Country Byways

The Last Trump

Originally published in The Cornishman

“Oh I would not bring you false hope, on this strange and mournful day…” sang Paul Simon, and it was a strange and mournful day indeed. Inured as I am to the appeal of killing animals for sport, I too felt that something was going out of the countryside as I once knew it. It was probably the same on the day they banned bear-baiting.

I have always declared myself a ‘Don’t Care’ about the end of fox-hunting. I’ve had my moments with the hunt. When they regularly blocked up my only road home, or came hopping across my fields after being told to keep out, or just looked at me in their usual rude way like kings of the countryside, I’ve often wished them to perdition.

My tolerance for cruelty has also grown less as I’ve grown older. I used to shoot and fish a little, and grow animals for slaughter. Now I’m disgusted at the sight of shooting, I’m angry at the assumption that fishes feel no pain simply because they don’t scream, and I’ve become a vegetarian. The notion of chasing an animal to death for a bit of harmless fun really does seem to belong to another century. And the justification of keeping down the fox population for the benefit of farmers was always so much bull, as every country person knows.

But neither can I join in the celebrations. The triumphant winners are a strange mixture of brave and well-meaning animal-lovers, their more extreme and loopy colleagues, smooth New Labour townies, and rough Old Labour workers tasting some class revenge. They’re welcome to their champagne.

Perhaps the whole thing made me miserable because it was just another milestone in the slow death of the countryside. Successive governments plunder world markets for cheap food and wouldn’t care less if farming in Britain ceased altogether. They want nice places to walk their dogs, pretty views from the train, beautiful surroundings for their holidays, and that’s all. The old boys shouting “Gone Away!” for the last time might be a bunch of old-fashioned reactionaries, but they spent their lifetimes learning how to care for animals, use machines, work all hours, and turn fields into food. They aren’t being replaced. They won’t be standing on the roadsides and hedges to watch drag-hunting. They’ll stay at home by the fire with their memories.

Damn it, I promised myself I wouldn’t get nostalgic about something I deplored in principle and found aggravating in practice. Good riddance to it. Those involved will carry on in some form or another, and there’ll be a flourishing ‘black’ hunt, so it isn’t even a genuine goodbye. But it was the last day of something; and the demise of anything ancient and familiar is, at the very least, a solemn moment. It passed.

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