Traditional bestiality in the country

IT was all terribly English and deeply traditional. The huntsmen in their frock coats and hard hats. The horses, beautifully turned out, breath hanging in the misty morning air..

IT was all terribly English and deeply traditional.

The huntsmen in their frock coats and hard hats. The horses, beautifully turned out, breath hanging in the misty morning air.

The old dear in her green wellies and headscarf, teeth tinted with lipstick, handing round the stirrup-cups.

The grey-haired parson, portly and ruddy-faced, intoning a plummy blessing on the milling hounds.

Anything so class-ridden and cliched could surely only belong, in the 21st century, in the realms of hackneyed fiction.

But this was not Midsomer Murders, Morse, or even The Vicar of Dibley. This was A Country Parish, fly-on-the-wall documentary – a slice, supposedly, of real life.

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The hero, a charming Suffolk bor called Jamie Allen, is in danger of becoming the next nouveau celebrity of the "reality TV" phenomenon.

Except that Jamie appears to have his feet planted too firmly on the ground. And in any case, he's far, far too busy being a vicar.

If all clerics were as caring, as thoughtful, and as much fun as Jamie, it would be harder for cynics like me to resist the temptations of religion. His six-part show was excellent PR for the Church of England.

As much as anything about him, I like his doubts. And the fact that he can make poor decisions, or make good ones a little late, and be open and honest about it.

As a moral opponent of fox-hunting, he was right to refuse the request to bless the hunt. He should have made the decision, and explained his reasons, a lot sooner.

Humming and ha-ing over it as he did was very human, though. It stemmed from a desire to do the impossible – keep everyone happy – and I entirely sympathise with that.

Had he gone ahead with the blessing, he would have been guilty of hypocrisy. There's far too much of that in the church (and out of it) already.

He would have risked, too, upsetting as many of his parishioners as he did by his eventual refusal.

And, as he neatly put it: "I have a feeling Christ would have been out there blessing the fox."

Actually, I'm not entirely sure that's true. But Francis of Asissi certainly would – and if there's a Christian saint worth venerating, he's the man.

Reverend Jamie and St Francis notwithstanding, of course, the unspeakable continue to pursue the inedible, despite years of ineffectual government promises to unhorse them.

The arguments they give to support their bestial behaviour are mostly laughable.

No one in their right mind could believe such an expensive and inefficient operation could possibly be the best way of controlling the fox population – even if such a thing were desirable.

Recent scare stories about "diseased" urban foxes being dumped in the countryside also have all the hallmarks of poppycock. I await the proof.

I also await any sensible connection between this unlikely story and the "need" to charge around the countryside with horses and dogs.

Then, of course, there's that old argument about tradition.

It was a good old British tradition to burn witches, too, and people of the "wrong" religion (whatever that happened to be at the time).

The rack and the thumbscrew were traditional. Putting six-year-olds to hard labour was traditional.

Many of the people who enjoy "riding to hounds" probably owe their excessive riches to the traditional profits of the slave trade.

The tradition these people most want to hang on to is the one that gives them the money and power to push other people about.

The primitives who like to hunt seem to think their sordid hobby is what the countryside is all about.

At least that's what they want everyone else to think. And for that purpose they have hijacked a movement.

Now, when thousands march for the so-called Countryside Alliance everyone thinks the whole point is the preservation of an outdated, barbaric "sport".

So the real issues that effect real people's lives – rural transport, rural jobs, pollution, environmental damage, the devastating cost of rural housing – are pushed into the background.

Once again the toffs are riding roughshod over the rights, needs – and crops – of the common folk. Well, it's traditional.

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