A lifetime opportunity...
I was completely 'Collie' obsessed as a teenager and by the time I finished my A levels I was deeply involved with anything to do with the Collie world from exhibiting and breeding to club work. The sensible plan for me was to go to university or start working as there were some opportunities and several avenues I could take. The only problem was that I was not in this mindset at all and I pleaded with my parents to take a year 'out' - in an ideal world I wanted to spend a year in Britain 'living and breathing' Collies... In the end I made a deal with my mother that I would do a further year at Oslo Handelsgymnasium (a college course in secretarial and business studies) if I could spend a year in Britain... My dream idea being that I could maybe be an 'au pair' for Collies...if I could find someone who would have me as a kennelmaid...
This was the summer of 1984 and I was due to travel to England with my friend Ingrid Svendal (Lancetta Collies) and it was whilst visiting Corydon that Barbara asked me what I was going to do, now I had finished my A levels... It was a question made in heaven and my dream opportunity...so I replied that I was going to college and then having a year 'out' which I hoped would be as a kennelmaid for someone, with the hope to go to dog shows and learn more about Collies... To my incredible and unbelievable amazement she offered for me to come and stay. The decision was not difficult - I jumped at the chance!
I remember the day, 15th of August 1985, as if it was yesterday when my parents took me from our campsite near Cambridge and up the A1 where we turned off for Claypole and on to Fenton - I was beside myself with excitement. I was bound for Collie heaven and priviledged learning heaven!
It was a dream come true to be a 'shadow', immersed in Collies and following every step of life at Corydon. I had admired many Corydons and I had already had, over a long time, letter correspondence with Barbara (we already had a puppy from them and Corydon Augustus Caesar in partnership with our friends Bodil and Bob Wilson). Barbara was always was so lovely, a real 'lady' so I could not wait to spend more time with her and to be allowed an insight into the thinking behind the Corydons.
I was surrounded by some beautiful Collies, from Ch Hippolyta to Ch Handsome Hotspur. I was particularly fond of Polly Tucka, I thought she was beautiful and in addition to that, what endeared her most to me was her beautiful temperament, so kind and gentle, she was always happy with life and her tail never stopped wagging... I fell in love with her son, Ch Tuck's Tiger for his wonderful conformation, presence and balance and he also had his mum's wonderful temperament. Later on, Tiger's grandson, Moon Miracle was another special dog to me as he was such a clown...
I initially spent 2 1/2 months at Corydon, returning home for the prestigious Oslo International Championship Show in November (where our Shana was entered and was BOS) and we also had a litter due plus I was spending Christmas at home with my parents. I then came back to Corydon in January and stayed until the summer of 1986. It was truly invaluable for me and to visit so many shows, including my first Crufts, I felt extremely lucky. I was getting a first hand experience of how the breed was progressing in it's home country and to learn from such distinguished breeders. Following youngsters at Corydon and learning about Barbara and John's reasonings and assessments when choosing puppies was all incredibly interesting and educational.
Barbara, John, Miranda and Julian were all very welcoming to me and accepted me as part of the family and I was taking in every minute of this precious time. I had my first visit to Nottinghamshire County Show which I just loved so much (whilst I was a 'city girl' I must have had latent 'country' genes!) and I was lucky to experience it several times later on...to me so very British, I loved the atmosphere and 'feel' to these shows and, of course, the beautiful Shire horses.
I was completely in awe of Barbara's knowledge and understanding of the Collie (and John's although I usually found I was more in 'tune' with Barbara!) and we could spend hours talking about Collies. I also loved the conversations we would have after a show when we would often stop on the way home at a Little Chef and discuss the show, talking about the dogs of the day. I learnt so much from these conversations and it was instrumental to increasing my knowledge and understanding.
I grew very fond of Barbara, John, Miranda and Julian and I found John to be a complete gentleman. They all became like family to me. I also learnt what a 'stockman' means, a term I had not come across but which John epitomises. All the Collies at Corydon were greatly loved and cared for, something which was very important to me and I loved looking after all these beautiful Collies.
In addition, the incredible opportunity came to travel to countries like Australia, New Zealand and Russia as Miranda wanted to go and visit her dog Ch Corydon Gold Star in his new home in Australia and was offered a judging appointment in Russia. We were lucky to be able to 'gatecrash' with so many lovely people and we had some incredible experiences.
I was certainly in Collie heaven, seeing all the famous British dogs at shows and watch new puppies coming out and following their progress, watching different bloodlines and how they were developing, noting traits from different sires and kennels, learning in more detail about different bloodlines and the types they produced and most importantly, seeing it all first hand with my own eyes. I had an insatiable appetite for pedigrees and continued to study at length how different kennels were breeding. I always longed to know how they were thinking and reasoning as I was watching the results they were getting.
I was particularly fascinated with line breeding. Barbara and John were masters at this in my view and had it down to a fine art. I believe this is one of the main reasons to their success and longevity as they have carefully and cleverly carried this on through many generations and decades - an incredible feat. The Corydon pedigrees combining lines from the start make fascinating reading, from Chuckaluck's That's My Girl (who was very well bred herself) to Ralvera's Donnasmaid and finally, Corydon Regality of Rokeby who had such an immense influence and was the result of a litter brother/litter sister mating (Ch Royal Ace of Rokeby/Ch Romney of Rokeby) and was then mated back to another full brother, Royal Flush of Rokeby, to produce Corydon King Hector (sire of the stunning Ch Corydon Hippolyta) - the rest is history...the Corydon pedigrees are a master lesson in linebreeding.
Barbara and John always had extremely well reared puppies and I was keen to learn how it happened! I took all this knowledge back home with me and changed the way I reared my babies in Norway and to this day I still rear our litters 'the Corydon way'.
I loved listening to Barbara and John talking about their dogs and breeding. They were always completely honest in their scrutiny of their own dogs and could have different views sometimes which I could appreciate and believe is another reason for their success. It was truly a wonderful and amazingly valuable experience to be able to learn from such experts in our breed and I was able to gain more clarity on the points that were puzzling me. As an example, I particularly found front assembly hard to understand...I could see a wrong front when the dog was moving sideways, yet I found it hard to pinpoint exactly what was wrong with it and John, in particular, made this clearer for me...I think my understanding of sound construction improved dramatically while I was at Corydon as well as fully understanding the importance of a well filled backskull and a flat skull and watching out for that all important stable topline on the move.
I witnessed some quite spectacular Collie movement in Scandinavia, some that sent shivers down my spine and made my heart skip a beat, etched on my brain forever. A Collie can move extraordinarily well if correctly made, with purposeful reach and drive, covering the ground...that spine tingling movement which comes from correct angulation and fuelled by power and purpose....whilst still being light, effortless and elegant. My time at Corydon reinforced the importance of movement and Barbara, in particular, taught me to look out for that level topline on the move, her famous analogy of a cup of tea balancing on the dog's back and nothing being spilt, has stayed with me ever since!
The signature of a 'Corydon' for me is a Collie of complete soundness and correct breed type, with a distinctive and effortless movement - all coming from correct construction. These features became of paramount importance to me - the Collie is known as a 'head breed' and I have always been drawn to a particular head type and the, for me, all essential 'kind, yet alert' Collie expression, coming from a correctly placed and obliquely set eye...the balance of skull and foreface with a correct 'slight but perceptible' stop. The interpretations of the breed standard varies and so the discussions continue but these points were reinforced for me.
As my time out as a 'dog au pair' had come to an end in July '86, I returned to Norway and with a litter due and a supposed career to pursue I was occupied. I was inaugurated onto the precursor course to enter the University in Oslo (obligatory for studying) but did not complete it as my heart had been left behind in England. Due to many factors, I found it hard to settle back into 'normal' life and I did temping in Oslo for a while in an attempt to try to face reality as I missed my full on dog life. In the end, I managed to twist Barbara's arm and persuaded her that they needed a full time kennelmaid and in 1988, I made a more permanent move to England and in 1991 my Corydon bitch came into quarantine followed by 'Maggie' two years later.
So, a career in Norway never started - I was hellbent on spending my life in England and with Collies... I owe a great deal to Barbara and John and it was a privilege and honour to live at Corydon - the many good memories will live on for a lifetime.
I learnt an invaluable amount about Collies and breeding in general whilst living with Barbara and John and I have great respect for their true dedication to the breed and in my view, complete understanding and appreciation of the Collie - true custodians. A role Miranda is now continuing and hopefully the Corydons will continue for many generations to come.