South of England Show, Ardingly. Sun, WI – and dogs

Hastings Battleaxe had a scorching day out at the South of England Ardingly Show with the WI. All excitement to see how our entries had perfomed in the WI competition classes, and a back to childhood agricultural show experience. I even found a pack of working dachshunds!


Thanks to Sharon Sellings for this photo

     The WI has a big marquee at the show each year, serving tea and cakes, and full of art and craft work. I suppose it is a bit about going back to the organisation’s country roots. As in the two previous years, I had submitted a story, which this year got nowhere. My record so far – nothing, first prize, nothing….
     Our WI had submitted lots of entries. We did OK in some big classes of good quality stuff, but not quite as good as last year. I think the competition was much tougher, and there were more entries.

Our knitted flowers…
My story – no use.

      I regret to say that I did not spend much time in the WI tent – I was having a day out and I wanted to see everything. Many ladies work exceptionally hard to make the show tent happen. All respect.
      I love looking at the animals. It reminded me of being a child and going to shows with my parents and the dogs. I’d spend all day exploring the show and then curl up, sun-burnt and exhausted, with the dogs on their benches while the parents celebrated success – or drowned their sorrows – in the bar tent for what seemed like hours.

Lovely sheep
Bit hot – they look like sausages already….
Too hot…..
Indian runner ducks – I’d love some…
A fine fellow
Another fine fellow – and very friendly

      It saddened me a little to see how these shows must have shrunk. I remember the heavy horse turnout classes when it would take about half an hour for the entries to file in. At Ardingly there were a mere five or six.

Heavy horse turn-outs

      Some things hadn’t changed – the fox hound show, the Young Farmers, endless trade stands, men demonstrating weird kitchen appliances, shiny farm machinery, hackney high-steppers and little girls with ponies… I really enjoyed my day. It was incredibly hot, though – you can see that most of the animals have flaked out!

      Then, best of all, I discovered an enclosure with a pack of working dachshunds, or teckels as their owners prefer to call them. The dogs, all standard wires, were a mixture of East European dogs and ordinary English dogs, all bred to work. At first sight they seemed more compact, more muscular and slightly longer in the leg than modern show dachs, which are now so long and low they can scarcely run. This lot caught rabbits, rats etc., working as a pack and as individual ‘all-purpose’ stalkers, hunters and ratters.

Sleeping in the sun
The working dachshunds or ‘teckels’

      I talked to the owner about how when I was little I would go out with my Dad and a few wire-haired dachs to chase, and often catch, rats and rabbits. That was over 50 years ago, and the dogs were probably physically very similar to those I saw at Ardingly.
      Once, they caught a hare. It seems scarcely possible that such short-legged little dogs could hunt and kill an animal so much faster than them. Those pampered show dogs transformed themselves, totally by instinct, into a synchronised pack of determined hunters, working together to cut the hare off, run it down and kill it, while my father and I stumbled after them, lungs bursting, to stop them tearing the thing apart and wolfing it down before we got there. I asked the teckels’ owner if this could actually have happened, or had I just dreamt it. My father is long dead, so there is only me to remember. The man said it was indeed possible, and he had seen similar.
      Looking on the internet, I see that the working teckel movement is now quite big. Good.
      This all sounds barbaric I know, and probably unacceptable to modern sensibilities, but to us, and probably still to country people now, it seemed quite natural. If  I’m truthful, the chases were also horribly exciting… These days, I disapprove of the huntin’ shootin’ and fishin’ lifestyle, partly because it is so artificial and commercial, and because the whole thing has become so politicised, with country ‘sports’ supported by sections of society I don’t care for. 
      It distresses me greatly to see dogs that have been so altered by over-breeding that they are unable to live natural lives. Things with squashed faces like pugs are not cute, they are deformed and crippled. Think basset hounds with so many wrinkles they can scarcely walk, cavalier spaniels with encephalitis… ugh.

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