Vets Might Fly, page 1
Vets Might Fly [112-3.0]
By: James Herriot
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,
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
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 ':
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
"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
He was trying to joke but he was unable to smile as he looked at the
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
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.