, 2007

Hunting Life: The Hunt Ball

Posted by Jorocs

Jorocs does his best to recall the Hunt Ball.

The Hunt Ball (or the Hunt Bonk as Aggi students call it) is a major fundraiser and let your hair down night for all hunts. A large contingent of the RAC (Royal Agricultural College) students always attend and support, both financially and with great displays of excess.

There are two little known facts about the RAC - first, when Professor Boutflour took over after the war, he only had two students enrolled. He placed an advert in The Times for the only available place left. He was subsequently inundated with people wanting to send their sons there and the rest is history. Secondly, over 75% of the agricultural land in Britain is owned or managed by ex-RAC students. This is very concerning when you see them in the last stages of hunt ball fervour in the early hours of the morning.

What does alarm me these days is I used to attend hunt balls and there were two distinctive groups, the grumpy old fogies and us bright young things. Now I attend hunt balls I only see the bright young things. Where have all the grumpy old fogies gone?!

Hunt Balls generally take place in marquees attached to some elegant country house, so that one arrives, and is ushered in through an impressive front door and seamlessly guided out through a side door into an enormous marquee, creating an illusion of grandeur. We enter the marquee to encounter shimmering white walls, the ceiling speckled with lights like stardust, the black and white chequer of the dance floor and a heaving mass of people dressed to impress, quaffing champagne in high spirits. Buxom young ladies (BYL) sporting acres of flesh and bosom, bursting out of skimpily strapped ball gowns, a sprinkling of young militaries in dress uniform and a profusion of RAC students in black dinner jackets with the odd kilt thrown in. A "grope" of RAC students would probably be a good collective noun for these.

This heaving mass of people throngs for about thirty minutes, chattering away like a rookery assembling in the evening and then it's time to properly pursue the table plan, on this occasion adorned with foxes and what looks like prancing stallions and frisky fillies (luckily the hunt secretary's wife is a budding artist). We take our seats at the table of one of the Masters who is resplendent in his red swallowtail coat. He lives for his hunting and runs his part of the country well, leading the Field like a Calvary officer, but he is very morose and short of conversation, though his occasional comments are full of wit and wisdom. We count ourselves lucky to get one per season. He also happens to have one eye. Initial conversation zones in on his fall over a hedge last week when he was riding a one eyed horse. There is great debate as to whether they were both blind on the same side? Unfortunately for his future safety this turns out to be the case.

Also on our table is Thomas the builder. The talk is about how yesterday he jumped an enormous hedge and left the whole Field standing while he had twenty minutes alone with hounds. He is sat next to his ex-wife Sadie who is sat next to Fred the farmer with whom she ran off with last year. These days Fred's face seems to get longer and longer as his bank account gets shorter and shorter. A month after the run away incident Fred fell off out hunting. He remained stuck in the ditch for some time while the Field looked on with a disapproving moral fervour. Who should eventually retrieve Fred's horse and pull him out of the ditch but Thomas? When Thomas was asked about this magnanimity, Thomas smiled in his quiet way and said,

I think he did me a favour.
He is fast discovering that dinner party hostesses are always desperate for single gentlemen to make up numbers.

After a meal laced with talk of children, houses and hunt politics, i.e. who is sleeping with whom and who is going to be sleeping with whom after tonight and what ramifications this may have on the fortunes of the hunt, there is a short cabaret act by the Masters, organised very professionally by an ex-Oxford Lights man. The qualities and skills in the hunting field are very varied. Then the band begins, tonight a very good grey haired sixties band of international fame. A skulk of vermin (ex-Masters) is cornered at the bar, no longer able to appreciate the vista of acres of bosom, they sadly lament that hunting will never be like it was.

For regular hunt followers, the excuse of the semi darkness of the disco puts some physical achievement on aspiring relationships with the further excuse next day of alcohol excess. This opportunity is welcomed by many. Although as one gentleman was overheard to say to his wife:

Do all these people hunt? I can't recognise anyone of them?
To which his wife replied:
That's because you're seeing their faces for the first time. You spend all season chasing their bottoms!
These encounters in the disco are hopefully regarded in the same manner as the Hollywood film stars treat encounters during filming - OLDC - "on location, doesn't count", although our own hunt did suffer a serious upset many years ago when a Master was caught behind the curtains "going all the way" with the wife of another prominent member of the hunt.

There is usually a sprinkling of rich elderly gentlemen sporting beautiful young wives. They sit there anxiously peering at the dance floor, while the trophy wife emerges from the darkened disco red faced and dishevelled squired by the Local Stud. As the evening wears on more drink is consumed, laughter becomes more ribald and dancing more energetic. I feel more beholden to invite younger and younger ladies onto the dance floor. However it's alarming how, as time passes, one does tend to trip over the joins on the dance floor more often, though this does necessitate a lunge towards a BYL which can be very cushioning in an attempt to regain one's balance.

For the hardy sorts, there is the casino, although on this occasion we are raising money for charity rather than ourselves. On one wall are enormous life size scenes of ex-hunting occasions taken from old cinefilm. Did we really fall off that often? One ex-Master comes puffing up. He exclaims:

Did you see me fall in the river? Both in and out!
We retort:
No, we were too busy looking for Princess Anne.
He retires, crestfallen, but there is nothing more ex than an ex-Master.

BYLs were excited to spot the son of a well known pop star who is now a Master in his own right of a Midland Pack. This presentable young man achieved notoriety on the day of the hunt ban when he and his cronies invaded Parliament. He recently lost his licence, so as his friends walk by, they all demand that he should drive them home.

Another Aggi student has been sat at the table for the last hour with his head in his cheesecake desert. He hasn't moved and nobody thinks to remove him. In other settings, one would be worried about rigour mortis setting in but these
Aggies have a great spirit of resilience. The Whipper In too has passed out in the corner and his BYL is lavishing mascara around his eyes. This has happened before - when he came to work last week the Field imagined he has walked into a door.

The music gets louder, the beat gets faster, spirits rise to fever pitch but it is all over too soon. The Aggies have lived up to reputation, consumed vast amounts of alcohol and revelled in high spirits; the BYLs have provided a wonderful landscape for the roving eye of the grumpy old gropies and much funds have been raised for the Hunt and local charities. The band plays the final number, the taxies are arriving, coats are being checked out and happy ladies totter out on high heels. Hopefully we'll all be back again next year, barring falls and fatalities.

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

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