The Hunt

Fox hunt 170512

The Queen’s Arms was quiet mid-week, and the landlord was only too glad to make his lounge available to the Bentham Hunt. Without their custom it would scarcely have been worth opening at all on a Wednesday.

Jack Greenwood, the MFH, was cheerful and inebriated.

“So that’s it then. Theresa May has confirmed there will be a free vote to repeal the Hunting Act 2004. Her substantial victory on June 8th …” Hoarse cheering and a banging of glasses on the table interrupted him.

“As I was saying, before I was so rudely interrupted, her majority in Parliament means that the Act should be gone within months and we can resume our activities. I propose that we hold our first meet in three weeks time.”

“Hang on a mo, Jack. The Act’s not going to be repealed that quickly.” Arthur Clownes looked worried; but then, he always looked worried, thought Jack.

“No, but the CPS would rule that a prosecution wouldn’t be in the public interest. Besides, what Chief Constable would be brave enough to start criminal proceedings knowing that Parliament were to consider the matter?”

“Sounds good to me.” Brian Hall spoke up. He was a small man, with a fierce expression. You didn’t mess with Brian.

Arthur sat back in his seat with resignation. He supposed Jack would be proved right; he always was. Arthur preferred to be on the right side of the law.

Next morning, at breakfast, Brian had a hangover and was more than usually surly. As Fiona, his daughter, cleared his plate, he grunted, “The Hunt’s riding out in three weeks time. Get my jacket cleaned, will you? And make sure you’ll be presentable too.” He handed her a ten pound note.

“Dad, I don’t really want to come.”

“Don’t be so wet. Of course you’re coming. Our family’s always ridden to hounds, and we always will.”

“I’ve got something else arranged.”

“Then bloody unarrange it!” He slammed the door behind him.

Fiona quietly continued the housework. When she was confident her father wasn’t coming back, she pulled out her mobile and dialled.

“George?”

“Hi, Fiona.”

“Dad’s told me the Hunt is starting up again.”

“That’s bad. Any idea when?”

“Three weeks time. On the Saturday.”

“So it’ll be illegal then?”

“I suppose so.”

“Well, thanks for the tip-off. I’ll tell Edwin.”

As soon as she’d rung off, Fiona collected her father’s jacket from his wardrobe. It was muddy and stained. She would have had it cleaned earlier, only he wouldn’t give her the money. As it was, she’d have to raid the housekeeping; ten pounds wasn’t going to cover the dry-cleaning, not with the bus fare into town as well.

George hesitated before calling Edwin. He found him aggressive and frightening. Still, he was an effective organiser of protests, and he needed to know about the planned hunt.

“The Bentham Hunt are meeting in three weeks,” he told Edwin.

“I know. Hardly a surprise. You going to be there?”

“Yeah, as long as you’re not planning any violence.”

Moi, violence? How could you even think it! No, it’ll just be placards. We’ll try and get pictures and video, of course. That sometimes leads to a… heated exchange of views.” He laughed.

George winced at the enthusiasm with which Edwin appeared to welcome the prospect.

The day of the hunt dawned fresh and clear. Brian was cheerful. He hummed as he buttoned up his jacket, in front of the mirror. “Not bad,” he thought, “not bad at all.” Perhaps he’d stand a chance with that newcomer to the village, the woman with the blonde hair and the big tits.

Fiona dressed with resignation. Her father had made it clear that she was expected to ride. She didn’t imagine for one moment that she’d succeed if she pleaded a headache. Still, her spirits lifted as she climbed into the saddle; it was a beautiful day. She’d enjoy the ride, and stay as far back from the kill as possible.

“Woah! Behave yourself, Prince!” The stallion was large and strong, but that didn’t worry Fiona; she’d been on horseback since before she could walk. Prince stopped tugging at the bit. Only his twitching ears as they left the yard betrayed his excitement.

The sunny day had also lifted the spirits of George’s wife, Clare, as she drove him to the protesters’ rendezvous.

“I’ll leave the car here, and take Liz in the carrier. We could walk over to the common. Take care of yourself, George! Love you!” Liz gurgled and smiled as her mum popped her into the carrier. George was hesitating, fiddling with the laces of his boots. Clare put her arm around him. “I’m ever so proud of you, standing up for what you believe in.” She kissed him gently on the lips. He smiled and stood up straight.

“I’d best be off then. Don’t want to be left behind! See you here at midday.” He set off to cover the quarter mile to where the protesters were assembling.

Edwin thrust a placard into George’s hands.

“Make sure the bastards see it.”

Edwin turned to the other protesters. There were thirty or so, a mixed bunch, from the smart to the squalid, from the dainty girl with flowers on her wellies to the gnarled man in filthy cords and battered army boots. Edwin himself looked like a paramilitary in a dark-green sweater, camouflage trousers and a balaclava. He carried a camcorder on a lanyard round his neck.

“Listen up, everybody. Hold those placards high. We want the Bentham to see them. I’ll try and get them in shot as I video. And remember – no violence! This is a peaceful protest. If you’re assaulted, move away.” He looked round the group. “Right. Let’s go.”

They followed him along the road, turned right, and entered the village of Bentham Manor.

The riders were assembling outside The Queen’s Arms.

“Uh-oh. Looks like we’ve got company,” Arthur muttered to Jack.

“Do you want me to see them off?” Brian looked eager, combative.

“No. Let’s not ask for trouble. I’ll go and talk to them. Walk on, Shadow.”

His magnificent grey walked forward towards the oncoming protesters, and stopped several yards short of them. They halted.

“Can you all hear me?” Jack had a loud and carrying voice. A few of the protesters nodded.

“I’m the MFH for the Bentham Hunt. Speaking on their behalf, I tell you that we have seen and noted your protest. If you wish to assemble on the verge there,” he pointed at the roadside, “we will be riding past in ten minutes, and we will have plenty of chance to admire your artwork.

Please don’t come any closer to the Hunt. Horses are strong and heavy, and are sometimes capricious. I don’t want an accident and I’m sure you don’t either.” He tipped his riding cap to them. “Good day to you.”

He turned his horse very deliberately, giving the protesters plenty of time to observe the intimidating size of the beast, and walked slowly back to the Hunt.

“Nice touch with the cap, Master.” Brian was grinning.

The protesters stayed put, irresolute, looking to Edwin for a lead. He beckoned them close, and spoke softly.

“I want photos of all of them, and I want video footage showing the Hunt assembling. I need to be closer. I want us to split into two groups, half on that verge, and half on this, and then walk towards them. Stop when you’re about five metres away. Don’t go any closer than that, and don’t make any sudden movements. Don’t yell. That ponce in the pink is right about horses being dangerous.

Right.

Come on.”

Edwin walked along the crown of the road, the protesters straggling after him. Some of the riders turned their horses to face the group. Fiona held Prince on a tight rein, moving to the edge of the group. She kept his head turned away from them as much as possible, but he tugged and pulled, his eyes rolling. The scent of aggression was strong in his nostrils.

George was close to Edwin, on the same side of the road as Fiona. He kept a wary eye on Prince, as he raised his placard high.

“I thought I warned you to stay clear?” Jack’s anger was plain. “Here, put that thing away!”

Edwin had raised the camcorder, and was panning across the hunt. Hearing Jack’s voice, he grinned and pointed the camcorder straight at him.

“That’s illegal!” yelled Jack. “Stop recording – now!” He walked Shadow forwards, leaned out of the saddle, grabbed the camcorder’s lanyard and tugged hard. The lanyard bit into Edwin’s neck, half choking him. Edwin lashed out at Jack’s hand, to make him let go. He didn’t. Edwin took hold of the lanyard himself, and pulled hard. Off-balance, Jack toppled forward in the saddle, and released Edwin, who stumbled backwards into Prince, and fell to the floor.

Prince reared, lashing out with his hooves. Using all her skill, Fiona controlled him within seconds, but the damage was done.

Edwin lay on the ground, motionless.

Jack was out of the saddle immediately, kneeling beside the fallen man.

“There’s no mark of hooves and he’s breathing, thank goodness. We’d better call an ambulance. Arthur, would you? Brian, give me a hand getting him onto his side.” Quickly, they placed Edwin into the recovery position. His eyes started to flicker open.

“Fiona, back Prince a little, would you? Give us a bit more space.”

Fiona edged Prince back, away from the fallen man. Suddenly, she gasped and pointed. George was slumped against the granite gatepost.

He was still unconscious when the ambulance arrived. The paramedics assessed him rapidly, and called in the air ambulance to take him to the nearest specialist neurological unit. The police took statements.

That evening, the local superintendent of police called on Jack Greenwood. While he couldn’t give a categorical assurance, it was unlikely that any charges would be brought. Jack had warned the bystanders to keep back, and, although there’d been a scuffle, it hadn’t involved George. It seemed that Prince, as he reared, must have backed into George, knocking him into the gatepost. The whole thing was just an unfortunate accident.

  *          *          *

Afterword

George survived, but his injury was life-changing; he was permanently disabled.

Fiona cried herself to sleep that night, and many following nights.

Clare was too busy looking after George to allow herself the luxury of weeping. Liz grew up wondering why her Dad was in a wheelchair. His slurred speech and distorted face frightened her, and his drooling repelled her.

The Hunt continued to meet.

 

The Saboteurs

“DON’T FRACK OUR FOREST”.
Paul nodded approval of the banner as he entered Edwin’s bedsit.
“Like it!” he said. “Is that for the demo on the 28th March?”
Edwin grunted.
“Have you persuaded anybody else to sign the petition yet, Paul?”
“Yeah, I talked a couple of colleagues into it. One of them might come on the 28th too. It’s a bit difficult, though, as most of them are engineers.”
“Then they ought to be used to decisions based on evidence. Put your back into it, Paul; this is important.”
“Hi Eddie; hi, Paul!” Liz came in cheerfully, and kissed Edwin on the mouth. “All ready for tonight? I can’t wait!”
“Did you make the banner, Liz? It’s really eye-catching!” asked Paul, grinning, and kissing Liz on the cheek she offered him.
“No, that was Eddie. He’s a dab hand with a sewing machine. I just made the coffee.”
There was a knock at the door. “I’ll get it,” said Liz, as she opened it to let Nick join them.
Edwin sidled over to Paul.
“Don’t even think it,” he said.
Paul looked down at him with resignation. “What am I supposed not to think, Eddie?”
“You know what I mean. No funny business with Liz while you’re on this mission. She’s my partner.”
“That’s not a very enlightened attitude to women, my friend.”
“No friend of yours, you posh git. Liz is free to make her own mind up. I wouldn’t hurt her; I love her. But that doesn’t mean I’ll stand by and see someone else mess with her. So keep your hands off.”
“I’ll make my own decisions about that, Eddie. I’ll be quite happy to beat the living daylights out of you, if that’s what you want.”
“In your dreams.”
“Don’t take any notice of Eddie,” exclaimed Liz to Paul. “He’s just wound up about tonight’s operation.”
Edwin, mid-thirties, ex-army corporal, called them to order.
“Right. Listen up. Paul and Liz, you’re the Away Team. You set off in ten minutes to the exploratory fracking site. Here’s the grid reference.
The place should be deserted but put your balaclavas on before you leave the car; cover up that blonde hair, Liz. Check that there’s nobody there by throwing pebbles at the portakabin – not big ones; we don’t want to break anything needlessly. Throw at least five, with one minute gaps between them. If nobody responds you can assume there are no security guards. Cut the fence and enter.
Check for things that could damage the environment, like diesel in an unbunded tank, or chemicals stored on open ground, and photograph them. Use the stencils and spray paint to write ‘DON’T FRACK OUR FOREST’ on the portakabin. Photograph that, too. Then come straight back here.
Nick and I are the Home Team. We’re here to send in the cavalry if there are problems, and we’ll post the pictures on social media when the Away Team return. It will blow that company’s environmental credentials right out of the water.
Remember. If you need to phone, use the pay-as-you-go phone, not your personal phone, so the call can’t be traced back to you.”
Are there any questions?”
Paul, Liz and Nick looked at each other.
Paul shrugged.
“Sounds straightforward enough. Come on, Liz, let’s go! See you, Nick!”
The shelves, the furniture, even the floor of Edwin’s bedsit were covered with books, pamphlets and old takeaway cartons. Nick stacked up enough of them to be able to sit on the grubby sofa, and shuffled a space for his feet so he wouldn’t be treading on any of them. It would be at least three hours before Paul and Liz returned. Ed uncovered the keyboard of his computer, and brought up a page of Inside Climate News. He maintained a steady and profane commentary on what he was reading.
Nick fidgeted. He picked up a leaflet and glanced through it. Contamination of water with methane in Pennsylvania. The evidence supported the claim, but how relevant was it to the proposed drilling in the forest? He said as much to Ed.
“Pennsylvania is where they’re drilling into the Marcellus shale. There’s a raft of evidence of leaking gas well casings in the Loyalsock Forest. I wish you’d make an effort to keep informed.”
“Shall I go and buy us pizza?”
“Already sorted; due to be delivered at half past ten. I hope you’ve got twenty quid in your pocket to pay for it.”
“Do you mind if I use your loo?”
“Go ahead.”
Nick went down the corridor and occupied the lavatory. With the door safely bolted, he drew out his mobile.
“Hi. It’s Nick. Everything’s going ahead. They should arrive in an hour.”
He put the phone away and washed his hands ostentatiously.
The heavy shove as he left was completely unexpected and jolted him into the edge of the door. Even though he anticipated the subsequent blow to his midriff and tensed his muscles, it knocked all the wind out of him. Then he was being held, Edwin’s enraged face thrust towards him.
“So who was that then? Eh? Eh?” Edwin tugged at Nick’s collar repeatedly, each time banging his head painfully against the door.
“My Dad. I’ve arranged delivery of a takeaway for him.”
“Liar! You’re a grass. Here, let’s see that phone!” His forehead smashed into Nick’s nose, and his hand reached for the phone in Nick’s pocket.
Last number redial.
“Hallo, Nick. Didn’t expect you to call back. Is there a problem?”
“Is that the police? I have an emergency with one of your colleagues. He’s haemorrhaging. He gave me this number to ring.”
“OK. Place him in the recovery position – you know what that is? – and we’ll get an ambulance round straightaway. Is he fit to speak?”
“Nah, don’t bother with an ambulance. He’s okay after all. Just a bit of a nosebleed. Nice of you to confirm who you are, though. By the way, did he tell you he’d been sleeping with one of our members? That’ll taint his evidence a bit I should think. Bye-bye!” Edwin almost sang his farewell.
As he ended the call he could hear sounds of consternation from the other end.
“Now that your undercover role is compromised, you’d better go and meet your buddies somewhere. I suggest you tripped and broke your nose when you fell. It might be less embarrassing than standing up in court and admitting what a pig’s ear you’ve made of things.”
Nick dabbed at his nose. The bleeding had already almost stopped, but it felt very sore. He picked up his cagoul and slunk out of the building.
Paul had driven relentlessly quickly on the motorway. Once in the forest he drove like a rally driver. Liz clutched the sides of her seat, and sometimes closed her eyes. She was exhilarated. They were within two miles of their destination with thirty minutes to spare. Stars sparkled in the ribbon of black sky left between the trees.
“We’d better stop for a bit,” suggested Liz. “You’ve been way faster than Ed. You’re much smoother, too.”
With a screech of tyres Paul pulled off the road into a fire-break between the trees. Liz’s hand slipped surreptitiously onto the inside of his thigh.
“You’d better turn off the phone; we don’t want Eddie interrupting, do we?”
Liz grinned. “Already done,” she said, holding up the phone and displaying its dark screen.
Edwin dialed the Away Team’s number. No answer. He frowned and looked at his watch. They’d be in the forest, but not at the fracking site. Possibly there was no mobile coverage where they were. But they should have coverage when they arrived; he knew, he’d checked. He sent a text, and worried. While he was confident that Nick wouldn’t say anything about his assault, if Paul and Liz were caught after they’d cut the fence they could be prosecuted for criminal damage. It might even mean a custodial sentence. That would be tough; he knew from personal experience.
There was no reply to his text after ten minutes. Either the phone had a fault, or Liz had forgotten to charge it – but surely, even Liz wouldn’t have been that scatty? – or they’d switched it off. His gorge rose and his fists balled. Perhaps he could get through on Liz’s personal mobile. He’d need his own phone for that; he hadn’t memorized her number.
He never carried his personal mobile in his pocket; it was too likely to fall out. Mostly he kept it on his desk. It wasn’t there. He looked in the other likely places, on the sofa, down the side of the sofa, on the television stand, on the middle bookshelf.
They must be at the site by now, unless…if they’d had an accident, the mobile could be broken. In Edwin’s opinion, Paul drove like a maniac. In any case, there was no reply. He kept searching for his phone.
In the forest, Paul and Liz straightened their disheveled clothing. “Oh-oh. We’re nearly late!” Paul released the clutch, and the car shot out onto the lane.
“Just slow down a mo, so I can turn on the mobile.”
Paul grinned. “Don’t be so wet. There won’t be a message. We’re late. Here we go!” The car roared down the road, and there was no way Liz could enter the correct PIN.
There was a different ring tone.
“That’s my personal phone,” said Liz. “I wonder who it is? I’m not going to answer it, because it won’t be Eddie.”
It went to voicemail.
“Nearly there. Yee-hah!” Paul punched the air with his left fist.
The phone rang again.
“Who on earth can that be at this time of night?” Liz pulled out the phone, and looked at the screen. “It is Eddie! What on earth is he playing at? Eddie? What’s up?”
Paul swerved off the road into the entrance to the site, sending up a shower of grit that tinkled against the gate. “You have reached your destination,” he announced.
Liz spoke in a little voice. “That was Ed. The mission is off. Nick was a police informer.”
They looked at each other.
“An informer? Nick?”
Liz nodded.
They stared apprehensively at the dark trees. Who was hidden in the shadows?
Paul engaged first gear and drove away, slowly and very carefully.

Note on fracking
Fracking is a technique by which sub-surface rocks are broken to recover the natural gas, mostly methane, trapped inside it.
Burning methane contributes less to climate change than burning coal, but it is not zero carbon. Putting fracking infrastructure in place will commit us to burning the gas to recover the investment.
There is a good deal of evidence that fracking can cause contamination of groundwater. There is also evidence that methane can reach the atmosphere; when it does, it is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
There are several sites in the UK where exploratory drilling has been proposed, including Sherwood Forest.

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