‘My Persian had a three-hour blow-dry!’ 150 years of cat shows – then and now

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      The first cat show took place in Crystal Palace, south-east London, in 1871. I have come to the LondonCats Worldwide (LCWW) 150th anniversary celebration show. Over two days, 200 competitors will converge on the Crystal Palace national sports centre, cat carriers in hand. In six rings along one wall of the show floor, judges will assess each animal for temperament, condition and conformity to the breed standard, before an audience of paying spectators.

      Cats of all stripes stare out solemnly from rows of carriers. Somalis and siamese and siberians and shorthairs. Balinese and maine coons and Scottish folds and cornish rex. Persians, of course – those majestic emperors of the species. Abyssinians, with the ticked coat of an African wildcat. Sphinxes, caught in the nude, startled and abashed. Syrupy-sweet ragdolls with cherubic expressions. Bengals that look like leopards shrunk in the wash. And moggies, of course, skulking in the background like the unloved members of a pop group.

      There are five competition classes: kittens, cats, alters (cats that have been neutered or spayed), household pets and household pet kittens. Within the classes, the cats are divided according to breed: long hairs are judged against long hairs, shorts hairs against short hairs. The six judges assess each category, meaning that the show has a frenetic quality, as competitors dart between judging rings, sliding their cats into cages like overworked couriers trying to meet their delivery targets. Each judge will have a final for each category, but overall victors are not crowned during the show itself – scores are collated and posted online afterwards.

      The cats and owners are here today only because of a man named Harrison Weir, who put on that first show in 1871. Weir, an artist, cat lover and illustrator, conceived the idea of a fancy – a Victorian term for an animal competition, which is still in use today – at which cats of different breeds could be judged according to a set of standards. Fancy and non-fancy (non-pedigree) cats were categorised by length of fur, colour and shape. Many of the rules that Weir – known posthumously as “the father of the cat fancy” – set out are still largely upheld today.

      Jesus: Hey, Dad? God: Yes, Son? Jesus: Western civilization followed me home. Can I keep it? God: Certainly not! And put it down this minute--you don't know where it's been! Tom Robbins in Another Roadside Attraction

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