10 OCTOBER 1987, Page 49

Home life

Unspeakable goings on

Alice Thomas Ellis

mounted MFHs waving their whips outside the Coach and Horses, but the party was jolly.

I wore my aggressively nylon snow- leopard coat as a rebuke to anyone around who might be in sympathy with blood sports, and the third son wore the jacket of my cerise satin trouser-suit because it is more supremely pink than anything you've ever seen. The definition of 'pink' led to some very startling colour clashes since Caroline and some others came in hunting 'pink' and everyone else was led astray by the word into powder or shocking pink. Anyway, Caroline says the upper classes don't say 'pink' any more because the hoi polloi have caught on. Now they say red coats, which makes them sound like But- lins cheer-leaders.

There was a poor stuffed fox in the middle of the room wearing the hunted expression customary to foxes and I won- dered if this look was genetic or acquired. People have been chasing his tribe for so long I suppose it could be either. Caro- line's book is fair and balanced but I finished it with the impression that certain sorts of English person would rather chase foxes than anything — than go to war or to church or make love or look after. the children or eat or drink or anything — that chasing foxes comes before Queen, Coun- try and the Family, and that a life not spent in the saddle is a life wasted.

I find it odd. I would rather do almost anything than get up early in the cold and spend all day risking my neck flying round the countryside on the back of some nag. I think it is yet another addiction, a means of setting the adrenalin coursing, and once hooked it is difficult to find a cure. One poor man in the book suddenly came to his senses after a lifetime of hunting and asked himself what on earth he was doing, pursuing foxes all the time. He voiced this feeling, and all the other hunters turned on him with the sort of bitter loathing most of us reserve for rapists or child abusers. He almost had to change his name.

Caroline also reveals that foxes are sometimes specially bred, or caged until their moment comes — something the huntsmen have passionately denied. The Rt Hon. the Earl of Wilton, PC, GCH, DCL, etc., writing in 1868, says: 'In this country [he is being superior here about the Continent] foxes are preserved espe- cially for the sport they afford. Otherwise they are mere vermin, and care is taken even to keep up the breed for the purpose. It is this especially that marks the differ- ence between the English and all other people: it is not the mere brutal passion for killing, but the real love for a manly and exciting diversion — the islander's birth- right: giving health and strength, yet not altogether divested of that amount of peril in the pursuit, which in the true sportsman adds to its charm.'

I can't follow that. Can anyone follow that? Tally-ho.