In 1904, the Sixth Conference of the Second International - a pan-national group of communists and socialist parties - called for all left-wing groups across the world to demonstrate for the class demands of the proletariat and universal peace on 1st May. In time the date became celebrated as May Day or International Worker's Day. History does not relate whether the Second International consulted the the Masters of Foxhounds Association (MFHA), which had previously decreed that 1st May should be the start of the hunting year, but if not, the coincidence was a fortuitous one. For on 1st May every year, a proud - if small - section of the working classes begins the cycle of the hunting year and many take up new appointments, which for them and their families means new homes as well as new jobs.
Over the years I have been lucky enough to meet many of the hunt staff who look after hounds and visit the kennels where they live and work. In most cases it is obvious within minutes of arriving that the occupants have a huge pride in their work which is reflected in everything from the welfare of hounds to the weeding of flower beds. "Professional" is a word that is often rightly used to describe hunt staff and that professionalism shines through in so many of those entrusted with the care, training and hunting of hounds.
The 1st May will be a little different for hunt staff this year, as for the rest of us. Some hunts have been able to arrange handovers before or after lockdown (whenever that might be), but others will have to welcome new staff next week to ensure the welfare of hounds. If nothing else, this is a reminder of some of the skills unique to hunt staff. No-one else keeps any type of domestic dog in a pack environment and the closest comparison is probably zookeepers looking after wild dogs and wolves. In some ways keeping hounds in packs is more natural than keeping an animal descended from wolves in a solitary environment, but it also creates challenges not least in human understanding. I remember a senior government vet visiting a kennel in Wales some years ago, during a consultation about kennel licencing, on the edge of panic as the huntsman opened the gate from the collecting yard and unleashed 60 or 70 foxhounds for their morning exercise. He simply could not comprehend that two people could control that number of hounds and watched open mouthed as they fell in behind the huntsman as his whipper-in pushed on any dawdlers.
So next week, on 1st May, we should follow the lead of the Second International and celebrate all the workers of the countryside and in particular hunt staff in their unique role. To highlight their work we asked Dan Cherriman, huntsman of the Pytchley with Woodland Hunt and a consummate professional, to film a day in his life at kennels under lockdown. The resulting film is a lovely glimpse into his world and a reminder of both the work of hunt staff and the love of hounds which drew them into the role. Dan's high standards set an example to all of us, especially in this time of working from home and video conferences, and we should all take a lead from a man whose day starts at 6:30am and is immaculately turned out in a Countryside Alliance tie. Truly a worker of whom we can all be proud.