Hunting, Blair and others

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The Independent Online

Hunting traditions that only country people understand

Hunting traditions that only country people understand

Sir: Some time back, Tony Banks MP was on television preaching to the House of Commons on the morality of hunting. It was immoral, he said, for a human being to set a mammal on to another mammal to kill it.

I wrote to tell him of times when I was a boy in a Hampshire village. When word spread of the forthcoming end of a haystack or a rick we would gather with all possible dogs. As the demolition reached the last foot or two, the rats, having stayed in almost to the end, made a dash to escape - and the dogs rushed on to them. Rats squealed as the dogs caught and shook them to break their backs: dogs yelped as the rats bit into, and hung on to their lips or noses: men, boys and girls shouted encouragement to their dogs and rushed to club the rats that escaped them. It was a great excitement. Similarly, "combining" of the last strip of a field of corn produced a slaughter of rabbits and more death squeals from the victims.

I told Mr Banks that this was the countryside way of dealing with vermin - animal against animal. There, you don't "send for" the council's vermin operative team. Perhaps he did not know that rabbits and rats were mammals, or was the Bill intended to outlaw the killing of rabbits and rats?

A couple of weeks later, a note in The Independent announced an amendment to exclude rabbits and rats from the provisions of the Bill. In your letters of 30 September I see that one correspondent has spotted the amendment. I see, also, that the RSPCA Director of Animal Welfare, like Mr Banks, thinks that hunting in pink coats is the only animal-on-animal activity "that is still permitted in this country". Does he support the amendment?


Sir: As one who grew up in a tied cottage in the country (no electricity, no mains water, drinking water bucketed from the local pump) and whose family had to stand mutely by while marauding packs of hounds raced through our garden trampling down sorely needed fruit and vegetables, and complete strangers, superiorly high on horseback, passed rowdily by, horn blasting, offering no apology and of course no compensation to us, I say to hell with tradition.

Farm workers were only set free from this kind of oppression in our village with the arrival of council houses. Only then were rich farmers forced to improve their cottages in order to maintain their workforce. I was set free by passing the 11-plus. I left for college in London at the age of 18, never, never to live in the countryside again. I knew that whatever I achieved educationally local farming families would still regard me as an inferior being, while in turn I saw their privately educated sons and daughters as scholastically very inferior indeed.

The pro-hunt demonstrations have stirred up all the old class resentment which dogged me when I was young. If these people want to enjoy a social life which includes prancing around the countryside on a Saturday morning why don't they take it in turns to have such jolly gatherings on their own private properties, leaving the rest of the world to move on? Some of us were forced to do that long ago.

Bolton, Lancashire

Wanton cruelty to the Prime Minister

Sir: Howard Jacobson hits his target again ("Blair-baiting is our favourite blood sport", 2 October). It is indeed a shame that PM-baiting cannot be included in the Hunting Bill and a wonder that Mr Blair doesn't just shrug his shoulders and abandon Downing Street. His greatest sin seems to have been to make Labour successful. Tories who love power, Lib Dems who hate it and the small, noisy band of Labour Party members who love the certainties of opposition will never be able to forgive him.

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Sir: Howard Jacobson has got it right. We have watched Tony Blair age like an extra from Buffy the Vampire Slayer in our service, earning what is in real terms a pittance for the responsibilities piled upon him, and what thanks does he get? Mostly it's undiluted vitriol from a media which claims to represent the electorate's best interests but which in truth resents the humiliating way it has publicly, intellectually and legally lost the Iraq/Kelly argument.

It never mattered whether WMDs were going to be ready in 45 minutes or 45 days because Saddam Hussein never published the schedules of missile or gas attacks. He just did it. Neither did it matter if WMDs weren't found, since the IRA have managed to hide their weaponry for decades.

Your newspaper would do well to deliberate about whose side it is on, because ultimately the world is a battlefield between good and evil. A battlefield onto which Tony Blair, imperfections and all, has ridden as a force for good.

Eaton Bray, Bedfordshire

Sir: When is the paper going to blame the PM for his heart problem? You have blamed him for everything up to now and even if it is good news you continue to be negative. The attack on the PM in the hostage situation is the last straw. Have I missed something and did the Government order people from the civilian population to work in Iraq for large sums of money? All of these people take the chance and no government can ever give in to these tactics.

Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire

Sir: With Mr Blair having started his political career as a self-styled voice in the Labour wilderness ("Prepare ye the (third) way"), it is perhaps ironic that he seems doomed to end it like the embattled and unpopular Pilate, defensively asking "What is truth?"

London SE26

Catholicism in action

Sir: Andreas Whittam Smith's article (27 September) on the Semaine Sociale he attended in Lille reminded me that I attended this event in 2002, representing the National Board of Catholic Women of England and Wales, and helped to lead one of the forums he describes.

His account tallies entirely with my own impressions, but I would contest his conclusion that the Catholic laity of this country are less engaged with social and political questions than their French counterparts. To give but one example, the National Board of Catholic Women, founded in 1938, provides a forum in which Catholic women discuss these issues among themselves, within their own organisations and with other bodies, both religion-based and secular, in this country and in other countries. The regular contacts we maintain with MPs and ministers are not for the purpose of "angry resolutions, deputations or demonstrations" but rather to ensure that we have our facts right and that Christian voices are heard in the corridors of power.

Andreas Whittam Smith quotes with approval the French bishops' statement that "politics is everyone's business ... otherwise good citizenship would not exist in the population as a whole". How true - as witnessed by the Anglican publication of Faith in the City and the Catholic Bishops' 1997 document The Common Good.

I'm sorry to hear that Andreas Whittam Smith met so few Brits in Lille: in fact, this year a group from the NBCW joined a substantial British Catholic delegation led by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor!

Convenor NBCW International Committee, Birmingham

Laying for victory

Sir: Can I add to Anthony Smith's explanation (letter, 2 October) about the British preference for brown eggs? Food shortages during the Second World War played a part. Dual purpose brown-egg layers were less productive than some scrawny white-egg layers, but they were plump enough to eat, which was very important at the time. So local "new-laid" eggs were usually brown, while imported and possibly stale eggs were usually white.

From the Fifties the first birds able to lay prolifically in the large battery units were based on the white-egg laying breeds. They were stamped with the British lion to show they were not imported. Brown eggs then became associated with "free range". This no longer applies as producers have developed breeds that can lay brown eggs under battery conditions.

For some time there were therefore valid reasons for seeing brown eggs as more wholesome.

Usk, Monmouthshire

Sir: My late Uncle Les, a canny resident of Ventnor in the Isle of Wight, professed to prefer not brown eggs but eggs from brown hens. Back in the 1950s, before eggs were graded for size, he made this preference known when buying eggs from his local grocer.

"But I can't tell what colour hens my eggs come from," said the grocer.

"I can," said my uncle, "just by looking at them: it takes a lifetime's experience, though".

"OK then," said the grocer, "you'd better choose your own." My uncle then chose the 12 largest eggs in the grocer's basket.

Otley, West Yorkshire

Injustice to fathers

Sir: I sympathise with those readers (Letters, 29 September) who feel that solicitor Chris Othen's views on the legal profession are naïve, and it is a sad reflection of the situation that they are in that they, like me, are unable to identify themselves.

I have battled to retain 50 per cent shared parenting of my children and the marital home for the sake of the children after my wife left. I have encountered huge prejudice based simply on the premise that, as a man, I can't possibly be as good a parent as the children's mother. What else could I expect from a system where "the best interests of the children" are served by mothers denying children contact with their fathers?

The cost of this arrangement to me was to agree to give my ex-wife more than the total equity we had between us to set her up in a new home which has left me with mammoth debt and on the verge of bankruptcy. Yet throughout this I have been told by those in the legal profession and other observers that I have been "lucky" to get what I have. Thank you, but having 50 per cent of my children is my right not my luck.
Name and address supplied

Sir: The letters printed from your correspondents (29 September), responding to mine (27 September), in fact illustrated that fathers who go to court often get the orders they seek. Parents shouldn't be put off by rare examples of resident parents so obstructive that the court is forced to consider imprisonment, however dreadful these cases are, or indeed, by reports of comments passed by the odd maverick judge.

I doubt there are many separated parents who can say they have not experienced any problems at all in agreeing and implementing arrangements for their children, whether they use the courts or not. This is a far cry from saying the law is biased or useless, though, and I hope that any parent involved in this kind of dispute will, at the very least, seek the advice of a specialist family law solicitor about their particular circumstances, rather than make assumptions based on anecdotes.

Glaisdale, North Yorkshire

Mr Punch hits back

Sir: Deborah Orr has got hold of the wrong end of the slapstick (2 October). Punch and Judy is a centuries-old world-class work of folk drama rich in layers of meaning.

There are, of course, some poor performers (although Bodmin's Reg Payn is an excellent showman) but to make the facile assumption that Punch and Judy is a story about domestic abuse is on the same level of cultural ignorance as claiming that Romeo and Juliet is a story about teenage suicide.

Mr Punch, who performs to very many thousands of satisfied customers every year, deserves a better class of criticism if he's to take it seriously.

The Punch and Judy College of Professors
Far Forest, Worcestershire

Democracy in Iraq

Sir: Professor A Almaini, from his safe perch in Edinburgh, tells us gravely that "you cannot have free and democratic elections until the last foreign soldier leaves Iraq" (letter, 2 October). But I wonder, where were the free and democratic elections before foreign soldiers entered Iraq?

Norwalk, Connecticut, USA

No need for the Tories

Sir: After the Hartlepool by-election, voters may be entitled to ask what the Tory party is for. A general right-wing agenda is provided by New Labour. Hard right-wing euroscepticism and a hard line on immigration and asylum are the attributes of UKIP. A general centre-left liberal agenda is available from the Liberal Democrats. New Labour and UKIP have stolen the Tories' clothes. Michael Howard is now an ineffective and irrelevant sideshow. There is no longer any need for a Tory party.


Free-market ferries

Sir: Susie Mesure has regrettably assumed the notion, popular in the UK, that any successful French transport company must somehow be state-owned and subsidised: not true. In her coverage of the P&O cut-backs (29 September), she includes Brittany Ferries in this wildly inaccurate statement. Brittany Ferries is privately owned, receives no subsidies, and is profitable.

Managing Director
Brittany Ferries

Tyneside talk

Sir: May I correct Matthew Norman's Geordie ("Stop all this jiving, Gordon, and strike", 1 October)? "I'm that bastard hard, me, I'm ganging to give that Scottish twat an hidin' " should read "Aam that hard, me, aam gannin to give that Scottish twat a reet howkin.' " And aa think he should an all, the canny lad. Howway Gordon!

Kindfield, West Sussex