A dog called Seth

For Christmas 1978 the only present our youngest son Stuart wanted was a dog. I have remarked before how persistent he had become with this. We decided to buy him a really comprehensive dog breed encyclopaedia. His birthday falls on 29th of December. Our challenge to this thirteen year old - study the book and tell us which three kinds of dog you would most like, and why. Back he came with (a) Doberman Pinscher. We eliminated that one, not liking their reputation for fighting and biting, (b) Pyrrenean Mountain Dog. Again eliminated - massive so would need huge quantities of food besides being very, very hairy. (c) This splendid looking short haired animal called a Hungarian Vizsla. We had never heard of it, for that breed was in those days a rarity in the UK. However we told him we'd go with this vizsla selection provided we could find a UK breeder with puppies for sale. It turned out that there were only two Vizsla breeders in the country, one up north and Mrs Gay Gottlieb of St John's Wood in central London. I called Mrs Gottlieb to make an enquiry. She had a litter of puppies 'on the way'. Come up to see them in March?

On that first of January (1979) our first grandchild was born to Kairen and Roger in London, a lovely baby girl to be called Ella. So much excitement for the whole family. Joan in particular took to the idea of grandparenthood especially well. Perhaps baby Ella took her mind somewhat off the insidious multiple schlerosis. So Joan and I were grandparents at the age of forty four. A very strange feeling!

At Sweetheart International the times were definitely a-changing and not for the better. Following the infamous 1979 'winter of discontent' including its government enforced three day factory working week, demand for packaging plateaued and then fell back. I had that difficult choice to make, especially as we were not yet ten years old as a manufacturing company but had already grown sales to some three quarters of a million pounds a month. (a) hold price levels and endure a sales fall or (b) reduce prices and endure (at least, try to endure) a fell in profitability. I chose the former. As we had to lay people off in the factory I took my sales force to shake their hands as they left with their final wage packets. Not easy. None of us would ever forget it but the experience toughened us mentally, made us try even harder to grow sales again and get back into profitability. I would talk at specially convened meetings with all three shifts (yes, the midnight one included!) to try to bring understanding of what it was all about to those employed 'inside' - and of course to receive any ideas the factory and office people - and the rest of the Board had to offer. Overall, as hard as it was, I like to think our business grew into an even more effective unit after than before that great national recession.

One Sunday in March 1979 I drove Joan and Stuart up to London and Gay Gottlieb's ultra expensive residence in St John's Wood. The lady welcomed us into her kitchen. On the way through the big house we couldn't help observing a group of well known figures having themselves a fine old Sunday afternoon drinks party. I recognised Peter Cook and Jonathan Miller amongst the merry throng. When Gay closed the kitchen door and opened the scullery door a veritable stream of voluble, light reddish-brown dogs surged out at us. Mother Russetmantle (kennel name) and eight puppies. When things calmed down we were taken to see their father in his garden cage. Russetmantle Troy had won umpteen show and field trial awards. he was an amazing animal, an outstanding example of the national dog of Hungary and product of a thousand years of strict gundog breeding. Stuart was totally struck dumb. How he wanted a vizsla puppy - and how did his mother and father for that matter. I had an instinct that such an animal could do my family nothing but good in any number of ways. Back in the kitchen Gay enquired as to whether I would be shooting over our vizsla, (should we have one). I shook my head. So you'll want to show him or her? she asked. I looked at my son and he at me and again I shook my head. Oh, I'm very sorry, she said, but these dogs are not just family pets. I'm afraid I've wasted your time. We drove back to Lee-on-Solent in a virtual silence.

Two weeks later the call came. It was Gay Gottlieb; an American puppy buyer had defaulted. Were we still interested?  Hastily she added that it would be the runt of the litter, a male called Russetmantle Seth. Unfortunately not suitable for showing or for field work. The next day Seth was ours (Stuart's) at home. Our family life had changed for ever and for the better. Seth was eight weeks old when I carried him out of the car. He and Stu became inseparable over the months ahead and by that July Seth was three parts grown. One day I looked at the breed standard Gottlieb had given us and compared it with Russetmantle Seth. Even to a non-doggie person this was clearly a near perfect specimen of his breed. I made another Sunday appointment with Gay Gottlieb. I shall not forget the look on Gay's face when she opened her front door to the three of us - plus Russetmantle Seth. I'd swear her face went white. She could not take her eyes off the dog. I'll not forget, either, what she then said. I've bred eight hundred hungarian vizslas looking for this one, and now I've given him away. Not exactly given, I wanted to respond, (but didn't) as I paid you four hundred pounds for him! Anyway she took us out to her back garden and asked Stu to walk him up and down. He's perfect, she breathed, just perfect. Stuart, you simply have to learn how to show him!

Like most fourteen years old boys, Stu didn't relish the idea of 'poncing up and down in front of judges' but he was eventually persuaded to attend the local ringcraft lessons. Gay sent me an entry form for the next Championship Dog Show which happened to be in Leeds. I filled it in, in my ignorance entering Stu and Seth in all the vizsla classes, not knowing it was customary to enter a dog in only one of the five age-based classes. Then there was the Open where all of the class winners were adjudged side by side to arrive at the best of gender. (The top dog would compete against the top bitch to arrive at best of breed.) Also unknown by me, it was very rare for a mere boy to be showing a dog at Championship Shows which are a very serious business for breeders and fanciers, certainly not suitable for participation by any amateur youth.

Stu had to have Seth in the ring at Leeds by 09.30, which meant an 04.00 start for the drive north. Even then we were running late. I could not believe the buzz when we got there. More than ten thousand animals entered with all the people and cars this suggests! I dropped Stuart and Seth at the car park gate. By the time I'd found a space, had got Joan into her wheelchair and (eventually) found our way to the appropriate show ring I could hardly see what was going on through the surrounding crowds. I asked a lady if she knew what was actually going on. She said, it's fantastic, that boy's dog has won every class. He's now in with Gay Gottlieb and Show Champion Troy for best of breed. 

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