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After running the dogs along the beach, I would take them into the sand hills for about 45 minutes of dashing up and down the steep dunes. The dogs and I loved these outings. At that time of day, it was like having the world to yourself. I always took Spitfire on these outings. The other dogs would run in and out of the sea as we went along the beach. Spitfire would get into the water and not come out until we went into the sand hills. Spitfire became the most courageous water dog I ever knew.

I don't remember ever saying anything to Talbot about working Spitfire. At the time I didn't realise it, but over the years that I knew Talbot, his interest in a particular dog didn't last for long. Although he loved the adulation and praise the dogs brought him, he would leave the everyday routine needed to develop these dogs to someone else. By the beginning of the shooting season, Spitfire was well and truly "my dog". Talbot never actually said that I could take Spitfire over, but by this time Spitfire had become my housedog. She made as wonderful a housedog as she was a working dog. She had limitless energy and enthusiasm in the field. Yet in the house, she was so quiet and calm it was easy not to notice she was even in the house. I had a chair next to an open coal fire. Spitfire had a dilapidated settee to rest on. The open fire provided most of the heat for the house. It was something of a surprise to me when I first arrived that there were houses in a modern western country that didn't have central heating.

Sometime later when my wife Hazel first started to visit, the house rules changed. Rule number one was no dogs on the furniture. Spitfire was told to get off the settee, which she did without argument. Hazel got her a dog basket that was placed next to my chair. The dilapidated settee disappeared. Spitfire slept in her basket for the rest of her life.
Spitfire in her basket.

One day, during the early times with Spitfire, Talbot said to me, "Spitfire is one of my blue blood bitches." When I asked what that meant exactly he said, "She comes from a continuous line of great bitches that goes directly back to the best of the O'Vara line. Look to her to produce wonderful dogs."

I never saw Spitfire's mother, as other bitches in the kennels had killed her before I arrived. I vaguely remember Ted Mertes running Saighton's Satin in trials on her way to making a Field Trial Champion. She was a sister to Spitfire's grandmother, who was Saighton's Silk. (I have no idea how Talbot let Satin go to America.)

My thoughts went to the O'Vara spaniels and what wonderful dogs they must have been if they were like Spitfire. I would have loved to know Spy, Sprint, Sarkie and others that appeared many times in Spitfire's pedigree. Their day was 40 to 50 years before Spitfire was born. Clearly many of their most desirable traits were still intact.

"This was the first time she showed me that what I thought to be impossible was not impossible for her."

On formal shooting days, there were frequently situations that were less than ideal to work a young dog. The conifer covers had very little ground cover, but were thick with trees. This meant it was not easy to keep sight of a dog, but a dog could sight chase a running pheasant for some distance. The pheasants would run a lot in these woods, as they didn't flush until they came to the end of it. At other times there might be a thick bank of rhododendrons. As soon as a dog was put in these, the dog was out of sight. I felt working young dogs under these circumstances in a beating line could easily lead to confusion and bad habits. I started taking Spitfire with me, along with a couple of young dogs, on all of the formal shooting days. I knew that Spitfire was not going to be sold, so it didn't matter if there was some confusion in her training. I would work her whenever I felt it was not suitable for my dogs in training. Spitfire soon learned what was required on the formal days. She learned to work differently during formal days from rough shooting days. If she was being shot over and flushed game, she would hup immediately and look for the fall. On days of driven shooting she would not hup to game. Sometimes she would have a quick glance to see the game flying away. Often, she wouldn't even look up - but would just keep quartering as the game moved on.

During my early days with Spitfire we did have our disagreements. I expect it was more my inexperience under the conditions than anything Spitfire was doing fundamentally wrong. She never held a grudge. After being reprimanded she would look at me as if to say, "Are you finished with your ranting, so I can get back to work?"

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