Close Encounter: Seeking Bruce in urbe

Down on the farm with a defender of rural life? Nothing, it seems, could be more unnatural
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The Independent Culture
A ghastly rollicking march was thundering through my head as insistently as some ancient Lloyd Webber outrage, as I negotiated my way past Kennington gasworks. I was due to meet a member of the Countryside Alliance for a trip to a little patch of farmyard in the middle of South London, and I was being bugged by a melody about as appealing as a football anthem produced in alliance with the National Front.

"Guardians of the Land", the single written by a ruddy-chopped rural insurance broker, released this week, drives its hooks into the memory, its lyrics summarising the concerns of the Countryside Alliance ("Oh what a pity, oh what a shame, someone is trying to ban Country Sports again", etc).

My date with a spokesman for blood sports fell by chance on the Glorious Twelfth. Mink were rampaging. Temperatures were soaring. Surely such a cove should be out bagging grouse?

A few dog roses blowing beside the gasworks did nothing to put me in a bucolic mood as I arrived at the headquarters, situated on a major south London artery. The word "Scum" is sprayed on the wall.

I was let in from the booming grit of the road to a hush of chill air and stag pictures, and met by an anachronistic and sprightly Scot who looked as though he had spent a pleasant morning conversing with the gamekeeper. Bruce Macpherson is a scrubbed tribute to the buffed leather shoe, the polished leather belt and the stripy shirt, a russet young officer type.

Bruce treated me to a private viewing of the pop video for Guardians of the Land, which was composed on the march from Scotland to the Countryside Alliance's Hyde Park rally. Should the song make it to Top of the Pops, Bruce will be playing the bagpipes.

The video features what appears to be the consequence of an unnatural congress between Earl Spencer and a prize side of beef, yomping through the countryside and bellowing until he comes upon a handy log atop which sits his backing band, banjoing and chorusing like a group of demented Christians.

I stood there laughing helplessly.

"That's not the right response," said Bruce.

It was time for our outing to a nearby city farm. After all, I wanted make Bruce feel at home in this choking miasma of urban blight. Rather unwisely, Bruce rang the farm for directions.

"We don't want the Countryside Alliance here," said a staff member.

Wait - the Countryside Alliance and a city farm: surely a euphonic coupling of things pastoral? Curiously, the farm staff seemed to have the Countryside Alliance down as an implacable enemy to animal lovers. Was the farm management anxious that Bruce might get over-excited, and stick a pig or pull a ferret out of his pocket?

We strolled into the farm a few minutes later, disguised as normal pals on an outing.

An immense pig was wallowing in the mud. Shiny-shoed Bruce gamely made appreciative noises, but his performance was not entirely convincing. Schoolchildren were being instructed in matters of the sheep, but were herded out.

Doing his best in the face of the butting and licking barnyard beasts frolicking in their urban oasis, Bruce nevertheless answered his mobile phone with more enthusiasm than he patted woolly heads. Somehow, the Countryside Alliance and the city farm were as well matched as hounds and foxes, despite all the rustic spin-doctoring. As we wandered about the goat enclosure, I tried to get the low-down on all this countryside talk. What precisely does the Countryside Alliance stand for?

Bruce, whose qualifications include a boyhood stint at farm work, a degree in Arabic and work for David Steele MP, was vague on the matter of what exactly a lobby group with 80,000 members consisting largely of the former British Field Sports Society does, other than deal with blood sports rights.

To the sounds of cockerels and screaming sirens, he declaimed: "The battle cries of the march and rally were, Listen to us. The countryside counts. The countryside is a minority. It's different. It's special."

Yes, Bruce.

"The mission statement which we have is to champion the countryside, country sports and the rural way of life," he added.

An angora goat, which looked like a common sheep to me, had begun to go for the ciabatta in my shopping-bag. A kid was chewing Bruce's old- buffer tie. As I leant down, a lamb licked my armpit. Bruce was being harassed by a cow, and pushed it away with a motion barely disguised as a caress.

"There are so many things that are related to hunting, and if you take away one thread of that tapestry, then all sorts of other things will start to unravel," explained Bruce. I looked involuntarily at the chomped remains of his tie.

"Country sports are core to what we do," Bruce admitted. Perhaps revealing signs of a higher ambition, he added: "I'm looking for a top 10 hit."

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