Fluff piece: Olly does DISCOVER DOGS at the ExCeL, London

Because everything is awful, and reading UK news gives me a headache after about 5 seconds, I was shopping around for a distraction when I stumbled upon an event called DISCOVER DOGS, a yearly dog show held at London's ExCeL Exhibition Centre. I think the premise was something to do with learning about dog breeds or how to train them, but all I saw was that there was going to be 3,000 dogs under one roof, and I knew: I had to go to there.

The dog show is a good excuse for me to tell you about the horrors of the ExCeL Centre. Imagine two giant, empty halls, in a barren part of East London, with a massively overpriced Starbucks in between. That's basically what the ExCeL is like, and the venue has just about as much character too. Even the name makes me angry: it stands for 'Exhibition Centre London', so calling it the 'ExCeL Centre' or, to use their official title, 'ExCeL London', is like saying PIN Number or ATM Machine. You don't need the last word! It's IN the acronym! Argh! The brand manager in me screams, along with the repetitive strain injury I've encountered from having to type out 'ExCeL' all the time with its erratic capitalisation.

The second thing you need to know about the ExCeL is just how ludicrously massive this place is. I did some comparisons on Google Maps, and it turns out you can fit the Guernsey Airport terminal in it about 18 times. Or, imagine you had a massive box stretching from St. Julians Roundabout to the very end of the North Beach pier. That's how big the ExCeL is.

None of these venue issues mattered though, because we had dogs to pet. I excitedly gathered my friends and we headed to the ExCeL. After the hike there, we trundled the long corridors of dogs, window-shopping the breeds like it was a Saturday at the Normandie Markets. The hall had long aisles with separate little stands for each breed of dog — of which there were over 200. Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Border Collies — you name it, they had 'em. And they had a bunch of dogs I'd never even heard of too! There's a breed of dog called a Bolognese! There were six different genres of Retriever! I posed for a picture with a Giant Schnauzer!

This taught me my first lesson of the dog show: don't bother getting a dog if it's a breed you can't pronounce. I stared at breeds like "Kooikerhondje" and "Xoloitzcuintle" before giving up. Yes, that last one is real, and what's even scarier was that it was the one hairless breed at the show. I've never understood why you'd want a dog that looks like Mr. Burns from The Simpsons, but suit yourself.

At another stand, home to some VERY fluffy dogs, I spot a small table with some knitting needles on it and a beige coat hanging above. It took me a few seconds to process what I was looking at, and regretfully, I can confirm: yes, one of the women working the stand had knitted herself a coat. Out of her dog's hair. "It's very soft!" a passerby noted. Yeah, the lint that comes out my dryer is also very soft, but I'm not gonna make a cardigan out of it.


Now repulsed, we rounded a corner and I clocked a dog I later learnt was called a "Komondor". At least, I thought it was a dog, but I also wasn't sure if it was just some leftover cleaning equipment. Why, you wonder? Behold:

IMG_20181020_122111 (1)

You know, I took that picture just a few days ago and I still barely remember which side its face was on. I wondered if the woman a few stands away had knitted it. Despite at first being horrified by this dog, the more I've been thinking about it, the more I've realised how convenient it would be to have one around the house, and how great it would be for our wooden floors; just slide the dog around the flat and hoover it instead. I'd call it Vileda. Or Swiffer.

By far, though, the dog that stole the show for us was the 'Swedish Vallhund', a breed none of us had heard of until this point. For my friends and I, it was the Goldilocks of the 200+ breeds we'd encountered: it had the expression and emotion of the happiest corgis, but with a coarser coat that didn't require much grooming. They didn't grow massive, but weren't stupidly small either. They didn't bark much, and, most importantly, they were cute. Really cute. And suddenly, the three of us became children again, wanting to cry in adoration and run off with it.


Resisting the urge to actually dognap, we finished our tour of the dog breeds and mooched around the sale stalls before we left. As I'd expected, there was a wealth of hoodies and keyrings with cutesy, gaudy designs on them like "Dog Dad", "Pug Life", and "I Shih Tzu Not". Sadly the dog-hair coat wasn't for sale, but as I was making my way towards the exit one of the exhibitors confidently approached me.

"Can I interest you in this free dental chew for your dog?"

I immediately said yes and took the packet. I do not know why I did this. I don't own a dog! Nor did my friends. But something about my autopilot and my love of free stuff absolutely compelled me to take that chew. I don't know what to do with it, and as dog treats contain about 5% crude ash, I can't really say I'm tempted to have it myself either. So if you, sainted reader, have a dog, and you’re the first person to send me an email or Twitter message with your address, I will personally slap a stamp on it and post it to you from London. You can't say I don't deliver rewarding reading.

Olly Browning is a freelance writer and designer based in London. You can follow him on Twitter @yourolly or email dog pictures to olly@yourolly.com