Simon Kelner: There's Apso-lutely nothing on television like Crufts

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The Independent Online

With due deference to Mr Hatfield and his avowed dislike of dogs, I have resisted the temptation to take this subject for walkies for some time. But given that yesterday's i contained two stories about dogs (maybe he's had a change of heart, or was on a well-deserved day off), I feel emboldened to return to matters of a canine persuasion. Watching the denouement of Crufts on More4 stirred two particular thoughts. First, I can't see Clare Balding present anything on TV without recalling something my brother, a much funnier man than I, wrote a few years ago in a review for another newspaper. He said that Ms Balding, a natural enthusiast, was so excited about the prospect of covering Crufts that she spent the whole journey up to Birmingham with her head out of the car window. I met her at a party a few months ago and she agreed that it was a very funny line.

It seems odd to see her on a channel other than the BBC, but Crufts was taken off the national broadcaster four years ago in the wake of a dispute with the show's organiser, the Kennel Club, over the inclusion of certain breeds which had been shown to suffer genetic diseases caused by years of inbreeding.

So there is Clare, condemned to the outer shores of satellite TV, welcoming a new champion dog into the Pantheon, a Lhasa Apso called Elizabeth. With a hairstyle like the young Rick Wakeman, Elizabeth beat 21,000 other dogs to the title and is the sort of exotic character you are unlikely to see chasing and fetching a ball in your local park. In fact, as the final seven dogs went through their paces on Sunday night, I thought the same of all of them.

As the most immaculately coiffed Newfoundland strutted his stuff like a heavyweight boxer pacing the ring, it seemed incredible that would you see a specimen like that in your neighbourhood. But then again, how often do you see Kate Moss in the supermarket?

The other recollection was of the time I entered our very own budding supermodel in a dog show, a contest for dachshunds of all ages and varieties in Bedford. All I remember was that it required a very early start, a huge amount of grooming (both dog and owner) and that, as a first-timer, you felt you were a foreigner in a land where everyone spoke a language you couldn't quite understand. "Nice top line," said the judge studying our dog. I didn't have a clue what he was talking about.

Anyway, we came away with a rosette and a determination not to put him through such ignominy ever again.

But back to Crufts. In the same way the Booker Prize increases sales of an author's back catalogue, I guess Lhasa Apsos will be the dog de rigueur over the next year. And as dogs are meant to look like their owners (take a look at Elizabeth and her "mummy"), I predict a run on blonde extensions, too.