Vets might fly, p.3

Vets Might Fly, page 3

 

Vets Might Fly
 



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  tray with a pint mug of steaming coffee and two thick slices of bread

  and honey. He placed it on a bale of straw and pulled up an upturned

  bucket as a chair before hopping on to a meal bin where he sat like a

  pixie on a toadstool with his arms around his knees, regarding me with

  keen anticipation.

  "The servants are still abed, old chap," he said.

  "So I made this little bite for you myself."

  I sank on to the bucket and took a long pull at the coffee. It was

  black and scalding with a kick like a Galloway bullock and it spread

  like fire through my tired frame. Then I bit into the first slice of

  bread; home made, plastered thickly with farm butter and topped by a

  lavish layer of heather honey from the long row of hives I had often

  seen on the edge of the moor above. I closed my eyes in reverence as I

  chewed, then as I reached for the pint pot again I looked up at the

  small figure on the bin.

  "May I say, sir, that this isn't a bite, it's a feast. It is all

  absolutely delicious."

  His face lit up with impish glee.

  "Well, dash it . . . do you really think so?

  I'm so pleased. And you've done nobly, dear boy. Can't tell you how

  grateful I am."

  As I continued to eat ecstatically, feeling the strength ebbing back,

  he glanced uneasily into the pen.

  "Herriot . . . those stitches. Don't like the look of them much . .

  ."

  "Oh yes," I said.

  "They're just a precaution. You can nick them out in a couple of

  days."

  "Splendid! But won't they leave a wound? We'd better put something on

  there."

  I paused in mid chew. Here it was again. He only needed his

  Propamidine to complete his happiness.

  "Yes, old chap, we must apply some of that Prip ... Prom . . . oh hell

  and blast, it's no good!" He threw back his head and bellowed,

  "Charlie!"

  The foreman appeared in the entrance, touching his cap.

  "Morning, m'lord."

  "Morning, Charlie. See that this sow gets some of that wonderful cream

  on her. What the blazes d'you call it again?"

  Charlie swallowed and squared his shoulders.

  "Propopamide, m'lord."

  The little man threw his arms high in delight.

  "Of course, of course!

  Propopamide! I wonder if I'll ever be able to get that word out?" He

  looked admiringly at his foreman.

  "Charlie, you never fail I don't know how you do it."

  Charlie bowed gravely in acknowledgement.

  Lord Hulton turned to me. "You'll let us have some more Propopamide,

  won't you, Herriot?"

  "Certainly," I replied.

  "I think I have some in the car."

  Sitting there on the bucket amid the mixed aroma of pig and barley meal

  and coffee I could almost feel the waves of pleasure beating on me. His

  lordship was clearly enchanted by the whole business, Charlie was

  wearing the superior smile l ..... .

  which always accom panied his demonstrations of lingual dexterity, and

  as for myself I was experiencing a mounting euphoria.

  I could see into the pen and the sight was rewarding. The little pigs

  who had been sheltered in a large box during the operation were back

  with their mother, side by side in a long pink row as their tiny mouths

  enclosed the teats. The sow seemed to be letting her milk down, too,

  because there was no frantic scramble for position, just a rapt

  concentration.

  She was a fine pedigree pig and instead of Lying on the butcher's slab

  today she would be star ting to bring up her family. As though reading

  my thoughts she gave a series of contented grunts and the old feeling

  began to bubble in me, the deep sense of fulfilment and satisfaction

  that comes from even the smallest triumph and makes our lives worth

  while.

  And there was something else. A new thought stealing into my

  consciousness with a delicious fresh tingle about it. At this moment,

  who else in the length and breadth of Britain was eating a breakfast

  personally prepared and served by a marquis?

  Chapter Three I am afraid of dentists.

  I am particularly afraid of strange dentists, so before I went into the

  RAF I made sure my teeth were in order. Everybody told me they were

  very strict about the air crews' teeth and I didn't want some unknown

  prodding around in my mouth. There had to be no holes anywhere or they

  would start to ache away up there in the sky, so they said.

  So before my call-up I went to old Mr Grover in Darrow by and he

  painstakingly did all that was necessary. He was good at his job and

  was always gentle and careful and didn't strike the same terror into me

  as other dentists.

  All I felt when I went to his surgery was a dryness of the throat and a

  quivering at the knees, and providing I kept my eyes tightly shut all

  the time I managed to get through the visit fairly easily.

  My fear of dentists dates back to my earliest experiences in the

  twenties. As a child I was taken to the dread Hector McDarroch in

  Glasgow and he did my dental work right up to my teens. Friends of my

  youth tell me that he inspired a similar lasting fear in them, too, and

  in fact there must be a whole generation of Glaswegians who feel the

  same.

  Of course you couldn't blame Hector entirely. The equipment in those

  days was primitive and a visit to any dental practitioner was an

  ordeal. But Hector with his booming laugh, was so large and

  overpowering that he made it worse.

  Actually he was a very nice man, cheerful and good-natured, but the

  other side of him blotted it all out.

  The electric drill had not yet been invented or if it had, it hadn't

  reached Scotland, and Hector bored holes in teeth with a fearsome

  foot-operated machine.

  There was a great wheel driven by a leather belt and this powered the

  drill, and as you lay in the chair two things dominated the outlook;

  the wheel whirring by your ear and Hector's huge knee pistoning almost

  into your face as he pedalled furiously.

  He came from the far north and at the Highland games he used to array

  himself in kilt and sporran and throw cabers around like matchsticks.

  He was so big and strong that I always felt hopelessly trapped in that

  chair with his bulk over me and the wheel grinding and the pedal

  thumping. He didn't exactly put his foot on my chest but he had me all

  right.

  And it didn't worry him when he got into the sensitive parts with his

  drill; my strangled cries were of no avail and he carried on

  remorselessly to the end.

  I had the impression that Hector thought it was cissy to feel pain, or

  maybe he was of the opinion that suffering was good for the soul.

  Anyway, since those days I've had a marked preference for small frail

  soft spoken dentists like Mr Grover. I like to feel that if it came to

  a stand-up fight I would have a good chance of victory and escape.

  Also, Mr Grover understood that people were afraid, and that helped. I

  remember him chuckling when he told me about the big farm men who came

  to have their teeth extracted. Many
a time, he said, he had gone

  across the room for his instruments and turned back to find the chair

  empty.

  I still don't enjoy going to the dentist but I have to admit that the

  modern men are wonderful. I hardly see mine when I go. Just a brief

  glimpse of a white coat then all is done from behind. Fingers come

  round, things go in and out of my mouth but even when I venture to open

  my eyes I see nothing.

  Hector McDarroch, on the other hand, seemed to take a pleasure in

  showing off his grisly implements, filling the long-needled syringe

  right in front of my eyes and squirting the cocaine ceiling wards a few

  times before he started on me.

  And worse, before an extraction he used to clank about in a tin box,

  producing a series of hideous forceps and examining them, whistling

  softly, till he found the right one.

  So with all this in mind, as I sat in a long queue of airmen for the

  preliminary examination, I was thankful I had been to Mr Grover for a

  complete check-up.

  A dentist stood by a chair at the end of the long room and he examined

  the young men in blue one by one before calling out his findings to an

  orderly at a desk.

  I derived considerable entertainment from watching the expressions on

  the lads' faces when the call went out.

  "Three fillings, two extractions!" "Eight fillings!" Most of them

  looked stunned, some thunderstruck, others almost tearful.

  Now and again one would try to expostulate with the man in white but it

  was no good; nobody was listening. At times I could have laughed out

  loud. Mind you, I felt a bit mean at being amused, but after all they

  had only themselves to blame. If only they had shown my foresight they

  would have had nothing to worry about.

  When my name was called I strolled across, humming a little tune, and

  dropped nonchalantly into the chair. It didn't take the man long. He

  poked his way swiftly along my teeth then rapped out,

  "Five fillings and one extraction!"

  I sat bolt upright and stared at him in amazement.

  "But . . . but . . ." I began to yammer,

  "I had a check up by my own . . ."

  "Next, please," murmured the dentist.

  "But Mr Grover said . . ."

  "Next man! Move along!" bawled the orderly, and as I shuffled away I

  gazed appealingly at the white-coated figure. But he was reciting a

  list of my pre molars and incisors and showed no interest.

  I was still trembling when I was handed the details of my fate.

  "Report at Regent Lodge tomorrow morning for the extraction," the WAAF

  girl said Tomorrow morning! By God, they didn't mess about! And what

  the heck did it all mean, anyway? My teeth were perfectly sound. There

  was only that one with the bit of enamel chipped off. Mr Grover had

  pointed it out and said it wouldn't give any trouble. It was the tooth

  that held my pipe surely it couldn't be that one.

  But there came the disquieting thought that my opinion didn't matter.

  When my feeble protests were ignored back there it hit me for the first

  time that I wasn't a civilian any more Next morning the din from the

  dustbin lids had hardly subsided when the grim realisation drove into

  my brain. I was going to have a tooth out today!

  And very soon, too. I passed the intervening hours in growing

  apprehension; morning parade, the march through the darkness to

  breakfast. The dried egg and fried bread were less attractive than

  ever and the grey day had hardly got under way before I was approaching

  the forbidding facade of Regent Lodge.

  As I climbed the steps my palms began to sweat. I didn't like having

  my teeth drilled but extractions were infinitely worse. Something in

  me recoiled from the idea of having a part of myself torn away by

  force, even if it didn't hurt.

  But.

  of course, I told myself as I walked along an echoing corridor, it

  never did hurt nowadays. Just a little prick, then nothing.

  I was nurturing this comforting thought when I turned into a large

  assembly room with numbered doors leading from it. About thirty airmen

  sat around wearing a variety of expressions from sickly smiles to tough

  bravado. A chilling smell of antiseptic hung on the air. I chose a

  chair and settled down to wait.

  I

  had been in the armed forces long enough to know that you waited a long

  time for everything and I saw no reason why a dental appointment should

  be any different.

  As I sat down the man on my left gave me a brief nod. He was fat, and

  greasy black hair fell over his pimpled brow. Though engrossed in

  picking his teeth with a match he gave me a long appraising stare

  before addressing me in rich cockney.

  "What room you goin' in, mate?"

  I looked at my card.

  "Room four."

  "Blimey, mate, you've 'ad it!" He removed his matchstick and grinned

  wolfishly.

  "Had it . . . ? What do you mean?"

  "Well, haven't you 'eard? That's The Butcher in there."

  "The . . . The . . . Butcher?" I quavered.

  "Yeh, that's what they call the dental officer in there." He gave an

  expansive smile.

  "He's a right killer, that bloke, I'll tell yen' I swallowed.

  "Butcher . . . ? Killer . . . ? Oh come on. They'll all be the

  same I'm sure."

  "Don't you believe it, mate. There's good an' there's bad, and that

  bloke's pure murder. It shouldn't be allowed."

  "How do you know, anyway?"

  He waved an airy hand.

  "Oh I've been 'ere a few times and I've heard some bleed in, awful

  screams com in' out of that room. Spoken to some of the chaps

  afterwards' too. They all call 'im The Butcher."

  I rubbed my hands on the rough blue of my trousers.

  "Oh you hear these tales. I'm sure they're exaggerated."

  "Well, you'll find out, mate." He resumed his tooth picking.

  "But don't say I didn't tell you."

  He went on about various things but I only half heard him. His name,

  it seemed, was Simkin, and he was not an air crew cadet like the rest

  of us but a regular and a member of the ground staff, he worked in the

  kitchens. He spoke Scornfully of us raw recruits and pointed out that

  we would have to 'get some Service in' before we were fit to associate

  with the real members of the Royal Air Force. I noticed, however, that

  despite his own years of allegiance he was still an AC2 like myself.

  Almost an hour passed with my heart thumping every time the door of

  number four opened. I had to admit that the young men leaving that

  room all looked a bit shattered and one almost reeled out, holding his

  mouth with both hands.

  "Cor! Look at that poor bugger!" Simkin drawled with ill-concealed

  satisfaction.

  "Strike me! He's been through it, poor bleeder. I'm glad I'm not in

  your shoes, mate."

  I could feel the tension mounting in me.

  "What room are you going into, anyway?" I asked.

  He did a bit of deep exploration with his match.

  "Room two, mate. I've been in there before. He's a grand bloke, one

  of the best. Never 'urts you."

&n
bsp; "Well you're lucky, aren't you?"

  "Not lucky, mate." He paused and stabbed his match at me.

  "I know my way around, that's all. There's ways and means." He

  allowed one eyelid to drop briefly.

  The conversation was abruptly terminated as the dread door opened and a

  WAAF came out.

  "AC2 Herriot!" she called.

  I got up on shaking limbs and took a deep breath. As I set off I had a

  fleeting .t glimpse of the leer of pure delight on Simkin's face. He

  was really enjoying himself.

  As I passed the portals my feeling of doom increased. The Butcher was

  another Hector McDarroch; about six feet two with rugby forward

  shoulders bulging his white coat. My flesh crept as he unleashed a

  hearty laugh and motioned me towards the chair.

  As I sat down I decided to have one last try.

  "Is this the tooth?" I asked, tapping the only possible suspect.

  "It is indeed!" boomed The Butcher.

  "That's the one."

 

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