EDGEHILL, England - The controversial fox hunting ban that threatens to divide England like nothing since Margaret Thatcher was skirted merrily yesterday when countless people flocked to the countryside to see fox hunters in drag riding sidesaddle over hill and dale.
"These lads are obeying the letter and the spirit of the law," said comedian Graham Norton as he watched members of the Warwickshire hunt go mincing by on their horses near this hamlet, ninety miles northwest of London.
"They ought to change their name to the Poofenbury hunt," said Norton, whose comment reflects a determined inclination to mock what is widely seen as "Tony Blair's folly" out of existence.
"Blair is not only dull himself, he causes dullness in others," said Norton, echoing Samuel Johnson. "His ears made him look like a taxicab with both doors open."
The hunting ban, which went into effect in England and Wales at midnight Thursday, does not make riding with hounds itself illegal; nor does it proscribe killing foxes in cruel and hideous ways-so long as they are dispatched with guns, lances, or crossbows instead of hounds' teeth. Moreover, the law expressly protects drag hunting, and that was the order of the day at Edgehill and other locations across England.
Loosely defined, drag hunting is a variety of fox hunting in which participants must wear at least one visible article of female clothing between their shoulders and ankles. In addition, the huntsman, whose duty it is to lead the hunters into the field, must be well and truly dressed as a woman from head to toe. Finally, persons participating in a drag hunt must ride sidesaddle.
If drag hunters should have the misfortune of actually cornering a fox, they must shriek for ten seconds, then trap it humanely and give it a makeover. Under no circumstances may they kill a fox unless they scare it to death.
"This is more fun than I've had since university, when we liked to get all tarted up on Thursday nights and go down to the local for a few pints and a giggle," said Jock Simmons, secretary of the Warwickshire hunt. Simmons was dressed in a Cherie Blair power suit with an exaggerated posterior.
Although Simmons chose to make a political statement with his outfit, most huntsmen appeared as female entertainers or as frightening approximations of Hyacinth Bucket. Ian Martin, secretary of the Duke of Beaufort's hunt in Didmarton, was done up as Boy George.
"I was looking for an ironic effect," laughed Martin, "but I was a bit worried that I might meet myself coming and going."
In related news, an attempt to circumvent the fox hunting ban came to grief on the rugged fields of Howgills when two members of the Lunesdale hunt, which elected to hunt with pistols, were killed by friendly fire.