from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

the act but not the perpetrator

Imagine here a sunrise, over the hill to the east, with ash trees silhouetted in pen-and-ink against a deep orange sky lightening to blue; one or two low clouds, bruise-coloured above, bellies flamingo-pink. The roof of my garden studio is frosted, lightly. It's been such a mild winter so far that frost is rare; and little dwarf irises are shaking out blue and lilac and deep purple glad-rags. Three separate thrushes singing in the valley again, early; one of them fluting a definite spring-song.


My friend Joe calls my huge hairy deerhound lurcher a 'part-time dog'. Joe's Dimpsy, a border collie, is permanently awake, alert and ready for action – manic, in other words, as collies, intelligent working dogs who need a lot of stimulus, so often are. Keeping a hound is a very different matter – all she does, really, is sleep; if she weren't so big you'd barely notice her there in the corner. She does love walking (loping, in her case), and also plays; but as long as I'm somewhere nearby she doesn't seem to need anything except a bit of affection. I've never lived with a dog so quiet, so easy, so gentle (though none of the ones I've shared a house with before have been anything other than 'kind' dogs either). And she's not terribly bright – takes a long time for messages to travel from synapse to limb.

Until last year I barely knew she had a voice. Then, as you might remember if you've been reading this blog a while, I had cause to exercise my own voice extremely loudly in the service of protecting a little trio of hare from a few dozen hounds and huntspeople. There aren't many things that anger me, but cruelty is one. I didn't know I had a voice like that, either – apparently people nearly half a mile away down the valley heard me, and my dog, too, who discovered a very deep and persistent extraordinarily loud bark.

We have nearly two acres of north-facing land on which (with some difficulty because of the steep slope and minimal sun on that aspect) we grow most of our own veg. The field has a woodland margin and a small orchard, which provide between them a sanctuary, and windfalls and berries, for wildlife. I'm very protective of the badger setts and fox earths here, and the hare flash through too at times.

Hunting with dogs (with more than two dogs, anyway) has been illegal in the UK since 2004, under a ban introduced by. the then Labour government. Since that time though the number of organised Hunts seems to have grown, in defiance (and the current basically Conservative government has promised to overturn the ban). Each pack has a minimum of 20 hounds, often many more; and can be followed by at least the same number of people on horseback. As one of those who campaigned for a ban I was jubilant when it went through, distressed when it was obvious that hunting was going to continue, if anything with more vigour because of the ban.

It's justified on the grounds of being 'tradition' (so was slavery, and children as chimney-sweeps, and wives-as-chattels), and in the interests of – ha! – 'conservation' of wildlife (despite the fact that UK numbers of eg hare are down). With foxes, it's easy: 'Look at all those lambs/chickens lost by farmers to foxes' (yes, some; and some loss is down to poor husbandry, bad weather, rampaging domestic dogs, corvines taking weak lambs etc).

We are not talking about hunting to eat here. We're talking about a kind of bloodlust. Anyway, suffice it to say that I feel strongly about imposed cruelty in the name of sport.

Yesterday I didn't have a very good day. It started with someone's graphic news in relation to a particularly horrific act of cruelty to a horse. The images in my head have really disturbed me. Plus I'm still reeling a bit from some unfair accusations from someone I love last week; then there's been Probate for my mum and some calls in relation to my dad's wellbeing from the Care Home, not to mention any number of calls from him asking about my mum. I had an aggressive email from a stranger yesterday morning, and news that an apparently-minor health issue of my own that I believed had cleared up needed further potentially invasive treatment. I have deadlines unmet.

So you can imagine that a pack of hounds pouring up the drive, followed by mounted huntsmen, having torn through a neighbour's field and traumatised the pregnant ewes, did not fill me with delight. My dog, Ash, alerted me long before they appeared – her ears are now finely-tuned to the hunting horn over many miles. My voice seemed to come to the rescue once again.

And then, as I was coming back home hours later in the dusk, a small elderly bitch whom I'd seen earlier trailing about half a mile behind the rest of the pack, was clearly lost, exhausted and ravenous, wandering around hours after the Hunt had gone, in the lane. Well, of course I brought her back and fed her, and shut her in while I tried to track down the Hunt (she trashed my studio, but that's another story, and it is clean-up-able).

My mum used to say 'Condemn the sin but not the sinner', which – even if you don't take to the word 'sin' – is good advice, on the whole, psychologically speaking. (Let's say instead 'The act but not the perpetrator'.) I've tried to follow this through my life, but we all have blind spots, don't we? One of mine is a certain prejudice against 'people who hunt' – even though I have a couple of very dear friends who do – if you are brought up in the English countryside it has often been part of the picture of rural life. They know that I have in the past been involved in disrupting hunting activities – and I suppose my actions last year, placing self and Dog between hounds/huntsmen and hare count as that. I know that they hunt; and we still love each other.

But The Hunt in general terms I suppose I do see, at some level, as being composed at least in part of people who have little concern about animal welfare – hounds and horses are pushed pretty hard too – and therefore it must contain a number of brutes. This is, I hasten to add, subconscious, largely; I am very well aware of the dangers of demonising groups and individuals, and do challenge it when I see it.

I quite enjoy being forced to confront my prejudices; having them squeezed into the open. Then you know what work there is to do, still, don't you? And when one of the Hunt members came to collect said hound, he couldn't have been nicer – and I don't mean smarmy. He was grateful that I'd found the dog, communicative, good on eye contact, engaged with a smile, apologetic for the earlier intrusion here, keen to listen to and respect my (quietly-voiced, at this point!) position ('Thanks for coming to collect the hound. I do need to tell you though that we're not willing to have the Hunt in our field, and we know for certain that these particular neighbours share our views'), understanding of why I might feel as I do, and gentle with the hound.

I came away smiling, feeling we'd built some bridges. My position on hunting hasn't changed, but if I met him in a pub I'd probably share a drink with him.


  1. (o)

    (You probably know this symbol, taught to me by Reading the Signs, but in case you don't it means that I've read and been moved by your post.)

  2. Hi Belinda - I've seen it in relation to said-blog-writer too, but didn't actually know what it meant and haven't got round to asking her. Thanks!



Blog Archive