Strange encounters of the fox-hunting kind

By Ned Cantwell

The conversation was in a faraway place with a refined, obviously well-to-do London couple and the setting was such that chit chat is called for even if you have nothing to chit chat about.

It’s fun talking to Brits because most of their statements end up as questions even if they are not questions, so sometimes you don’t know if you are hearing a question or a declarative sentence.

“You live in the States, now don’t you?” the lady inquired.
I told her yes, we live in New Mexico.

“Oh … (very pregnant pause), New Mexico, that’s nice now, isn’t it?”

I could tell she was fumbling, and got her off the hook.
“It’s squeezed in down there between Arizona, Texas and Colorado,” I offered.

We all pondered that during the ensuing uncomfortable silence and I wish it had been me quick-witted enough to take the conversation in a new direction. But I wasn’t.
“And in New Mexico, you don’t hunt fox, now do you? Fox hunting is indeed such a senseless diversion, now isn’t it?” the lady insisted.

“But fox hunting, on the other hand, I must say, is a legitimate sport, now isn’t it?” her husband countered, leading to a rather lively debate between the two of them about whether chasing down and shooting fox is genteel pastime or uncivilized brutality.

I could volunteer little, knowing nothing about fox hunting except that a century ago Oscar Wilde called it “the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable.”

The lady turned her attention on me, once again. “I was really quite proud a few months ago, wasn’t I, when fox hunting protesters at the House of Commons threw condoms filled with flour at Tony Blair.”

OK. Now we find ourselves back in one of those prolonged, sweaty-palmed silences. This time, perhaps unfortunately, it was me who jumped into the conversational abyss.

“In New Mexico, we do not hunt fox,” I explained, “but we fight cock.”

“Oh,” she said, and then, after a pause that seemed like a month, “in New Mexico they fight cock, that’s nice now, isn’t it, dear?”

I quickly explained that it was an ancient, cherished tradition in New Mexico to meet on Sunday afternoons, attach razor blades to the claws of deranged chickens, and let them fight to a bloody death.

“My,” the lady said, her eyes wide, “that does make fox hunting seem a bit tame now, doesn’t it? And the children, when the birds are slaughtering one another, they would be doing something else, now wouldn’t they?”

That’s not the case, I told her. This is what New Mexico calls a “fun-filled family afternoon.”

“And the people of New Mexico, they are in favor of this, now aren’t they?” she wondered.

I explained that actually, no. A recent Research and Polling survey shows that 66 per cent of New Mexicans agree that cockfighting should end and, further, the numbers break out reveals that 59 per cent of Hispanics are against it, dousing the argument that cockfighting is a rich cultural Hispanic heritage.

I told my new London friend that year after year the state Legislature ignores the wishes of the majority of their New Mexican constituents and allows the cockfighting brutality to continue.

The lady pondered this. “Your governor is a man called Mr. Richardson, I believe. It might be a good idea to lob some condoms at him, now wouldn’t it?”

It’s a thought.

Ned Cantwell is a retired newspaperman living in Ruidoso. He welcomes response at: ncantwell@charter.net