A Life in the Day of Florence Nagle

Muriel Bowen talked to Mrs. Florence Nagle, dog breeder, at her Sussex kennels. Photograph by David Lavender.
Sunday Times, 1979.

My day begins according to the work in hand. I've got an internal alarm clock and it adjusts itself. If I am going to Blackpool for a dog show I'll be up and away between 3 and 4 a.m. But, normally, now that I am retired from training racehorses, I get up much later, about 8 a.m.

There's always breakfast of sorts: bacon, egg, coffee, usually, but it does not matter what. I've always believed in breakfast. It sets me up for the day. Then it does not matter whether other meals happen, or not.

At breakfast I have The Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail and The Sporting Life - that is, if they arrive. It used only to be The Sporting Life that was missing and then only on an important occasion like Derby Day. The newspapers have always been very good to me. Once a horse I was training for the Derby (well my head man had the licence as women were not allowed licences) and the Daily Express said that the horse was only fit to give rides on the sands. The horse came second in the Derby at 100/1 and the paper did a beautiful apology. I read all the news pages in the papers, the racing of course, but not the women's pages. Heavens no!

After breakfast I go shopping in the Mini. I like driving - I was the first woman in Berkshire to get a driving licence - and on the longer journeys take the Bentley. That's painted in my racing colours - red, green and black. It's a great car, very old now with 130,000 miles on the clock and it's never given me a bit of trouble. They don't make reliable cars like that any more so I am not going to buy a new one.

Shopping doesn't amuse me. Though at Petworth it's still old-fashioned and civilised. The assistants aren't bored stiff if you ask them a question and they will offer to take the bigger things out to the car for you. There used to be all sorts of people who would do things like shopping for me; not any more.

Buying clothes too used to be so much easier. You sent your measurements to Paris, and they sent back sketches. Provided you didn't change shape you could go on shopping by post, well, forever. It was very convenient - mind you, expensive too.

My dogs take time but I enjoy them. I've only a few dogs now, nine or 10. I used to have 25 or 30. A friend comes and gives them their early morning meal, and I take over later. I used to have Irish setters, 18 of them field champions. In Scotland once we shot 1200 brace over them. My dogs have got to be workers, anybody can breed dogs for looks. I breed for guns and brains. Now I have Irish Wolfhounds, greedy old pigs.

Journalists and television people have been coming to see me here a lot lately. They take up a lot of time. I like to get these interviews over and out of the way as quickly as possible. But I like doing the television. You don't see the audience. But there are an awful lot of people about - producers, technicians, editors, all a-flutter and in a blue sweat, terrified you are going to dry up when they ask you a question. It amuses me like blazes.

I go to London as little as possible. Usually nowadays to give up some committee or other. Social occasions I avoid, though sometimes I get stuck. Sometimes I'll take a few people to lunch at the Kennel Club. Lunch there isn't at all bad, indeed it can be very good. It's very difficult now to get a nice lunch in London - fresh vegetables don't seem to reach there any more - and when you get it the price is so appalling.

Trying to get women equal status in the Kennel Club takes some of my time, but not all that much. Once I decide that something needs to be done I get the best professional possible to do the job. Costs a bomb, of course, but much better than having to listen to waffle, waffle. It's amazing the number of people who will find any excuse why one should not move forward.

I'm not campaigning for equality - men, horses, or dogs will never be equal and I'm dead against that sort of equality - but I am passionately concerned that all have equality of opportunity.

Some women in the Kennel Club write me that they would like things to stay as they are. They are quite happy to twiddle a bit here, twiddle a bit there and convince themselves that they are getting somewhere. But I'm determined to get equality under the law; you don't have to be a man to improve the breed of dogs. The Jockey Club conceded defeat gracefully; the Kennel Club will be more difficult I think.

I try not to do any correspondence at all myself. I can't be bothered. Anyway I can't spell. I used to have a friend who wrote letters for me but she died.

My evening meal is left in the oven for me. Often I forget all about it and it is discovered in the morning, a charred wreck. I read a lot in the evenings. Biographies mainly, novels sometimes but I like them fairly clean.

Reading about anybody who has done things - to see how they got their ambition and will to work against the odds - is something I particularly enjoy. People like Golda Meir. Now if Sadat could get together with her I believe something better than talking would happen in the Middle East.

News, politics, sport - I follow them all on the television. Though I've gone off football. All those men rushing about hugging and kissing. They look absolutely absurd. I always go to bed at the same time - after the BBC midnight news. In the war I always listened to the midnight news last thing; it's a habit I have never lost.

Florence Nagle, 83, daughter of a Manchester millionaire, has been a vigorous campaigner for women's rights.
In 1966 she forced the Jockey Club to open their doors to women and became the first female with a trainer's licence.


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