As we’re writing this, we still seem to be living in a monsoon country, with Agility and Obedience Shows being cancelled including, of course, the Easter Show, where I was towed out for the very first time, even though our motorhome is a rear-wheel drive with twin wheels on the rear and diflock. I had to stop half way across the field, so that was it and we’re just keeping our fingers crossed that Rugby Show survives the rain. The last time we had to cancel our show, it was Rugby Borough Council who took the decision out of our hands on the Monday prior to the show and unfortunately by the time the weekend of the show arrived, the field had dried out but it was too late.
Having stopped selling wet weather clipboards (weather writer type), I have found another few boxes in my container, so these are the last ones and if anybody is interested in one – FB messages or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mary has had two Open Shows so far this year. Prior to Crufts, she had the show at the Oak Ridge Arena at Newark and what a great venue that is. It was a good start to the year with Lyric winning Open ‘C’ and Frankie winning Open ‘C’ and Levi, although on the road to retirement, getting a second place in Open ‘C’.
After Crufts, it was the outside show at Newark Showground and even after the rain Mary said that the working surface was good. She enjoyed the show and there was lots going on in the showground as well as another first place in ‘C’ for Lyric and a 5th place in ‘C’ for Frankie.
It was good to have a rest after Crufts, if you could call clearing the aftermath.
I did say at the time that this was the best and the worst Crufts we’ve ever had, so read on.
Mary just loves Crufts and that all started in 1979 when she made her first visit to the event. You have to bear in mind that Mary only discovered dog training clubs in 1978 so it all happened fairly quickly for her, so when she was asked whether she would like to join some others to go to Earls Court, she jumped at the chance and that was that – she caught the Crufts bug! I do remember her telling me about standing on the balcony, watching what was going on and little did I realise at the time how much dogs would take over our lives or that I would be writing this 39 years later.
This was going to be a milestone year for Mary, firstly because Levi was going to retire. Levi is probably one of the most well-known dogs in the UK at the moment as well as other parts of the world, a huge winner in Obedience, having, during his career, won 56 Championship classes and 39 second places (Reserves) in Championship and unbelievably over 120 Open ‘C’ wins. Also, as we all know, he has performed some marvellous routines with Mary in her Heelwork to Music demonstrations and is just so very very clever. Mary usually just retires a dog quietly, not being one for having retirement parties for dogs, but this year was going to be party time for Levi after his final round in the Obedience Championship Finals. She had already retired Levi from Heelwork to Music previously, drinks and snack by her bench lots & lots of cards and some wonderful gifts and presents and what a great final result for him in the Dog Championships, second place.
The other momentous thing that was happening was that it was to be Mary’s final year performing Heelwork to Music on Best in Show Night at Crufts. After twenty-one years of performing a routine on this special night, routines that were followed by dog handlers and enthusiasts throughout the world, this was to be the year that she was hanging up her dancing shoes – but not by choice. We were told that the Kennel Club was revamping the Best in Show programme and there would be no more Heelwork to Music performances on this in future. So it was the end of an era.
I was commentating on all four days, so we did benefit from a room at the Hilton Hotel and moved in on the Wednesday. We had five dogs with us, well three and two little ones really, and on the Thursday morning as usual Mary went out with the dogs before 7am, giving me a chance to get ready and be ‘booted and suited’ – and arrived back at the room in tears and covered in mud. The grass around the hotel was muddy, there had been a big freeze and she’d fallen over and more or less done the splits. She actually heard something tear in her leg and was pretty distraught. Her memorable words for me were “That’s my Crufts over.” Anyway, I don’t know how she managed it but she was quite determined and so after a ‘steady as you go’ day on the Thursday and Friday, albeit with a limp and a lot of pain, she had improved a little by Saturday which was Lyric’s Bitch Obedience Championships day. She was so pleased with the way she worked and lots of people said what a stunning round she had, but unfortunately she didn’t hear Mary on the recall from the Sendaway, so a second command was needed which put her out of the running for the winning slot but she was really pleased to get fourth place with her.
Saturday night was a dress rehearsal for the Sunday evening Heelwork to Music slot, so a worrying moment as far as what Mary’s leg would be like, but she survived the rehearsal albeit taking extra care.
Crufts Sunday was Levi’s big day. He was working early and put in a stunning round that we were told was pretty near perfect. Mary was so pleased for him as he’s twelve years old and still a great dog. She was also pleased that his final competition round would earn him second place in the Obedience Championships at Crufts. Mary had a table set up with drinks and nibbles for lunch time and she got a huge number of presents and cards – in addition to the ones that she received for being at the Championships in the first place – so it was just an amazing day for her. But she still had one very special gig to perform in the Main Ring. It was a packed audience of what I believe was around 7,000 people and this year she was using Lyric and Frankie again as she was doing a montage of previous routines, being joined for part of the final performance by our great friend Richard Curtis. I would have to say that Richard has been so supportive of Mary for many years now and Mary has greatly appreciated his input into her performances. This year, she needed a hat stand and if you’ve seen the routine then you’ll probably remember that she hung some of her clothing on this. I did buy one from eBay for a whole £8.95 including delivery, and it wasn’t really a surprise that that wasn’t good enough, so Richard’s partner Andrew made one out of wood and it’s just superb. He made it himself and even shaped all the wood for the top of it. I’m still absolutely amazed at what he managed to do even though it took weeks to do it, and fully finished it would fetch a lot of money in a specialist shop. But it’s not going to waste as it now has pride of place in our hallway.
It was a long routine this year of around six minutes and was a collection of previous routines, starting with Glenn Miller, followed by Barnum with Richard and the Bonny Scotland routine and finishing with Mack and Mabel which is one of my favourites. Before Mary started, they played a DVD on the large screen in the arena with a selection of her routines, starting with Glenn Miller and it really was a superb little montage of everything she’d done previously. Mary then entered the arena and performed her routine and I’m still amazed at how well she managed after the injury she had on the Thursday morning but she did and it was a superb finale. At the end, Richard and Pauline collected the dogs from Mary and I took her to the front of the arena in front of the red seats and at this point she was actually completely unaware that there was going to be a presentation in the arena for her. Vanessa McAlpine, who is show manager at Crufts and we’ve known for over twenty years and have the greatest respect for, was presenting Mary with her memento of Crufts – a beautiful, heavy, large, cut crystal vase which was superb. Then, just at the point when Mary was going to leave the arena, we had a huge standing ovation from the audience. So it was a very touching moment. When Mary arrived back at the dressing there was a huge bouquet of flowers waiting for her complements of Crufts to put in her vase.
Well, I did describe Crufts as the best and the worst we’ve ever had so you can perhaps understand me saying that. On the day I’m typing this, it’s our fortieth wedding anniversary so it’s thirty-nine years since Mary went to Crufts for the first time and if you’d asked me when we got married in 1978 we would be in dogs for the next forty years I would never have believed you. But what a great time we’ve had so far.