Sublime sunny Split by Andrew Brace
As many of my friends will tell you, I am not technical. When it comes to cars, I know where to put the diesel and the screen wash and that’s it.
For years I was convinced that my ancient word processor had no need to be replaced by one of those computers about which everyone was getting so excited. Of course, I eventually gave in. For years my original Nokia mobile phone served me well. It had survived a horrendous car crash and took photos of the wreckage afterwards so certainly justified my loyalty. Despite having been given a state-of-the-art Blackberry by some Asian friends, it sat in its box for 11 months despite the fact that Stuart Pearson had actually managed to load my SIM card in it at Crufts, but so confused was I by the complexities of the new toy I returned to the reassuring world of my uncomplicated antique... until a dinner date with a totally committed Blackberrophile persuaded me to wrestle with my Thai gift. I remember the sense of wonderment and disbelief expressed by Stuart Baillie when he received that first email from me which ended with the words ‘sent from my Blackberry’.
Now my technical inadequacies have been further challenged by those generous friends who at my 60th birthday party presented me with an iPad, a gift I might add that initially terrified me. However I eventually plucked up the courage to explore the latest piece of kit to blow my mind. It took a good hour to work out where I had to insert the SIM card and how I opened its aperture. Then I wandered like a lamb to the slaughter through the setting up of an O2 account, the advisability of which I still need to check out with one of my more geeky friends.
Slowly I worked out how to load photographs via iTunes and eventually Skype and Facebook icons appeared on my screen. The basic notes facility enabled me to type critiques in the ring, thus saving hours.
Then I downloaded the DOG WORLD app which took a minute or two and it amazes me how, every Wednesday afternoon, the current week’s issue finds its way to my cyber news stand and can be read, page by page, so effortlessly and clearly.
When I was looking for the DOG WORLD application I obviously detoured for a while in the app store I previously hadn’t realised existed, marvelling at the various wizardry that is now routinely available to anyone.
One I noticed was called SatNav2. To date I have refused to have one of these bossy route finders installed in my car as I love old fashioned maps and the quest of finding a new destination. I also know my tolerance level so well that I realise if Joanna Lumley started screaming at me to turn left when I instinctively knew I should be going right, I would soon end up hurling the little gizmo through the window. HOWEVER, I noticed that SatNav2 (which could be procured for the princely sum of £1.49) came with an option to have Stephen Fry’s voice. That was my deal breaker. I am a huge admirer of Mr Fry’s wit and wisdom and could listen to his velvety voice reading the telephone directory. Thus I joined the satnav set and, having done so, Stephen (I feel we are now on first name terms) and I took our maiden voyage.
I could probably now find my way to the Russ Hill Hotel at Gatwick blindfolded – not that I would risk putting that assumption to the test – and hardly needed verbal directions, but I needed to see if my recent investment actually worked. So Stephen and I set off for Gatwick on a Tuesday afternoon. I was flying to Split very early on Wednesday morning for the now-famous night shows. I wasn’t judging this year but had offered to help Ante Lucin look after his judges at the lovely Villa Dvor Hotel, such a good time did Steve Barrett and I have there last year.
As we left Blackwood I marvelled at how chatty Stephen was in the passenger seat. His directions were nothing like as abrasive as some of the machines I have heard yelling at my friends in their vehicles. He gave me ample warning of upcoming directions, concernedly pointed out any safety cameras I might be approaching and when I had left a roundabout or negotiated a junction with particular skill, Stephen was the first to compliment me. The sun was shining brightly for the drive to Gatwick and I mused that Leeds could be in for a baking hot weekend. In next to no time Stephen announced that we were soon to reach our destination. As I drew into the Russ Hill’s sweeping driveway Stephen congratulated me for driving so well, so well in fact that he went on to tell me that he thought he was falling in love with me. I found that rather presumptions for a first date, but so utterly typical of the man.
I was at Gatwick’s North Terminal before 4am as I was flying Easyjet. As I made my way to Gate 46 fellow passengers gave me strange looks when a very well spoken voice from my carry-on suggested that I should turn right – I had not managed to master the art of turning off SatNav2, but promise to work at it.
You can say what you like about Easyjet flights but the few I have taken have been very punctual and efficient, and so at 9.30am on the Wednesday morning I arrived in sunny Split where Ante was waiting to meet me.
The Villa Dvor is a family-run boutique hotel still only reached by 107 steps, though an elevator is work in progress. Already at the hotel were Hans van den Berg and partner Cor Last. They had come in a day early as a judging trip to Australia meant that they would miss out on the traditional Monday boat trip. Ante always puts a lot of thought into securing a top class panel that will pull the exhibitors and this year this comprised, in addition to Hans, Torbjorn Skaar from Sweden, George Schogol from Georgia, Japan’s Hiroshi Kamisato, Ron Menaker from the US, Denmark’s leading all rounder Ole Staunskjær, Finland’s Kari Järvinen, Luis Pinto Texeira from Portugal, Sean and Cathy Delmar from Ireland, Dusan Paunovic from Serbia while Sigurd Wilberg was the only judge from the UK and Croatia itself was represented by Boris Spoljaric and Tino Pehar.
Ante puts on a great show for the Sporting Dog Club and the hospitality is such that everyone wants to get an invitation to Split for the summer night shows. As is customary, on Thursday morning we were given a tour of the Diocletian Palace and the old city and that evening began four splendid days.
Cesar Alonso Martinez, the Spanish handler had been commissioned to make hand-made models of various breeds as very individual and much appreciated judges’ gifts.
Each night there was a very ambitious big ring programme which began with two classes of junior handlers. I have never seen such well-filled classes anywhere in the world, rather ironic when you think that they never started before 11pm! After the junior handlers (who are always judged by professional handlers who are showing at Split), there came best baby, best puppy, best couple, best breeders, best progeny, best veteran, best hunting dog from the working classes, and then all ten FCI groups before junior best in show, best of the Croatian national breeds and best in show.
Needless to say on the first night, judges returning to the Villa Dvor at around 3.30am were ready for bed, but as the week wore on it was amazing how resilient they became.