1970 – The First Shows
You will have gathered by now that our ownership of a show dog, as distinct from a ‘normal’ dog, arose as a result of Viv’s cousin, Marigold, virtually giving us Brena on the understanding that Marigold could show her. Hence, you will appreciate my surprise when, in recalling with Viv the events of our years with dogs, we realised that the first time Brena was shown, she was, in fact, shown by Viv.
The process by which it was decided she should be entered for this particular show is now lost in the mists of time. All we know is that we had to get ourselves and Brena from the outskirts of Morden, Surrey, where we lived at the time, to Redhill by some fairly early time in the morning in order that Brena might be judged at an open dog show. We believe that one of the reasons why she was to have been shown by Viv was that Brena’s litter sister, Pippa, was entered in the same show, and in the same class. Pippa was owned by Marigold, therefore Marigold clearly couldn’t show Brena. Knowing this, it might throw some light upon people’s initial motivation in deciding to show dogs, if only we could remember why it was that we still decided to go ahead, but we can’t.
There were, in fact, three from the same litter in the same class, in the same show, the third owned by a someone called Heather who we had never met before, but who later became a friend.
The journey from Sutton Common Road railway station to the dog show venue in Redhill was complicated, expensive and time consuming. We didn’t have a car at that time. It involved getting a train to Croydon, walking from one station to another, catching another train to Redhill and then walking in the rain to the hall in which the show was being held. We felt a certain anticipation of what was going to happen.
Brena was so obviously a beautiful animal. She would sweep the board. We didn’t know what prizes were on offer but she was certainly going to win them, whatever they were. We talked about how pretty she was, how happy, how friendly, and Marigold had already explained to us the royal nature of her pedigree.
By the time we arrived at the show venue we were convinced that we were in charge of a wonderful animal which would cause heads to turn as we entered the hall. We were, to say the least, slightly surprised to find that there were some forty or fifty other golden retrievers there, all just as happy, all just as friendly. They were just as pretty as well. How, we wondered, would the judge tell the difference. We couldn’t.
The time arrived for Brena’s class to be judged. It is probably now time for an explanation for the uninitiated about the process which is gone through in the judging of the golden retriever in this country. With minor variations which relate to the size of the dog or the traditions of the breed, this basic process applies to all breeds.
First, everyone stands in a circle. They have their dogs with them. Everyone then runs around in a circle anti-clockwise. After a critical period of time the judge walks up to one of the people running around in the circle and puts out their hand in a straight line, like a cyclist turning left. This is the signal for everyone to stop running around and congregate in a noisy, undisciplined cheerful line down one side of the ring. People talk about what the doggy papers are saying, who has what litter, who they think will win today – it’s always someone else – and either applaud the judging at the last championship show, or are resigned about it.
At this stage, the judge goes and stands at one end of the ring, and the person who (it seemed to us by chance) has ended up at the beginning of the line ambles over with their dog and stands it up whilst the judge ‘goes over it’
‘Going over it’ means that the judge peers in the dog’s mouth, feels its shoulders, ribs, legs, and various other parts of its anatomy. They check that the male dogs have two descended “bits”. Most male dogs wag their tails a lot in the ring. Then, having completed this examination, the judge stands back a few steps and looks at the dog with a critical eye.
The handler is then invited to run the dog up and down the ring. People rarely refuse. When this has been completed with the first dog, the dog and handler amble off to the other side of the ring and stand alone waiting for a few more to be gone over so that erstwhile neighbours can also then stroll over and continue the conversation so rudely interrupted by the judge.
When all the dogs in the class have been seen, everyone then spreads out in a circle again and stands still. The judge slowly goes round all the dogs again and picks out those which she or he considers the best. The judge places the animals in order of merit – first to third with a reserve and a very highly commended – fourth and fifth to you.
Suddenly, for those who have not been placed, it’s all over. They have been ‘thrown out with the rubbish’.
I do not intend to dwell particularly upon Brena’s performance at this show. All I will say is that she did no worse than her litter sisters, nor any better. She even disgraced herself in the same way as they did. They all left puddles in the middle of the ring.
The journey home was more subdued than that to the show earlier in the day. This is the stage at which many people decide that the whole thing is mad, that they must have been crazy to waste their time and money on such an escapade and never again.
Even though we had been given Brena on the understanding that she would be shown, we had no inclination to feel at all jaundiced about our experiences on that day. I think our general impression of the day was that we had met some people who liked dogs, as we did, who were friendly and were prepared to give us advice and to help us. Some of them had been happily getting thrown out for years.
Marigold always said that you had to learn to lose before you could properly learn to win. We had received the first of many of the first lesson.
Looking back on it, I don’t think we had anything to complain about. Even if, by reference to the breed standard Brena had been the best dog on the day, we had no way of knowing it. After all, at that time we had never even heard of the breed standard.
Viv continued to show Brena – and continued to get thrown out. Whilst we didn’t understand why she was losing, we equally couldn’t in our ignorance have put forward any rational argument as to why she should have won.
Then the big day came. It was a local show being held about two miles from where we lived. The show was in a hall near a pub called the Woodstock. The show was of the Open variety (a level below Championship show) and Brena was in one of the lower Golden Retriever classes. Viv showed her because Marigold was again at the show with Brena’s litter sister. We got a fifth – a very highly commended. So far as I can remember there weren’t that many more than five in the class, but that didn’t matter. Brena was considered by the whole show world to be an animal worthy of being VERY highly commended. At least, that was the conclusion to which we came in our delight and naivety.
On the strength of this wonderful win, we retired to have a celebratory drink in the local pub. Today the Woodstock Drill Hall, tomorrow the world.
If there was a stage at which the doggy hook tickled our gullets and warned us of what would happen if we persisted, this was it.
Of course, as time goes by, such experiences as this one come to be seen in perspective and one realises that a VHC in a smallish class in a medium sized open show guarantees neither the eventual elevation of the animal to the title ‘Supreme Champion of Crufts’ nor the owner as the undisputed heir apparent to Stanley Dangerfield (a well known judge and dog broadcaster at the time).
A further six months of traipsing around the shows were to pass before Brena eventually won a class at an open show. Of course, that memory is certainly one worth savouring, but it does not for some reason stimulate in me the same excitement that I still feel when in my mind’s eye I see a judge handing Viv the first card she and Brena ever won.