After years of private admiration for the pro-hunting lobby, I was mildly deflated the other day when six of their number broke in to the House of Commons and slung insults at MPs before being abruptly and amusingly ejected by red-faced officials in ridiculous ceremonial garb.
Despite highlighting the laughable security shortfalls in our most prestigious seat of political decision-making, this pitiable display of petty points-scoring coupled with the ugly clashes between police and an angry throng of Countryside Alliance activists shattered my illusion of hunting being a civilised leisure pursuit involving charming if slightly eccentric types and posh girls in jodhpurs.
Apparently it is not like that.
To me, Otis Ferry (Otis?), son of Roxy Music’s Bryan, and his cohorts have irretrievably blotted the pro-hunting copybook. Interestingly, Otis seems to have eschewed the traditional behaviour of a rock star’s offspring (public drunkenness, drugs, ill-conceived concept albums, rehab – that kind of thing) in favour of knuckling down and becoming Britain’s youngest ever Hunt Master.
Admirable stuff (I think), but trading on his father’s name to gain exposure for a juvenile, foolhardy stunt like this smacks a bit of poor little rich boy syndrome. I’ll bet Daddy’s very proud, Otis.*
If all fox-followers are as petulant and precious as him I may have to rethink my position as a keen, opinionated and wildly under-informed hunt aficionado.
But HOW? I hear the more liberal among you bleat, HOW can you advocate something as beastly as hunting? What about the poor wittle foxes being murdered by those horrid dogs? What about the ghastly in-bred toffs who cackle and shriek and salivate whenever the poor, defenceless wittle foxes get cornered and RIPPED TO FUCKING PIECES???
Riders: The unputdownable tale of professional show jumping stuffed full of nerve shredding sporting heroics and important social statements that my mother dismissed as a "bonkbuster"; and Otis Ferry: Complete hunt.
Incidentally, if anyone wants any tips on how to make captions twice as big as the pictures they're describing, thereby significantly reducing the aesthetic impact - I'm your man.
Well, my dear concerned (and frankly hysterical) friends, I’ve got two words for you: Jilly Cooper. My entire opinion on this most sensitive of political hot potatoes was formed many years ago when, as a callow youth, I was initiated into a glamorous world of international show-jumping, sexual intrigue and questionable morality.
While my friends idolised rappers and footballers, my hero was the protagonist of Ms Cooper’s piece de resistance, the incomparable Riders. His name was Rupert Campbell-Black: Show Jumper, keen huntsman and all round cad and bounder. Rupert hunted, shagged, lied and cheated his way across the country, often simultaneously.
I was hooked. I had neither the guts nor the real inclination to attempt to procure proper pornography at that stage, but Cooper’s saucy scrawlings were verging on a form of legitimate smut. She used mysterious and intriguing words like “bush”, “clitoris” and, thrillingly, “labia”. Obviously, I hadn’t the faintest idea about the biological logistics of what she was saying, but it seemed pretty filthy to me.
I remember my mother dismissing Riders as a “bonkbuster” at which point I probably reddened slightly and grunted adolescently before retreating upstairs thinking to myself, “Duh! Why do you think I’m reading it?”
Anyway, I figured if hunting was good enough for Rupert, then it was good enough for me. Cooper painted an appealing picture: The brave, dashing young riders swapping risqué banter with the strong-thighed, rosy-cheeked ladies; a quick gallop across the country side (during which Rupert would invariably bend the best looking girl over a style and give her a good “rogering” – another staple Cooper term); mud splattered breeches and a slap-up dinner at the local pub. It seemed to me like everyone had a pretty good time and, as far as I can recall, not one wittle foxy was torn to shreds in the entire 900 word tome.
As if to emphasise the point, Cooper introduced a few hunt saboteurs – middle class, snivelling, pasty types who were all unwashed hippies with dreadlocks. If I remember rightly, they sprayed mace at the hounds and were eventually given a good kicking by a few cheery ruddy-faced fellows from the hunt set. Hurrah.
All this jolly hockey-sticks brouhaha pretty much cemented my pro-foxhunting bias from that day to this. Of course, other stereotypes in the Cooper oeuvre were swiftly quashed as life’s dreary reality kicked in. I soon established, for example, that not all upper-class ladies are prim Horse and Hound readers by day who, at nightfall, turn into nymphomaniac horndogs regularly indulging in sexual gymnastics involving bridles and riding crops. More’s the pity.
My only actual brush with the equestrian world was when I insisted on accompanying my mother to the Pony Club Camp where my sister was performing in the gymkhana. The thought of watching lissom, willowy lovelies brushing, grooming and generally giggling delightfully filled my youthful, hormone-infested mind with unchecked sexual potential (mmm… mucking out). Unfortunately, while the giggling was certainly prominent, most tack room denizens were pre-pubescent primadonnas with pig-tails and freckles, so that fantasy soon faded.
Foxhunting though, continued to garner my unequivocal (albeit armchair) support. It was particularly satisfying to bang the pro-hunting drum in arguments with my liberal, oh-so-right-on peers. I would usually shrug matter-of-factly and accuse them of being reactionary, classist losers whose only reason for backing a ban was to stick one up the social elite. Then I would make some deliberately crass comment about the plight of the actual foxes – something along the lines of “well at least they get the chance for some exercise – I’m sure there are a few battery hens who’d swap places with them”, and sit back and watch everyone chunter with righteous indignation.
Protests: Don't bother
But Otis and co. changed all of that when they bumbled their way into Parliament spouting obnoxious, inflammatory rhetoric and acting like tough, martyred heroes after they were rightly banged up for it.
Because it’s protestors that I can’t stand.
I have the utmost respect for people who believe passionately in various causes. The Countryside Alliance in particular deserves credit for their cheery stiff upper lip and dry sense of humour in the face of considerable provocation from a Government who seem to have abandoned all interest in farmers and rural life. I approve of their brand of non-violent remonstration – rustic folk decked in Barbour jackets and brandishing witty placards suggesting that Tony cut them a bit of slack. Indeed, until that disgraceful day outside Westminster, they epitomised the way protests should be carried out.
Others are not so disciplined. My biggest bugbear is with the anti-capitalists. When I worked in a fairly decent-sized office for a company in the media industry, we were warned to turn up to work in civvies on May Day so as not to provoke the rioters who had threatened violence against corporate Britain.
The footage of a seething army of work-shy, angry yobs chucking chairs through McDonalds’ windows and hurling abuse at bankers, besuited office workers and anybody who has the temerity to actually WORK FOR A BLOODY LIVING turned my stomach. I don’t hold any particular affection for big corporations – I favour a nice independent café with comfy sofas and chipped tables creaking with complimentary Sunday papers over the sterile monotony of Starbucks (though, by God, their brownies are good…) – but I am not foolish enough to fight them.
Protests exhaust me even if I am only watching them on TV. Besides, they never work. We had hundreds of thousands of people demonstrating against the war in Iraq, and we’re still there two years later. Petitions get ripped up; lobbying is tiring and ineffective. I feel for the Fathers For Justice desperados, but dressing up as Batman and commandeering a crane on a building site for a week is not going to get your child back. Far from it – the likely result will be a cold cell and a criminal record. The public soon tire of such stunts. I only remember that one because I lived not far from the building site, and my road was cut off for a week. Towards the end I was seriously thinking about buying an air rifle and taking pot-shots at the idiotic bastard.
And it’s not defeatism, it’s realism. Anyway, if all gripes were addressed and resolved by the powers that be, we would have nothing to piss and moan about. We would be walking around with forced smiles and fake optimism, knowing we should be happy and content and fulfilled, and yet somehow feeling emptier and more miserable than ever. Because there’s always something. It is human nature to be dissatisfied – it keeps us sane. The only truly happy people are recent lobotomy patients and American gameshow hosts.
Anger and fierce debate are the spice of life, so why waste them in futile gestures of defiance? It’s much more rewarding to engage in alcohol-fuelled arguments on the topics of the day in warm living rooms or cosy pubs - especially with people less intelligent than you.
So burn those placards and stop risking piles by sitting for hours on the pavement outside number 10 armed only with a thousand-name petition and a burning sense of injustice. Embrace half-hearted ire and passive outrage. Practise tutting at the television and snorting in derision whenever politicians open their mouths. Culture under-researched opinions and controversial views on sensitive issues and recite them solemnly in inappropriate company. Most importantly, avoid media bandwagons, organised marches and hippies waving clipboards outside Safeway.
You know it makes sense.
*Actually, somewhat annoyingly, he is proud – positively glowing, in fact. Bryan Ferry took his acceptance speech for a Q Magazine lifetime achievement award as an opportunity to bang on about how brave little Otis was for attacking all those nasty bureaucrats (which kind of ruins the point I was trying to make, hence the tucked away footnote…). Luckily, he was roundly booed by all his industry colleagues – God bless rock and roll