"We live our lives as we dream-alone." Joseph Conrad

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Camel Lights in Dorset

This forms the basis of my monthly 'Mad, Bad, and Dangerous' column in The Field (June issue, just out) which involved me camel racing for the Countryside Alliance. Whilst I had no hesitation in taking part, I think what swung it, was that John Gardiner, head of the political wing, is married to the noted sculptress Olivia Musgrave.

Olivia's father, Sir Richard Musgrave, shared a study at Stowe with my own father, Nigel Knight Bruce, and he always looked kindly upon me. When he was president of the Irish Rugby team, he would always take me out to dinner in Edinburgh when his side were playing at Murrayfield.

Exmoor vs Dartmoor: Moor the merrier

Each year I am honoured to be asked by COUNTRY LIFE to contribute to their West Country issue (Just out, 26th May). In this I feel I am humbly following in the footsteps of Henry Williamson and Charles Kingsley.

This year's essay was to take both Exmoor and Dartmoor and see if I could come up with the nigh on impossible task of finding in favour of one over the other. I am fortunate in having friends on both moors, have hunted on both pretty frequently over the last twenty years and been to not a few of their splendid inns.

The COUNTRY LIFE article has been beautifully illustrated by Hannah Firmin. Quite apart from my own offering, there are plenty of other fine articles and houses to gaze upon. But this, below, is what I have written (although in the published version it has, as always, been tweeked brilliantly by my editor at COUNRTY LIFE, Kate Green):

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

All Souls are cheap today

The decision by All Souls, Oxford, to scrap their entry requirement of an essay based on a single word seems odd. Is it too difficult now for people to put pen to paper and construct an argument on the subject of say 'water' or 'air'?

I have received an email from Detmar Blow from Spain where he is writing a biography of his later wife Isabella. His frustration seems to bear this out. Asking friends for recollections, he tells me, he has been amazed how seemingly educated people cannot write down even the most basic memories and make them entertaining.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Letts be having Bercow

Even by the strange behaviour of politicians, the onslaught last week by Speaker Bercow against the Daily Mail's Quentin Letts may be measured as extraordinary. Bercow, flustered and fraught, seemed to have got into a tangle with Letts about his own parentage as the son of a Poplar taxi driver and what he perceives as Letts's status as 'a minor public school boy.'

Anyone who is is doubt about John Bercow's ability as a Commons' debater should utube his chamber speech setting out his stall to be elected Speaker of the House. It is one of the finest examples of oleagenous oratory in modern times.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Ash to Ashes

Readers notifying the letters pages of the Daily Telegraph upon their first annual sighting of the swallow has long been a parody in Private Eye. For the first time in fifty years of living on my farm I can date this year's appearance to the 8th April, so I have clearly reached the age and stage for satire.

These doughty little birds, which I recall my late father saying (in his own distinctive way) "Always F**K in flight", nest in the tallots as the upper parts of barns in Devon are called. Daily they criss-cross the farmyard like rapier points slashing at the air.

We have two ginger farm cats who pay them no attention. The terrier sometimes looks up in bemusement, wishing he could fly. Just once or twice in the nesting season I take my daughter to look at the nests, and to understand why we leave the tallots undeveloped.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Tescos: Tyrant or Triumph?

Nothing much for the good or prosperity happens in our part of Devon. The Monmouth Uprising lost steam here. Cromwell couldn't be bothered to 'sack' Exeter and when, about eight years ago, they panned for gold in the Creedy Valley, the miniscule seam stopped just short of my farm.

For those who live in more sophisticated or metropolitan areas, the arrival of a new Tescos might not raise an eyebrow. Here, and it has been going since Christmas, I can say things have been little short of a revolution.

For years the town of Crediton (where my father and grandfather used to meet with the foxhounds, long since hounded out) resisted Tescos. It would, rightly as it has turned out, result in the closure of a number of small shops. The wine-merchant closed shortly after my father's death (which may or may not have been a coincidence) twelve years ago and the remaining delicatessan seems to stock mostly jam and pickle.

The wonder of Wales

Unlike Hugh Grant or AA Gill-both of whom have offered some pretty ripe observations on The Principality- I am a great admirer of Wales. For seven years I rented a cottage on the Welsh Borders near Bishop's Castle, without electricity.

There were not infrequent forays deeper into Wales, to Aberdovey to swim or Builth Wells for the unsurpassed Royal Welsh Hound Show (at which today the singing has rather stopped and should be brought back as soon as possible). But even I did not go the 'whole hog' and live there permanently.

In next week's COUNTRY LIFE I have reviewed Antony Woodward's latest book 'The Garden in the Clouds: From Derelict Smallholding to Mountain Paradise' which concerns his family move from London to the Skirrid mountains of Monmouthshire.

I do not wish to give anything away that I have written in the review, but both his garden and this part of Wales are well worth a visit.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

A marriage of convenience

Whilst it is still too early for intelligent people to fully digest the Con Lib coalition, it is, in some ways, a miserable circumstance for David Cameron of having to marry someone because the church has been booked. Whilst we are pleased for his confetti, there are some fairly glum faces amongst the ushers.

There exists in all of us some elements of Liberal sympathy. I think not of Clegg and Cable but of better times and the oratory of Jo Grimmond and Jeremy Thorpe. When it was Thorpe's turn to coalide, he showed that, with Harold Wislon, he was not prepared to jump into bed with just anyone. Later events showed that it was just with Norman Scott.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

TV's Charles Moore

It was Private Eye, some years ago, who nicknamed former Spectator and both Telegraph's editor Charles Moore as 'TV's Charles Moore. This was, one supposes, a reference to his occasional (and, if I recollect, somewhat stilted) appearances on political programmes.
There is, then, some comic irony that yesterday, in Hastings Magistrates' Court, Moore should have been found guilty of refusing to pay his television license and was fined £262 with £545 costs. His argument, not accepted at law, was that presenters Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand were in breach of the BBCs charter by making lewd remarks on radio about actor Andrew Sachs (Manuel in 'Fawly Towers') and Sachs's granddaughter with whom Brand had occasionally slept.

Monday, 10 May 2010

The Hounds of Hell

When Francis Thompson wrote his dramatic, Christian and pro-hunting poem, 'The Hounds of Heaven', little would he have contemplated the state of hunting today. It exists in an environment of legal and moral uncertainty, yet is resolutely pursued, in belief or actuality, by more than 400,000 people in Britain today.

This morning, before news which I predicted here two days ago that the Lib Dems would shamelessly throw in their lot with discredited Labour came to pass, I was telephoned by Horse & Hound for whom I have been a hunting correspondent for the past twenty years. "What," I was asked, "Is the likelihood of hunting reform in the forthcoming political climate?"

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Gravely Voice

Six miles from Exeter where we farm the soil is deep red and, until now, the atmosphere has been one of hard earned rural tranquility. The old railway still runs by the river Creedy and the local pub brews its own beer.

All that may soon change if a letter that I received by hand this morning, an otherwise tranquil Sunday, is to be believed. The Church Commissioners who own a 260 acre farm by the pub and railway are planning to turn it into an open cast gravel mine which will rumble seven days a week for the next twenty years. Twenty lorries a day will leave the site.

Next week (19th May, 7.30pm, Newton St Cyres Village Hall) there will be a public meeting to discuss the plans, and I shall be there. I shall also make sure that our newly elected MP Melvin Stride and the Bishop of Exeter know about the plans. I shall also be in touch with the chairman of Devon Country Council as they are being asked to include the plans in their mineral planning policy.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Post Election Blues

Even by the half-hearted and, frankly, often myopic corner of my part of Devon, there is a feeling of deflation following the election results. Where there was once a glimmer of hope that the Conservatives might produce a clear mandate for fiscal reform, decency and yes a steady hand on hunting, we are now faced with a second General Election, and humiliating, unworthy, backroom deals.

This will lead, straightforwardly, to an increasing distrust in the electoral political process. We have quickly sickened of the false family units and promises of each of the three main party leaders. None of us doubt that David Cameron did his best, but he was neither Conservative enough nor clear enough. We all work hard, and through the night. We are just not followed by film crews when we do it.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Mad Bad and Dangerous

Rory Knight Bruce's column in this month's Field magazine

Single issue for foxhunters

As we stand on what is hopefully a new dawn for politics, and following that a measured understanding about the future of hunting, many of my generation are feeling that this is their last chance to ‘do something.’ I was reminded of this when recently I was invited to dinner in the House of Commons by a lifelong friend and MP.The thing about the Commons, away from the shrill clarions of David Dimbleby’s ‘Question Time’ and its back-bending ‘impartiality’ (the monstrousness of which afterwards always gives me a sleepless night) is that it is really rather a fair and reasonable place. Opponents treat each other, much as I treat antis on the hunting field, with the feeling that at least they believe in something.

Mad Bad and Dangerous

From the Field, March, 2010

Royal Flush

It is not every night I stay in a grand hotel bedroom which announces previous occupants have been the Prince of Wales and the last executed murderer Ruth Ellis, though not at the same time. Such was my billet in Newquay for a dinner and talk to the Cornish branch of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust.

I know their first choice of speaker-a rugby player or ‘celebrity’ country person who does not actually take part in the sport they rattle on about-had jacked. But I was not going to let this or the seven courses (this year’s favourite at dinners seems to be inedible guinea fowl) put me off. Trying to get a Cornishman to laugh, however, unless it is about a shipwreck or Emmets having their cottages advertently burned down, requires full oratorical skills. Game conservators, their speciality here is snipe and woodcock in Cornwall, are rather shy souls, like the better sort of beagler.