PHIL C. takes a lighthearted look at the changing attitudes of the huntin' and shootin' brigade towards the peasants.
Something very strange is happening in the countryside. Those people who, we are told, represent the true spirit of rural England (or something) are becoming friendly and polite. I wonder why. I first noticed it last year when I met a shooting party on a single-track road. I've got nothing against shooting, by the way. Most people in my area seem keen on it and I have an occasional pheasant for dinner. A lot of perfectly nice people seem to enjoy it. But every year the shooting season brings a strange kind of animal to these parts - crocodiles of big, clean, shiny off-road vehicles. We never see them at any other time. The locals tend to use battered old pick-ups or LandRovers for work. To go shopping or take the kids to school they drive things called "cars" with nary a bull-bar in sight. I have a fantasy that out of the shooting season the metallic off-road monsters hibernate in golf club car parks - while their owners sit at the 19th hole complaining about those dreadful townies who just don't understand country ways.
Anyway, this time something very remarkable happened. The whole crocodile, including the Range Rover, pulled off to let me pass even though (get this) I was driving a shabby old two-wheel drive saloon. They actually allowed their nearside wheels to go "off road" onto the muddy verge. Stranger still, every driver returned my cheery wave as I passed (I'm always friendly - local farmers organise these shoots as a business and I've got no axe to grind with them). What a nice change it was from previous years when I've patiently pulled over and watched them all drive past stony-faced. Once, some even drew into my yard to turn round, a few feet from where I was standing, and completely ignored me and my family. Being pleasant and helpful on single-track roads is part of the daily routine in my area, so it's nice to see that our "visitors" have decided to join in with this quaint, rustic tradition.
My brother-in-law had a similar experience with a local hunt at about the same time. He was working in a field as they rode past and was amazed that every rider gave him a friendly greeting - even though he was wearing overalls and a woolly hat! He's lived and worked in the countryside for all his forty-five years and this is the first time it has ever happened.
My own experiences of meeting local hunts haven't been good. Even when they've actually blocked the public highway with horse boxes, their attitude to me or my family wanting to drive down our own road has been offhand and chilly. I remember once making an effort to pull off a narrow road to let a hunt pass. One rider made a real show of appreciation. She even seemed embarrassed at the attitude of her companions - for whom I simply didn't exist. On New Year's Day 2000, however, I went out for a drive with my wife, just to check that the world hadn't ended, and met a hunt. We pulled onto the verge to let them pass and were bowled over by the enthusiastic waves and greetings ... I began to wonder what they were on. Perhaps they were full of the joys of the new Millennium, I thought. But no, exactly the same thing happened again recently.
So what accounted for the routine rudeness? Old traditions of the rural gentry being aped by rich suburban wannabes? And why the sudden charm offensive? Well, we can all guess. But I can't get annoyed - it's too funny.
Phil C., October 2000
Phil C. is in his early 50s, retired through disability and lives on a remote farmstead with his big, happy extended family who are variously involved in market trading, fencing, tree planting, village school teaching and agricultural research.