“My style of judging, as those who know me will testify, is to give the breeders and their birds the utmost respect and time they deserve.”
You might recognise the quotation; it was published on FSS only a week ago. It is taken from Joe Coakley’s report of the 2016 Bologna show. I nodded with approval when I first read it; not only because it is good practice, but also because it reminded me of my first lesson in judging Lizard canaries.
My tutor was Ray Lee, one time Vice Chairman of the LCA , editor of Lizard News, and author of a small book on the Lizard canary. The occasion was the 1991 Chesterfield C.B.S. show. Chesterfield C.B.S. has long since disappeared, but it was a thriving club in those days, and its annual show attracted close to a thousand birds of all varieties.
Ray was an all-rounder; he could judge most ‘type’ canaries and British birds, and his services were always in demand. Ray was also a LCA panel judge, and inevitably the Lizards were included in his duties. I stewarded for him that year.
Ray was a natural teacher. As he went through the classes he would comment on the birds, explain his decisions, and patiently answer my questions. I was in only my third year with Lizards and I lapped it up. I must have been asking sensible questions because half-way through the classes, he invited me to ‘have a go’. I jumped at the chance.
Having ascertained that I had no conflict of interest, he offered me the broken cap gold hen class, which contained seven birds. I duly studied the birds and placed them in what I thought was the correct order. When I’d finished, Ray expressed his satisfaction with my first attempt, but then picked out a bird and asked:
“Why did you place that bird third?”
I explained my reasons, to which Ray responded:
“I was watching that bird. It started off at the back of the line. Then you moved it up to sixth, then to fourth, and finally to third. Why was that?”
I explained that it had began to relax as I was judging the class and its spangles had improved. His next statement took me aback:
“Let’s go for a cup of tea!”
After a sweet, milky cuppa that bird shows seem to specialise in, we returned to the judging stands.
“Still happy with your decision?” asked Ray, with the air of a man who knew the answer before he even put the question. I had another look at the birds and immediately saw that the spangles of the hen were now lining up perfectly. I moved her into first position.
“I’m happy too” said Ray, and marked the cages in the order I had now placed them.
When I asked Ray how he knew that the bird needed more time, he smiled and replied:
I’ve never forgotten that lesson, and it’s held me in good stead. David Newton’s broken cap gold hen that won the Classic back in 2013 was exactly the same; a slow starter, but the more she relaxed, the better she looked. She wasn’t even in the top seven when I made my first selection of the likely contenders, but then I noticed her beginning to improve. I decided it was time to have a cup of tea . . .
You can’t beat experience.