With the season ended and the shows just beginning I took a short trip to one of our local hunt countries, the Sennybridge, always one of the first, and best, of the season. It was a beautiful day and a real pleasure just to be driving there through outstanding countryside. Though it was a Bank Holiday weekend there was not much traffic apart from plenty of bikers and cyclists and in the spring sunshine I counted myself lucky to be living in the heart of such rural splendour. I suppose it’s one of the compensations as we age that we are able to appreciate such scenery which, all too often we just take for granted in our younger days. I have never taken it for granted for, growing up in the Rhondda valley when it was a deprived mining area, we rarely had experience of such scenes, being surrounded by the debris of a relatively poor and rapidly declining industrial area. I remember taking a Border bitch to be mated to one of Gordon Knight’s excellent dogs in Yorkshire, if I remember correctly it would have been around the Barnsley area. He lived in a mining village but surrounded by green fields and not the squalor of slag heaps which scarred most of the south Wales valley areas. I wondered where the pit was! Of course, Yorkshire is about as big as Wales and the south Wales mining area had so many collieries crammed into such a small space that it was a vastly different scene. Anyway, there’s nothing I like better now than being in the calm and quiet of rural hills and valleys with a few dogs in tow, either out with a hunt or just walking alone.
No chance of being alone in the Sennybridge Hunt show for it always draws a huge entry and has a great atmosphere and this year in particular I really enjoyed it. Gary Morgan was there and he had brought Ken Gould with him for a day out and Jason had also brought a dog or two with him. It was sad to see Ken in a wheelchair after an operation but I must say that it didn’t seem to have affected his usual attitude. Still the same old Ken with his dry humour and no nonsense comments and I should say that he preferred the ‘disrespective, unsympathetic dog man’s attitude’ of Jason and Gary to the false concern of some.
At one time in the long distant past if Ken turned up at a show with a few entries you could be sure that they would be top quality and would take some beating. And if he had a few dogs for sale with him they would soon have been snapped up. For he was one of the characters on the digging scene, known wherever he went and always in demand for a pup or stud.
Gary and Jason watched out for him and made sure he was in a position to see all that went on and, as it should be, we all had a laugh and enjoyed the day with the result of the least importance. But the result could not have been better for a Jason line dog not only won the terrier show but also came out on top in the supreme championship between the Hound, Terrier, Lurcher and Whippet champions – and that doesn’t happen very often! It might well be that Jason is the Gould of today, breeder of a tremendous line of working terriers, much sought after but in this case, very rarely made available. Another mate of both mine and Jason’s at the show asked me how the dog Danny2 had been bred. In the past he had a couple of pups sired by him from one or perhaps two of my bitches. I told him to ask JP and he said, with a laugh, ‘the bugger won’t tell me, he’s too bloody secretive’! When I told Jason he said that he hadn’t asked him and that he would email him. I know JP keeps much of his breeding secrets to himself and who can blame him for that? His great strain didn’t come about by accident, he developed it through many years of dedication.
It was a day like old times, how shows used to be when, if you were lucky enough, you could expect to meet people like Barry Jones, Bert Gripton, Brian Nuttall, David Jones, Bill Brightmore, Ginger French, Ken Gould, John Park, Wendy Bell, and so many others when the sport was probably at its peak and certain shows attracted terrier men from all over Britain. (For the macho among us who may be wondering what a woman is doing among those names, get hold of a copy (if you can) of Lyn Harber’s great book Try back Lads, read her chapter and understand!) Petrol was much cheaper in those days, motorways less crowded and life was easier and slower paced – or is that just my fancy – and great gatherings would take place at the more popular shows, many of which have fallen by the wayside today.
These were people of character with opinions and attitudes and they would always defend and stand up for them! You could be at a show and know that Bert Gripton had arrived long before you saw him for he had such a presence, spoke and laughed so loudly and always had so much knowledge and experience to share – which he willingly did! By contrast, that other great West Midlands terrier and hunting man Barry Jones was quietly spoken – but an equally great terrier man of true character. When Barry spoke you had to listen intently for he rarely raised his voice. Two great men, greatly missed by those who knew them well. I occasionally come across the rabid writings of anti’s who hate terrier work and terriermen and have no knowledge at all of such people as these who I regard as salt of the earth from a time when Britain was still a great country which cherished its traditions and manly way of life. We must make the best of what we have and never forget the great legacy these people passed on to us. It is our duty to try to preserve and protect it to the best of our ability. Some of these people are still with us, others have passed from the scene, never to be forgotten. Gone Away.
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As we came toward the end of our season we lost yet another of our stalwart members; a founding member of our hunt, he had been there from the start, present at the first meet. Slowly they depart after sixty-five years of loyal support leaving behind a great gap but also a fund of great memories. Dewi Davies was a friend of mine since we met thirty-three years ago when I arrived in this beautiful part of west Wales and started to follow this pack. I quickly found out that he was a great fan of terrier work and as time passed by he became a true friend who could always be relied upon to give an honest opinion and to speak his mind, please or offend. You know where you stand with such people.
In my early years with the pack, when Elgan Evans was huntsman we three would travel to all the local hound shows in the summer and in those days that very often meant arriving home in the early hours of the next day for many of them were very convivial affairs, often followed by a disco or sing-song with the bar doing good business. Both Dewi and Elgan had an eye for a good hound and were often in demand as judges.
But though he enjoyed the shows Dewi was, first and foremost, a hunting man and loved nothing better than a good run with hounds flat out and in good voice. But I think he took an almost equal pleasure at a good dig and if a fox had gone in you could be sure that Dewi would be there giving us support and the benefit of his advice. He never let me forget that at one time I had arranged to send my bitch Moira to Australia but as the weeks went by she showed us that she was turning into something very special and so I cancelled that plan and kept her. What a good decision that turned out to be for she may well have been my best ever bitch, certainly no other did anywhere near her amount of great service. And you could guarantee that every time we dug her after some outstanding performance Dewi would be on hand saying ‘remember when you were going to send her to Australia’ in such a way that you would have thought that it was he that had made me keep her! He may have had something to do with it!
And there was the time that a Boxing Day meet saw a mark almost immediately the hounds moved off. It was at a huge bury, just about out of bounds for us these days and I had entered Gem. She was soon in business and four boxes bolted just about at the same time and that left me waiting for the bitch to show. She didn’t for there was still work to do there and so there was a bit of a delay while she moved about and eventually came to a stop so we could start to dig.
Meanwhile a follower had come along with his Russell running loose and it had gone into the bury. It was a favourite ploy of his as I found out later. His dogs were no good and he always tried to double them up with a good dog, the only way they would ‘work’. I wasn’t very pleased about that as you can imagine but after an hour his dog came out and off he went. It was dark by the time I reached Gem and finished a hard dig and she had been well bitten, not so much about the face but at the other end where the useless Russell had been at her. Back to the pub for some well deserved cawl and a pint only to find that the cawl was long gone, along with the rest of the food. Dewi was there with his wife Jean and she drove home and returned with some warm food for me. That old pub, which hosted the first ever meet of our pack sixty-five years ago, has been closed for many years now, like so many old country pubs in our rapidly changing world.
He was full of admiration for Jason and his terriers but you would never think so for he was always ribbing him about my terriers being the best – of course in the later years my terriers, (including Moira) came to me from Jason anyway. His breeding. But talking to me he would always praise Jason and his dogs to the hilt. JP knew that the banter was kind and took it all in good part, jokingly as intended and was as sad as myself when the news broke of his passing for he was a good friend to us both.
When the loathsome traitor, child killer and war criminal Tony Blair had passed the hunting ban Dewi was present at the meet on the day when the ban came into effect. Within about ten minutes of the start the hounds had a fox to ground and we must surely have been the first to dig that day to welcome in the ban! Dewi was there, standing above the dig as it went on, like everyone else, determined not to let scumbag Blair and his band of freaky lefties beat us.
For many years he had suffered with Angina but he never let it deter him although naturally, as the years passed by, he had to restrict his hunting according to such things as the weather, but he was active until the very end. When he finally declined he was due to have been President at the Hunt Dinner but he was taken into hospital and died a few days later at the age of 89. A sad loss first and foremost to his family – but also to his many friends in the farming community and hunting world. Like so many others recently, Gone Away.
At my age it is inevitable that friends depart. In my home in the Rhondda only one of the friends from my youth remain as time takes it toll and I called to see him just recently, a dog man at the very highest level from his early teens but in the world of pedigree showing where he has judged at Crufts and the prestigious Westminster USA show, in fact, all over the world. His kennels are empty now, his last pet bitch, a Welsh terrier, had to be put down quite recently. I am fortunate, there are seven dogs in my kennel to keep me busy and I appreciate what I have. Is there a sadder sight for a dog man than his empty kennel?