Living The Country Life: Rallying for the hunt - all 59 per cent of us

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The Independent Online

So, will 2004 be the year in which fox-hunting is banned? According to the posters up and down the A44, 59 per cent of the public hope not. The Countryside Alliance, which paid for these posters, cannot be accused of a lack of diligence in sticking them up, even if, here in rural north Herefordshire, they are mostly preaching to the converted. But as effective campaigning messages go, I'm not sure that "59 per cent of people say no to a hunting ban" is quite on a par with, say, "Labour isn't working" or even "Go to work on an egg".

It is not, after all, a particularly striking percentage. Expressed in words, the poster would say: "Very slightly more than half the population oppose a hunting ban", which, however accurate, is disappointingly wishy-washy.

Surely the fox-hunting fraternity, a bunch of people who are used to responding to the powerful blast of a shiny horn, could have come up with a more impressive rallying call. If they were selling cat-food, would they boast that "between five and six out of 10 owners say their cats prefer it"? I doubt it.

The Countryside Alliance does have a much more powerful poster, however. It features two images of the same young woman, dressed for leisure and dressed for work. Her leisure pursuit is hunting and her work is nursing, and the caption reads: "Now you hate her, now you don't."

That, it seems to me, is a worthwhile message, and why those posters are not more abundant, I have no idea. I've written until I'm blue in the keyboard that fox-hunting is not principally a toff thing, as I believed it to be when I lived in the city, but in the yearning for a ban there is the unmistakeable whiff of class war. Remove that fundamental misapprehension and the ferocity with which some people oppose fox-hunting would dissolve.

What would remain, of course, are the ethics. Try as the Countryside Alliance might, it cannot hope to convince those (41 per cent?) implacably opposed to hunting that there is no element of cruelty involved. But next to the cruelty of intensive factory-farming, fox-hunting might as well be sponsored by the Samaritans.

Why does factory-farming not inspire anything like the same degree of loathing? Why do decent, intelligent urban folk register their opposition to factory farming by buying free-range chickens rather than petitioning their MPs, as in the case of hunting? Partly because nobody thinks that factory-farms are run by the landed gentry. Partly because factory farming plays a more tangible role in the economy, and even to suggest banning it would upset many vested interests. Partly because nobody keeps 10,000 chickens in a shed for enjoyment. But largely, perhaps even to the tune of 59 per cent, because the fox is a fine-looking creature with a fabulous bushy tail, and the chicken isn't.

Ruler of the roost

This is the property section of the newspaper, I know, not the poultry section. But I'm not quite done with chickens. Besides, it's nice to write about healthy poultry, at a time of year when so many have recently perished. Perhaps Evelyn Waugh and F Scott Fitzgerald got the same buzz, writing about the Bright Young Things of the 1920s following the carnage of the Great War.

Our own Bright Young Things - Amber, Marigold, Ginger and Babs - are so free-range that they are at liberty, if they wished, and could make sense of a bus timetable that would tax the brain of Stephen Hawking, let alone that of a Buff Rock bantam, to go to the pictures in Worcester.

But contained in a huge chicken run in the orchard we now have another six: five hens and a cockerel. The cockerel we obtained by accident, having mistaken him for a female of the species. I therefore call him Mrs Doubtfire, and have grown quite fond of him, but as soon as we find a decent home for him, he will have to go. For one thing, he makes too much noise, and for another thing he has a strange effect on the birds around him.

A friend of ours, a veteran fowl-fancier, told us that hens often "go a bit silly" in the presence of a cockerel, and this is what appears to have happened. It's hard to describe, so I am indebted to Nicola Lush, an Independent reader whom I knew professionally when she worked for the BBC some years ago. Nicola reads this column and has recently made contact again. She tells me that she and her family have forsaken Shepherd's Bush for deepest Somerset, and that they keep poultry, too. But the egg supply has halved since the recent addition of a cockerel. "I watch his behaviour with the hens," she writes, "and I ask myself if this is why there are no men in my book club?"

Shades of grey

We have just redecorated our upstairs landing, which amounts to a sizeable amount of wall. Jane chose a colour from the Farrow & Ball range, which amounts almost to the need for remortgaging. When she said she was ordering Farrow & Ball paint, I envisaged something cheap and cheerful. But then I realised I was thinking of Cannon & Ball. Farrow & Ball is neither cheap nor even particularly cheerful, with colours such as "dead salmon", "ointment pink" and, most gloomily of all, "drab". But Jane admits to being a sucker for their colour chart, and especially the little notes on the back.

The F&B pea green, apparently, is a shade found "in the Caricature Room at Calke Abbey".

And now in our loo, too.