Vets might fly, p.21

Vets Might Fly, page 21


Vets Might Fly

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  carrying a purse. At the gate she stopped and faced me.

  "Ten shill in's, wasn't it?"

  "That's right."

  She rummaged in the purse for some time before pulling out a

  ten-shilling note which was regarded sadly.

  "Oh Georgina, Georgina, you are an expensive pussy," she


  Tentatively I began to extend my hand but she pulled the note away.

  "Just a minute, I'm forget tin'. You 'ave to take the stitches out,

  don't you?"

  "Yes, in ten days."

  She set her lips firmly.

  "Well there's plenty of time to pay ye then ye'll be here again."

  "Here again . . .? But you can't expect . . ."

  "I all us think it's unlucky to pay afore a job's finished," she


  "Sum mat terrible might happen to Georgina."

  "But... but..."

  "Nay, ah've made up me mind," she said. She replaced the money and

  snapped her purse shut with an air of finality before turning towards

  the house.

  Halfway up the path she looked over her shoulder and smiled.

  "Aye, that's what I'll do. I'll pay ye when ye come back."

  Chapter Nineteen ~_ We were ready to march away from Scar borough. And

  it was ironical that we were leaving just when the place was beginning

  to smile on us. `11 In the May sunshine we stood on parade outside the

  Grand at 7 a.m. as ~ had done throughout the Yorkshire winter, mostly

  in darkness, often with the.

  know I'm your friend."

  r ~ ~'l`,gl`` ~ ~y `,~, icy rain blowing in our faces. But now I felt

  a pang of regret as I looked over the heads at the wide beautiful bay

  stretching beneath its cliffs to the far headland, the sand

  clean-washed and inviting, the great blue expanse of sea Shimmering and

  glittering and over everything the delicious sea-smell of salt and

  seaweed, raising memories of holidays and happy things lost in the


  "At ten-shun!" Flight Sergeant Blacken's bellow rolled over us as we

  stiffened in our ranks, every man carrying full kit, our packs braced

  with sheets of cardboard to give the sharp, rectangular look, hair cut

  short, boots gleaming, buttons shining like gold. Without our knowing,

  No. ten ITW had moulded us into a smart, disciplined unit, very

  different from the shambling, half-baked crew of six months ago. We

  had all passed our exams and were no longer AC2s but Leading Aircraft

  men, and as LAC Herriot my wage had rocketed from three shillings to a

  dizzying seven and threepence a day.

  "Right turn!" Again the roar.

  "By the left qui-ick march!"

  Arms high, moving as one, we swung past the front of the Grand for the

  last time. I shot a parting glance at the great building like a

  dignified Victorian lady stripped of her finery and I made a resolve. I

  would come back some day, when the war was over, and see the Grand

  Hotel as it should be.

  And I did, too. Years later, Helen and I sat in deep armchairs in the

  lounge where the SPs had barked. Waiters padded over the thick carpets

  with tea and muffins while a string orchestra played selections from

  Rose Marie.

  And in the evening we dined in the elegant room with its long unbroken

  line of window loo king down on the sea. This room had been the cold

  open terrace where I learned to read the Aldis lamp flickering from the

  lighthouse, but now we sat in luxurious warmth eating grilled sole and

  watching the lights of the harbour and town beginning to wink in the

  gathering dusk.

  But that was very much in the future as the tramping feet echoed along

  Hunt riss Row on the way to the station and the long lines of blue left

  the emptying square. We didn't know where we were going, everything

  was uncertain.

  Black's Veterinary Dictionary' dug into my back through the layer of


  It was an unwieldy article but it reminded me of good days and gave me

  hope of more to come.

  Chapter Twenty "It's the same the whole world over, it's the poor wot

  gets the blame. It's the rich wot gets the pleasure . . ."

  We were on a 'toughening course', living under canvas in the depths of

  Shropshire, and this was one of the occasions when we were all gathered

  together - hundreds of sunburned men in a huge marquee waiting to be

  addressed by a visiting air commodore Before the great man arrived the

  platform was occupied by a lascivious sergeant who was whittling away

  the time by leading us in a succession of bawdy ditties accom panied by


  "It's the rich wot gets the . . ." but instead of pleasure, he made a

  series of violent pumping movements with his forearm.

  I was intrigued by the reaction of the airman on my right. He was a

  slim, pink-faced lad of about nineteen and his lank fair hair fell over

  his face as jumped up and down. He was really throwing himself into

  it, bawling out indelicate words, duplicating the sergeant's

  gesticulations with maniacal E He was, I had recently learned, the son

  of a bishop.

  We had been joined on this course by the Oxford University air Squad'

  They were a group of superior and delicately nurtured young men and sin

  had spent three full days peeling potatoes with them I had come to know

  n of them very well.

  "Spud bashing' is an unequalled method of becoming familiar with one's

  fellow men and as, hour after hour, we filled countless bins with

  produce, the barriers crumbled steadily until at the end of three days

  we didn't' have many secrets from each other.

  The bishop's son had found something hilarious in the idea of a

  qualified veterinary surgeon leaving his practice to succour his

  country by removing skins from thousands of tubers. And I, on the

  other hand, derived some reward from watching his antics. He was a

  charming and likeable lad but he sei avidly on any thing with the

  faintest salacious slant. They say persons' sons a bit wild when let

  off the leash, and I suppose an escapee from a bish~ palace is even

  more susceptible to the blandishments of the big world.

  I looked at him again. All round him men were yelling their heads off,

  his voice, mouthing the four-letter words with relish, rang above the

  rest he followed the actions of the conducting sergeant like a devoted


  It was all so different from Darrow by. My early days in the RAF with

  the swearing and uninhibited conversation made me realise, perhaps for

  the first time, what kind of a community I had left behind me. Because

  I often think t one of the least permissive societies in the history of

  mankind was the agricultural community of rural Yorkshire in the

  thirties. Among the farmers any thing: do with sex or the natural

  functions was unmentionable. .i.

  It made my work more difficult because if the animal's ailment had

  slightest sexual connotation its owner would refuse to go into details

  if Helen or our secretary Miss Harbottle answered the 'phone.

  "I want the vet to to and see a cow," was as far as they would go. _

  Today's case was typical and I looked at Mr Hop ps with some


  Why didn't you say your cow wasn't coming into season? There's a

  injection for that now but I haven't got it with me. I can't rArrv

  my car, you know." ~ the farmer studied his feet.

  "Well, it was a lady on t'phone and I didn't like to teller that

  Snowdrop wasn't bull in'." He look eH lint m~ ~1~;~1~ `~^ you do owt

  about it, then?" - -~ -r ~ t~I~ItIy ~5

  T ~ . `." . _ _

  I sighed.

  "Maybe I can. Bring me a bucket of hot water and some soap." ~i As I

  lathered my arm I felt a twinge of disappointment. I'd have liked to t

  that new Prolan injection. But on the other hand there was a certain

  interest these rectal examinations.

  "Hold her tail, please," I said, and began to work my haorl r~r~r~ll.

  ~6 anal ring.

  We were doing a lot of this lately. The profession had awakened quite

  suddenly to the fact that bovine infertility was no longer an

  impenetrable mystery. We were carrying out more and more of these

  examinations, and I say, they had a strange fascination.

  Siegfried put it with his usual succinctness one morning.

  "James," he said.

  "There is more to be learned up a cow's arse than in ma an


  And, groping my way into this animal, I could see what he meant.


  the rectal wall I gripped the uterine cervix, then I worked along the

  right horn. It felt perfectly normal, as did the fallopian tube when I

  reached it. In another moment the ovary rested between my fingers like

  a walnut; but it was a walnut with a significant bulge and I smiled to

  myself. That swelling was the corpus luteum, the 'yellow body' which

  was exerting its influence on the ovary and preventing the initiation

  of the normal oestral cycle.

  I squeezed gently on the base of the bulge and felt it part from the

  ovary and swim off into space. That was lovely just what was required

  and I looked happily along the cow's back at the farmer.

  "I think I've put things right, Mr Hop ps. She should come on within

  the next day or two and you can get her served right away."

  I withdrew my arm, smeared with filth almost to the shoulder, and began

  to swill it with the warm water. This was the moment when young people

  with dewy-eyed ambitions to be veterinary surgeons usually decided to

  be lawyers or nurses instead. A lot of teenagers came round with me to

  see practice and it seemed to me that the sooner they witnessed the

  realities of the job the better it would be for them. A morning's

  pregnancy diagnoses or something similar had a salutary effect in

  sorting out the sheep from the goats.

  As I left the farm I had the satisfied feeling that I had really done

  something, and a sensation of relief that Mr Hop ps' delicacy hadn't

  resulted in an abortive visit.

  .f It was strange, but when I returned to the surgery I immediately

  encountered another example of the same thing.

  Mr Pinker ton, a small holder, was sitting in the office next to Miss

  Harbottle's desk. By his side sat his farm collie.

  "Well, what can I do for you, Mr Pinker ton?" I asked as I closed the

  door behind me.

  The farmer hesitated.

  "It's my dog 'e isn't right."

  "What do you mean? Is he ill?" I bent down and stroked the shaggy

  head and as the dog leaped up in delight his tail began to beat a

  booming tom-tom rhythm against the side of the desk.

  "Nay nay, he's right enough in 'imself." The man was clearly ill as


  "Well, what's the trouble? He looks the picture of health to me."

  "Aye, but ah'm a bit worried. Ye see it's 'is . . ." He glanced

  furtively towards Miss Harbottle.

  "It's'is pencil."

  "What d'you say?"

  A faint flush mounted in Mr Pinker ton's thin cheeks. Again he shot a

  terrified glance at Miss Harbottle.

  "It's 'is ... pencil. There's sum mat matter with 'is pencil." He

  indicated by the merest twitch of his forefinger somewhere in the

  direction of the animal's belly.

  I looked.

  "I'm sorry, but I can't see any thing unusual."

  "Ah, but there is." The farmer's face twisted in an agony of

  embarrassment and he pushed his face close to mine.

  "There's sum mat there," he said in a hoarse whisper

  "Sum mat com in' from 'is . . . 'is pencil."

  I got down on my knees and had a closer look, and suddenly all became


  "Is that what you mean?" I pointed to a tiny blob of semen on the end

  of the prepuce.

  He nodded dumbly, his face a study in woe.

  I laughed.

  "Well you can stop worrying That's nothing abnormal. You might call it

  an overflow. He's just a young dog, isn't he?"

  "Aye, nob but eighteen months."

  "Well, that's it. He's just too full of the joys. Plenty of good food

  and maybe not a lot of work to do, eh?"

  "Aye, he gets good grub. Nowt but the best. And you're right I

  'aven't much work for him."

  "Well, there you are." I held out a hand.

  "Just cut down his diet and see he gets more exercise and this thing

  will sort itself out."

  Mr Pinker ton stared at me.

  "But aren't you goin' to do any thing to 'is . . .

  'is . . ." Again he cast an anguished glance at our secretary.

  "No, no," I said.

  "I assure you there's nothing wrong with his . . . er . . .

  pencil No local trouble at all."

  I could see he was totally unconvinced so I threw in another ploy.

  "I tell you; what. I'll give you some mild sedative tablets for him.

  They'll help a bit."

  I went through to the dispensary and counted the tablets into a box.

  Back in the office I handed them to the farmer with a confident smile,

  but his face registered only a deepening misery. Obviously I hadn't

  explained the thing clearly enough and as I led him along the passage

  to the front door I talked incessantly, putting the whole business into

  simple words which I was sure he would understand.

  As he stood on the doorstep gave him a final comforting pat on the

  shoulder and though I was almost breathless with my own babbling I

  thought it best to sum up the entire oration before he left.

  "So there you are," I said with a light laugh.

  "Reduce his food, see that he gets plenty of work and exercise and give

  him one of the tablets night and morning."

  The farmer's mouth dropped until I thought he would burst into tears

  then he turned and trailed down the steps into the street. He took a

  couple of indeterminate strides then swung round and his voice rose in

  a plaintive wail.

  "But Mr Herriot . . . 'ow about 'is pencil?"

  ~_ And when little Mr Gilby crashed moaning on the cobbles of his

  byre floor, my first thought was that it was unfair that it should

  happen to him of all people.

  Because the natural delicacy and reticence of the times were embodied

  in him to an extreme degree. Even his physical makeup had something

  ethereal about it; nine stones of tiny bones, taut skin with no fat and

  a gentle, innocent face, almost child-like despite his fifty years.
  Nobody had ever heard Mr Gilby swear or use a vulgar expression; in

  fact he was the only farmer I have ever known who talked about cow's


  Besides, as a strict methodist he didn't drink or indulge in worldly

  pleasures and had never been known to tell a lie. Altogether he was so

  good that I would have regarded him with deep suspicion if he had been

  anybody else. But I had come to know Mr Gilby. He was a nice little

  man, he was as honest as the day.

  I would have trusted him with my life.

  That was why I was so sad to see him Lying there. It had happened so


  We had only just come into the byre and he pointed to a black Angus

  Cross cow almost opposite the door.

  "That's 'en Got a touch o'cold, I think." He knew I would want to take

  the temperature and grasped the tail before putting one foot across the

  channel so that he could slide between the cow and her neighbour. That

  was when it happened; when his legs were wide apart in the worst

  possible position In a way I wasn't surprised because that tail had

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