Devotee of the old ways though I am, I can just about understand why a misguided animal lover might oppose fox-hunting.
If you enjoy eating KFC while pretending the chicken you are eating hasn’t suffered, then it follows that you will worry about the feelings of a fox who would rip the same chicken to pieces if it were kept in nicer conditions. It doesn’t make any sense, or help animals, but it is something sentimentalists do.
I cannot begin to understand, however, why such a person would oppose pretend hunting.
I can grasp perfectly well why one would have to sneak around if one were hunting foxes. But I’m struggling with the concept of sneaking around as one doesn’t hunt foxes. Hunt saboteurs? Yes, I see that. Sabs trying to thwart a pretend hunt? Sorry, I just don’t get it.
There I was in my best navy jacket, the hunter pony all plaited up for a day out. The runner had set off with his sack of eau de fox, jogging laboriously across a field. After a speech from the hunt master, we all set off after him, hounds first then the field of riders.
You can tell you are trail hunting because it isn’t at all the same. When you were real hunting the hounds went off like the clappers and got on a scent. Pretend hunting, they lumber along in a straight line following the boring pre-laid smell of ‘here’s one I shot earlier’.
They must know it’s that or permanent unemployment, because they look as enthusiastic as they can. If you stare into the eyes of one of these formerly proud beasts, his hangdog expression will remind you of nothing so much as a former City boy who, since the banking crisis, has been reassessed by some ghastly job centre and told they must put on an apron and stack shelves in Tesco.
It’s a job. So they put their heads down and sniff, pretending to be happy. ‘No, I’m enjoying it, I really am!’ they yowl. ‘No, seriously! I’m glad to do it. Mmmm! Shot fox in sack! My favourite.’
On we rode, jumping the odd cross country jump placed there earlier. Every time we passed a dog walker we would call out ‘good morning!’ or ‘thank you!’ to awkwardly anoraked groups of Duke of Edinburgh youngsters who stood aside for us to pass.
We really were beyond reproach: the unimpeachable in pursuit of the not even remotely turnable-into-anything like a nice coat or hat because it was, in accordance with the law, a shot fox in a sack.
And then suddenly, as we galloped across some gorse-covered common land, I realised we were being pursued by a pack of men in black. They were running towards us over the heather holding their phones high in the air as they videoed us.
‘Morning!’ everyone called out, cheerfully, to the men in black.
‘What the…?’ I asked the rider next to me. ‘Sabs,’ she said. A police Land Rover loomed on the top of the hill and as we passed it with the ragged-looking lead sab running alongside us, a copper leaned out of the window and called, ‘Oi, Marky! We had your brother in last night! You behaving yourself these days?’
Marky didn’t answer, but kept running after the non-fox-hunters. As we picked up speed, he cut across the heather to meet us as we cantered down the hill. Then he evidently got fed up of running and disappeared.
But when the horses pulled up at the end of a farm track to cross a road, the heavies came out. Three or four huge sabs dressed in black boiler suits and balaclavas started walking towards us purposefully, slapping their fists into their hands as if practising what they were going to do.
Another police Land Rover sat nearby, apparently watching from a safe distance. ‘Where are the cops?’ I said, starting to panic. The faces of two small children on ponies said it all: ‘Mummy?’ one said to her mother next to her.
The hunt master called at the heavies: ‘You’re on private property! This is not common land. Turn back!’
After a tense stand-off of a few minutes, the sabs in boiler suits reluctantly turned around. ‘Let me get this right,’ I asked one of the other riders. ‘The police are sitting there as we, law-abiding citizens, try to protect ourselves from men dressed like paramilitaries threatening violence against us?’ She nodded. ‘But we’re not hunting anything!’
She shrugged. ‘It’s a day out for them as well.’
Ah! I finally realised. The sabs don’t want to stop fox-hunting. They never did. They’re furious that we trail hunt within the law. They need to pretend we’re still old-style hunting. Because it gets them out the house.