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The Independent Culture
Ever since Sir J M Barrie gave the copyright of Peter Pan to the Great Ormond St Hospital for Sick Children, worthy causes have been helped by the profits of publishing. The promise that it's all for charity works wonders in shifting Red Nose books or collections of celebrity recipes. Some causes aren't quite so fashionable, though. The Fox's Prophecy, published this week by Michael Joseph (£7.99) is a delightful pocket book bravely dedicated to the Hunt Servants' Fund. An anonymous poem, written around 1870, the Prophecy concerns the encounter of a huntsman with a talking silver fox. Does it admonish him for his bloodthirsty ways? Not a bit of it; what follows is a hymn of praise to fox-hunting ("Too well I know, by wisdom taught/The existence of my race/O'er all wide England's green domain/Is bound up with the Chase") and a dire warning about the decline of country ways. R W F Poole's entertaining commentary swipes at politicians, Europhiles, Murdoch, animal sentimentalists and wimmin, all of whose excesses the wily old fox predicted.

Rather more PC are the concerns of Michael Gibson's A Hymn to Heald Mill, a collection of poems extolling nature and protesting about plans to build a second runway at Manchester's Ringway airport. The poems are reproduced in Gibson's dainty copperplate, written with a quill pen. Clearly a character, he lives in a Romany caravan and once tried to get the inspector to accept a tune on his tin whistle as a valid submission to the runway inquiry. "You must persuade me how playing a tin whistle would help the inquiry," said the inspector, and you can see the poor man's point.

Proceeds from the 1918 edition of The Fox's Prophecy were gratefully received by the Red Cross, who declined this time round. For their 125th anniversary they have their own fund-raiser, I Owe My Life... (Bloomsbury, £15.99), a history of the organisation with contributions from the likes of Nigel Havers, Shirley Williams and Rula Lenska.

8 "A Hymn To Heald Mill" is available from Jardine's Bookshop, 73 King's St, Knutsford, Cheshire at £7 (plus £1.50 p&p).