Crufts 2019

20190307_105306.jpgBecause Barnaby had recently been so ill, it looked unlikely that anyone would be going to Crufts this year. However, three weeks after his operation he had clearly made a complete recovery: the seaweed blockage and infection were happily just memories, his tummy wound was completely healed and his strength restored, so our dear vet told  Barnaby that a well-earned change of scene was just what he needed. Instead of manning the golden retriever stand at Discover Dogs, as he usually does with Newman, he spent Gundog day enjoying the sights, most stunning among them the giant Frontline  spaniel, which came as a great shock to most passing dogs, as he moved about encouraged by the presenter demonstrating the dangers posed both to dogs and our homes by fleas and their eggs.  Inside the giant spaniel was an actor who could only stay there for short periods because it was so stifling and because of the strain on his legs and back from the tortuous pose he had to adopt in order to look so realistic. Designed and made by a specialist firm used by the BBC, the spaniel proved a popular draw, teaching and selling in equal measure.

20190307_100441Barnaby loved sharing himself with the people he met, behind and in front of all the stands, as well as being useful as an example of his breed.  He patiently allowed a goldie breeder whose dogs were over on the show benches to use him as a model, so she could try on him various sizes of the special harness she was after.  Who knew there was so much choice, and how precise one has to be to get exactly the right fit for a retriever’s muzzle.  For what it’s worth, size 3L in the Dogmatic harness is perfect for the breed! We have never used such an item, always having been trained to heel with a slip lead – pulling isn’t a family trait, so to speak, though it’s obviously something far too many dogs do. Barnaby’s gentle nature was much praised, but it’s a pleasure to do a dog-owner a favour; Crufts is all about sharing one’s love of dogs, telling stories, and bonding over similar canine experiences. One meets so many visitors there who have lost their own beloved , and who long to reach down and feel the warmth and comfort of a gentle retriever once again.

20190307_153525Though we glanced at the scores of entries being judged in the golden retriever rings, it was hard to ignore the fact that most of these qualifiers (an achievement in itself) were completely wasting their time as there are so few top prizes and, as is the case with most breeds, the winning kennels seem increasingly familiar in every show one attends. This magnificent cocker spaniel came all the way from Sweden in order to compete but, despite wins throughout his home country and across the Baltic states, he met with no success at Crufts.  One honestly does wonder how the majority of exhibitors maintain their enthusiasm for the contest when it is so difficult to supervene on such a stage.  Meeting him after he’d left the show benches after 4pm was one of the highlights of this trip, however; though tired from his day on duty, he sat atop his wheeled crate, born proudly aloft by his well-dressed human family, who love and treasure him, no matter what – precious winners all, as someone famous once said.



A week of sun and sausages

120px-Sand_Martin_(Riparia_riparia)_(14)The sand martins have begun to return to the nesting holes! Joy unconfined! Proof, if proof were needed, that life is gathering speed in our midst and that we – the watchers and the waiters – are worth the candle.  The wind-blown nesting places which have lain forlorn – and indeed unseen – as we passed beneath them on the 20160425_073658darkest mornings, are now alive with the chattering of the creatures which, with miraculous accuracy, have located them as home for yet another breeding season.  As of today there are at least four pairs, but, when the wind turns southerly again, numbers will shoot up and soon the dawn will be full of their gossiping voices.

20170331_125642Around and about our home itself, our friendly neighbourhood bird life is busy, too. Any returning house martins will be terribly disappointed to find that the boxes erected especially to attract them to our eaves have one and all been commandeered by our fat little sparrows, most numerous of ‘the ones who stayed’. Even the two natural clay martin nests are now providing bed and board to chatty couples, late risers though they be; unlike the sand martins they never celebrate the early morning sun or greet us on our return home after the run. But the dawn chorus of blackbird, robin and the rest is intensifying day by day and the dawn obliterates the moon ever earlier. Our jackdaws have kept an eye on their chimney throughout the winter, and now look set to get cracking with a brood. The feeders are kept full, so starlings newly returned to them can have a mouthful, too and, to the box in which they successfully raised their clutch last spring, have returned our blue tits, busy all day, every day, and so conveniently near the nuts and fat balls.

20170401_141432But if the birds know what they are about, that is more than can be said for the sausages. It says it all about the serendipity which characterises our little posse that a family get-together last Saturday at the Scottish Dachshund Club Championship Show, ended with both Nicholas and his sister, Tiggy, having qualified for next year’s Crufts. Having achieved second place in their respective classes, the terrible twosome will now be heading Birmingham-wards next March, ‘for the experience’, as they say. This picture captures all the chaos of the aftermath, 20170401_120107both from the confused disposition of the certificates (which, in a way, says it all) to the restlessness of pup Frederick, their tiny nephew, whose intervention displaced the intended line up. We are grateful to the friendly judge who found Tiggy and Nico worthy: it was a lovely surprise. Who knows, once he reaches six months young Fred will probably honour the ring with his presence and may even qualify as well!

Crufts around the corner

fb_img_1486239315855Sometimes the frustrations of life in a family can be overwhelming, the delicate balance lost between the demands of dogs and the requirements of our owners. Kemo Sabe certainly has a lot to put up with! It’s easy to get annoyed at Newman, what with him eating everything in sight – or trying to, if he possible can – and especially seaweed, of course. It’s all too easy when you’re on the phone to get annoyed with Barnaby, for clinging so close you think you’re going to burst with claustrophobia, or indeed with yours truly when I tumble downstairs and jump over the handset, risking a cut-off, mid-call. It’s really easy to get completely sick of Nico’s barking as he alerts us all to the arrival of our friendly delivery persons or runs yapping straight at the heels of male joggers on the beach. Oh, and I can see that it would be entirely understandable to have had enough of my hyperactivity,  always on tenter-hooks as I am for the next exciting event in our daily routine, whining like mad with anticipation, rushing around from one room to another as the tension mounts, urging everyone else to join in the mayhem. Yes, all of us – apart from Hammy Bumble, whose chubby patience and simple needs humble us all – are really very irritating indeed. Fortunately, however, along comes Crufts and, as if by magic, everyone sees the light, as they gaze at the wonder which is the dog and ponder on the qualities which make us the world’s favourite companion animal. Only a couple of weeks to go now, and it’s well worth the wait for the reflected kudos it brings us all.

20170212_120857For our part, we boys probably take much more from those we love than what we give back.  We are the centre of their lives, running our families ragged with our constant focus on the fun to come. Life is such a hoot, after all ! Why won’t everyone join in? What is the point of holding up the walk in order to comb out the clumps in Barnaby’s coat? Why must I go to Donna-Marie’s for a serious haircut to keep the curls out of my eyes and ears. And all those booster injections, what’s all that about? We have nothing other than fun and frolic to think about; nothing other than dinner once breakfast is over and bedtime snacks once the afternoon walk is done. They, on the other hand, have other of our interests at heart; time-consuming tasks often costing considerable sums, designed to keep us looking and feeling our best. Training to do; discipline to keep; puppies to educate for safe, long and happy lives.

Next Tuesday when we welcome young Frederick – pictured above with Nico’s sister, Tiggy  – we’ll be able to see how he’s getting to grips with the politics of family life.  He will be accompanying her to Crufts, for which she qualified some months ago. More anon, as I always say. Apparently, he has wheedled his way into her affections, which isn’t surprising, and she – apparently – puts up with a lot from him. As everyone in this house would surely chorus: don’t we all?




From this . . . . to this!

Sebastian with his siblings

It’s a wonderful feeling when you begin – at last – to feel the pulse of life returning (ever so gradually, it has to be said) to your veins. After a winter which has drearily defeated us with its dullness and drizzle, today at last the sun has beaten back the clouds and, collectively, we are all feeling that bit more positive. Though the back grass is still far too wet to cut, it feels as though we have turned a corner at last.  It’s been nearly three weeks since my operation and I am back to my usual routines: the morning run, the mad retrieving, the constant presence at Kemo Sabe’s right hand. We know the puffins have returned to the Islands; when, we wonder, will our martins arrive? Above us on the dunes, as we trundle along the beach each morning now, the skylarks and warblers are in excellent voice. The tits are checking out Christopher Wren’s nest box whenever the sky clears, picking at the boys’ golden fur we’ve left for them under the rose canes, so perhaps today they’ll commit to a new home and begin nest-building inside in earnest. What a joy it is to look beyond one’s own little world. As someone famous once said, ‘Minding your own business is like minding your own health: the surest way to make yourself sick!’

177(1)So, in celebration of the coming better weather and a more hopeful time of year, take a look at this charming young man – Buffrey Incognito by Dalleaf JW- better know to us as Sebastian . Though the day of his great success seems ages ago now – illness having taken its toll on our writing routines, and many deadlines having passed unfulfilled as a result of enervation – I can at last put on record the enormous pride I felt when watching dear Sebastian take Best Puppy in the dalmatian ring at Crufts this March. Despite the noise, the crowds and the palpable tension which prevails from start to finish, Sebastian sailed effortlessly through a very long day – one which turned out to be crammed with unexpected incident. It was exciting to be standing next to his very proud owner, The Lady in the Van, at the very moment his future was judged to be the brightest.

Unlike dear Barnaby, I have never before witnessed a friend win such a prestigious award (Barnaby never lets us forget that he saw his cousin win Best Puppy golden retriever a few years ago), so that Thursday will always be special for me. Though Kemo Sabe held me firm and on a short lead, I wanted to join in the noise-making, particularly as all the show dogs in the ring were behaving with such self-control.

Sebastian at five months

Although born in the Midlands, Sebastian lives with his uncle, our old friend Tomas, of whom I’ve written previously, and his grandmother Jasmine in the south of England and, we can divulge, when not on his best behaviour, being all formal and professional in the ring, he gets into a great many scrapes. We must remember that, as well as being a magnificent dalmatian who gained his Junior Warrant within a couple of months of starting his showing career, he is still only a yearling, so transgressions must be treated with forbearance. Or so he tells Tomas and Jasmine (not to mention the ever-patient Lady!).

Buffrey Incognito at Dalleaf                         (Copyright 2016 Anne Hurst)

Here he is on the day of his triumph, with his breeder and handler, Sally-Ann Neath-Duggan. You can read more about him on Sally-Ann’s website:

He is competing regularly at championship shows throughout the country and all of us ordinary chaps are hoping to have him up this way in a couple of months. I wonder what it’s like to be a star!




Notes from the underground

20160323_181238Since we all returned from Crufts we’ve been under the weather and no mistake. Speaking for my own medical case, I know this is not a good look, but at least I’ve been spared what Barnaby calls ‘the cone of shame’. I like to think of this soft, protective cushion as the doughnut of comfort and so far it’s served me nicely, stopping me from nibbling my wound and giving me something reassuring to rest against. I acquired it on returning home after a day at the vet’s for what  – everyone tells me – is a routine operation. I note with interest, however, that none of the others knows anything about it.  I am sore, though, and feeling more than a bit delicate which is empathetic of me, bearing in mind how ill the humans have been for the last couple of weeks.

Like my own poor Kemo Sabe, however, I can at last feel the life force returning, in recognition of which I’ve now been allowed to exercise with the others in the morning once again. Oh the joy of smelling the salty sea air! The fellowship! The fun! Being a responsible boy, I haven’t pushed myself too far and, as the nurse at the vet’s said during my check-up yesterday, things are healing nicely. The humans have really had to stagger through this winter, with its record grey skies and mild temperatures; it’s no wonder these virulent germs have been so difficult to vanquish and I have had my own down days, too. The sun has all but abandoned the country this winter – a record-breaking year of days without sunshine –  and in particular the post-Crufts weeks have been a kind of twilight zone for us all, overshadowed by Hammy Jo’s empty cage and the lassitude that overwhelms the unwell: sleeping badly, coughing madly and yet – ironically – longing always for bedtime! How sad it makes us to see them brought so low.

20160325_102133(1)Thus, despite returning home after our Crufts adventures dying to tell the big news about what happened to our friend, Sebastian the dalmatian, fate intervened and, one after another, the troops went down and I have laid aside the composition of my paean of praise for a couple more days. As I write this, Hammy Bumble is as active as ever in his demesne. Whatever the time of day, whenever we enter the study, he is always awake, or ready to rise, never fully relaxed, always ready to run around madly, his own particular silliness being to roll over and over, as though doing somersaults. Bit by bit he is learning there is nothing to fear, as must I, in my comfy doughnut. We must hope and move forward, despite the darkness, despite the unknown fear. For despite everything, day after day our fragrant meals have been provided promptly morning and afternoon; our routines honoured; our needs met – Hammy’s initial training included. How blessed we creatures are to be put first, and sometimes at such cost.

And the winner is . . . ?

IMG_2533In today’s edition of The Times we hear that wolf-like breeds of dog – Huskies and Malamutes – are turning up in rescue centres in increasing numbers, fuelled by the popularity of series like Game of Thrones. Attracted by the idea of embracing life alongside a bear-like beast of such obvious magnificence with more than a hint of the wild wood about it, folk who haven’t thought things through are taking home cuddly pups which very shortly develop into massively strong, intelligent creatures hungry for meat and exercise, increasingly unmanageable and aggressive without enough training and work to occupy them. Even with a major commitment of time, energy and finance, such dogs can rarely be allowed to live the life they need, so our collective hearts sank when an Alaskan Malamute won Best of Working Group, giving the breed another boost, with all that that entails. The whirligig of canine fashion is swift and sickening: in recent years the Staffie has been the most common abandoned breed, along with various pit-bull lookalikes resulting from cross-breeding for strength, size and aggression, but now the modern home is incomplete without the ultimate fashion accessory, the fantasy dog for a fantasy life. Quite by chance this funny, serendipitous photo taken at Crufts last weekend captures the current trend perfectly: the traditional Dalmatian flanked by the dogs of the moment.Perhaps a stuffed toy sitting in the living room would be a better choice for the hundreds of individuals who decide they can’t manage a real one.

IMG_2570As the competition turned out, it was pleasing that the top prizes went to two traditional British breeds, the Scottish Terrier and the Flat-Coated Retriever, but this probable up-turn in popularity will bring its own problems, as celebrity ever draws the fashion-conscious. Designer crossbreeds have proved another fashion, with serious health consequences in many instances, Cavachons for example bringing together two small breeds – the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and the Bichon Frise –  each independently troubled by heart problems.  Uncle Nunu and Barnaby know well enough from their time on Discover Dogs that far too many people thinking of getting a dog are starting out from places of ignorance: believing, for instance, that a dog can be left alone from day to day for hours on end and that the only real question to ask is whether one breed is better able to endure this isolation than another. In their days on the Golden Retriever stand, they met with only one person planning to buy a retriever as the result of careful and informed consideration, asking genuinely insightful questions about the relationship that dog would have to their family. Theirs will be a lucky dog and he will have a happy, dog-centred life.


Tom’s big win!

DSC00810On the eve of this years Crufts, it is my great pleasure to celebrate Tomas’s very recent victory. For, at the recent Joint Dalmatian Club Championship Show, held mid-February at Stoneleigh in Warwickshire, our distinguished and very handsome friend (appearing under his professional name of Dalleaf Devil’s Disciple) was crowned Best in Show.

Having won another Challenge Certificate when judged Best Dog, after winning his Open class, he went on to take the top prize of the day when he, rather than the Best Bitch, supervened in the last contest of the competition. That Saturday Tomas showed his very finest qualities  and was a deserving winner. Honest and true, strong and fine: well done, Tomas, and good luck at Crufts, where we hope to congratulate you in person on the Sunday you’re due to compete. By the way, old friend, we hear on the doggie grapevine that you are likely to have a little nephew or niece joining your family in the few months’ time: wot larks, Pip old chap!