The dogs of war... and warring dogs

Making quality television can be a tough job when there are dog shows to attend, old soldiers to cajole, and Jim Hickey to contend with

Living as I do in rural rustication in the Horowhenua, this time of year is a particular delight. Everywhere the eye glances crops are ripening. Seasonal foods abound and, best of all, my own garden produces a small harvest of edible produce. But this is no time to dally along the verges of the vege beds.

It's showtime... Dog shows, that is.

The dog shows are a labour of love. The Bride and I have long been owners and breeders of Boston Terriers. They look a bit like a French Bulldog, but they are far more lively and, dare I say, intelligent. At the risk of opening a very nasty kettle of piranhas, I would humbly suggest that beauty and intelligence have been showered upon the Boston Breed, leaving lesser canines a long way back.

This superiority is something that we regularly attempt to prove (with varying degrees of success) to various New Zealand and foreign dog judges. Our task is by no means easy. The Boston terrier is classed as "Non-Sporting", which means it competes against a bewildering range of breeds, ranging from Great Danes and Dalmatians to Poodles of three distinct classes, Tibetan Spaniels and Terriers, French and English Bulldogs, Lhasa-Apsos, and several other breeds of wildly varying shapes, sizes and uses. It is a bit like judging the relative merits of the fruits offered in Christina Rosetti's Goblin Market.

"Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpeck'd cherries,
Melons and raspberries,
Bloom-down-cheek'd peaches,
Swart-headed mulberries,
Wild free-born cranberries,
Crab-apples, dewberries,
Pine-apples, blackberries,
Apricots, strawberries; -
All ripe together
In summer weather."
You get the picture. I mainly sit ringside and study the owners running their dogs around the ring. That affords another opportunity to anyone interested in seeing all shapes and sizes out in the summer weather.
I was just getting into the swing of it the other day, when I received a desperate phone call from a TV network asking if I could get myself over to Masterton, find a cameraman, pick up a camera-kit and film the Wings over Wairarapa airshow. This, it turned out, was to be for a future programme to be shown on Anzac Day. My task was to find some of the old and bold, the surviving World War Two airmen, and get a few war stories safely in the can.
It sounds easy enough. It was anything but. The cameraman was using equipment he'd never touched before. We both spent anxious time studying the manual and looking in vain for the output-jack for the headphones. This tiny but essential discovery was made just as the veterans began to arrive and the aircraft tuned-up for their noisy antics in the perfect blue of a summer sky.
I soon realised that my mission was to be a difficult one. The youngest of the airmen was 83. The others ranged upwards in seniority to a delightful, 92 year-old Battle of Britain ace, whose twinkling eyes and lively anecdotes belied his years.
Some others were more difficult subjects. One in particular, who fixed me with a gaze reminiscent of the "Ancient Mariner", had the habit of beginning what appeared to be many wonderful war stories... except that none had an ending.
The process was complicated by his wife. She was a delightful woman who sought to prompt the elusive memories of 65 years ago. Each time the narrative faltered she butted in. Each time this happened she was contradicted by the narrator who took her to task for getting it "all wrong". Each time this happened, we started off on a new tale.
There I was wallowing in the nostalgia of a bygone and brave era. I was hearing authentic, if unfinished, tales of derring-do from a valiant survivor. Yet at the same time I was caught up in the midst of what the police call "a minor domestic". All this was going on while noisy fighters, helicopters, ancient bi-planes and screaming jets added to the sound track. Over the top of all this came the dulcet tones of weatherman and aircraft-nut, Jim Hickey, giving a running commentary.
At one stage he stopped for lunch and a lovely woman from the RNZAF took over his job. I was hoping that some lighter, feminine tone and timbre would allow us to record the quavering voices of the veterans. But it was not to be. The air force lady had a peculiar style of voice projection that could have blown the tops off beer bottles at 20 paces. I left with a severe headache and a sense of a mission not accomplished.

I have not heard from the folks at the network, so I am left wondering just how much the sound track conveys. Aircraft soaring and diving close overhead, overwrought and excited commentators, and the piping voices of old men are incompatible sounds that by their nature cannot blend well. Still, I haven't received any negative feedback thus far, so somehow it must have come out well in the wash.

I returned to work in Auckland to the news that a new motorway had been jammed by hordes of bored proles, or JAFAS seeking diversion over the holiday weekend. They'd have been better off trying a couple of dog shows and an air pageant.