Joe Gibbs: How we found out the hard way that taking Jack Russells to a golden retriever festival is a BIG mistake

Oh dear, Joe. Oh dear.

It’s said that Alec Douglas-Home was once confounded by a fellow Scot called Menzies because he pronounced his name to rhyme with ‘frenzies’.

Why, enquired the great man, whom my father revered as ‘too much of a gent ever to be a successful prime minister’, didn’t Menzies use the more usual pronunciation north of the border, which sounds like ‘Mingies’?

‘I’ll have to think about that,’ replied Menzies, ‘and I’ll tell you when I get Hume.’

Marjoribanks is another of that select group of British names that provide a trap for those uninitiated into the arcane pronunciation of British nomenclature. As in Cholmondeley, Colquhoun and Althorp (Chumley, Cahoon and Althrrrup), letters may be disinherited without warning or replaced with complete imposters. Most of the world will be unaware that ‘Marchbanks’ is the proper pronunciation of Marjoribanks. Equally, most may be ignorant of the fact that it is to the Marjoribanks we owe the existence of the golden retriever, which is thankfully pronounced as written.

In 1868, Sir Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks, later Baron Tweedmouth, crossed a wavy-coated retriever with a (now extinct) Tweed water spaniel. The result was the golden retriever, a dog suitable for the upland game of the Highlands and, latterly, a breed that advertising directors equate with middle-class, feel-good family life.

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In Homeward Bound, the remake of The Incredible Journey, Shadow the golden retriever replaced Luath the golden labrador and, ever since, the breed has been in the top 10 of international popularity. Every five years, enthusiasts from across the globe celebrate these blonde-maned canines at Guisachan, the now spectacularly ruined pile the Marjoribanks family built for their happy Highland hunting ground at the far end of Strathglass.

On a whim, we visited this year’s Retrieverfest. We took our two Jack Russells along for the craic. That was a mistake. Of all breeds of dog, none is more biddable, loyal and docile than the golden retriever. It sits at the opposite end of the canine temperament spectrum to the terrier. If your average Goldie is a meld of Donny Osmond and Olivia Newton-John before she dons the black catsuit in Grease, then think in terms of Sid Vicious and Ozzy Osbourne for our Jack Russells.

The snarls and yelps from Moon and Cotton — now renamed Thelma and Louise — spoke of desperation as we towed them, pop-eyed, past the puzzled friendliness of the retrievers. Only lightning reflexes prevented chunks being torn out of the gentle giants.

On the spot where the ladies of the Women’s League of Health & Beauty once performed their summer-camp exercises on the lawns, 466 equally respectable retrievers gathered for a group photograph. Wobbling on a stepladder, a photographer gesticulated frantically as stewards tried to bring outliers into the picture. A man with a microphone, perspiring heavily, entreated owners to leave so that a dogs-only shot could be taken. Try leaving a load of terriers like that, I thought.

Gradually, the humans were persuaded to quit the scene. A lady with hair dyed in solidarity with the breed tutted at the delay. Two young turks broke free, trailing a corkscrew. A reprobate male humped his girl next door. But, on the whole, there was miraculously little to choose in behaviour terms between the dogs and the life-size cut-outs of retrievers that had been brought by their overseas owners. One longed to release a sackful of rabbits to stress test that saintly passivity.