17 JUNE 1972, Page 11

Colonels and cocktail parties

Yvonne Brock

After a prolonged struggle with myself I have decided that I like living in the country. If anyone had prophesied this, say, ten years ago my reaction would have been incredulity mingled with scorn at such lack of perception. London held me, for all the usual reasons, but of recent years the beckonings have become fainter. The odd twinge of excitement returns when I go up for a visit, but on the whole I'm glad to get away. Everything seems changed, the crowds and traffic almost frightening. I came from the provinces and I suppose I'm a provincial au fond — a chastening thought! Of course, living in a small market town in Worcestershire is not to be compared with living in a West Country village. In the former there were bridge parties, local politics and morning coffee to be avoided, whereas now the chief problems are colonels and cocktail parties, and frequently a combination of the two. Not, I hasten to say, that I am prejudiced against the retired military, most of whom have charming manners and a disciplined attitude to life which I rather admire. Neither, apart from certain dubious mixtures, do I dislike what goes in a glass — it is the assumptions of colonels at parties which constitute the problem. The most immediate (and apparently inevitable) assumption is that one is a Conservative, and following this that one subscribes to a fairly rigid pattern of beliefs and prejudices. That, for instance, severe punishments are the only answer to criminal or anti-social behaviour; that the Conservative Party has a sort of divine right to rule; that the BBC is run by a bunch of long-haired left wing homosexual intellectuals; that anyone who opposes killing animals for sport is some sort of urban ignoramus, — and so on. Now it so happens that I subscribe to none of these things, being a member of that near-extinct breed — a Liberal — and one of the ' lifelong ' variety to boot. Furthermore, as I get older, I don't find I like Conservatives any more — at least not the new lot, not the socially aspiring Ad men and Con men, not the meanminded, talk-about-nothing-but-money variety at any rate. If anything, I find them increasingly repulsive. I dislike too the people like us' attitude. I'm not a person like you' is my rebellious inward utterance. But to return to the colonels; I do like them (or most of them), they appear to like me too and I'm feminine enough to be flattered by this. But for complex reasons they make me feel rather a hypocrite. I don't really see why, since it is they who should discern the radical heart beneath the (apparently) Conservative breast! I never make any secret of my opinions and beliefs; on the other hand I don't push them at people, and being a moderate complicates things even more. I will always agree that there are worse things than, say, hunting, but that doesn't, to my mind, make hunting a good thing.

Hunting is a good example of the type of subject which I avoid like the plague — particularly at cocktail parties or in pubs. It seems to excite as strong passions as, say, race relations, the arguments commonly employed are wildly irrational, and the ' pros ' and ' antis ' will never understand each other. I have complicated matters for myself by having recently taken up riding again after many years and, having survived the quite spectacular initial stiffness and recovered at least some of my nerve, I really enjoy the regular exercise. I find it concentrates me, as a hanging is said to do, but in a more pleasant and less final manner.

" Ah," exclaimed a retired military friend of ours, "now you'll be able to take up hunting again." It is perfectly true that I did hunt regularly as a girl, and I know all its attractions. Nevertheless, I wouldn't do it now, one reason being that I wouldn't have the nerve. But will J (our Major friend) allow me to leave it at that?

Not a bit of it. He has winkled out of me that I think hunting is morally unjustifiable, while admitting that there are worse things and that nice people do hunt, and this worries him. I may add that J, on his own admission, has lain awake at nights worrying over the cruelty involved in cooking lobsters alive! So effectively and persistently has he communicated this worry to me that I, who used to enjoy the occasional lobster Thermidor or Newburg have been put off it.

Why do people go on so about hunting? Why can't the hunting people just say they like it, and the hunt saboteurs cease their nefarious activities and employ rational argument instead? I think part of the answer is that just liking' something is deeply foreign to the average British temperament. As T. S. Eliot once wrote, the average man is "involved in the eternal struggle to think well of himself."

So, a-hunting we will not go, but will talk to the colonels instead about con servation, and I defy anyone to be more reactionary on this subject than I am myself. Preservation is an end in itself, to perdition with all planners and developers, the despoilers of our countryside. Why should pleasant open countryside be disfigured with car parks and lavatories? Why should country houses open to the public' be commercialised so that among the crowds, souvenirs, lions and so forth, the house itself is almost an irrelevance?

Because They — the faceless ones — have decreed this, say the new Con servatives (dangerously, as this type of thinking leads ultimately to the gas chambers). Or — more feebly — because people want it. You won't catch the colonels re sponding in this fashion, bless them. They have manners, morals and standards, and I go along with them — up to a point. The other day I astonished and dismayed my husband by saying that I'd like to go to a point-to-point. I wear a sheepskin coat when the wind blows cold. I get asked to join committees and have even opened a bazaar. Perhaps, in some subtle way, I've been got at? All I'm admitting at the moment is that I like living in the country — more than up to a point.