Magazine article The Spectator

Apparent Contradictions

Magazine article The Spectator

Apparent Contradictions

Article excerpt

Still injured, I find myself like Sir Walter Elliot in Persuasion, finding Occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one' in only one book. For Sir Walter, it was the Baronetage. For me, it is Baily's Hunting Directory.

How reassuring it is to read through the lists of literally hundreds of English hunts - foxhounds, harriers, beagles, staghounds, etc. - to find 90 pages on the hunts of North America (including seven just listing the packs of basset hounds) and about the same on Ireland. There are hunts in Belgium and Germany (though Hitler banned them) and Italy and Australia and France and Kenya. They hunt grey foxes in Portugal and jackal in India ('almost exclusively supported and patronised by members of the three armed forces') and 'the clean boot' (blood-hounds) in England and Ireland. There are heartwarming pictures of things like Mr and Mrs Graeme Boggiss at the closing meet of the Surrey Union in Walking Bottom, Peaslake, being presented with their retirement present. Mrs Boggiss, in bowler hat, proudly holds up the fox's mask. There are Californian hounds in the desert and Canadian ones in the snow and a portrait of Rotorua & Bay of Plenty Moby, Supreme Champion Hound at the Northern District Hound Show, New Zealand. Between the red hardcovers of Baily's thrives a global culture.

Any stranger to hunting, however, might be perplexed to work out from the fact-crammed and abbreviated entries where authority in the hunting world lies. Everyone knows that a hunt has a Master, but the reader of Baily's notices that almost all Masters are 'Joint' (sometimes 'Acting Joint'), and that in addition hunts have chairmen. In a few entries, it is stated that the hunt is run by 'a committee'. Who does actually run these small but complicated organisations? I ask because I sometimes wonder if the hunting world, having so brilliantly devoted its energies to improving its public relations, is giving enough thought to all its other problems:

1. Hunting has many rich followers, but it is always short of money.

2. Hunting is traditionally hierarchical, yet no one is in much of a position to give orders to anyone else.

3. Hunting is numerically more successful than it has ever been, yet there is a growing shortage of people with the necessary skills to hunt the hounds. …

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