Miles Kington: Meat is murder, but fish... well, it's just food, isn't it?

Huntsmen are reduced to chasing smelly cloth for fun, but fishermen are already catching boots and logs instead of fish
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Time for another nature ramble, children! Oh, yes, it is! No arguing now! You may think that as November topples over into December, there is nothing in the countryside worth seeing, but you would be very wrong indeed, as we shall find out in the company of Uncle Geoffrey and his nephew and niece, Robert and Susan. So get on your wellies and gloves, and wait a moment while I get my hip flask, and let's go!

"The river is high again," remarked Uncle Geoffrey, as the dirty waters eddied over the bank and up to his boots.

"Or to put it another way," said Robert, "the evil swollen river lounges through the landscape looking for logs to sweep away, baby ducks to terrify and houses to demolish which were built by Mr Prescott on a notorious flood plain..."

"Spreading interesting incurable water-based diseases as it goes," concluded Susan.

"I am not so sure about that," said Uncle Geoffrey, who often wondered where the children got these awful ideas from, which showed that he never read the papers. "I think it just means it has been raining quite a bit inland. Oh, look at that!"

Just then a kingfisher flew brilliantly down the river, like a colourful space missile in a star wars game.

"What a wonderful splash of colour it makes!" said Uncle Geoffrey. "Isn't it beautiful, children?"

"Aesthetically, no doubt," said Robert, "but functionally? I would not have thought so."

"What do you mean by that?" said Uncle Robert, meaning that he had no idea what Robert was talking about.

"Well, Uncle Geoffrey, we are always being told that perfect design is a blend of style and function. Full marks for style, but if a kingfisher is trying to catch fish, you wouldn't call that flashing turquoise and orange the perfect camouflage, would you? Name me any other multi-coloured bird of prey..."

"Is a kingfisher a bird of prey?" hazarded Uncle Geoffrey. "It eats fish, yes, but so do oystercatchers and gulls and guillemots, and we don't call them birds of prey."

"Typical adult double-think," said Susan. "If it's meat, it's murder, but if it's fish it's just food."

Just then there was a blast from a horn and several gaily coloured horsemen rode past, preceded by a pack of hounds.

"That's a multi-coloured predator if I ever saw one," said Robert, pointing at one pink-coated gent.

To his surprise the huntsman wheeled and came back to him.

"I couldn't help hearing what you said," he told Robert," and I must reassure you that we are not predators any more. We merely follow a piece of cloth smelling of fox."

"And catch no foxes?" said Robert.

"Well, we occasionally catch one or two by bad luck," said the huntsman. "Quite a few, as it happens. Probably more than we did before hunting was banned. Makes you think, doesn't it?"

And he winked and rode off. A little bit further, on the three of them came across an angler sitting patiently at the riverside.

"That's the sport I'd ban if I had my way," muttered Robert. "Cruel, cold-blooded, horrible pastime."

"Caught anything?" said Uncle Geoffrey cheerfully, to cover up Robert's misanthropy.

"Two small logs, an old shoe and a bit of polystyrene," said the fisherman unhappily, displaying his booty.

"And that's how it will be if angling is ever banned," said Susan, as they walked away.

"Meaning what, exactly?" said Uncle Geoffrey.

"The hunters are reduced to chasing smelly cloth for fun," she said. "But the fishermen are already catching boots and logs instead of fish."

"And in a few years' time all hunting and fishing will be interactive, anyway," said Robert. "All done on a screen. With a keyboard. Fictional fishing."

"Virtual venery," said Susan.

"E-sport," said Robert. "There'll be a League Against Cruel E-Sports, mark my words."

"And there'll be virtual nature rambles," said Robert. "We won't have to leave home for a nature walk. Eh, Uncle Geoffrey?"

But Uncle Geoffrey, feeling slightly sick, had wandered off by himself, and luckily did not hear the news of his coming redundancy.

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