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It was grey and miserable and wet at Luton airport. But you can buy coffee and a smile from a little kiosk at the very end of the coachway. The sign says “saucages & smiles”. So I got two gorgeous smiles from the Russian couple serving and a lovely hot chocolate that cheered me up. When you’re invited by a canine society you make an effort to minimize the costs of your journey, even if that means you’re squeezed in one of Mr. O’Leary’s flying buses that crisscross the skies like white vans in the rush hour. Pilots are under pressure to arrive before schedule. Flight attendants are overworked and smile forced smiles. You have to have a sense of humor and a good reason to travel, check, check; so it wasn’t too bad, considering. It was a short flight…

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Alpine Bridge, Llandrindod Wells (local postcard)

Then off to Milton Keynes on the coach, which was a bit eventful as the driver, a man of color, was racially abused verbally by a young thug during a stop and was visibly  shaken. He did keep his cool though and we arrived safely at my destination, to meet up with long time friend Joy and set off for Llandrindod Wells; the journey was very enjoyable as Joy’s a great driver and a joy to be around   🙂  we had a lot to catch up with so the boring motorway bit of the journey flew by very quickly; we took the scenic route as the Tomtom lady insisted on taking us towards Birmingham so we ignored her & got fashionably lost a couple of times; that always adds to the excitement and the laughs if you have hours to spare; works out better in the end too, if you are blessed with an even mildly adventurous nature; check.

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Afon Gwy / River Wye Y Bont yn Llanfair ym Muallt / The Bridge, Builth Wells. source

Wales felt very much like home in the northwest of Ireland; similar gorgeous lush landscape, only more bumpy and, thankfully, less littered with tractors; plenty sheep and hens on every dangerous bend along the country roads to scare the bejaysus out of city folk & Sunday drivers. More crazy steering wheel warriors determined to do their bit for sheep and hen population control. Similar weather, all four seasons in a single day. We had mostly rain on the way and a sprinkle of sleet and snowflakes later on. I loved it. It was fresh and chilly and I could easily see myself living there, in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, surrounded by mad Celts in a wild green countryside. A lot of water. Mauve mountains. And winding roads framing a new painting on every turn. No wonder the Welsh are prone to singing rather beautifully. The soul signs in their blessed land.

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the Bandstand, Temple Gardens, Llandrindod Wells  source

The hotel was, well, interesting…and Dickensian. Thankfully there were plastic cups sealed in cellophane in the bathroom.  They don’t serve anything Welsh at the bar and the only label worth a second look read Cockburn’s which has a charming Celtic history, but when I travel I get dehydrated and Cockburns didn’t sound particularly promising as a throat refreshment; so I settled for a cool lager and ice water; then dinner – sadly the menu didn’t include any Welsh cuisine either – in the pleasant company of lovely people who were also there to judge dogs. I can vaguely remember what we talked about – which is a shame as it included some very interesting expert information about puddings – because after a while everything, including my brain, was sizzling. And not in a good way, unfortunately: it wasn’t the close proximity to hot Welshmen. I wish it was that, but no. Had there any hot Welshmen been around I apologize and I promise to duly notice next time I’m there, provided it’s not the same hotel with the central heating on; nothing registered, due to the system overheating. And I wasn’t having hot flashes either. The room was hot. The hotel was hot. The air we were trying to breathe was hot. It wasn’t nicely hot. I’m sure we’d complain if it was cold. But – it felt like we were being slowly & mercilessly steamed over a boiling cauldron like sad suffocating broccoli. I could feel my precious grey matter, which was required to be fully functional & sharp the next morning, turning to the consistency and effectiveness of overcooked cabbage.

the lake, Llandrindod Wells, complete with Welsh dragon

the lake, Llandrindod Wells, complete with Welsh dragon. I could have dived in if it was any closer to the hotel. Source

Outdoors was freezing, indoors was roasting. It was hotter than hell so either Wales has its own oil fields or Glen Usk was actually built on Dante’s Inferno itself and the fiery river Phlegethon powers its boilers. Going out for a breath of fresh air and coming in again was like hardcore sauna while fully dressed so we decided to retire to our private oven, room 205 and at least peel some layers off. It had originally been suite no. 207 but we walked in it to find unmade beds and other evidence of prior occupants so we were swiftly moved next door where any other occupants present were more discreet and thankfully stayed in their little nests. At least we didn’t see them. Maybe there wasn’t any, being too hot to sustain intelligent life. As I hadn’t slept at all the previous night having to get to Dublin airport at silly o’clock in the morning, I was beyond the point of caring; so we opened the windows and even the racket outside (some couleur locale on the green ’til very late, complete with Welsh shouting and loud bangs; perhaps the Doddies were out playing) didn’t interfere with our blissful sleep. I fell into oblivion mid-sentence and I woke up at quarter to six; which amazed me ’cause I couldn’t have slept more than four hours; during the night we were persistently serenaded by very loud, hideous snoring – it probably was the same person that kept every other guest awake through the walls that had all the insulating qualities of rice paper and none of its grace and charm, until the snoring suddenly stopped. I didn’t find out what happened to the snorer;  maybe the Llandoddies eventually decided they had enough, bless their little hairy ears.

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My very first CC winner & Best Dog – Tenaya Cherokee Lone Wolf aka “Fenton” [Ch. Tenaya Comanche War Lord x Lapsewood Star Attraction of Tenaya (Imp. NZ)]. Photo by Alan V. Walker, kindly supplied by breeder-owner-handler, Mrs. Helen Seddon.

A light breakfast and out of the door as quickly as possible, to avoid the brain cells turning to mouldy mush again; Bluilth Wells and the Royal Welsh Showground was thankfully just around the corner; the hospitality was super and I had what is a very respectable nowadays entry of 94 Great Danes to go over. Some lovely dogs and bitches kept me busy for a few hours. The weather was much improved but there was snow on the mountains and still cold; we left shortly afterwards to make it home before dark. Sunshine on the drive back made the journey even more pleasant and we treated ourselves to a delicious dinner at an Indian restaurant in Towcester.

Nobody can forget their first judging appointment awarding challenge certificates in the UK. It’s the country where I served my apprenticeship in the breed, that I called home and got married and had my daughter and made friends & enemies. So it was a wonderful experience to go back under these circumstances. I saw classy dogs in the breed I adore and have dedicated my life in. So I’m very thankful to all involved – and have taken back with me some new precious impressions that I’ll treasure.

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Thank you Paul for the lovely photo of “Fenton”, Helen and I!

Whatever the breed, I always look for the whole package: breed type, soundness, structure, movement, temperament, performance. I’m not easy to please – no judge should be; solid toplines, good feet, good croups seem to be problem areas at the moment. Quality & soundness is at a low ebb everywhere, in all breeds, or so I’m told by many. I suppose it was normal therefore to find just about half a dozen or so dogs that I would gladly take home. Some beautiful Danes that looked a picture stacked were not one piece -a unit- so didn’t perform as expected on the move. I has thrilled by a young dog in top form who won the ‘ticket’ on the day simply because he couldn’t be denied: he outperformed everyone else and ticked all the boxes. His name is “Fenton” – Tenaya Cherokee Lone Wolf, pictured above. A few of my snapshots further down. Full results here (click on Working Group to look up individual breeds).

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My BCC, Best Bitch and Best of Breed, Ch. Bourntwyn In My Dreams, JW (Alahmax A Big Hunk O Love x Seumelga Heilan Lassie of Bourntwyn) bred-owned-handled by Mandy & Chris Bithell. “Cruz” pictured in the group ring, with many thanks to Lorna Dandy for the beautiful professional photos. Visit Lorna’s website for more.

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“Cruz” in the group ring. Lorna Dandy photography.

All the boxes were needless to say also ticked by the bitch I awarded the CC and Best of Breed to: “Cruz”  – Ch. Bourntwyn In My Dreams, JW. I would have gladly mortgaged a mansion for her if I had it, but anyone willing to part with such a superb Great Dane would be a certifiable idiot. My RCC winners need no introduction: Ch Vanmore Stop & Stare At Castleon & Ch. Vanmore Eye Catching are top contenders & most worthy champions; I would have also awarded CCs or reserves to the third in Open Bitch class, the stunning Ch. Beitzan Lochsong, to the harlequin, Ravendane Maleficent For Harvaxe and to the second in open dog, Ir Ch Smalltall’s Fly Me To The Moon With Leevindane. Two very promising puppies, Ballyfrawley Addicted To Love & Keirkane’s Kiss From Heaven, with a couple more of promise and other youngsters coming on, like the smart black boy Leamap Strongbow At Jasnettdanes and the very pretty mantle bitch Adoreadane Make Your Marc and more quality individuals in the line-ups that could have been my winners on another day & entry. So that, as they say, is that. Roll on Norway in May and a chance to discover more memorable Great Danes. As for Wales, its legends and poetry, its misty hills and lovely people, I just have to revisit…

thanks everyone, for the memories ! See you again – gweld chi eto !

flag of Wales, from wikipedia

UPDATE: As my critiques have now been published in Dog World, here is a copy:  WPBAW Great Dane critiques

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