Best in Show

Roger and I don’t have children.  We have dogs.  We have chickens.  We have projects. We have different activities.  We have fun.  Never before have we taken the dogs to a dog show, but when our friend Ann came to visit from Taiwan with her six-year old daughter Luna, the local village dog show seemed a fun way to spend an afternoon.

“Everyone’s a winner!” has got to be the theme.  It’s a village dog show, not Crufts.  It’s a fundraiser, so I’m feeling relaxed about Millie and Sam’s performance.  Still, to up our game, I give them both a little brushing before we head out for the afternoon.

Scanning the village green, we see some friends, a handful of dogs, and the day ahead looks relaxed.  There are several categories, and I start our day by entering Millie in “Best Dog Under 18 Months.”  Millie is friendly when greeting the judge who looks at her teeth, eyes and ears. Millie doesn’t jump up, but she doesn’t stand up either; instead, she snuggles into the judge for a little cuddle.  I feel my heart swell with love for our little dog and think, “Way to go Millie, that’s how to score points with the judge.”  But, when we go to do the required walk around the ring, Millie jumps up on me, tangles my legs and we are nothing less than a disaster.  I console myself: “It’s just a village dog show.”

There are several dog breeds and sizes competing. The people – known as handlers – also vary.  Some of these people hold the leads up straight and do a little trot with their dogs, just like they do at Westminster.  Who knew we were supposed to do that?  I notice a woman providing treats as she moves through the ring, which borders on treasonous cheating if you ask me.  A feeling of competition is seeping into my relaxed approach and I’m questioning our game plan, or lack of one.  Why did we go first?  I should have observed, taken notes, copied a few of the more seasoned competitors.  Should I have spent more time teaching Millie how to walk while attached to the lead?  Why are there suddenly so many dogs in this competition?  Still, Millie is cute and well behaved, so we’re surely in with a chance.

That is, until a butterfly makes itself known.

The judge has now met all the dogs, she looks around at each of the competitors.  Several are sitting up straight, looking directly at the judge.   One handler, adjusts her dog’s front legs and tail.  I’m trusting our honest, down-home approach will prevail and Millie will walk away with one of those ribbons.  Before making her final decision, the judge scans the ring giving each dog one last look.  When the judge considers Millie, she turns her head and looks AWAY to watch the butterfly.  What is she doing, trying to blow her chances?

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Millie distracted by a butterfly.

Evidently yes.  Moments later, the first dog – a handsome and well behaved retriever – is called to receive his award.  Then the next dog, and another until all six places are awarded.  Mille, still watching the butterfly, is blissfully unaware of defeat.

All who meet Millie say she is beautiful and well behaved.  Such unsolicited endorsements have us believing she must be exceptional.  As Millie and I exit the ring with the other losers, I’m convinced this entire village dog show is rigged.  How could so many people who meet Millie be so wrong?  Still, it’s a fundraiser, and part of that word is FUN, so we press on.

Next up, Sam.  I enter him in the “Best Re-homed” category.  He’s clearly going to win something having had an unknown and difficult start before he landed on all four paws with us.  I look around, and there are just two or three rather average looking dogs in the ring.  My competitive nature in full swing, I tell his back story to the judge.  “He was scheduled to be put to sleep when we rescued him…. scar on his side body…took him a while to gain in confidence….”  Lilly well and truly gilded, I’m feeling quietly confident.

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Sam doing his best to be excited.

But horror of horrors, what was a ring of four or five dogs, is now about fifteen!  Where did all these other dogs and their handlers come?  Can you enter the ring once the competition has started?  Isn’t there a cut off?  And what’s with this little dog wearing a sweater to cover up its skin condition from being in the pound?  Where was that three-legged dog hiding?  And the one with the missing eye?  Still, we were in with a fighting chance.

Sadly, not.  Sam didn’t win anything.  We have two dogs who haven’t claimed even 6th place.  Deep breath.  Notes to self:  It’s a fundraiser.  Bigger purpose.  It’s not about the winning, it’s participating that’s important.

Next category: “Best Dog Over 7 Years.”  Since Sam can’t walk well these days, we stay in place and pay another pound coin to enter this round.  No need to repeat anything to the judge as she has just heard it all.  Now gone are those other rescued dogs with harder-luck stories than Sam, replaced by a range of dogs over seven years old.  Unlike Sam, the other competitors easily walk and stand.   At this point, I too am watching a butterfly and resolved to having donated another pound to charity when Sam receives second place.  Second place!

Before I know it, there is someone asking me all sorts of questions about Sam.  What’s going on, am I being interviewed?  No, Sam takes another prize! “Oldest dog in the show.”  Well I’ll be damned, my old boy dog just jumped ahead in the medals table.

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Oldest dog in the show!

Resting on our laurels and crafting a strategy to build on our successes, we sit out a few rounds:  best pedigreed sporting dog, best groomed, and best movement (This is about gait, not poop).  Up comes, “Cutest Eyes” and I enter Millie.  She takes second place!  We’re on a roll now, eh?  She next takes a respectable fifth in “Pedigreed Non-Sporting”.   I don’t even know what this category is about, but who cares, two dogs, four ribbons and I’m feeling proud, proud, proud!

I was wrong about everyone being a winner.   We tasted loss and it wasn’t as sweet as the rosettes we received which will soon find their way into a box.  With or without these ribbons, Roger and I know our dogs are best in show.  And in my hot pursuit to have our dogs reign supreme, we supported a local charity.

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Hey, look at our ribbons!

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Summer Guests

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When we moved to Dartmoor, I worried we might not see friends or family. We were too remote and the weather too crazy. It just wasn’t a sexy destination like New York or Paris. And yet, buy a house in Dartmoor and they will come.

Sometimes I feel like we are in an episode of Fawlty Towers, if for no other reason when we have guests we seem to have equal doses of misadventures. Thankfully Roger is no short-fused Basil Fawlty and I am not his “little nest of vipers” Sybil. To date, we have not had to hide a dead guest from other guests, nor deal with a missing pet rat.

We have had, however, a few hiccups usually happening when we have visitors. There was the time when the generator stopped. The time we had no water. The time we had no hot water. The time we had no water and the generator went out. And, of course, the time the soak away stopped soaking away. Trying to be the perfect hosts, we hid our worries and did our best to get things up and running quickly.

Happily, we now know a bit more of the quirks and needs of this old house and know how to roll with them. In a recent visit, our friend Eileen was about to take a shower when I noticed there wasn’t any water. “Eileen! Don’t get into the shower! No Water!” When I returned with buckets of water from outside and remarked, not for the first time with guests, “These buckets are for the toilet. Remember, if it’s brown flush it down and if it’s yellow just be mellow.” my solution was met with silence. Roger jumped into action, quickly checking a switch – the very one we never knew its purpose but decided during this particular visit to flip — and the water pump was back in action. We have since added a note: “Do not touch unless you don’t want water.”

Soon after we bought Crockern we began our long project of fixing it up. We read about damp and old stone cottages, look at paint colours, change light bulbs to become more eco-friendly, run to salvage yards for old doors and large chunks of slate for window sills, throw out wall-to-wall carpeting and find perfectly fine wood floors underneath.  Recently, we’ve constructed out of cardboard a bathtub, toilet and sink to find the perfect location for each before we run the pipes in the bathroom. We’ve insulated, repaired the roof, sanded the floors, dug drains, repaired the track, replaced windows, built walls, built veg beds, moved stones, moved more stones and put in a lovely wood-burning stove.

Many, perhaps wiser, people would do some of these improvements while living elsewhere. Not us. Right in the middle of the renovations we are living our lives and hosting our summer visitors. We are catering to dietary requests, stocking up on plenty of wine, changing sheets and towels, and doing our best to keep things running smoothly. One thing I can say for our friends, particularly those who have returned again and again, is they have staying power for living in the chaos of old-stone-farmhouse-renovations.

Because chaos is everywhere in an old house and there is no end to the projects. Our friends are quick to console and help. Once, our brother-in-law spent an afternoon with Roger trying to get rid of an air-block in the water line.   While the two men blew into hoses attached to the faucets, I pretended all was under control, and brought in buckets of water to set by the toilet (this was the first time I issued the above rhyme.)

Our first year was damp and cold. We layered-up in fleece, yet friends arriving from warmer climates would bravely shiver in lightweight frocks and sandals, until they could take it no more.  Since our first summer, we’ve been down a shower when a friend broke the other; we’ve not yet fixed it (that bathroom is currently under renovation). And still, our guests return.

Lest I be misinterpreted, we have a great time with our visitors. They are our friends and family. Without them, we would eat basic meals and drink less wine. We would take fewer extended walks. We would have no one to tell our stories. Our e-mail and bills, and indeed this blog, would be up to date. We love the conversations and appreciate the magazines and books left behind. These visits force us to buy groceries, run the vacuum, clean the shower and toilet, set a deadline on renovation projects, mow the lawn, pull the weeds in the vegetable beds, dust for cobwebs, organize the barn so it looks like it is always organized, and even clean the inside of the car. Yes, our visitors inspire us to be better.

At the same time, our visiting friends cause us to see ourselves as they might see us: the people with the ancient generator and limited hot water supply, who struggle to cook a meal on an Aga which is months past being serviced. The people who wear the same clothes several days in a row, who sit in the window to talk on mobile phones (this is the only place we receive a signal) and heft large stones onto walls.

Is there an expectation for us to be perfect hosts? I hope not. We strive to remember who is on a diet, who has allergies, and may – say it ain’t so – be avoiding alcohol. But, we don’t iron pillowcases (our friend’s do this for their guests). We have a decent collection of games and books and never run out of food or drink, which is a good thing if the weather turns for the worse.

Friends may see the two of us projecting a relaxed calm, but really we are nervously paying attention to everything: Will the water stop? What if the only remaining shower breaks? Look at those weeds in the veg garden! Roger and I may have busy-brains about all that needs to happen – and how to effortlessly respond if something goes awry – but we want our visitors to feel at home. When our friends arrive, we all hug and immediately set about sharing stories and laughter. Those returning support us with encouraging words about how much we’ve accomplished, how hard we’ve worked.  We love them all the more for this. With each visit, our friends and family help create a summer’s day: relaxed, easy where the old rules don’t apply, so, kick back and have fun.

Lazin' on a Summer's afternoon.

Lazin’ on a Summer’s afternoon.

 

Two very pleased summer visitors!

Two very pleased summer visitors!