Wednesday 25 April 2007

The hunt

December 2006

The hunt were out this morning. I whizzed through my usual short-cut only to find a positive traffic jam. Horse-boxes double-parked and horses skittering all over the shop.

What was really lovely was that, as we squeezed our way through between a stunning grey and an absolutely vast bay, we spotted a familiar face. Sitting, larger than life in the passenger seat of their 4x4 was my friend who I thought was in hospital! She had been in for multiple operations for cancer – it was a large series of ops and I thought she’d be in for ages. In fact, only a few minutes before I’d said to Adrian that I must give a call to her daughter, our neighbour, and find out how she was getting on.

Anyhow, there she was, dear Mrs P, hair coiffed and lippy smartly applied. Of course, we drew up alongside and wound down the window.
‘How are you? I thought you were still in hospital,’ I yelled.
‘I’m alright, dear. In awful pain but had to get out. Must see you as I’ve got some stories that will make you laugh.’

She’s hunted all her life – and now she doesn’t ride, her dearest pleasure (other than a large glass of pink champagne) is to follow the staghounds by car. While I still sit firmly on the fence with hunting, I have to say that if it keeps Mrs P alive and kicking, it does have at least one good purpose.

But it reminds me that we’re going to have hunt wars in our house again over Christmas. My mother is vehemently anti-hunting. In fact that’s putting it mildly. She simply won’t take on the usual Exmoor etiquette that hunting (along with religion and politics) is often studiously avoided as a topic of conversation.

In fact that, and the shooting, was the reason she and my father decided against moving to Exmoor. So, when my father died and she moved in with us for nine months (that’s another story), we had a bit of a problem. At that time (before the ban) both foxhounds and staghounds regularly hunted around us. The foxhounds would always give a quick phone call to say they’d be around our way – so I’d invent some excuse and take Mum off for the day shopping or something. But the staghounds never quite know where they’ll end up so it was a bit more tricky. I’ll never forget the day we were all in the living room when a hound hove into view, padding nonchalantly past the French doors.
‘Was that a dog?’ said Mum. Luckily her eyesight isn’t as sharp as it once was.
‘Mmm, yes.’ I muttered. ‘Must be the one from the farm over the road. Keeps coming over to do its business in the garden. Wretched thing. Go on, shoo…’ The lie merrily tripped off my tongue because, honestly, I couldn’t face Mum in full anti-mode. OK, so she doesn’t don a balaclava and spray mace at horses, but we would have suffered the usual barrage for hours, if not days, afterwards. Anything for a peaceful life.
Anyhow, she seemed to buy it. But, wouldn’t you know, next up we hear the clarion sound of a hunting horn.
‘What was that?’
‘Car honking,’ said Adrian, quick as a whistle. ‘Must be sheep on the road.’ And, with one smooth movement, he twirled her around, away from the window (through which we could now see the whole field cantering into view on the hill opposite) and whisked her into the hall.
‘You absolutely must hear my new Vaughan Williams CD. It’s gorgeous.’ Bless his heart.

This Christmas we have both my mother and mother-in-law coming to stay. Mum, as I’ve said, is still a huge anti. My mother-in-law, on the other hand, is very fond of hunting, having grown up in sight and sound of the Snowdonia foot packs. She’ll be wanting to go to the Boxing Day meet. So what do we do? Tell fibs (to keep the peace), or come clean (and risk a barney)?

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