At the end of The Second World War I was five years old. The war had a profound effect on all of us, young and old. There was no man in our household, no male role model. Plus we children were influenced by men returning from the war, and in some cases by men simply not returning. Presumably that is why some of us developed cruel tendencies that were perhaps awesome in their originality.
We would create hollow balls of mud using local clay. We would carefully insert insects, ants and the like inside these man made prisons and place them in the hot embers of bonfires we had created specifically for our foul endeavours.The animal kingdom we disregarded and disrespected. We were alas, infantile and immature, truly depressing. All manner of insects would be executed by inserting their heads through the holes in a clock face and decapitated by turning the clocks hands. Where we learnt such cruelty I know not. But what I do remember is that we made reference to 'the Boche, Hun or Jerries' and 'the Japs'. Those suffering our initial cruelty were always symbols of the enemies that had occupied my live seemingly forever. Childish behaviour, very childish; then I grew up.
No more ingenious torturing of insects. (Excepting a phase where we blew up frogs, literally, using a straw inserted up the rectum.) We were older now and left childish behaviour behind; or did we? We made dobbers, ghats, catapults, call them what you will, that fired stones (and steel ball bearings if you could find them.) Plus bows and arrows, the arrows preferably tipped with the pointed end of a discarded dart. The object, to 'down' any bird or wild animal within firing distance, lethal if successful, equally dangerous also to any of our 'gang' within firing range. We were village children, presumably some of our behaviour at this stage of our development was connected with a primeval urge to hunt and forage. Mercifully I don't remember one single occasion when any animal or bird was actually harmed on our expeditions; then I grew up.
In mid teenage I had a gun that fired nine millimetre cartridges. Small but still a dangerous weapon particularly at close quarters and in the hands of an untrained novice. I have no idea where I obtained this weapon or what eventually happened to it. What I do remember is hiding this weapon from adults and stalking the hedgerows of surrounding fields, reminiscent of Davy Crockett, a cult figure in my youth. (Again I do not remember a single instance of the gun being fired in anger. Perhaps a pattern was emerging); then I grew up.
It was in some ways an age of indifference to the pain and suffering inflicted on the animal kingdom. Animals were often disposed of without thought as to the suffering inflicted. I have seen kittens killed by hitting their heads against a farmyard wall. The drowning of kittens in a bucket of water was commonplace. Recently a man in Staffordshire's conviction for animal cruelty for similarly drowning a grey squirrel surprised many. Some suggested grey squirrels deserve little else. Can anyone with any sensitivity whatsoever imagine the abject terror inflicted on such animals in the last moments of their life.
If my aversion to blood sports loses me readers, so be it. But I loathed fox hunting, defended by some as a very British institution. Look how they slaughter my chickens some say. But they're an animal for goodness sake. Do you really need to defend the barbarous pursuit of foxes by howling dogs and demented bloodthirsty fools on horseback. Please spare me the 'It's very British' bit. I have a farmer friend who would not allow foxhunting on his land, so please don't tell me it's only 'townies' who object. I have no doubt I will be subjected to charges of sentimentality by some. But I watched the foxhunts as a child; then I grew up.
We lived in Lincolnshire when I first married. To see hares 'dancing and shadow boxing' in the adjoining fields was indeed a joy to behold. We hadn't been there very long when we awoke one morning to the sound of gunfire; lots of it. In front of our house (a forty plus acre field) a hare shoot was in progress. We will never forget it. Very reminiscent of the Alamo. Both my wife and I were distraught. And next came the pheasant shoots. Packs of ruddy faced individuals with nothing else in their empty lives than to blast away as hand raised pheasants flew overhead. Some birds fortunate to escape the barrage and settle not too far away. To be re-hunted in the near future; were they really the lucky ones. What clever men you were, and such bravery, such skill.
All these thoughts came rushing into my head as I viewed on the television a terrified bull running amok at a bullfight in Northern Spain. A hot, sunny family afternoon for mothers, fathers and children alike spoilt by an inconsiderate, albeit terrified bull. What a hell of a way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Evidently this was not the traditional bullfight but an event where participants go into the ring and goad, aggravate the animal. I read of this 'happening' also as a news item. It suggested bullfighting in general needs to be looked at 'As the lives and safety of the spectators and human participants should be of paramount importance at any sports event.' Amazing, no mention of the cruelty involved, no mention regarding the animals welfare. This absolutely says it all. I too went to bullfights in my late teens; then I grew up.
We read of horrific acts still perpetuated by children and grown ups in the world. I am not qualified to know the reasons, I can only suspect less than perfect instruction as to the rights of animals in particular. And whilst there are many in this twenty first century who are still indifferent towards animals, many fortunately care. Thankfully my wife, children, grandchildren treat the animal kingdom with the respect it deserves. Because whatever their ages, they have grown up.