Gordon G Hall
Writer and Neo-Philhellene

The Flatcoat Fables
Just So

Pups feeding

Now where should we start? Perhaps at an early time when there were no Flatcoats, no Goldens, no Labradors, just a mish-mash of latent retrieving talent spawning somewhere in mist-wreathed kennel blocks in the heart of Victorian England.

Listen very carefully and perhaps you can just make out the murmurings of a small litter - who are we? what will will look like when we grow up? what are we going to do with our lives? where did that teat take itself? - just the everyday sort of puppy-talk that all retrievers wrestle with - but already differences seem to be developing between the three pups.

Week Eight [c.1890]
Puppy One has a slightly militaristic bearing. He bunches up his muscles and has already started to shave his coat which he secretly bleaches to a sort of yellowish colour. Puppy Two has a rather more relaxed manner and a heavier gait. Although he cannot be bothered with all this shaving he has recently 'borrowed' some of One's bleach - not quite enough, so his coat is going a sort of rich gold colour. Puppy Three just likes being a puppy and stays black!

Month Six [c.1920]
One is seriously out to impress. He knows just where he is going and is already busy networking with other kennels. Two is nothing like so competitive, indeed he is rather embarrassed at One being so pushy, he clearly wants to please as many people as possible. Three is still enjoying being a puppy - and stays black!

Proud Lab Year One [c.1940]
One already knows all the best shoots around the country and has invitations to most. He is moving into politics espousing a firm belief in popularism. His coat is now a fully formed 'short back and sides' and intrinsically yellow. Just occasionally he will dye it black so that he can be seen to be "One of the lads' . Two is just the sort of fellow that you know you can rely on, dependable, honest, not very bright, but a really good chum. He wouldn't dream of dyeing his hair black. Three occasionally wonders if she should stop being a puppy - but then thinks better of it. She stays black.

Year Three [c.1950]
One has sired a couple of litters that have all turned out the spitting image of him. Politics gave him a good start - everyone knows him - and he is now chairman of a rather dreary industrial firm. Although he occasionally gets out to the country he is very much town-based these days. Two is already putting on a bit of weight, he is a clubbable sort of a chap and everyone likes him, both in town and at his place in the country. Three does not seem to want to grow up - there is talk of psychiatry - her litter were all black, but when fooling around with her pups she squirted a bottle of washing up liquid over one of them and it has gone a sort of liver colour.

Off on a Quest? Year Ten [c.1980]
One has 'sired more litters than a rampant tom cat', aggressively he pumps iron every day. He has 'attitude'. Two is suffering from gout (or arthritis) but is still really pleased to see you (sorry can't get up old boy). He has a large and rather scatterd family who like to visit him at Christmas - but he has terrible trouble remembering all their names. Three still behaves like a puppy, the occasional grey hair can be seen in her black coat - but what the hell - now how can I keep you all happy today!

Well, Oh Best Beloved (as the book goes), that is how the Labradors, the Goldens and the Flat-Coated Retrievers were made and how they developed. In contemporary human terms it is easy to recognise each breed: Labradors use mobile phones, Goldens will always buy you a pint of beer in a pub, and FlatCoats are forever young at heart and happy by nature.

  I am indebted to Rieko Mamaoto for her charming illustrations
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