Friday, 8 October 2004

Easy Rider

A few years ago I had a funeral which involved a burial in an unfamiliar churchyard. The morning October mist was still over the graves and I went quite a way ahead of the procession to find the grave, and to stand as a marker in the cloud to ensure it would be occupied by the one for whom it was intended. As I stood sentinel the quiet was pierced by a scream, and I caught the red eyes of a stoat, his teeth deep into the neck of a struggling rabbit. I took off after the stoat which persisted, eyeing me from behind successive gravestones before vanishing into the mist.

As one raised as an urban kid, my images of rabbits came from the stuffed variety, and the crimson glare of the stoat lent itself readily to looking demonic, which convinced me of what I thought was the right thing to do. I failed the rabbit in the end by not finishing it off humanely, which I would have done if my instincts had been properly country.

Six years later, I am accustomed to being told the name of the chicken I am eating, and am well adjusted to rural life being about the sharp end of life and death.

So when Old Labour is baying for blood in calling for the abolition of the hunt, its instincts are as skewed as any townie who serves food on the table, the provenance of which is lost in a trail that ends on the supermarket shelf.

The ban against hunting with hounds has to be the most misguided and wasteful cause our representatives can pursue. Old Labour is urban, its roots are industrial, just like my own. While the anti-hunting lobby claims to be caught up in the fate of a fox, what is driving it is a deep disdain for the culture of the people who ride with the hounds.

I think, if Old Labour is still wanting to build a new and fairer world, it can be more effectively occupied.

The hunt is only partly about the fox, it is mainly rural ritual. Like any ritual there is a beginning, middle and end, there are conventions to follow, costumes to wear and patterns of deference to observe as you enjoy, for a brief season, the freedom to ride across the land unfettered and free. In the past, the hunt leader was at the head, and those who followed were in their appointed order according to their position in the rural community. The hunt was a ritual rehearsing the social makeup up the community.

The very fact that it is possible to even consider the demise of the hunt is not because we want to be kind to foxes, but because the social hierarchy which it depicts is fading quickly from country life. More often these days, whether you ride at the head or the tail of the hunt, you are likely to be found in your grey pinstripe on the platform waiting for the 0610 to Liverpool Street.

This is the 100th year of the Harley Davidson, the steed of choice for the classic biker pack. Fifty years ago, bikers had the same fantasy of riding free, the road coming to meet you, and an open horizon. The biggest and meanest dudes rode at the front, while the weakest followed behind. These days, the only people who can afford Harleys are middle-aged accountants in mid-life crisis. I’m certain that, after the bike is in the garage, today’s bikers check to see their grey pinstripe is where they can find it when they all stagger for the 0610 on Monday morning.

Old Labour should leave the hunt alone, it is already a changing institution, and can safely be left in the hands of history. In the meantime, Old Labour would be more true to its vocation if it turned to championing the cause of the availability of public services for the rural elderly and poor.

Posted by Andrew Spurr on Friday, 8 October 2004 at 8:56am BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: just thinking

Oh, come come: who was it who described fox-hunting as (para.) "the unspeakable in pursuit of the unedible"? (Wilde?)

As a Yank, this custom seems rather remote (although I'm sure there are few Anglophilic wannabes who indulge) . . . but that doesn't mean you're not entitled to my opinion! ;-p

I have no problems w/ hunting *for food*: many was the time I benefitted from my father's sure shot at ducks, and geese, and pheasants, and deer (Game-y? Fuhgeddaboutit!). And if the carniverous fox is a real threat to ecological balances (or even a problem animal in relation to human habitation, as happens w/ bears and coyotes sometimes over here), then a quick offing can be justified too.

But ananchronistic celebration of class, w/ a cheesy (yet uneaten) ritual animal sacrifice, via prolonged and extreme stress (w/ our domesticated beasts doing the dirty work)?

Leave it to Masterpiece Theatre, and *move on!*

Posted by: J. C. Fisher on Friday, 15 October 2004 at 5:22am BST

I'm an American and therefore cannot claim to fully understand the place of the hunt in the fabric of the rural community. Nor can I speak to whether or not Labour's motive in banning the hunt is about destroying the old rural class structure vs. protecting the fox. And I must agree that providing essential services to the rural (and urban) needy is more important - if it is indeed a case of one or the other, which I doubt. But...

The stoat was doing what stoats do. Stoats eat rabbits, not grass.
When humans allow their dogs to rip an animal to pieces, then smear the blood on the novice's face, all in the name of "sport", "history", or "culture", are they just doing what humans do?
I sure hope not.
I don't care what the motives behind the ban are. The practice is cruel and I'm glad it's banned.
I agree with the previous commenter. I have no problems with hunting for food, and although I'm urban I know where my meat comes from. I've seen a cow slaughtered and I still eat beef, no problem. I've shot a squirrel and I ate the damn thing even though it was like gamey shoe leather. But as humans we ought to respect life and take it for a good reason - like food - and then take it as quickly and humanely as possible. It's a shock to see something on the Thinking Anglicans site, and from a priest, that shows such disrespect for life.
And foxes aren't a threat to the ecological balance, habitat loss is (college degree in wildlife management) so there isn't a need to off the foxes. Outdoor cats likely kill several times more birds and baby rabbits than do foxes.
We still fox hunt here in America (Virginia is a big fox hunting locale) but the fox is not killed. I don't know the details but it's surely more humane although the fox is still stressed. So there is an alternative to ripping the fox apart alive.
And yes, it was Oscar Wilde who called fox hunting "the unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible."

Posted by: Milli Hayman on Friday, 10 December 2004 at 5:35am GMT