When I first encountered Lord Lipsey, to give him a copy of the evidence Greyhounds UK had collected about greyhound racing and which we had presented to a Home Affairs Committee meeting, he told me that the dogs wouldn’t get statutory regulation; that self-regulation would continue. I thought he was expressing an opinion. I’ve grown used to hearing people say, “You’ll never get change.” What I didn’t know or suspect, was that Lord Lipsey was going to be paid £25,000 a year to make sure that the dogs wouldn’t get change.
I had to leave that blog on Thursday when I was sent a script to learn for Friday for a comedy sketch to be filmed in a park in Pinewood. It’s for a TV show for Xmas/New Year. So the evening was spent learning and packing the bag. Mainly remembering tissues – lots – because I have a cold, and cleaning the dog- walking boots, because wherever you’re filming, at whatever the time of year, once the heavy vehicles have parked up at the base the ground has usually turned into mud if it has rained at all. And the Friday forecast is for rain.
I’m picked up at 7am and skip breakfast because the the dogs assume that if I’ve got up before 6 o’clock and got dressed etc then they must be going for a walk. So progress is very slow. It’s difficult moving when three dogs are dancing around in front of you and they have to be persuaded to go out into the garden for a pee. It’s raining, of course, so that means 12 muddy paws to be wiped with kitchen roll before they get further than the kitchen and they’re simply not listening as you keep telling them they’re not going with you.
The car is waiting outside and off we go. Traffic is unexpectedly light and we get there too early for which the driver apologises, bless him. And that is when the glamour starts. Because this is only a day’s work there is no catering van and the food on offer has been brought in – fried bacon (pale and watery) baked beans – I stop looking. There’s no toast and no coffee. No big deal, and at least there is a threeway trailer sitting among the puddles. So I get into my third of it and prepare to wait. There’s a couch in these things but never much light because the window always has blinds that are broken and impossible to open and the door is usually shut against the elements. Costume arrives and I get out of my warm comfy clothes into cold ones.
It’s back to waiting. I tried the fruit salad but it’s too cold to eat when you’re cold and you’ve got cold air being blown at you from a vent that hasn’t any controls. That gets sorted and I get an electric fan heater just as I’m put in the car to get to the other end of the carpark. It’s three hours later and still raining so the puddles are bigger.
Now, you can think you know your lines and you can recite them happily while you lie in bed or sit in the car etc… but …when you come to the location and the director shows you where he wants you to start, walk
and where to stop and tells you that the first paragraph is not out of vision and you will be saying it to camera (because there are no other actors involved), and although the rain has stopped you’re walking into the wind which makes your eyes run…..it all starts to unravel. Fortunately, this is not an uncommon phenomenon and no-one thinks it’s the end of the world except you because you’re the one trying to control your brain cells. The director declares himself satisfied and we move onto the next bit and that’s when the ducks get involved.
There are no other actors but I’m working with ducks.
Now, over the last fifty three years I’ve worked with cats, dogs, horses, lemurs, monkeys and children and I’m not too surprised to be bitten, scratched or have a monkey’s bottom presented to me. (Because, if you please, she had worked out that I was the oldest in the room and therefore the one who probably ruled the roost.)
Birds are difficult.
We are filming beside a pond and in order to tempt the ducks into the picture with me they have to be fed with bread by people who have to do it without getting into shot. That sounds easy until you try it. There is more than one type of duck in this pond and there are skirmishes that develop into splashing exits from shot and groans from crew. Then two swans turn up. Dave, who is the general dogsbody of the unit, otherwise known as the runner, is advised to hold a big piece of bread out to the swans and lead them away from the ducks by walking crablike along the path at the edge of the pond. He didn’t fall in but I didn’t give much for his chances so it was lucky the shot worked. Just as the rain started again. The next shot needed ducks out of the water and on the path in front of me. That seemed to take forever while I stood still at my starting point. At last I walk forward – maybe the writer thought they would go on eating and I could pick my way through sodden bread and gobbling ducks – ? Anyway, as I try to hang onto my lines, and advance
slowly towards the ducks, a couple with a child in a buggy trundle along the path and I can’t see for ducks taking off like a swarm of locusts.
The last piece was supposed to be filmed with me holding a duck but the
duck that had been hired proved too big for me to hold safely and we sat next to each other on a bench with me holding onto her and praying.
The rain had stopped by the time we did the “voice overs” in the sound van back in the car park which was a huge relief until my stomach started to complain about no breakfast and Dave was sent to “get a banana” and then I had a coughing fit that was part of this cold but resulted in Dave being sent for “a bottle of water ” and then”and tissues” as the tears poured down my face.
The sun came out as they broke for lunch and I came home to dogs who had been walked and fed by my daughter and had gone back to bed.
Sorry if that has bored you to death.
The promises are the ones that were made by the greyhound racing industry to improve the welfare of the dogs. They were all lies.
There is to be no accountability and no transparancy.
No tracking of dogs from cradle to grave and no publication of injury figures at tracks. Just two examples.
And, while I think of it, the industry has always been keen to imply that the Greyhound Forum was an area of agreement between itself and the welfare community but there are only two independent charities, dealing specifically with racing greyhounds, on the Forum and one of them concentrates on dogs in Spain. The other charities are Blue Cross, Dogs Trust and PDSA. In a letter I have seen, from the RSPCA to Dogs Trust, it is pointed out that the Forum is not a properly constituted Forum , that nothing is signed off and that at its meetings the welfare representatives are “outnumbered and outgunned” by the industry.
This has not deterred the industry from implying that it has the approval of the welfare body as a whole. The APGAW Report gives the lie to that but, of course, I’m not sure many inside the two Houses of Parliament will have read it.
I understand that charities have a problem protesting about the treatment of racing greyhounds. Unless the charity is there for greyhounds specifically, its supporters could complain about the concentration on one breed, some of its supporters may be followers of greyhound racing and the Charity Commission may still disapprove of charities getting involved in political campaigning. All the same, during the run up to the Animal Welfare Bill, would have been the time to make it clear that the Greyhound Forum was not speaking for the majority of greyhound rescue charities – who are looking at the rules and regulations that are proposed by DEFRA with disbelief and something far deeper and bitter than disappointment.