- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
No one who, like myself, has lived some years in England can avoid the growing and occasionally puzzling awareness that Englishmen seem to prefer animals to people. Like other foreigners here, I am often impressed by the local inhabitants' extraordinary preoccupation with zoology, which the newspapers, to whose columns I am firmly addicted, never let one forget.
Some time ago, sitting in my study, I saw a big headline in the Sunday paper: 12 WOMEN SAY THIS IS CRUEL. I made a bet with myself before I read the story that it would be about animals, and not children or exploited workers. I was right: it seems that the ladies were protesting their discovery that six milk-cart horses, retired to pasture through a public subscription of �250, were being ridden by the local small fry. Just a regular run-of-the-mill English newspaper story, which thoroughly rated the front-page play it got. In due course, the local Member of Parliament probably will raise the matter on the floor of the House of Commons, where it may be debated with passion to a packed gallery of animal lovers and animal-lover haters.
The implacable kindness of the zoophiles reaches far beyond the home islands into every nook of the Commonwealth, the world and the time-space continuum. Ham the chimpanzee recently charmed almost everybody who saw newspaper photographs of the dizzy smile he brought back with him from outer space. But there were those in England who weren't charmed at all: they were furious. Ham had hardly been tossed from Cape Canaveral toward the galaxies before a protest was lodged at the U.S. Embassy in London. It came from the youth section of the Antivivisection Society and expressed "disgust" that a live chimpanzee should be so used. And the largest headline hullabaloo of all was the one over Prince Philip's tiger. He recently bagged it in India, where he and Queen Elizabeth were the guests of the Maharajah of Jaipur. The royal consort was criticized in the press on every possible ground—by those who thought it was unsporting to shoot a tiger from a platform and by those who thought it rather rotten to shoot a tiger at all. A newspaper reader in the days following the tiger shoot might have supposed that the monarchy itself was tottering under popular anger and in its worst crisis since Charles I lost his head to Oliver Cromwell—or at least since Edward VIII lost his over Mrs. Simpson. The incident aroused other grievances against the royal family. The London Daily Mirror recalled that Elizabeth shot and killed her first stag in 1942 and that she stalked deer in Scotland. Even young Prince Charles, the Mirror noted, recently shot his first woodcock.
The papers thrive on this never-ending controversy about what are variously known as blood sports, field sports or cruel sports—namely, fox hunting and staghunting, shooting and, by stretching an easily inflamed imagination, fishing. (I should remind you that hunting in England means chasing with hounds. Shooting is shooting.) By midwinter, when fox and stag hunters are galloping over the countryside and shooters go after pheasant and grouse, emotionally charged accounts of bleeding animals and bloodthirsty hunters become a staple of the English press. As an example of how the newspapers arouse the passions of the allegedly cold-blooded British whenever animals are involved, let me recount the front-page battle not so long ago of the Devon and Somerset Staghounds vs. the League Against Cruel Sports.
The first round took place on the morning of the opening day of the season, when officers of the league and a number of eager zealots carrying spray guns full of aniseed solution went over the grounds where the hunt was to gather. The leaguers sprayed the terrain liberally until all the landscape reeked. Then they prudently withdrew.
But when the master arrived on the scene he sniffed the air knowingly and announced scornfully that no amount of aniseed would damage the day's sport. He was right. The hounds did put up a stag but, after chasing the animal for three hours, lost it. "Happens all the time," the master was quoted in the papers. "We saved that stag," claimed the league secretary, "and we will carry on."
Their next quarry was the Quantock Staghounds in Somerset. In spite of the league's assiduous spraying of bush, tree, ground and fence, one stag was tracked and shot. But defeat became a propaganda victory. In accordance with tradition, those who were in on a kill for the first time were "blooded"—an ancient ceremony by which the master dips his finger in the stag's blood and smears a little of it over the initiate's face. This in itself would have furnished ammunition for the league, which has persistently inveighed against the practice of blooding, but on this day the league's luck was even better than that. One of the men blooded was Jimmy Edwards, a popular English stage and television comedian. As a mark of esteem, the master presented Edwards with the stag's kidneys when the venison was distributed, as it often is after a kill. Edwards put them in a polyethylene bag, took them back to his hotel and ate them at tea time, grilled on toast. The resulting uproar staggered him and everybody else.
"Disgusting rite," shouted the league in print. "Blooding, of all things!" The papers called the kidney feast an "orgy." Poor Jimmy Edwards was pictured as an ogre champing away at the reeking insides of his prey. In vain did he argue in subsequent editions that the stag was, after all, dead when he ate the kidneys. He pointed out that the angler eats his fish and the duck hunter his ducks. It was no use. Despite all logic, the league had scored a smashing newspaper victory.
Later the South Oxford Hunt had its uncomfortable moment in the limelight under circumstances which stimulated my curiosity about this business of blood sports to the point of resolution. Opening the morning paper I read that "a fox cornered by the hounds...yesterday took the only way of escape left—head first through a two-foot square of glass in the French window of a house. Seven hounds went after it and killed it (according to one report) at the foot of a present-laden Christmas tree." British papers made much of this bloody violation of the Christmas spirit. Yet I knew that it never had happened. The lady in whose house the incident was supposed to have taken place is an acquaintance of mine, and she immediately protested that the fox did not come into the house; that no hound came into the house; in fact, no animal at all came into the house. There was a small scuffle in her garden over which, since she has nothing against hunting, she made no protest.
I realized that unless I were to enlarge my acquaintance with both the sporting public and the hostile organizations that were doing such an effective job of getting the editor's ear, I would never fully understand my English friends. One morning, therefore, I went into London to interview the secretary of the League Against Cruel Sports. My choice of this organization was governed by the fact that I saw its name often in print, but it is not by any means the only one of its kind. I could have gone to the National Association for the Abolition of Cruel Sports.