Marmande is one of those places I’d heard of as my father used to grow Marmande tomatoes: not my favourite variety, and later as somewhere I drive through, or, since the ring road was completed, around, on the way to the A 62 motorway to head towards Agen, Toulouse or other places south east. It’s also, memorably, the place where I was asked to breath into a breathalyser in a routine Gendarme traffic control at 6 a.m. on a freezing Sunday one February – on my way to a show at Toulouse. When I saw there was to be an International dog show staged there I wondered a bit where it would be: the centre of town is full of old and attractive buildings and the roads that I’d taken in and out went almost instantly from passing through fields and farms into suburban streets. The show was being staged by The Lot et Garonne Canine Society who usually stage shows at Agen, one International that I’d been to, at the Agen Exhibition centre, and few Nationals at a small Equestrian centre and racecourse. I decided to enter. The first class for any of my dogs was given as 13:30, so I reasoned I didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn. I left the house at almost dead on 09:00 and was there by 10:35. There were little signs on lampposts at the roundabouts on the ring road pointing to “manifestation canine” so I followed them and found that the main road from Marmande to Bordeaux is lined with shopping centres and the Exhibition centre is tucked neatly away behind a McDonalds and a car dealer showroom. The parking was excellent, level concrete which made pulling my trolley into the show area quite easy. I collected my catalogue and was given an “exhibitor’s gift” a pack of prunes, called pruneaux in French as plums are called prunes. The area around and between Marmande and Agen is a heavily agricultural and Pruneaux d’Agen are a speciality of the region: they are plump and tasty and bear no relation to the sort of stewed prunes I remember from school lunches. A lot of rings were outside, but the judge of Cavaliers and quite a few other breeds was in one of the large exhibition halls. I saw a friend, Lynda, whose husband Nicolas was due to handle Hula for me as I had two entered in open and said I’d get my ring numbers. Inevitably she asked "Why aren't you at the wedding??" so I said I'd lost my invitation. As I looked in the catalogue I realised I had made the most stupid and totally unforgivable mistake and brought the wrong dog. I’d entered Melody but taken Madrigal: unforgiveable as their names are on the exhibitor’s pass! Lynda laughed and said “We’ve all made that mistake.” No consolation; I’d done it once before and vowed never to be so stupid again. By that time Nicolas was there and he went to collect the ring numbers and told the ring secretary that number 625 was absent. He took his Blenheim dog, Legend de Bulgarians into the ring and Legend won the CAC. A bitch bred by Nicolas and Lynda, Melissande was in the Intermediate class, which she won but the judge didn’t award a bitch CAC. I took Maxim into open dog ad he was first excellent, but in the challenge, the winner of intermediate, a really handsome black and tan called Made in France de la Féerie de Broceyland was awarded the CAC and Maxim had the reserve. Nicolas took Hula into the ring: as he said “he’d been geared up to do so” and she was first excellent but didn’t get the CAC as she’s lost a tooth: this was earlier in the year and I’d pretty much forgotten about it. I stood by in the challenge for the CACIB, as if it had been awarded to Made in France, Maxim would have been eligible to challenge for the reserve. As it was, it was Legend who was awarded the CACIB and Made in France the reserve. Best of Breed was a tricolour bitch, Champion Ideale des Castello di Vyper, with Legend best opposite sex. At this show we could leave if our dogs weren’t required for further competition, so I collected Maxim’s cup and was given a choice of a plaque or a rosette for Hula: I took the rosette: it was prettier. In the queue I chatted to a woman with a Junior Chesapeake Bay Retriever, a breed that’s quite rare in France: I’d talked with her earlier in the day. Her dog was the son of an American import Champion, and she told me she’d waited a few years to get him. She too chose the rosette, “less dusting!”.

The journey home took less time than going. I should have been there again today, as I’d entered Naïcha, whose class was scheduled for 09:00, but when the alarm went off at 05:00 my eye was heavy and didn’t want to stay open and my head was buzzing a bit so I thought I was really too tired even for a relatively short journey, so turned it off and went back to sleep. I feel fairly sure the dogs would have been pleased had they known I’d decided not to wake them too early: when I did go into their room Naïcha was still in her crate and came out slowly, stretching and yawning.