Since I brought up the subject of fox hunting in my recent blog about the Cotswold Hunt auction, I thought I ought to explain my take on this controversial topic.
First let me attempt to establish some liberal street cred. I’m a Democrat and pro-choice. I attempt to buy local and organic. I take public transport while in the city. You get the picture.
And yet I’ll never forget the look of horror on my London co-worker and fellow yoga class attendee’s face when I told her I’d spent an evening at a hunt auction. “You don’t support that kind of thing, do you?” she asked, bewildered.
I reminded her the nasty part of hunting had been banned for awhile now and explained my interest was more Margaret Mead-esque, an observer of the charming local wildlife (by which I mean the toffs of course, not the foxes). She still look confused, but downward dog put an end to the conversation.
My pub survey of country gentlemen and women consistently yields a “foxes are vermin” defense of the hunt. There are many stories of a fox in the hen house or amongst the flock. There is also the whole economy built up around the hunt—local caterers and pubs provide breakfast and lunch, not to mention the tourists. And there is no denying the social aspect. It is rather like a big all day party both for the riders and the observers, who move from post to post along the country lanes to get a good view.
Being American gives me a bit of an outsider status that parlays well into nosy, politically charged questions like this in the pub. I can, if you will, play dumb. But my nationality does not preclude me from participating in the hunt—it is in fact an American pursuit as well I’ve recently learned. An unpleasant experience mucking out stalls at summer camp that put me off horses for a lifetime is what dictates that I’ll never be part of the hunting culture. Still I am happy on the sidelines, indulging my closet gambling instinct at a fund raising auction or watching from the country lanes.
Last weekend husband and I found ourselves in the midst of a hunt while out on a morning ramble. We first came across a horse-mounted and hunt-attired father and his two sons, say around ages 8 and 12, separated from the larger group. We encountered them at a gate and they were disarmingly polite, well-spoken and self-possessed children as they gave way and let us pass. It was all very “no, you,” “no, you,” “jolly good,” and “tally ho.”
This stirred an epiphany in husband. He’s from Liverpool which is pretty much the flag-bearer city for the working man and socialism in the Western world (where Michael Moore goes to premiere his movies in the UK). There is much to be said in defence of Liverpool — The Beatles and European City of Culture 2008 to name two — but the city still has a reputation for being working class and tough. Many a punchline about Liverpudlians involve a propensity for stealing and wearing tracksuits. Although husband has traversed his difficult Liverpool upbringing, replete with parental alcoholism and mental illness, the class mythos ingrained in him as a child lives on. He expected these hunt children to snort with derision while instructing their horses to kick mud on us as they passed by. In short, his own class pre-conceptions, long dormant but still alive, were exposed.
Not longer after the hunting family encounter, the entire hunt party emerged from a deep gully. They charged up a hill, all blue coats and shaved horses, accompanied by a pack of hounds. We watched, a few meters away, as the handsome spectacle unfurled itself across the countryside.