This Side of the Pond – March 28

By Sarah Pridgeon

 

Your newspaper editor has been muttering something about ducks and depressing musicians for the last couple of weeks and I have finally managed to work out what I’ve done wrong: apparently, an English musician refused to join the cast of Duck Dynasty on Jimmy Kimmel’s show, calling them “animal serial killers.”
It is a travesty, indeed, that my countryman should cast aspersions at the most entertaining characters currently gracing my television screen, but he does have a point. Unfortunately, it’s not a point that’s relevant on these shores.
Morrissey, I should explain, has been bad-tempered for several decades – he’s made a career of it. His songs are miserable, his voice is miserable, even his hairdo is a bit miserable. The problem is, he’s also the frontman of The Smiths.
You know those bands who stick their pins into the musical map, leaving permanent marks along its path? For England, The Smiths was one of those bands, and Morrissey its much-loved singer.
He is a vegetarian, an animal activist and a man with a noisy brain, unafraid to trumpet his opinions from his highly respected perch. The world needs people like Morrissey; they act as moral barometers against whom the rest of us can check our sanity. Whether or not you agree with his views, he has no intention of letting you remain ignorant of the issues.
I would wager a guess, though, that he is working to a very different ethical standard than the cast of Duck Dynasty. I know this because I share his nationality and am thus aware that, to he and I, hunting is not the same thing. Allow me to explain:
Back in days of old, England was littered with hungry people whose only chance of surviving the winter was to poach game from the lands of the aristocracy. From the 12th century, those lands encompassed a full third of the south of the country: the Royal Forests.
The punishment for such audacious survival attempts tended to err on the harsh. Anyone who was caught hunting deer, boar, rabbit or wolf would return home that day with a hand struck off, or blinded in both eyes.
You can imagine the people’s indignation that, while they gnawed despondently on the end of a turnip, the monarch and aristocracy could hunt the forests as they pleased. The land was reserved for the wealthy; its meat was destined for their tables.
Perhaps more importantly, hunting then evolved into a sport that was surprisingly blood-thirsty. Claiming to be ridding their chicken coops of the notoriously nefarious fox, English hunters would don red blazers and gather on horseback, accompanied by barking hounds.
The whole outfit would chase the fox until it fled underground, usually for many miles. If the dogs were successful in digging it out, they would often complete the day’s festivities by ripping it to shreds.
Fox hunting was finally banned last decade, after years of controversy and activism. Despite its proponents claiming tradition and pest control, its main offense was deemed to be that, unlike similar sports over here, the emphasis of the pursuit is on the kill, rather than the chase.
And therein lies the point: to a man who grew up watching terrified foxes scramble across the countryside, hunting seems cruel and unnecessary. From Morrissey’s standpoint, it is not a family bonding exercise, a training in life skills, an appreciation of the wilds or a gathering of meat for the family.
Were he not also looking at this from a vegetarian point of view, I might invite Morrissey to spend some time here in Sundance, where he’d soon be cured of his misconceptions. I would send him out for the day with any one of our hunters and ask him, when he returned, if he had endured a single moment of animal serial killing.
I would force him to join me in watching endless repeats of Duck Dynasty and point out each example of a family caring for its own and indulging a genuine love for the natural world. I would show him how being a hunter here goes hand in hand with being a careful custodian of the land.
Unfortunately, he would probably be too busy being miserable to read my email, so I won’t be getting the spare room ready just yet. Such a shame that a man who shares his deep appreciation for nature will never understand the antics of Uncle Si.