Those of you who remember the ‘old’ National, will quite likely dismiss the ‘new’ National as a pale shadow of the original event. Gone is the NEC (1), a prestigious international venue with its excellent air, rail and road links, replaced by an agricultural show ground in rural Staffordshire. Gone is the December rendezvous at the end of the show season, replaced by a date in early October at the very beginning. Even its title has changed (2) . . . you get the idea.
The cult of the past has become an integral part of British culture. As John Betjeman wryly noted ‘even a town like Wolverhampton looks splendid through Memory’s telescope’ (3). I remember the ‘old’ National too, and have happy memories of it, but I am not blind to the benefits of the ‘new’ National at Stafford.
Getting there by car is much more pleasant along those winding country roads, and parking is free; remember the extortionate car park fees at the NEC? The venue might not be as flash, but its agricultural character seems much more in tune with a typical birdhouse or aviary at the bottom of the garden. The lighting may not be great, but its better than the sodium lamps at the NEC that sucked the colour out of the birds’ plumage (and everyone’s complexion). And before anyone complains about the commercialism of the trade stands and the bird market, the show at the NEC was just the same, but the standards of bird welfare and the availability of owner-bred birds are far superior now.
The only drawback I will concede is the timing of the event. That first weekend in December was perfect; it created a climax to the show season. Early October is the opposite; too early for the birds to be seen at their best, and closed to those still in the moult; the show is an appetizer rather than the highlight of the banquet.
The consequences of such an early date were apparent in the Lizard section of the 2017 edition. The number of entries (4) was nowhere near what an event of this importance deserves, but it is inevitable. The majority of show birds are simply not ready. Many breeders will hold their birds back, giving them time to develop, knowing that there are sterner tests ahead. Nevertheless, the National is an event to look forward to; an opportunity for breeders to lay down a marker for the future. Tony Horton did just that.
A second year Novice, Tony repeated last year’s success with victory in 2017. You can see his Best Lizard canary, a broken cap gold cock, at the head of this article. This bird had that most desirable of features: good spangles that always held their lineage. I spent at least ten minutes photographing it at the show, and those spangles never wavered. No wonder judge Chris Jordan selected it. Tony also won the award for Best Novice Silver.
The Lizard section is one of the few where a Novice bird has an honest chance of beating the Champion birds on merit, but for overall quality, the Champions were undoubtedly superior. David Newton won four classes with the consistent quality of his birds, but Best Champion Lizard was awarded to Stan Bolton for his clear cap silver hen; a mealy bird with attractive spangles. Keith Johnson was again rewarded for his long journey from Scotland by winning Best Champion Gold, with a well-spangled clear cap cock. There were other birds that caught the eye, and Andy Williamson will surely be looking forward to his next encounter.
For all its prestige, the ‘new’ National is merely the opening skirmish of the season for Lizard canary breeders. Competition will get stiffer as more birds enter the fray. Some leading exhibitors were absent; some will have birds waiting to finish the moult; others had birds at Stafford that weren’t quite finished, and they will surely improve. Let battle commence!
Off-topic, but the opportunity is too good to miss: Keith’s bird displayed a near-perfect eyelash over its left eye. Proof that this elusive feature is worth every one of the 5 points awarded in the LCA Scale of Points (but worth nothing in the ‘new’ OMJ Score Sheet).
- The National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham.
- The official name of the ‘old’ National was the ‘National Exhibition of Cage and Aviary Birds’, although that title only goes back to the 1960s when the magazine started its sponsorship of the show.
- Cited by David Lowenthal in The Past is a Foreign Country (1985), p. 136.
- I somehow lost the catalogue, but I was told the total figure was around 70 birds; a far cry from the ‘old’ National which attracted 200+ entries.