Each Dreadful Scene

I wrote this for the Irish Wolfhound Magazine in 1977 after one of our hounds appeared on television in a programme on veterinary medicine.

"The BBC is doing a series on the advances and changes in various professions over the past forty years, and the subject of one programme is veterinary medicine. The star of the first part is, naturally, James Heriot but for the second part the BBC wanted a young lady vet and decided on Christine Howe who is the junior partner at our local surgery.

One of our hounds, Moppet, has been having ultra-sonic therapy for a serious hock injury and it was thought that it would be an interesting item to include in the film, partly because of Moppet herself and partly because ultra-sonic therapy was certainly not in existence in the days when James Heriot qualified. So I agreed to take Moppet along at 3.00 on the first day of filming.

It so happened that that day we decided to put up the ceiling in the whelping kennel, and I was holding up a sheet of plasterboard whilst Richard hammered in nails, when I realised it wanted but ten minutes to three. Panic. No time for anything else but I must at least brush Moppet's beard and whiskers. And there was I in old trousers with a thick layer of dog hairs, splashes of whitewash and creosote, and a tasteful sprinkling of plaster dust over all. The clothesbrush, hastily wielded, did remove a few hairs but spread the plaster dust into smears. Oh well, it's the dog they're filming and with a bit of luck I can keep out of camera range completely, so on with a jacket to hide the holes in my sweater, and a hat to cover my plaster-covered hair, into the car and we were off.

Of course, when we arrived in a spurt of gravel it was to be met with the news that "we've got a bit behind schedule, but you won't mind waiting, will you?" Damn, I could have used that time to tidy up a bit. Could I perhaps slip back home and return looking as if I'd just stepped out of Vogue rather than the local doss house? But no. "Come to think of it, we're wanting to get some shots of clients in the waiting room and we could use you in that."

The waiting room is not quite the smallest room in the building (that's the surgery itself) but a couple of Chihuahuas would make it look crowded and there were already present a mother and two small boys with a wicker basket, the cameraman, a man with a clapperboard, and assorted members of the television team, so by the time Moppet and I had squeezed in it resembled the Underground in the rush hour.

After some jostling for position, during which Moppet decided she didn't fancy being a T.V. star and made a dash for the door (luckily the cameraman was in the way so she didn't make it, and I guess those cameras have to be pretty tough), we all managed to arrange ourselves in attitudes of alert attention, the clapperboard was clapped and filming commenced. The cameraman was wedged into the corner by the door with the lens about six inches from Moppet's nose. We had all been warned not to look at the camera, but Moppet, with typical Irish obstinacy, ignored the warning and stared very hard into the lens, moving her head as the camera turned, so that all the poor cameraman could see was a large black nose surrounded by hair.

 stared very hard into the lens

"I'm afraid we'll have to do that again. How about talking to each other, and you kids pat the dog."

By this time Moppet was bored with the whole thing and showed her feelings with a cavernous yawn. Close up of gaping jaws, a fine set of teeth, and lolling tongue.

"Perhaps we could attract the dog's attention away from the camera. What have you got in the basket? A rabbit! Super! How about holding the rabbit on your knee?" (A rabbit? My God! That's all I need. Perhaps one or two of our hounds could sit in the same room as a rabbit and do no more than lick their lips occasionally but Moppet is not one of them. To her, rabbits have but two functions in life - to provide her with exercise and tasty snacks between meals.)

 investigating the basket

Moppet was already investigating the basket in a way calculated to give the occupant a heart attack and, to my relief, it was decided that perhaps it would be enough for the basket to be held on someone's knee. This time everything went well - apart from the camera not working (perhaps being slammed against a door by a large wolfhound wasn't what it was used to after all).

However, either the next run was perfect or the camera team had given up hope, because they called a halt there and rushed off to the surgery to film the rabbit being examined.

I was told later that the rabbit sequence was not a success, either, because it went berserk as soon as its basket was opened, and hurtled round and round the surgery. Undoubtedly that was marked down to Moppet's account, as well.

These television people don't give up easily, though. "Do you have a car?" queried the man with the clapperboard. "We'd like to film the dog getting out of the car and walking across to the waiting room". In the car park were seven or eight cars, shining in pristine splendour, any of which a wolfhound would be proud to be filmed in. Then there was mine; thickly covered with mud and with a sort of haze of dog hairs and dust still floating around it. I pointed out this poor relation.

 ..haze of dog hairs and dust....

"Would the dog get back in the car so we can start?" Oh yes, she'd do that like a shot but whether she'll come out again is another matter.

"When I signal, I want you to walk round the car, open the back, get the dog out and walk to the waiting room. And I don't want the entire sequence to take more than two minutes. Do you think you can manage that?" I wish he'd stop talking to me as if I was a retarded five year old. And what was that hope about keeping out of camera range?

Signal. Out of the car (passenger side, if you please, where do they think this is? And even if Moppet looks as if she might have a chauffeur, neither I nor the car do), open back. New cloud of dust and hair billows out. When it clears I can see Moppet sitting as far forward as she can get without actually being in the driver's seat, and giving me the sort of look that said clearly: "If you think I'm going back in there, think again!"

Pleading tone: "Please, Mops, get out of the car". She doesn't move. Again, more urgently. Still she doesn't move. What seems like ages later she finally gets up and moves towards me. I clip on her lead and move backwards. She refuses to budge. Gentle tug on lead but she is immovable. Hard jerk on lead, muttering under my breath and glad they are dubbing the sound in later. She slowly and reluctantly descends.

By this time I am in such a state of tension that I forget the camera is now on my right. Fine shot of large, hairy dog bisected down the middle by pair of legs in hairy, white-smeared trousers making for the door like something out of an early silent film, ending in an undignified gallop as we dive into the waiting room. At least they don't decide to do a retake but move us straight on to the surgery.

 hairy dog bisected down the middle

Now, someone crouching on the floor moving a small metal disc over a dog's hock for four minutes is not my idea of exciting television viewing, but perhaps I've become blasé through watching it too often.

To finish up, they wanted a close-up of Moppet's head (I'd have thought they already had more than enough shots of her head, but still). She, of course, chose this moment to become camera shy and we battled for several minutes whilst she turned her head away, dropped it to the ground, and otherwise refused to cooperate.

The man with the clapperboard remarked: "I worked with one of these on 'Jane Eyre'." "Oh yes?" I said hollowly. "That was Flynn, wasn't it?" "That's the one. Now HE behaved beautifully. Whatever we asked him to do, he did perfectly first time." I'm sure there must be any number of snappy answers to that one, but naturally I couldn't think of any at the time.

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