I do one of those eyes-upwards head waggles that nine-year-old boys are so keen on. "That," I reply, "is because they're all the same breed." He waggles his head back. "No, stupid. I mean the women." I look more closely. It's true: everyone showing a dachshund today comes up to my shoulder, has thin legs, barrel-shaped trunks, and floral swimming-cap hairdos. They favour suits and skirt-sets, all of which seem to be rounded off by American Tan tights and bright, white trainers. "They're all wearing the same clothes." "Mmm," Eds heads for the Borzoi ring. "They're very much of a breed."
Dog owners don't so much resemble their pets as look like each other. Crufts should have a few people classes to relieve the serious job of judging the canines: skinny girls with curly perms, fierce women in brogues, shiniest suit, best jumper. Their behaviour varies from breed to breed as well: the toy dog owners conduct their business in steely silence, glaring disapprovingly at each other over their wire cages. The areas for huge dogs - Borzois, Afghans, wolfhounds, deerhounds - are more cocktail party in atmosphere, with knots of jolly laughter and exhanged gossip. The obedience ring, with its sign saying "1 Down 2 Stand 3 Sit 4 Down 5 Sit 6 Stand", so that the dogs who can read can cheat, is lined with people in T-shirts and ski-pants, eating foil-wrapped sandwiches and drinking tea out of thermoses.
The Staffordshire bull terrier owners are the best. Staffs are, of course, the dog of choice for fighting matches around the Birmingham area, and they've all come out to the National Exhibition Centre to scare the living daylights out of the other owners. Strolling King Charles Spaniel people drop their eyes and speed up as they walk through their holding area, as though they have suddenly found themselves in a dark alley late at night. To a man, the Staffies have No 2 clipper haircuts, tattoos and tins of Tennents clutched in their paws. And they're eating hot dogs. I don't get the giggles until we're safely in Ibizan hound territory, where the gold eyes and lanky gait of the competitors are an uncomfortable reminder of my Persian ex. I just have to keep remembering the cold, damp nose and endless need for patting that were part of the package.
The place is full of stalls. There's a stall that will paint a portrait of your pooch onto a leather handbag, a stall that does umbrellas with dogs on, one that will sell you a pen with "I [heart] Schipperkinds" and "I [heart] Swedish Valhunds" printed down the side in gold. I find my favourite advertising slogan of all time: "Sergeants Kills Fleas in Carpets." Eds is tempted by the roast dinner with sage extracts toothpaste sold by Dorwest Herbs. They also stock a homeopathic remedy called Tree Barks, which claims to be "a nutritional supplement for diarrhoea, colitis and pancreatic disorders". I still don't really understand why you would want to give those things to your dog, but I guess I'm just not a dog-lover.
Eds finds a copy of one of those large-circulation magazines you never knew existed, Obedience Competitor; the magazine for dog dos and don'ts. We speculate about its readership. "Do you think you get pervs buying it by mistake?" he says. "Naah. They buy it for the small ads." "Submissive puppy seeks stern master." "Mmm. British bulldog seeks hot bitch with choke chain."
The car-sticker stall has gone overboard to milk the market. Every breed is represented in the style of those "baby on board" stickers which their owners believe proclaim their fertility and all other drivers interpret as meaning "Expect erratic driving because I haven't had any sleep and I will be looking over my shoulder to try and find the dummy my screaming child has dropped under the seat." Horse people do this, too, plastering their trailers with stickers saying "horses in transit", as if other drivers would be expecting a rhinoceros to suddenly pop its head out of the back.
But they don't go as far as dog people. Dog people buy by the handful stickers saying "Glen of Imaal terriers in transit", "Maremma Sheepdogs in transit", "Komondors in transit". If I found myself behind a car saying "Petits Bassets Griffon Vendeen in transit", I'd probably have to crash into the back out of curiosity.
And then there are the "DO IT" stickers. Once upon a time, DO IT stickers were double-entendres. Windsurfers Do It Standing Up, that sort of thing. Dog Do It stickers go like this: "Alaskan Malamutes Do It Without Asking". "Shiba Inus Do It Screaming". "Agility Dogs Do It Admirably". We stare at these open-mouthed. "Lancashire Heelers Do It Lovingly". "Shih Tzus Do It Sweetly" "Basenjis Do It Better". Eds heaves a sigh. "I've just realised something about dog people," he says. "Oh, yeah? What's that?" "They're all barking mad."Reuse content