8 NOVEMBER 2003, Page 83

Dressed to kill

Charles Moore

en an effort — temporarily success

ful is made to declare Mr Jorrocks mad, part of the clinching evidence is his attitude to the weather. A witness deposes that he was heard in Regent's Park shouting, 'Hurrah! Blister my kidneys! It is a frost — the dahlias are dead!' The warmth of summer is a sorrowful thing for hunting people, and this year there's been drought as well, so in what this column calls the Vale of Tears Hunt (VT) we've been like Ethiopians dancing in this recent rain. The clay here, normally a terrible glue by November, is all bony, and although we've been cubhunting since August we've hardly dared jump.

So we didn't much mind the postponement of last week's opening meet in honour of Declaration Day with its rallies across the country calling for civil disobedience of any hunting ban. If all the people who signed that day were taken up on their promise, Mr Blunkett's prison population would increase by 50 per cent overnight, so perhaps the Labour govern

ment should follow the Jorrocks precedent and, as the phrase now is, 'section' us all instead.

But this column tries to avoid politics, of which there is too much in relation to hunting, and prefers to cut to the chase. The opening meet is an occasion for display, so this week my mind is on clothes. Although it is often said (I have written it myself) that hunting can be done pretty cheaply, the trouble is that addiction produces ever greater appetite. Getting more and more kit is a symptom of this.

You get a whip, and quickly see that you can't really do without the hunting crop which cracks (not that you ever crack it, unless you are whipping in). Then you begin to think you'd better have a proper hat, not one of those ugly safe ones, and, by the time Patey's has crowned you with a metal frame that minutely calibrates the shape of your head, you have started to develop a ruinous taste for the bespoke. A few years ago, I succumbed to the same temptation about boots, and found a superb craftsman in Kentish Town who also makes the lovely light ones that jockeys wear. It cost about a quarter of the price of Lobb's, but took four times as long, 'Oh, Mr Moore,' the bootmaker would say, 'I've got all sorts of wires comin' out of me 'cart, and it won't stand the strain,' but I noticed it always seemed to stand it for Frankie Dettori.

Then I was honoured with my hunt buttons (supplied from somewhere in Northamptonshire), and now this has led ineluctably to the scarlet coat to which they entitle me. And, of course, it can't be any old scarlet coat: its collar has to be in the VT colour, and its buttons (three at the front unless you're the Master, two at the back and two on each cuff) must carry the VT device. For all this they charge, as Denis Thatcher was fond of saying, like the Light Brigade.

I followed Mr Jorrocks's advice, and chose 'a good roomy red rag, that one can jump in and out of with ease', which allowed me to buy one off the peg. But in the time spent upstairs in Calcutt's in Sutton Scotney, the eye inevitably wandered, and soon I realised I couldn't do without a long waistcoat, and was forced to accept the point that my drab jodhpurs, suitable for the black coat which I shall continue to wear for most occasions, just won't do for the red. By happy chance, the shop had just the thing: some very old breeches made of buckskin — creamy, luxurious, impossible to clean. And, by an even happier chance, no modern legs except mine are skinny enough to fit into their pre-war shape, so I had them for £20.

Isn't all this carry-on absurd? Certainly, in that whatever was beautiful and clean at 11 o'clock has usually ceased to be so after an hour's hunting. Isn't it alienating? Yes, in that these red rags inflame the classhatred bulls. But I've noticed that both the seriousness and pleasure of something increase if people dress the part. And for every sour face in the country, there are a score that light up. Jorrocks again: `... there's no colour like scarlet. In it, a man winks at the women, rings at your bell, orders your brandy, rides through your garden, and all in the style of doing you a favour.'

It has been drawn to my attention, as pompous lettenvriters like to say, that it is incorrect, as I shall be doing this Saturday, to go out with a red coat and no mahogany tops to my boots. So ruin is staring me in the leg.