Something Special Happens

If you are going to a football or rugby match you can generally know what to expect. Depending on the two teams you can make a fairly accurate guess as to what will take place, though the beauty of sport is that the unexpected can always be expected and the no hoper will sometimes confound even their own supporters and win. When our hunt meets are drawn out, the fixtures for each season, some are always looked forward to with great things expected while others do not really excite. But it quite often does not turn out as expected. Every year we have what we call a ‘Children’s Meet’ where things are tailored to suit younger mounted followers and every year I say silently to myself, this won’t be much good. And for the last few seasons I have been wrong. This year I was very wrong for the day turned out to one of the very best.

As usual we started off hunting a drag over not too difficult territory to comply with the Labour (Communist) Party law but as sometimes happens, hounds find a better, more enticing scent to follow and away they go in spite of the best efforts to stop them becoming “law breakers!” Working animals have this inbuilt ability to ignore instructions, they become temporarily deaf to suit their own purposes and when this happens, all someone like me can do is enjoy it, take advantage of it and laugh at the fools, the traitors to the British way of life, who thought they could ever stop hounds hunting and hunting mad people from following them. If ever a foolish law needs repeal this is it. But as the weak, evasive David Cameron almost never keeps a promise, we can expect little from him.

Unintentionally, the hounds hunted away and eventually were found to be marking to ground. In two places on the same bracken bank, far enough apart for it to be obvious that they could not be the same mark; the two buries could not be connected. So with one of the team keeping an eye on the least marked bury, we entered Roxy at the main mark and soon had a result. One fox bolted and everyone left us to get on with things for there had been two in this place and after releasing the second from his grip on Rhodri’s boot we entered Bryn at the other bury and got another result. Its good to see the younger terriers doing the job they were bred for. Bryn is in his first season and has done well, having been brought along carefully by his owner with a balanced digging diet; he has been lucky so far in that none of his digs have been beyond him and if a dog can get through his first season winning all the way in some decent places then he is very fortunate and it should stand him in good stead for the rest of his digging life. Roxy, with more work to her credit can now be said to be very reliable; unfortunately she is one of the “take no prisoners” type and as the seasons go by she shows no sign of changing her ways and settling down. She may mellow a bit but, like her mother Peggy, I fear she will tread a hard road and will never give much respect to her opponent. Time for her first litter; Rhodri has waited and shown a lot of patience.

Both these terriers are of a size I like; not too big but certainly not too small, they are capable of handling any problem. I don’t often comment on articles which appear in the same edition but will make an exception this time and mention two. Colin, in his ‘Irish Badger Trials’, mentions my love for bigger dogs but I would like to clarify what seems to be a bit of a misapprehension. I certainly do not go for some of the “giant size” dogs we see today and doubt very much if they are needed.

But I would also place a limit on the smaller dogs. They may be of use in some parts of the country, in fact I know well that they are, but they are not for me. I like a small dog to be strong, and well made and in no way puny for in my experience, and I stress this, in MY experience, they are of little use. Not to me anyway and I never keep them. I have given away several small bitches which I felt sorry for. Very game, they had the attitude but not the physique to back it up and often took too much punishment against even smallish quarry which could outmatch them. I expect there are many dog men out there who have found that an opponent, fox or, in the old days badger, did not have to be a massive specimen to inflict serious grief! In fact, I would often find that the biggest of the opponents, well above average size, were among the easiest to be dug. “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” True in many cases but I like a bit of power in my workers and that’s how I have always been. I wouldn’t like them “chased down the road by a mouse.”

The black dog who started me down that road, the road of the relentless, battling worker, was Jack. They say the camera never lies – but that’s a lie! In photos Jack looked to be a lump of a dog but in fact he was only about fourteen to fifteen pounds and about fourteen inches tall and he worked whatever stood before him until a few weeks before he died. And worked them as well as anything I have seen before or since. And if you look at this months cover, you will see my little bitch Jay and think to yourself, what a powerful head but in fact her head is nothing special, just like Jack, it is in proportion to her body size. I often wish it was massive for, with her “catch and hold whatever is first presented to her”, she sometimes takes more than is good for her! I remember when I first came to live in west Wales and a crowd of blokes turned up to use Jack on one of their bitches. They could not hide the fact that they were disappointed with the size of his head; they wanted something altogether more impressive. These days I would have told them to bugger off but I was a bit more gentlemanly back then. My house was very basic in those days and my future insecure, my gamble with the move west was in the balance and could have gone either way, I was unsure of myself. So I let them use the dog but I never knew the result. And I never cared either!

Another article I comment on is ‘The Journey’ by David Thomas. I liked it so much that I pinched some of it for the title of this article for I can completely identify with him when he said of his first real dig “Something special happened.” For it happened to me, all those years ago and it has been with me ever since. There is still nothing quite like the dig to a brave terrier and I never take it for granted. Perhaps it was, for David Thomas, something of a life changing moment as it certainly was for me. It leaves most people unmoved I suppose. Just put the terrier in, dig him out. That’s it, never give it another thought. But for those of us who are bitten by the bug then it is so much more and something of an addiction that will remain forever. That’s how it was for me. The little dogs changed my life and, I believe, made me a better person for it. I owe them so much.

Good hound work also means much to me now. In the early days it was just a means of putting a fox to ground. Get the spades out and the terrier in! But I often enjoy a day now even if there has been no work for the heroes. Good hound work, good music, is in a special class of its own and there are probably, no certainly, more people who value the cry of the hounds above the dig to a terrier! And the next two days gave us plenty of good hound work, even within the restrictions of Traitor Blair’s new law. Both days started out as exercise but both showed fine hound work when the pack proved they had a mind of their own and started “doing what comes naturally!” On the second day they went away over a mountain range where only quad bikes, with difficulty, could follow and they were boxed, eventually, at the end of the day in the far away village of Llanddewi Brefi, made famous in the Little Britain series as the home of “the only gay in the village.” Not sure if people have stopped nicking the village name sign for souvenirs, perhaps they are concreted firmly these days. Or perhaps people are a little more sensible and have tired of having a fictional homosexual icon as their item of worship and adulation! If that is so then perhaps there is hope for the real people of Britain after all! After that long run, later in the season we would actually use the place once, more or less a starting point and a very good day followed. More of that in a later article.

The next meet had been cancelled due to a tragic accident in the village where we were due to start and so the spade brigade did our best at a local shoot and though we ended up with just one dig to Bryn, we had plenty of promise for more action later with some places which would be well worth a visit at other times. Taz was next in action and paid a price for his reckless style. He had worked his way through a bury without any action and even though he was still keen, we lifted him to try a place further along the bank. He showed no interest but, as we retraced our steps he pulled into an entrance at the first earth and showed us that he would very much like to get back in there. Thinking we would be in for another hour of waiting while he mooched about in the tubes, very reluctantly, I let him re-enter. And in a few minutes he was hard at it with the ground shuddering below us. Obviously, he knew better than I did, not the first time a terrier has shown himself to be my superior and we dug him out after a decent dig through roots and stone. Not too deep but difficult. We opened to a dog well in control, tail wagging steadily and ended matters. He had won but had been made to pay for his troubles. No matter, Big Taz is not put off by such things and it did not affect his happy attitude in any way.

The big dope has a wonderful temperament and is a credit to his sire, Jason’s Tarzan, himself a super dog. He is open and honest and steady enough in the kennels but it’s a different matter when he’s working. No quarter asked and certainly none given. We have had a lot of fun with him and I always admire dogs with that approach even though they would be even better if they steadied up a bit. But a dog is what he is and when we put on his collar and let him go to ground, the rest is up to him. His mother also worked in the same way so it’s little wonder Tarzan has the same approach.

At one meet we entered Roxy into a huge bury where she never stopped moving about long enough to dig to her. We did make a start at one time after letting her settle for all of five minutes! Patience is a virtue but it was one of those days when you can’t hang about and no sooner had the first few shovels been struck, than Charlie bolted. Well, hardly bolted! He wandered out as if in a daze, probably wondering what the hell had happened and he struggled to push through the fence at the bottom of the field. Unfortunately for him, he then met his fate and all his worries were over. And Roxy, on her travels through the bury had no better luck, bolting another two when she would have much preferred them to have stopped for a chat.

Hounds later that day exercised through a big forest patch and added another to the tally, which takes some doing where the trees and the cover are at their thickest.

Bryn was again in action at the next meet when we ended up at a bracken bank which is often a stop-off for foxy at that time of the year. The terrier had some digging and pushing on to do and struggled a bit at the start even though he is not a big dog. There were mutterings and murmurings about a smaller dog but I take no notice of such talk these days and advised Bryn’s owner to do the same. A dog a little bit smaller could still struggle in such a place and a dog much smaller would, if it managed to go a bit further be treated as if it were a ferret! For a fox, even a fox of some size, will often be able to push into a place which any self respecting terrier could have difficulty in easily reaching. Bryn didn’t delay us for long and made up for the early slow progress by passing through the last few feet in quick time. I have seen many smallish dogs worked by their owners doubled up. If that pleases them and they are not ashamed then that’s their business. I can’t see me changing my attitude at this stage of my life.

I remember some years ago when I had an outing on a Sunday morning with a very talented dog man who ran a team of Lurchers and very small earth dogs. I had with me Moira and it was the opinion of this man that the black dogs, the Patterdales, were stupid and hardly worth keeping. Each to his own. The small pack soon had a mark after running one to ground but I wasn’t expecting a dig for Moira, by the time we would arrive at the earth one of the small terriers would be in to ground and she would have the dig. It did not turn out as expected. The small terrier was in but did not stay and I was told that she probably could not reach the fox. So I let Moira take a look. She pushed on and reached the parts which other dogs could not reach and we dug to her. To my friend’s credit, he gave her a lot of praise and told me she was not like other Patterdales he had seen. His experience was mainly of giant battlers which looked as if they had been working a quarry armed with a chainsaw, which he had no time for; Moira was something he had not encountered. A very determined bitch, hard enough and sensible enough to take care of anything she came across and able to reach it, she was some bitch, of the standard to aim for and I was very proud of her throughout her lifetime.

Another day when we were out in mid week, I was on my own but Jamie and his mate turned up just in time; a lone hound had marked to ground where he soon had company. I was a bit apprehensive for though it looked to be an easy place, I remembered a time, some years ago, when I had entered a dog and had one hell of a job to dig to him. The lads from Lancashire were with me that day and it turned into a difficult dig of about two hours. I was about to enter Jay. I hoped it would not turn into another lengthy dig. If it did, I hoped it would be a head on encounter for then she is able to boss things but if she had made contact with say, a back leg then, if her opponent had room to turn, it could prove to be something unsightly. Fortunately she was straight up to foxy, in command and quite shallow. Even this is not always a guarantee of a quick dig for the place is very stony and rooty but luck was with us and it was soon over. Jay works just like her big brother Taz but has not his massive strength and head.

Incidentally, as I was typing this, Jason phoned and I found out that her name was Jane, not Jay. He told me that I have been wrong all along. The two pups were named Tarzan and Jane after the old jungle films. But I never realised this and have always called her Jay so that’s how it will stay. I put it down to being a bit deaf [MrsH. “A bit deaf! Stone deaf!”]

A similar thing happened with Moira. I was told she was so named because she was an evil little ******* and I could never fathom out why the name Moira should be regarded as having evil connections. It seemed a bit “sugar and spicy” to me! Many years later I was told she was named after “Moira” Hyndley, the Moors Murderess. Her name is, of course, Myra but the east Wales, Newport/Cwmbran accent makes it sound like Moira. Anyway, I would never have called her Myra after that pathetic, evil woman.

This east Gwent accent is not far from the “Caaeerdiff” accent which genuine “valley boys” always make fun of but accent or not, Jason had no difficulty in making himself understood recently when he heard of a litter of pups being advertised of as “from Jason Powell lines” and were supposed to be out of a Powell bitch etc. As he never parts with his bitches he knew it was a lie and it underlined the reason of just why he never parts with bitches. In our game there are always men who delight in making money from breeding litters and churning out pups and will lie through the teeth to present them as well bred, from coveted lines. So my advice would be to anyone replying to such adverts, don’t believe them, they ain’t from a Powell bitch unless you get them from Powell, which very few people do. He could sell pups by the dozen week after week but he never will. He values them above that and seldom sells a pup. And even then, it won’t be a bitch! And anyway, what is the Cardiff accent these days. It probably owes a lot to Pakistan, Bangladesh, West Indies, Somalia now that the city is being taken over by invaders.

As we were coming to the end of January, Roxy was called upon twice on the same day. The first was to a mark some distance away over a very steep mountain. I could have made it but it would have been very slow and so I stayed on the road and let the younger diggers make the effort. I once offered to race a much younger woman to the top after she had been bragging of how fit she was but, thankfully, she declined. Just as well, she may have beaten me! But I doubt it. Anyway, I knew I could not have kept up with the younger men. And later that day, after still working up on the mountain and often out of our sight and sound, they brought a fox down from the top after a really fast hunt, and put it to ground across the valley. Standing on the road, we had seen it all and were among the first to reach the mark. A young bitch was given first chance but she was not yet ready to enter and so Roxy got her second to end a good day bringing the month to a close. There was frost and snow forecast and I could only hope it would not be as severe as last year.

My bitch pup is coming along well. Jason tells me that her two brothers have had to be separated because they don’t “play fight” any more, it has become more serious. I have been driving the pup short distances and the travelling does not upset her at all. Jason tells me that the two brothers took the long trip in their stride when he took them away so it’s no problem on that score with this litter. I like that, it’s a real nuisance when they don’t travel well and some dogs can take quite some time to get over it. Some never do. Many years ago we had a Lurcher (rubbish, as it turned out) and this dog always travelled badly. He would be stood in the van, a pitiful sight, with drool hanging from his lips like egg white; and then he would crap to make it worse. I was pleased when he turned out to be useless; the journey from Rhondda to west Wales was much more pleasant without him. And the two bitches from last year never travelled well. I can’t be having that. Jason believes that poor travellers never make much as workers anyway and he may be right. Of course it may mean that the travelling upsets their system so much that they can never give of their best. Whatever the reason, they ain’t for me.

On her early trips, this pup would sometimes break into song, a very tuneful, high pitched wail, but she’s over that now; unless I start to sing, which I often do, when she will sometimes join in. That shuts me up; I don’t want to teach her bad habits. But she is a pleasure to take out though she needs to be watched. Her mother will get into the cover after rabbits and the pup follows which worries me a bit in case she ends up in a place she can’t get out of. Dotty went missing on one walk and I next saw her about thirty feet high on the quarry face with an almost vertical drop beneath her. Not to worry, she is old enough to know what she is doing and the pup could not follow her. But then I saw the pup running along the ledge not far behind her and that didn’t please me. How the hell would she get down. The face of the quarry was almost vertical, sloping outward for about the lowest five feet and as I watched, Dotty just ran down, gathering speed, without falling. I thought I would somehow have to get up there after the pup but then she did the same – following in mother’s footsteps! For a few seconds my heart was in my mouth, but she handled it well and ran after her mother along the quarry floor as if it were the most natural thing for her.

And then she tried to cross a water filled ditch. It didn’t look like water for the surface was covered with a green slime but in she went, and under she went. But she soon splashed her way to the other side and, a bit later, splashed her way back again. Then I had to get Dotty out from a sandy rabbit hole where she was digging away trying to push on. Rags was immediately behind her, getting a face full of sand but also digging away and when I reached in for Dotty and threw her down the bank, Rags took her place and, being a bit further in, it was all I could do to reach her. I didn’t want that. These sandy warrens are not the place for a keen pup. I remember the bitch Ali getting stuck once in such a place. I was lucky to find her and even luckier to get her out quickly for she would surely have caused it all to collapse about her. And another thing. I don’t want Dotty to start enjoying rabbiting. Her job is the fox so the less she sees of rabbit the better I like it.

So the quarry is a dangerous place at the moment as far as the pup is concerned and I take her to the mountain or forest instead. I have high hopes for this one and will try to give her every chance, taking her with me almost everywhere I go. She has heard the cry of hounds for when I take Dotty, I take Rags and I am getting Dotty ready should be needed with the lamb killing calls about to start. Dotty and Jay would be my main weapons at that time because they are my smallest; the snag is that they are both, shall we say, headstrong, and therefore liable to spend time on sickness benefit occasionally.

At almost five months old, Rags now has one ear sticking up. Jason tells me it will drop but I’m not so sure. I said that about Baz when the same happened to him. But he ended up with both ears standing up and that was how he came by the name of Baz. He looked like Basil Brush. But he worked well and had character and I had a lot of time for him. Another, with pricked ears, from further back in the past, was poor old Gizmo but he had a heart murmur, which was far more serious than mere appearance, and he eventually died quietly in his kennel after promising much. I have tried to take a decent photo of Rags to show her flying ear but she won’t stand still long enough, perpetual motion.

Anyway, the best I have managed to take will be included with this article. Up or down, it doesn’t matter much to me. When these things happened in KC show kennels, the dark arts would be involved and the ears were “doctored” to make them lay properly according to the breed standards. The same thing used to apply to tails when docking was permitted. A good man who knew his business would always be able to surgically treat a tail so that it was “carried gaily” as so many breed standards called for but times change and tails, thanks to stupid legislation, are no longer allowed to be docked unless for working purposes. It’s strictly illegal as far as the Kennel Club is concerned but when the job is done by a competent dogman I would defy anyone to spot it, though it’s much more difficult than straight forward docking! As a matter of fact, one of my old friends from childhood, a top man who has spent all his life on the show scene could do it easily but I won’t be calling on his services for I just don’t care about it. If they stand up so be it and, as the actress said to the bishop, if they droop, they droop. My old mate tells the story of a dog man who must have been a bit of a butcher and was certainly not able to do such things. But he gave it a try and treated his dog’s tail. It then curved too far over the back, the tip pointing to the head. He treated it so often, failing to get it right that eventually the tail withered and died. Truly the dark arts, but the moral of the story could well be, “never ask a boy to do a man’s job.” Perhaps he grew up to have more sense and better ability. Or perhaps he left such things to those who knew what they were doing!