Monday, August 25, 2008

Gone to the Dogs

Last weekend, I attended a momentous occasion: closing night at Walthamstow dog track.


The first time I heard that the British still had a dog track, and not only one but several, in the city limits, and that it was one of the most popular and cherished institutions in the city, I was appalled. I mean, really. British people are OBSESSED with animals; they banned fox hunting, cropping of dog ears and docking of dog tails, and it's a widely known fact that Brits would rather spend more time with their animals than with their fellow countrymen. So why, exactly, do they still race greyhounds, and consider going to the dog track such an event?

I can't answer that question, but early this summer the announcement came that Walthamstow, the city's favorite dog track deep in East London, would be closing to make way for a housing development. So I swallowed my disapproval (and my pride), and put visiting Walthamstow on my to-do list for the summer. Ashley and I went with friends last Saturday on what turned out to be the last night of races ever. It was mayhem, craziness, and a lot of fun. Not only was it exciting to watch, but the people watching was yet another exercise in my cumulative ethnographic education of the class system in England. Walthamstow's appeal crosses socio-economic strata; Brad Pitt supposedly loves the place, as do 14-year-olds who just earned their first paycheck and want to blow it on Carling and the dogs. I loved the hen parties and the old bookmakers, who have to inherit their stands from their fathers. There's one guy who has been making books since 1933!

Those who know me know my love of dogs, and, in the end, the best part for me was the pups. I figured out how to judge which dogs would win based on their anatomy (duh, that's what the standard is for) and was thrilled to see that they actually raced Afghan hounds there (who knew they could still do what they were bred to do?!) I don't know that I can get behind dog racing as a sport/hobby, but my night out at the track was quite thrilling. It is too bad that "the 'Stow" is shutting down, but I'm just glad I got to see it!

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