Liberty Belle is to have her portrait painted by Arabella Dorman. She is a very distinguished portrait painter and an increasingly acclaimed ‘war artist’. You probably remember two of her paintings were the ‘cover boys’ for the Calendars -Digby in 2013 and her own dog, Zorba in 2015. I love her work and have never seen anyone able to capture the character and spirit of the Irish more accurately.
She and Zorbie came to spend the day and do the preparations for Libby’s picture. Libbs was enchanted with him. Admittedly she is flirtatious, but this was special. She fluttered and pranced around him (she’s too big a gal for all that!) and Zorba, with much gallantry, led her out into the garden where he showed off a few little tricks and side jumps of his own. He actually burst into song at one point like a troubadour – woo-woo-woo – which had Libby listening transfixed and still as a statue. Arabella and I were helpless with laughter. It seemed altogether a rather enchanted day – something perhaps about the meeting of minds and a shared love of our wonderful Breed.
January’s letter was long enough without a piece about Discover Dogs, but I do know that you like to hear how we got on. Unfortunately, with the end of Earl’s Court as an exhibition venue, the dates had to be changed and it clashed with one of the S.I.T.S. shows. This meant that we were a bit short of available dogs.
Miss Libbs stepped up to the plate and we were duly given our marching orders. I understood this meant that the new venue was at the O2 centre – the old Millennium Dome on the South Bank. We negotiated the London tube, which was Libby’s first ride on a train. She was very excited mainly because of all the people. She soon realised that at each stop the doors would fly open and a new intake of passengers appear. All were made welcome by Libby, ever the enthusiastic hostess and some were more pleased than others.
We emerged from the tube into a huge open space in front of the O2. It was early still and there was not a soul in sight. I spotted, in the distance, two men with a hand-cart and brooms and hurried to speak to them. It was hopeless – they had not a word of English, nor French, nor German and were afraid of Libby! We waved our arms about and by some sort of semaphore I was steered towards the entrance of the O2.
All was revealed by the doorman, who pointed at the heavens and explained that we needed to “take the air lift to the other side – ExCel Centre.” I thought he must be raving mad, but glancing skywards I saw a line of flying cable cars! By this time my grasp on reality was beginning to waver, but Libby skipped and I soldiered on. Back to the train we went – a branch line above ground at this point which took us to the Excel Centre – it could have been Xanadu for all I knew – but after more searching the Irish Terrier booth loomed into sight.
Libby recognised her friend Dexter, who is the unofficial hero of Discover Dogs, and reality returned.
We ‘did’ the whole day – Dexter, little Maddie and Liberty were star ambassadors – bless them. We mere mortals were tidy and efficient, but definitely ‘also rans’ and I did grow rather weary of saying, “Yes, I know she’s rather large.”
The Excel Centre is manageable, but far more of a hassle than Earl’s Court. The distances are vast and the possibility of losing the route only too probable – getting there seemed like a day’s work in itself. Having done it once however, it will, I dare say, be easier next time. It is such a valuable opportunity to promote the Breed and we will be calling for more volunteers next year. We do have a lot of fun and I’m always so impressed with the working team, as it does take a good deal of organising and ‘setting up’ is no mean task. May Williamson, with her beautiful champion Lady was featured in both the Kennel Club Gazette and their Journal as part of the publicity for the exhibition.
Miss Libbs and I drove down to Guilford on the Sunday and I felt bad as I’ve never missed Discover Dogs before, even for a day. It was for a family Golden Wedding Anniversary held in a pretty country hotel. Libby took no part in the lunch itself but was overjoyed to meet up with some of the family dogs. There are beautiful gardens and woods for them to race around together. Alfie, who comes to stay with us in Lymington is a great favourite and also little Biggles the Jack Russel who flies with cousin Frank in his light aircraft. It had been a busy week and driving home in the car Liberty curled up with her eyes tightly closed and moved not a whisker. I find it interesting that she seems frequently to sleep with her eyes half open – but this was real slumber.
We were back to London for the gathering at the War Memorial. Thank you to everyone who came with their beautiful Micks. We had an official thanks from the organisers this year as we do undoubtedly add something rather special – probably good cheer and a splash of gold.
Dear Jilly Cooper was missing for the first time and that was sad. She’s been an absolute stalwart and of course, played a huge part in the ‘realisation’ of the original concept for a memorial to remember the animals. She feels passionately and profoundly about the plight of so many animals even today – not only the tragic war heroes. She says with such truth, “We have to speak out. They cannot speak for themselves.” It is very brave of her to stand up in public and face her demons. It always ends in tears and it does grip my heartstrings.
Thank you for the ‘concerned’ letters about my seeming lack of understanding of ‘political correctness’. They are so kindly expressed but I am more than aware of it. It astonishes me always, that in a world where genuine injustice and heartbreak lurks on every doorstep, we should bother ourselves with this ridiculous ever expanding list of banned words decided upon by whom I wonder? Within the very real boundaries of tact, good manners and common sense, there is the right of free speech and a working knowledge of our past.
You will probably have guessed that I’m referring to my fondness for calling our best beloveds the ‘Micks’. It is a charming affectionate term won on the battlefields of the Great War no less. The Irish Guards refer to themselves as ‘the Micks’ and that’s good enough for me. It’s part of my history too. I can still hear my Grandfather saying, “What have your brother and that Mick of his been up to lately?” And how we laughed when I told him stories of our beloved Jocky-boy, who was no saint and a legend in the village. Incidentally I have often been referred to in Australia as a ‘posh pom’ and no, I never felt insulted nor offended, but my answer was as quick as light, “I can’t possibly be, I’m a quarter Irish!” Quite simply, I love the term Mick and pray we’ll never be silly enough to lose it. To me they will always remain the magical Micks and I don’t think we need to talk of this again.
Our Tessie has been to stay – it’s her little break by the seaside and Libbs and I love it when she’s here. She’ll be 13 this year and is still as neat and pretty as a picture. She loves running on the marshes with Libby hunting the rabbits, which are hardly to be seen now. I think their burrows have been flooded for months on end and there have been so many dead ones that I fear they may be wiped out on the marshes altogether. When Tess was a puppy she used to sit with Zuli under one of the children’s beds. It was always a favourite place for Zu and we never quite understood what it was all about. Tessie still disappears upstairs and spends hours under the same bed. She’s not asleep and we say she’s communing with Zulika – who knows?
I wonder if you’ve all managed to find the video film – A Tribute to Irish Terriers. There have been so many happy comments about it and thank you so much – I do hope you’re not just being kind.
We did have fun making it. Libbs loved every moment and I think her enjoyment rubbed off on the rest of us.
I picked an armful of daffodils in the garden this morning. They have bloomed so early and were lying flattened on their sides in the muddy bed. Washed now and sparkling yellow bright in the rose bowl they bring a touch of spring sunshine
Crufts approaches – 10th – 13th March at the Birmingham NEC. We’ll be there at Discover Dogs so do come and see us. We so much enjoy meeting you and can always manage the laughter and the tears – we’ve all been there.