I have fallen in love with an unsuitable male. My wife isn’t totally happy about this relationship because she recognises how dangerous it is. The problem with Eddie is that his vices are my vices. He’s reckless, an adrenaline junkie who likes always to be up front. Really, a most unsuitable companion for a skinny, breakable family man fast approaching 50.
And did I mention how expensive he is? It’s as bad as having a high-class mistress or a serious cocaine habit, but I’m powerless to resist. I love hunting. I love my mount Eddie Stobart. When I’m riding to hounds, all my worldly cares vanish. It makes me feel like I’ve finally discovered the point of existence. Tragic, isn’t it?
It’s tragic because I know I could quite easily die — or worse. And also because I can’t afford it. A day out with my local hunt, with hireling, will set you back around £300. But really, if you want to get any good at it — which I do, so as to improve my chances of not breaking my neck — you want to be going out at least twice a week. It’s at times like this that you learn seriously to regret those early career choices. If I’d gone into the City and made my fortune, maybe I could have retired early and spent the rest of my days doing what I was really born to do: being a Master of Foxhounds, of course.
The thing I like about hunting is — well, lots of things, actually. But definitely it starts with the horse. I’ve never hitherto thought of myself as a particularly horsey person. As a child I found the local hunt set desperately intimidating. There was a hunting family down the road from us who I always got the impression seriously looked down on Delingpoles. We were just jumped-up Midlands industrialists. They were proper country folk. This hurt. And maybe that’s where it all started. I wanted to show that we were just as good as them.
Still, it would be years before I got the horse bug. I had lessons over the years — at school and later in my university vacations, when I was taught by James Hewitt’s sister Caroline and lusted, fruitlessly, after her stable girls. But the horses were just a means to an end rather than the thing itself: big, intractable, scary beasts with kicking feet and biting mouths and heads that kept yanking sharply forwards so that the reins cut into the tender bits between your frozen fingers.
This is often the way with riding-school horses. Bored and desensitised by having to indulge far too many novices, they rarely do what you want, because they just can’t be arsed. And it’s always your fault, supposedly. You’re not kicking hard enough. But you can’t kick any harder because your leg muscles have collapsed. It’s no wonder so many boys (girls are different: for girls, horses aren’t poor man’s motorbikes but surrogate boyfriends) give up riding before they get any good at it.
Hence my current pash for Eddie Stobart. Because he used to be the Master’s mount, he knows exactly what he likes and where he wants to be: where the action is. So there’s definitely no need for the whip, and barely any need for any leg. You think ‘trot’ and he trots. You think ‘canter’ and he’s already there. For the first time in my life, thanks to Eddie, I feel like I can actually ride — like they do in the movies when they gallop off into the distance; like they did in the 18th century where, spiritually, I think I most belong.
This bond you have with your mount is one of the best things about hunting. His life is in your hands, your life on his hooves, so for the duration of the hunt you’re in this one together, looking out for each other (and scary rear ends with red ribbons on the tails, and rabbit holes, and low branches and wire…). Better than that, though, you and this alien creature with whom you have next to nothing genetically in common are suddenly on exactly the same trip. Imagine! It’s like becoming a centaur.
And all the other nutcases with you on the hunt — they’re on the same trip too. An impossibly intense one. Everything becomes so heightened and vivid — the sights, the sounds, the terror, the exhilaration, the narrow scrapes — that it’s like being in a dogfight: even years after the event, you remember every detail as though it were yesterday.
So now you begin to appreciate the scale of the problem. What the hell do I do? I’m thinking of maybe crowdfunding a project called Mister Delingpole’s Sporting Tour, where I ask donors to sponsor me for a season (or three), and at the end we emerge with a thrilling book written by hunting’s greatest ambassador since Roger Scruton. Well-wishers might be tempted to stump up because they like me or they like hunting, or both; ill-wishers have an even stronger incentive because it will dramatically improve the chances of my getting killed.
Or am I just too old for this shit? Is that what the gods are trying to tell me: that life is about coming to terms with your limitations, accepting your lot and realising that some dreams have to remain just dreams?
I don’t know, I really don’t know. But by God, I do know I love hunting.