The clocks go forward, temperatures in South Oxfordshire soar to double digits, and suddenly spring has arrived. Barbecues are lit, there’s not a free table to be had outside the cafés in Abingdon Market Square – lending the town a distinctly Mediterranean air (not really) – and the more observant among you might have noticed that my Second Draft word counter has lurched back into life. (Actually, you probably didn’t notice. And if you did, surely you have a better way of wasting your time than following my word counter?) I love this time of year and that whole “promise of new things” thing.
A downside to April, however, is the annual carnage that passes for the “world’s greatest steeplechase” – the Grand National, of course – which rolled around again yesterday like one of those little balls of poo that dung beetles trundle about. No horses were killed during this weekend’s race, but there were two deaths over the same course earlier in the “festival”. Note that these received far less publicity than did the organizers’ crowing about how they’ve made the National “safer”.
The fences may change (a bit) from year to year but the race goes on – as does the rest of the racing industry (never call it a sport). So, yet again, I’m going to drag out a piece that I originally wrote for The Vegan Cat-Lover website in 2012…
Breaking the Silence on the Grand National
People might say I talk too much about horse racing, given all the innumerable other abuses that humans pile on non-humans. But in some ways, at certain times, the racing industry angers me even more than does the meat and dairy business (which is a lot, I can tell you). All but the most ignorant of omnivores are at least passingly aware of the existence of vegetarian (and even vegan) opposition to their diet, though they may mock it. Complain about animal racing, however, and you get the kind stunned silence that greeted Ricky Gervais’s “outburst” last Thursday, live on BBC Radio.
I heard the broadcast as it happened, and couldn’t help cheering out loud. (I was on my own at the time, but wouldn’t have minded company – I’ve liked the opportunity to explain what had put the smile on my face.)
For those who weren’t there, Gervais was answering questions about his latest TV show, which has apparently caused offence among some viewers. When asked by host Richard Bacon what offends him, the writer, comedian, animal advocate and all-round good guy replied:
“Well, you’re at Aintree. I don’t think that people should make horses jump over things, being whipped, and when they injure themselves they are put down because they are not worth having around because of economic reasons. Basically a beautiful majestic beast that took 2 billion years to evolve has just been slaughtered for fun. But I don’t go to Aintree, that’s how I do it.”
What I find most infuriating about racing is that, as far as the media is concerned, it’s inconceivable that anyone could possibly begin to even imagine criticizing the “Sport of Kings”. The BBC’s sickeningly sychophantic annual coverage of the Grand National is a case in point.
Meanwhile, the authorities tinker with their whipping regulations (imagine the uproar there would be if those last two words were ever applied to – say – children), as the Grand National’s organizers deign to make minuscule changes to their fences after the death of two horses in last year’s race.
The result? The death of two horses in this year’s race (plus another over the same course two days earlier).
Astonishingly, in the immediate aftermath of the slaughter a few commentators poked their heads above the parapet to question the future of the event. It won’t last. Memories are short, and horses are “only animals”, right?★
Dung beetle by Dewet
Starter pistol by Valerie Buckingham