We English are crazy not only about beating our children and animals but also about fox hunting. Fox hunting evokes strong passions and divides the English as much as Brexit. Fox hunters, apart from the odd corporate boss, will surely be Leavers, while most Remainers must be against fox hunting. Fox hunting divides particularly rural and urban Britain. Britain’s largest protest match was not against nuclear weapons, the Vietnam or Iraq wars, or privatisation of the NHS but against a ban on fox hunting.
While the world staggers towards World War III with North Korea becoming crazier, we in England are more passionate about the National Trust calling on its members to oppose a proposal to ban “trail fox hunting” on its land. Although it is currently illegal to hunt foxes to death, it is legal for horses and hounds to chase a rag scented like a fox. But, argue the opponents of fox hunting, a great many of these chases of rags end up with the killing of a fox that is encountered during the chase. “It’s an alibi for a crime,” argue the opponents.
We’ve been here before. In his play Stuff Happens David Hare tells the story of the build up to the Iraq War using the recorded speeches of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Blair, and the others where possible. In one scene (as I remember it, I haven’t read the text) Cheney and Rumsfeld are urging Bush to ignore the need for a UN resolution and invade Iraq. Bush says that he wants Blair (and Britain) to be with him, and Blair needs a UN resolution. Cheney and Rumsfeld urge Bush to put pressure on Blair, but Bush is reluctant saying: “Tony’s got a lot on his plate at the moment.”
“What apart from the war?” asks Cheney.
“Fox hunting,” answers Bush.
The audience at the National Theatre both gasped and laughed. Our idiocy was exposed.
For the rural population of England fox hunting is the quintessence of England. Every Trollope novel contains a fox hunting scene, and Trollope hunted three times a week during the season. As a lover of Trollope, I’ve learnt that the thrill of fox hunting is much more to do with a headlong gallop across the countryside not knowing what barrier will come next rather than with the killing of the fox. That doesn’t seem to fit, however, with the fox hunters decrying trail hunting and wanting to return to the killing of foxes, but it’s probably all explained by a deep conservatism and a love of tradition.
Fox hunting is for the rural population is an efficient contribution to containing the fox population: the fox, they argue, suffers less from being torn to pieces by hounds than by being poisoned, trapped, or shot. Urbanites think this nonsense: what could be more cruel than separating a vixen from her cubs, chasing her to the point of exhaustion, and then have the hounds tear her to pieces? And traditionally somebody (is it the first to the kill or a new fox hunter?) is bloodied with the fox blood.
Urbanites may, however, begin to think differently. Clapham, where I Iive and which is three miles from the Houses of Parliament, is filled with foxes. One killed our pet rabbit; our dog Henry used to roll in their shit; and two sleep under a shed next door filling our garden with the horrible smell of fox. My wife has become obsessed with the foxes and keen to kill them anyway that she can.
So perhaps the time has come for the Clapham Hunt. Not so long ago Clapham was a village separated from London where Pepys and prominent Victorians would come to take the air. Clapham Common is one of the largest green spaces close to the centre of London. So we have the foxes, the space, and the large Georgian houses. I fancy myself as Master of the Foxhounds. See how crazy we are.