I have a fairly good geographic knowledge of the UK . and have travelled to all but the most remote regions of our lovely island . I have lived in the South and the North , including Scotland and have rarely been lost as I always have my trusty map ( and , nowadays , a Sat-Nav ) and I am not afraid to ask for directions (males please take note !).
Having 'Dog Showing ' as a hobby means that I have travelled the length and breadth of the British Isles , often on my own , as my husband frequently worked away from home . And so , during the 80s and 90s , most weekends you would find me driving along the highways and byways to some venue or another with a car full of dogs and 2 children.
Finding the towns was the simple part, but often the venues were slightly more of a challenge . However, the various Dog Clubs and Societies anticipated this problem by printing a very basic map on the back of the Show schedule . Just a sort of quick outline of the main streets with the Sports Centre , Village Hall, Playing Field , or any other venue , highlighted . X most certainly marked the spot ! And so all was rosy in my world and I continued happily driving to shows , where the only stress I encountered was whether or not Terrible Tarquin was going to behave and just exactly when my daughter was going to say , in a little trembly voice ,
" Mum, I feel sick ! "
We were living in Scotland , 15 miles North of Aberdeen and I guess it must have been the mid 80s when I first heard about the Ladies Kennel Ass. of Scotland 's Open Show . Someone told me it was a great show and that they had lots of Afghan Hound Classes so I thought I would give it a try . It was to be held late in the year in Johnstone , which is about 12 miles West of Glasgow and part of the largest conurbation in Scotland . I phoned for the schedule and duly filled in the entry form , enclosed a not inconsiderable cheque and that was that . The schedule was filed away and I thought no more about it until a week before the show when , to my consternation , I realised there were no directions whatsoever to the venue !
Well, I knew how to get to Glasgow, how to negotiate the ring road and avoid the City Centre and I knew the general direction to go after that , But Johnstone itself was a mystery to me and I had no map of the town . Remember, this was before Google maps or Sat-Nav !!
My first instinct was to just 'go for it' . I have always been intrepid with an optimistic outlook and things usually worked out , but my husband , who was on an oil platform 140 miles out in the North Sea , informed me that all was well . Apparently he had a work-mate who was born and bred in Johnstone and knew exactly where the Community Centre was and that detailed directions were winging their way to me courtesy of British Airways Helicopters and good old Royal Mail !! Sorted !!
And so the day dawned , a chilly but dry Sunday morning . It must have been about 5am when I loaded up my trusty old blue Cortina Estate and pushed my two sleepy , sluggish offspring into their seats and off we went. On a cold, clear morning the drive from Aberdeen , down the A90 towards Dundee is a lovely , picturesque journey . Startled deer run out and hesitate before hurtling across the road and vanishing into deep forests and every now and then the North Sea looms beside you , still and grey and oh so cold and supply ships and tankers glint in the distance as the first light of dawn reflects off their radio masts . Pretty little white-washed cottages are dotted along the road side and rolling hills lie like petticoats around the higher mountains .
And then, after Dundee , the glorious stretch of the A92 as it hugs the silver Tay and snakes through some of the most fertile land in Scotland . Through fields of raspberry canes and logan berries and Tayberries , all hung with a frosty mist in the early November sunshine . Then the road rises slightly as it nears the lovely city of Perth that lies , nestled in a huge bend of the river . The grey towers and turrets of the old buildings taking on a pink glow as the dawn light moves ever Westward.
On we went , onto the A9 and down through more forests and fields , dropping ever downwards, leaving the hills and mountains behind us . Past the huge , sombre castle , high up on the cliffs at Stirling and down to the Clyde valley and the giant sprawl of Glasgow , far in the distance . It really was the most glorious morning , God was in his heaven , all was right with the world .
Just after Cumbernauld there used to be a long steep slope down to some traffic lights . I think it has changed now , but , anyway, back in the 80s thats how it was ! So, we were pootling along , my daughter , in the back seat , whining about being sick and me saying that if she was she had better be sure not to get any on the dogs ( I'm all heart ) and my son , aged 17 , flopping in the passenger seat , resenting the fact that he had been forced to give up his Sunday 'lie in' and come to a 'bloody dog show' when disaster struck !
The car started to pull to the left in a most alarming way and then we had to stop at the traffic lights . I told my son, an apprentice mechanic , about the cars strange behaviour , but he just grunted in the way teenagers do and so when the lights turned green , off I went . Or ,at least , I didn't !! The car sort of juddered and lurched and made the weirdest drumming noise and I stopped and my son said ; calmly , I thought , seeing as we were in the middle of a junction ,
" Oh, I think we have a flat tyre !" Marvellous !!!
Of course the spare tyre in the Cortina Estate was under the floor of the tailgate , so we had to unload all the show equipment and carry it over to the pavement and get the two Afghan Hounds onto the backseat with my car-sick daughter . Thank goodness it was still early on a Sunday morning and traffic was still very light .
Out came the spare tyre , out came the tools , out came the jack ........ oh dear , NO JACK !! We hunted and searched and then hunted again , just to be sure , but no , we had no jack ! Bloody hell !!
Across the road , about half a mile in the distance I could see a branch of Halfords and so I piled the dogs and show stuff back into the car and , leaving my son in charge , I set off , hoping to buy a jack . I was almost there when it dawned on me that it was only about 7.45 on a Sunday morning , in Scotland . Halfords would not be open for hours , if at all . And so I traipsed back to the car and decided to phone the AA . At least I had one of the early mobile phones , the ones that were like half a house-brick !!
We waited for what seemed like hours , but was actually only about 30mins , for a grinning AA man to rescue us from the junction, change the wheel and admonish me for not checking my tool kit , yada, yada, yada !! Then we loaded up again and set off . I was increasingly sure that we should abandon the trip but , damn , we were not far away now and we could still make it if we got a wiggle on. I was so intent on trying to make up some of our lost time and still rather shaken by the whole experience , that I didn't notice that I had gone past the sliproad for the bypass . It was only when I found myself surrounded by taxis and buses and busy streets that I realised I had driven straight into the centre of Glasgow and the dreaded 'one way ' system ........... and I had no idea which 'one way' I should be taking !
Using some sort of weird second sight and 'bat like' sense of direction . we eventually found ourselves emerging from the city , entering the suburbs and actually on the ring road ! It was going to be alright !!
We hurtled along the M8 and onto the A737 and into the outskirts of Johnstone . My son unfolded the directions , so carefully written and sent from the middle of the North Sea and began to read them out to me ,
" Enter Johnstone and you will see a pub called , whatever , on the right ......"
Ok , we all looked for the pub .....nothing . Plenty of pubs but none with the correct name . I drove a bit further ......still nothing . Ok , read the next bit ,
" Turn right at the church ,"
Hmmmm, well a church , in Scotland , is a fairly easy thing to find . There seems to be at least 6 on every street and they all look pretty similar , so that was not really very helpful , but we bravely ploughed on . The directions went on in a similar , very ambiguous , non-specific manner , but we followed them as best we could , zig-zagging across the town for about 20mins until we finally ended up in a row of back-street garages . At this point I was almost suicidal . I had two restless Afghans , one bilious daughter , and a son who was being yelled at because I was so stressed .
We stopped beside the row of garages and I grabbed the bloody directions , tore them into a dozen pieces and flung them out of the window . Sorry Johnstone !! Then I decided to trust my own instincts .
We were horribly lost and I had no idea if we were even on the right side of town , but I sat and calmed down and thought ,
" If I was a town planner , where would I put a Community Centre ?"
Then I started the car and drove first right and then next left and there in front of me was a car with dogs in the back ! I took a deep breath and decided to follow this car. For all I knew they were on their way to a park for a walk , but they could also be going to the show . I had nothing to lose , if I didn't find the venue soon I would miss the classes so to heck with it .
I followed the car as it wended its way down road after road , I was Steve McQueen in 'Bullitt' ! Then , suddenly the driver indicated left and pulled onto the drive of a large house . I lost the will to live and wanted to cry with frustration , but I was still watching the people we had followed and they were getting out of the car and walking up the road with their dogs instead of going into the house . Why were they doing that , I wondered and then my son shouted ,
" Look there , Mum . Is that it ?"
And , oh yes, just a few yards away , was a large building and car park full of cars and lots and lots of dogs . Dogs on leads , dogs in crates , show dogs excitedly pulling their owners towards the Community Centre !! Salvation !!
I parked the car in the only available space and my son poured me a coffee from the flask. I held it with shaking hands and vowed to never ever again come to blooming Johnstone .
Incidentally , Tarquin actually won his class and went Reserve Best of Breed , although he did do a few cartwheels and jumped over my shoulders .
Our beautiful black and silver Cleo won Best of Breed and went on to be Best in Show !!