I am a strong believer in any number of things: dark chocolate cannot make you fat; if you can make someone feel better about themselves, you should; it is a bad idea to teach children to think for themselves, and you should be some body's "gate-bitch" at least once in your life. That's what I was yesterday - a "gate-bitch". At least that is how my driver described me when I joined him as a pillion passenger on .his quad bike. My job, should I choose to accept it: open and shut gates while following the hunt.
I had thought about going hunting on a horse. Difficult since I do not ride, but I do love the outfits - so very Westwood. I thought about buying the outfit, going along and pretending I had forgotten my horse. I could still do some preening, meet new people and then go: "Damn. You'll never guess what I've done. I've only left the horse behind. Never mind - you chaps go on without me." I thought, however, there was an outside chance someone might see through me.
Instead, I decided to try hunting on a quad bike. My outfit was rubbish though. My riding pal warned me it would be cold on the back of a bike. She said: "Put on as many layers as you can. Then put on another one." I had on one silk pair of thermals (long johns and vest); one woollen pair (similar); one extra thermal vest; one woollen jumper; one woollen shirt; one pair of woolly tights; one pair of corduroy trousers; one cream jerkin; one waterproof coat; one thermal hat with earmuffs; two pairs of gloves; two pairs of socks and an enormous pair of walking boots for my sock-blown feet. I also had in my pocket, in the event of an Arctic winter sweeping in, a black balaclava. I was reluctant to wear the balaclava in case "the hunt" thought I was a "sab" and mowed me down "accidentally." I also thought there was an outside chance I would look like I had got lost on my way to rob a rural post office. But I hate being cold so I took it along.
Sometimes the quad bikes are up among the horse riders; more often they hold back and watch from a distance. Quad biking is basically as close as you are ever going to get to having sex with someone without taking your clothes off. I did not know my driver before clambering on to his machine. I then spent six hours slapped against his back yelping "Ooh" every time we went over a bump. We went over a lot of bumps. Naively, I said to him as we set off: "Do I hold on to you?" He never really replied. He could have said: "Only if you want to stay on."
The bikes are tremendously fat and wide with enormous tyres. Half 500cc Honda motorbike and half armchair. Farmers buy them and tell their accountants they need them to check on the sheep. They need them to get from one drink to the next. Who would not want to go quad biking?It is like Mad Max in tweeds.You are totally off-road, driving at between 10 miles per hour and 40 through a blissful Northern hillscape; ripping past yellowing gorse bushes, cutting through wooded bridleways behind beautiful women astride muddy-legged horses. Daffodils are green-budding in the lee of the jagged hawthorn hedge and, scenting the black and tan hounds, a deer streaks out of a coppice and across the field. Better than any of this, another cherry brandy and whiskey is just minutes away.
You obviously do not want to drink too much cherry brandy and whiskey when you are on the quad bike. Sometimes you have cointreau and whiskey instead. Sometimes you say: "What the hell. I'm worth it" and have cherry brandy, whiskey and cointreau. This is a good thing because if you drink enough, you cannot focus on the mud-splattered instructions fixed to the bike that say: "Never ride after drinking alcohol or using drugs." That instruction is part of a long list. It comes under: "Never carry a passenger since it would affect balance and steering and may cause you to lose control" and ahead of: "Always wear a helmet, eye-protection and protective gear". You are too drunk on cherry brandy to care by the time you make out the words: "Loss of control can result in severe injury or death."