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Pro-shooters feeling 'battered'
Posted 1 October 2005
This article from the Daily Telegraph (09/10/05) shows there is growing concern about the scale of pheasant rearing and shooting within the hunting and shooting set:
It's the shooting season again and across the country, wives are pressing plus-fours and digging out pairs of long woollen socks. British men of every sort - toffs, pop stars, footballers, bankers - are oiling their guns, filling cartridge bags, preparing to nuke pheasantkind. And although I've got no beef with blood-sports, and I hunted foxes happily for years, pheasant shooting, on this scale, makes me squeamish.
I wasn't always this way. I used to be less wet. I grew up in the middle of a decade-long argument over shooting between my father and aunt, and always took the side of the guns. "Senseless slaughter!" Aunt would hiss across the lunch table. "If we didn't breed them, they wouldn't have lives at all," my father would mutter back, and I'd nod earnestly in support. It never occurred to me to ask whether a pheasant's life was worth having.
Then, grown up, I looked more closely and discovered some nasty pheasant facts. Now that it's a billion-pound business, disposing of around 30 million birds a year, most pheasants are reared in a way that would shock even a battery chicken. They live in cages with plastic bits in their beaks to prevent cannibalism and weird clip-on spectacles to deter fights. A tenth of them die before they're a month old, and half the remainder peg out a little later on with various nasty diseases. For the rest, it's a few weeks kerb-crawling then death by 12-bore.
Does it matter? Probably not. They're only birds. It's just difficult to see how a Government that banned fox hunting can sanction big, binge-shooting massacres. Foxhounds, after all, did a much-needed job in a relatively humane way. Whereas the sole justification for pheasant shooting is precisely the same thing that got hunting with dogs banned: the idea of cruelty for fun; a good day out at the expense of suffering; that a burst of trigger-happy elation is worth an infinite number of pheasant lives.
When I dropped in to see my brother, Jack, last week he was studying a box of Tesco's Finest Earl Grey teabags with Miss Marplish intensity. His brow was crinkled and there was a look of scholarly concern on his face. "That," he said eventually, "pointing to the portrait on the carton, is not Earl Grey."
I peered over his shoulder at a middle-aged man with pink cheeks, a smart coat and dark wavy hair. Around his neck was a military medal, below him a few lines of Grey family history. "How do you know?" I asked. "Because that's not what Earl Grey looked like" he said patiently.
On Wednesday, I called the Tesco customer service line, in the faint hope that Jack might, for once, be wrong. A woman called Susan answered. "So you want to know if it's the real Mr Earl Grey on the Tesco packet?" she said, slowly, as if doubting my mental health. She never called back.
On Thursday, the Tesco helpline was manned by Jo; on Friday by Julie who, to my utter surprise, rang back in a state of excitement: "Your brother's right! It's not Earl Grey at all!" She said. "It's a portrait of an unknown man. I've spoken to the marketing team and we found it in an archive somewhere. He's a mystery man." Julie sounded pleased. "How exciting!"
For Jack, however, the hunt has only just begun. "We must analyse his medal," he said firmly, when I called to tell him Julie's news. "We must get to the bottom of who he actually is. He's an imposter, we must expose him and restore the rightful Earl Grey to his proper place."
A friend of mine has a theory that the reason none of my generation know any poetry, the reason we can't, for instance, produce a Shakespearean quotation to suit every occasion, as our parents can, is that our neurological hard-drives are entirely taken up with pop song lyrics.
It sounds like a poor excuse for bad education, but it makes perfect sense to me. Almost everyone I know can sing along to Magic FM for hours on the trot. We can yowl our way through hours of Madonna, Pink Floyd, The Pixies. I realised recently that I've inadvertently committed to memory almost every word Alice Cooper ever wrote which, in terms of length if not content, is the equivalent of at least 100 sonnets.