This article was first published in the Society’s 2012 Yearbook.
I was very surprised when I was approached by Mrs Cyraine Dugdale to ask if I would be prepared to take over the job of Southern Area Working Test Organiser from her. She had discussed the matter with The Hon. Mrs Amelia Jessel and they both agreed that she should approach me.
I was indeed very honoured to think that these two highly respected ladies of our Society thought that I was up to the task but little did I ever dream when I said yes, that I would still be doing the job 22 years later.
I had also taken over as Working Test Secretary and Training Co-ordinator for the United Retriever Club (Southern Area) and I was fortunate in that my friends from the URC kindly rose to the occasion and helped me on that ﬁrst occasion, indeed they helped for the ﬁrst few years, throwing dummies, ﬁring guns etc. which was so kind of them considering how much time they already gave to their local club events.
That ﬁrst year I remember organizing the day down to the ﬁnest detail — I was so anxious not to forget anything but doing everything myself including the lunches really was a bit much and l soon realized that I needed to enlist some help and that is where Phyl Stanley stepped into the breach. She looked after the preparation of the lunches for very many years until ﬁnally she had had enough— quite right too. I cannot thank her enough for all her hard work for so long.
Looking back on those ﬁrst years (it seems a life time ago) it is amazing to think of the numbers of runners we used to get and the names of those who entered, especially those who are no longer with us. Names such as Dennis Baker, Howard Brown, Bill Best, David Showell, Norman Stanley to name a few. It was dear Dennis Baker who kindly presented the perpetual ’Bakadam’ trophies for the tests that are still presented today.
Our regular test ground for very many years was at Broadwater House, North Chailey, by kind permission of Mr & Mrs Brian & Vera Yeowart. It was a marvellous ground with plenty of opportunities to set various tests for the dogs on open ﬁelds, woodland, water, cover and tracks. You name it, we pretty much had it.
One of my regular sources of inspiration was our dear friend Brian Botting, also sadly no longer with us, who would dream up all sorts of ways to set tests for the dogs sometimes using his own inventions. Some of these were a bit ’Heath Robinson’ but they worked a treat and gave very realistic tests for the dogs. Some of you may recall the ’diving duck’ that Brian invented. He lay awake at night wondering how he could get a dummy to dive like a duck and stay under the water while the dog was sent for the ’duck’ that has disappeared under the water only to reappear on another part of the pond or lake just as a real diving duck would do. The handler had to redirect his dog away from the ’fall’ and into the right area to retrieve the ‘duck’ (another dummy placed by a helper).
He came up with the idea of using large, heavy butchers’ weight, one with a handle bar at the top so that a long rope could be passed under the handle with the dummy attached to it and then lowered to the bottom of the lake near the bank. When the dummy was thrown out it would then be pulled under the water by the rope and held there until the dog had done its job and then released to be used again. I think a shepherd’s crook was used to retrieve the dummy from the water so that it could be thrown again for the next dog. It worked amazingly well and was used for a couple of local URC open tests as well. On the last occasion it survived until the very last dog at which point the rope broke and the weight could not be retrieved. It still lies at the bottom of a lake somewhere in Sussex, although it must be very rusty by now. Of course in those days local clubs limited their runners to 24 — it would not survive the larger numbers of dogs that run in AV Tests these days – unless one kept renewing the rope of course!
I have always tried to hold the tests at the end of May and what varied weather we have had. We had pouring rain, high winds, mists, incredible heat, dry dusty days but I don’t think we ever had snow! You just have to cope with whatever the weather throws at you but on the whole, looking back, I think we were pretty lucky.
One scorcher of a day resulted in me having heat stroke. It was my own fault, I just got busy, running from test to test, checking that all was going well (before the days of radios!) and forgot to drink enough. I ended the day with a blinding headache, dehydrated and had to go home to bed in a darkened room to recover. Silly me!
I have always tried to set tests that were as realistic to what would happen on a shooting day as possible and have always enlisted the help of another ’head’ as two heads are better than one. Sometimes this has been one of the judges for the day but it rather depended on how far they had to travel. Setting tests is not always easy and things can change dramatically from the day you set the exercises to the day of the test itself, especially as far as the weather is concerned. I remember once early on, we set a lovely test at Chailey for the Open dogs that involved the use of a jump. The dogs were to be sent across a ﬁeld and over a jump for a blind. However, we had not taken into account that we set it on a cloudy afternoon. On the day, the test was to be run in the morning and it happened to be bright sunshine making the test impossible as the handlers and the judge were blinded by the sun. Luckily for us, because Mr Yeowart had set up so much of his ground for gundog work we were able to simply turn the test around and do it in the opposite direction where there was another conveniently placed jump. You would not get that opportunity on every ground you use! Ooops! A lesson learned that day!
There are other factors beyond one’s control like farm animals. One year at Penshurst, we had set a ’walk up’ in a field along by the river. This particular field is extremely long with twists and turns as it follows the line of the river. The stockman had promised to move his herd of young cattle into another field for the day but had forgotten. To start with the cattle were nowhere to be seen being way down the field around a bend. Probably attracted by the gunfire and being curious young stock they decided to join the party and descended upon us in large numbers. It took some time before they were removed from the ﬁeld and safely put elsewhere. By the time we could get going, over an hour of the day had been lost. You just can’t prepare for things like that!
Then there is the technology… the first year I sent the hand written schedule to a lady who Cyraine Dugdale had used who typed it out and then reproduced it on her Gestetner machine! She would then post the schedules back to me and I would sit and write over a hundred envelopes by hand, stuff them with the schedules and stick on the postage stamps. I then had to post her the draw results and running orders for the same procedure. That is why we had to have such a long time between the closing date and the test date. Later I used my own typewriter to produce these and then took them to the local shop to be photocopied. And now where are we? Production on our lap tops and then whizz these things away via email. How technology has changed. No wonder I feel the early days seem a life time away!
The numbers of runners has changed dramatically over the years. For instance, in 1992 we ran 21 puppies and beginners, 25 Open dogs and 26 Novices. In recent years we have struggled to get enough to run the day at all, in fact one year recently we could not run the Novice through lack of entries. I am convinced that the cost of fuel and other economic factors have dramatically affected the situation, which is so sad but I do believe things are improving and there are many new members wanting to compete with their dogs.
Any problems? The main headache running these days is ﬁnding help with dummy throwers, someone to ﬁre the gun etc. This is never easy and is made worse when the numbers running are low or if friends and family do not come along on the day to offer help. Somehow or other we managed to get enough help on the days except for one when we were short of dummy throwers and Paul had to keep jumping into our Land Rover and driving between tests to throw dummies! I am eternally grateful to all those who helped because the days just would never have happened without them.
Dramatic events? None really, thank goodness except for a sort of near miss! In 1996 our beloved bitch, Rubha, was due to whelp her second litter at the end of May. The end of May!! What bad planning was that? I can remember saying to her ’Please, please, do not have your babies until after the Test’. We spent a very nervous Test day hoping that nothing would happen. Bless her, she did as I asked and waited until the Tuesday before producing a beautiful, healthy litter. She always was the most co-operative, well behaved girl!
As you may know, Dick Pettett has kindly agreed to take over the running of the tests and I wish him every success. When I sit back and think, I am still surprised that I was asked in the first place, that I agreed to do it and that I actually did it!
At the AGM I was presented with a beautifully engraved glass. This was a most unexpected surprise and a gift that I will treasure as it will remind me of many happy days. I would like to thank the Committee and the Society for such a very generous gift.
Finally, another thank you to all of you out there who competed, helped, supported and generally made the days possible. We had some fun, didn’t we?
Taken from the 2012 Society Yearbook, pp116-118