Vets might fly, p.1

Vets Might Fly, page 1

 

Vets Might Fly
 



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Vets Might Fly


  Vets Might Fly [112-3.0]

  By: James Herriot

  Synopsis:

  In the midst of WW II, James is training for the Royal Air Force, while

  going home to Yorkshire whenever possible to see his very pregnant wife,

  Helen. Musing on past adventures through the dales, visiting with old

  friends, and introducing scores of new and amusing characters--animal and

  human alike--Herriot enthralls readers once again with his uncanny

  ability to spin a most engaging and heartfelt yarn.

  To my dogs, HECTOR and DAN Faithful companions of the daily round.

  The four lines from

  "If I Only Had Wings' are reproduced b, permission of The Peter Maurice

  Music Co. Ltd." 138-140 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H OLD,

  England.

  with Helen. And another part was still loo king out of the rear window

  of the taxi at the green hills receding behind the tiled roofs into the

  morning sunshine; still standing in the corridor of the train as the

  flat terrain of southern England slid past and a great weight built up

  steadily in my chest.

  My first introduction to the RAF was at Lord's cricket ground. Masses

  of forms to fill, medicals, then the issue of an enormous pile of kit.

  I was billeted in a block of flats in St John's Wood luxurious before

  the lush fittings had been removed. But they couldn't take away the

  heavy bathroom ware and one of our blessings was the unlimited hot

  water gushing at our touch into the expensive surroundings.

  After that first crowded day I retired to one of those green-tiled

  sanctuaries and lathered myself with a new bar of a famous toilet soap

  which Helen had put in my bag. I have never been able to use that soap

  since. Scents are too evocative and the merest whiff jerks me back to

  that first night away from my wife, and to the feeling I had then. It

  was a dull, empty ache which never really went away.

  On the second day we marched endlessly; lectures, meals, inoculations.

  I was used to syringes but the very sight of them was too much for many

  of my friends.

  Especially when the doctor took the blood samples; one look at the dark

  fluid flowing from their veins and the young men toppled quietly from

  their chairs, often four or five in a row while the orderlies, grinning

  cheerfully, bore them away.

  We ate in the London Zoo and our meals were made interesting by the

  chatter of monkeys and the roar of lions in the background. But in

  between it was march, march, march, with our new boots giving us

  hell.

  And on this third day the whole thing was still a blur. We had been

  wakened as on my first morning by the hideous 6 a.m. clattering of

  dustbin lids; I hadn't really expected a bugle but I found this noise

  intolerable. However, at the moment my only concern was that we had

  completed the circuit of the park.

  The gates were only a few yards ahead and I staggered up to them and

  halted among my groaning comrades.

  "Round again, lads!" the corporal yelled, and as we stared at him

  aghast he smiled affectionately.

  "You think this is tough? Wait till they get hold of you at ITW. I'm

  just kinda break in' you in gently. You'll thank me for this later.

  Right, at the double! One-two, one-two!"

  Bitter thoughts assailed me as I lurched forward once more. Another

  round of the park would kill me there was not a shadow of a doubt about

  that. You left a loving wife and a happy home to serve king and

  country and this was how they treated ned of Darrow by. I was back in

  old Mr blakin's "ut eyes in the long, drooping-moustached face ':

  ooping height.

  wi' awd Blossom, then," he said, and rested his -o ~:k. It was an

  enormous, work-swollen hand.

  Mr the flesh but the grossly thickened fingers bore iped it into the

  metal box where I carried my yes.

  "Well, it's up to you of course, Mr Dakin, to stitch her teats and I'm

  afraid it's going to tThe farmer bent and examined the row of '-taw,

  you wouldn't believe it could reek such ~it."

  "A cow's hoof is sharp," I said.

  "It's nearly like a knife coming down."

  That was the worst of very old cows. Their udders dropped and their

  teats became larger and more pendulous so that when they lay down in

  their stalls the vital milk-producing organ was pushed away to one side

  into the path of the neighbouring animals. If it wasn't Mabel on the

  right standing on it, it was Buttercup on the other side.

  There were only six cows in the little cobbled byre with its low roof

  and wooden partitions and they all had names. You don't find cows with

  names any more and there aren't any farmers like Mr Dakin, who somehow

  scratched a living from a herd of six milkers plus a few calves, pigs

  and hens.

  "Aye, well," he said.

  "Ah reckon t'awd lass doesn't owe me any thin'. Ah remember the night

  she was born, twelve years ago. She was out of awd Daisy and ah

  carried her out of this very byre on a sack and the snow was com in'

  down hard. Sin' then ah wouldn't like to count how many thousand

  gallons o' milk she's turned out she's still givin' four a day. Naw,

  she doesn't owe me a thing."

  As if she knew she was the topic of conversation Blossom turned her

  head and looked at him. She was the classical picture of an ancient

  bovine; as fleshless as her owner, with jutting pelvic bones, splayed,

  overgrown feet and horns with a multitude of rings along their curving

  length. Beneath her, the udder, once high and tight, drooped forlornly

  almost to the floor.

  She resembled her owner, too, in her quiet, patient demeanour. I had

  infiltrated her teat with a local anaesthetic before stitching but I

  don't think she would have moved if I hadn't used any. Stitching teats

  puts a vet in the ideal position to be kicked, with his head low down

  in front of the hind feet, but there was no danger with Blossom. She

  had never kicked anybody in her life.

  Mr Dakin blew out his cheeks.

  "Well, there's nowt else for it. She'll have to go. I'll tell Jack

  Dodson to picker up for the fat stock market on Thursday.

  She'll be a bit tough for eat in' but ah reckon she'll make a few steak

  pies."

  He was trying to joke but he was unable to smile as he looked at the

  old cow.

  Behind him, beyond the open door, the green hillside ran down to the

  river and the spring sunshine touched the broad sweep of the shallows

  with a million dancing lights. A beach of bleached stones gleamed

  bone-white against the long stretch of grassy bank which rolled up to

  the pastures lining the valley floor.

  I had often felt that this small holding would be an ideal place to

  live, only a mile outside Darrow by, but secluded, and with this

  heart-lifting vista of river and fell. I remarked on this once to Mr

  Dakin and the old man turned to me with a wry smile.


  "Aye, but the view's not very sustain in'," he said.

  It happened that I was called back to the farm on the following

  Thursday to 'cleanse' a cow and was in the byre when Dodson the drover

  called to pick up Blossom. He had collected a group of fat bullocks

  and cows from other farms and they stood, watched by one of his men, on

  the road high above.

  "Nah then, Mr Dakin," he cried as he bustled in.

  "It's easy to see which one you want me to tek. It's that awd screw

  over there."

  He pointed at Blossom, and in truth the unkind description seemed to

  fit the bony creature standing between her sleek neighbours.

  The farmer did not reply for a moment, then he went up between the cows

  and gently rubbed Blossom's forehead.

  "Aye, this is the one, Jack." He hesitated, then undid the chain round

  her neck.

  "Off ye go, awd lass," he murmured, and the old animal turned and made

  her way placidly from the stall.

  "Aye, come on with ye!" shouted the dealer, poking his stick against

  the cow's rump "Don't hit 'er!" barked Mr Dakin.

  "You'll thank me for this later, lads. Take my word for it. GET

  YOURSELVES

  OFF THE GROUND. UP! UP!

  Through my pain I could see the corporal's laughing face. The man was

  clearly a sadist. It was no good appealing to him.

  And as, with the last of my strength, I launched myself into the air it

  came to me suddenly why I had dreamed about Blossom last night.

  I wanted to go home, too.

  Chapter Two The fog swirled over the heads of the marching men; a

  London fog, thick, yellow, metallic on the tongue. I couldn't see the

  head of the column, only the swinging lantern carried by the leader.

  This 6.30 a.m. walk to breakfast was just about the worst part of the

  day, when my morale was low and thoughts of home rose painfully.

  We used to have fogs in Darrow by, but they were country fogs,

  different from this. One morning I drove out on my rounds with the

  headlights blazing against the grey curtain ahead, seeing nothing from

  my tight-shut box. But I was heading up the Dale, climbing steadily

  with the engine pulling against the rising ground, then quite suddenly

  the fog thinned to a shimmering silvery mist and was gone.

  And there, above the pall, the sun was dazzling and the long green line

  of the fells rose before me, thrusting exultantly into a sky of summer

  blue.

  Spellbound, I drove upwards into the bright splendour, staring through

  the windscreen as though I had never seen it all before; the bronze of

  the dead bracken spilling down the grassy flanks of the hills, the dark

  smudges of trees, the grey farmhouses and the endless pattern of walls

  creeping to the heather above.

  I was in a rush as usual but I had to stop. I pulled up in a gateway,

  Sam jumped out and we went through into a field; and as the beagle

  scampered over the glittering turf I stood in the warm sunshine amid

  the melting frost and looked back at the dark damp blanket which

  blotted out the low country but left this jewelled world above it.

  And, gulping the sweet air, I gazed about me gratefully at the clean

  green land where I worked and made my living.

  I could have stayed there, wandering round, watching Sam exploring with

  waving tail, nosing into the shady corners where the sun had not

  reached and the ground was iron hard and the rime thick and crisp on

  the grass. But I had an appointment to keep, and no ordinary one it

  was with a peer of the realm.

  Reluctantly I got back into the car.

  I was due to start Lord Hulton's tuberculin test at 9.30 a.m. and as I

  drove round the back of the Elizabethan mansion to the farm buildings

  nearby I felt a pang of misgiving; there were no animals in sight.

  There was only a man in tattered blue dungarees hammering busily at a

  makeshift crush at the exit to the fold yard.

  He turned round when he saw me and waved his hammer. As I approached I

  looked wonderingly at the slight figure with the soft fairish hair

  falling over his brow, at the holed cardigan and muck-encrusted welling

  tons. You would have expected him to say,

  "Nah then, Mr Herriot, how ista this morn in'?"

  But he didn't, he said,

  "Herriot, my dear chap, I'm most frightfully sorry, but I'm very much

  afraid we're not quite ready for you." And he began to fumble with his

  tobacco pouch.

  William George Henry Augustus, Eleventh Marquis of Hulton, always had a

  pipe in his mouth and he was invariably either filling it, clean ing it

  out with a metal reaming tool or trying to light it. I had never seen

  him actually smoking it. And at times of stress he attempted to do

  everything at once. He was obviously embarrassed at his lack of

  preparedness and when he saw me glance involuntarily at my watch he

  grew more agitated, pulling his pipe from his mouth and putting it back

  m again, tucking the hammer under his arm, rummaging in a large box of

  matches.

  I gazed across to the rising ground beyond the farm buildings. Far off

  on the horizon I could make out tiny figures: galloping beasts,

  scurrying men; and faint sounds came down to me of barking dogs,

  irritated bellowings and shrill cries of

  "Haow, haow!" "Gerraway by!" "Sid down, dog!"

  I sighed. It was the old story. Even the Yorkshire aristocracy seemed

  to share this carefree attitude to time.

  His lordship clearly sensed my feelings because his discomfort

  increased.

  "It's too bad of me, old chap," he said, spraying a few matchsticks

  around and dropping flakes of tobacco on the stone flags.

  "I did promise to be ready for nine thirty but those blasted animals

  just won't cooperate."

  I managed a smile.

  "Oh never mind, Lord Hulton, they seem to be get ting them down the

  hill now and I'm not in such a panic this morning anyway."

  "Oh splendid, splendid!" He attempted to ignite a towering mound of

  dark Rake which spluttered feebly then toppled over the edge of his

  pipe.

  "And come and see this! I've been rigging up a crush. We'll drive

  them in here and we'll really have 'em. Remember we had a spot of

  bother last time, what?"

  I nodded. I did remember. Lord Hulton had only about thirty suckling

  cows but it had taken a three-hour rodeo to test them. I looked

  doubtfully at the rickety structure of planks and corrugated iron. It

  would be interesting to see how it coped with the moorland cattle.

  I didn't mean to rub it in, but again I glanced unthinkingly at my

  watch and the little man winced as though he had received a blow.

  "Dammit!" he burst out.

  "What are they doing over there? Tell you what, I'll go and give them

  a hand!" Distractedly, he began to change hammer, pouch, pipe and

  matches from hand to hand, dropping them and picking them up, before

  finally deciding to put the hammer down and stuff the rest into his

  pockets. He went off at a steady trot and I thought as I had done so

  often that there couldn't be many noblemen in England like him.

  If I had been a ma
rquis, I felt, I would still have been in bed or

  perhaps just parting the curtains and peering out to see what kind of

  day it was. But Lord Hulton worked all the time, just about as hard as

  any of his men. One morning I arrived to find him at the supremely

  mundane task of 'plugging muck', standing on a manure heap, hurling

  steaming forkfuls on to a cart. And he always dressed in rags. I

  suppose he must have had more orthodox items in his wardrobe but I

  never saw them. Even his tobacco was the great smoke of the ordinary

  farmer - Redbreast Flake.

  My musings were interrupted by the thunder of hooves and wild cries;

  the Hulton herd was approaching. Within minutes the fold yard was

  filled with milling creatures, steam rising in rolling clouds from

  their bodies.

  The marquis appeared round the corner of the building at a gallop.

  "Right, Charlie!" he yelled.

  "Let the first one into the crush!"

  Panting with anticipation he stood by the nailed boards as the men

  inside opened the yard gate. He didn't have to wait long. A shaggy

  red monster catapulted from the interior, appeared briefly in the

  narrow passage then emerged at about fifty miles an hour from the other

  end with portions of his lordship's creation dangling from its horns

  and neck. The rest of the herd pounded close behind.

 
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