Vets might fly, p.30

Vets Might Fly, page 30


Vets Might Fly

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  "Right, lad, must get on," he grunted, and I was back on the


  With a pause at lunchtime for bread, cheese and more cider we went on

  breakneck speed all day. I have always been grateful to the RAF for

  what th.

  did for my physical well-being. When I was called up there was no

  doubt I w going slightly to seed under Helen's beneficent regime. Too

  much good cooking and the discovery of the charms of an armchair; I was

  get ting fat. But the RAF changed all that and I don't think I have

  ever slipped back.

  After the six months at Scar borough I am certain I didn't carry a

  surplus' pound. Marching, drilling, PT, running I could trot five

  miles along the bea.

  and cliffs without trouble. When I arrived in Shropshire I was really

  fit. But I wasn't as fit as Mr Edwards.

  He was a com pact bundle of power. Not very big but with the wiry

  durability I remembered in the Yorkshire farmers. He seemed tireless,

  hardly break)' sweat as he moved along the rows, corded brown arms

  bulging from the sleeves of a faded collarless shirt, slightly bowed

  legs stumping effortlessly.

  The sensible thing would have been to tell him straight that I couldn't

  go his pace, but some demon of pride impelled me to keep up with him. I

  am quite sure he didn't mean to rub it in. Like any other farmer he

  had a job to do a' was anxious to get on with it. At the lunch break

  he looked at me with son commiseration as I stood there, shirt sticking

  to my back, mouth hanging open l

  ~ G&~ ~15& ~ ~

  folk again. Mrs Edwards in her undemonstrative way was obviously

  anxious to show hospitality to these four rather bewildered city boys

  far from home, and set us down to a splendid meal every evening She was

  dark like her husband, with large eyes which joined in her quick smile

  and a figure which managed to be thin and shapely at the same time.

  She hadn't much chance to get fat because she never stopped working.

  When she wasn't outside throwing the corn around like any man she was

  cooking and baking, loo king after her children and Scouring her great

  barn of a farmhouse.

  Those evening meals were something to look forward to and remember.

  Steaming rabbit pies with fresh Bilberry tarts and apple crumble lib.

  Home-baked bread and farm green beans and potatoes from the garden.

  and a massive jug of thick cream to pour ad cheese.

  The four of us revelled in the change from the RAF fare. It was said

  the air crews got the best food in the services and I believed it, but

  after a while it all began to taste the same. Maybe it was the bulk

  cooking but it palled in time.

  Sitting at the farm table, loo king at Mrs Edwards serving us, at her

  husband eating stolidly and at the two children, a girl of ten whose

  dark eyes showed promise of her mother's attractiveness and a sturdy,

  brown-limbed boy of eight, the thought recurred; they were good


  The clever economists who tell us that we don't need British

  agriculture and that our farms should be turned into national parks

  seem to ignore the rather obvious snag that an unfriendly country could

  starve us into submission in a week. But to me a greater tragedy still

  would be the loss of a whole community of people like the Edwards.

  It was late one afternoon and I was feeling more of a weakling than

  ever, with Mr Edwards throwing the sheaves around as though they were

  weightless while I groaned and strained. The farmer was called away to

  at tend to a calving cow and as he hopped blithely from the stack he

  patted my shoulder as I leaned ribs heaving. -.

  "You're coin' fine, Jim," he said, then, as if noticing my distress for

  the fir time, he shifted his feet awkwardly.

  "I know you city lads ain't used to this kir of work and . . . well .

  . . it's not a question of strength, it's just know in' ho to do it."

  , l.

  When we drove back to camp that night I could hear my companions

  groaning in the back of the car. They, too, had suffered, but not as

  badly as me. ~ ..

  After a few days I did begin to get the knack of the thing and though

  it still tested me to the utmost I was never on the border of collapse


  Mr Edwards noticed the improvement and slapped me playfully on the


  "What did I tell you? It's just know in' how to do it!"

  But a new purgatory awaited me when we started to load the corn on to

  the stack. Forking the sheaves up on to the cart, roping them there

  then throw) them again, higher and higher as the stack grew in size. I

  realised with a ja that stooking had been easy. .

  Mrs Edwards joined in this part. She stood on the top of the stack

  with her husband, expertly turning the sheaves towards him while he

  arranged them they should be. I had the unskilled job way below,

  toiling as never before, back' breaking, the handle of the fork

  blistering my palms. ~ I just couldn't go fast enough and Mr Edwards

  had to hop down to help, grasping a fork and hurling the sheaves up

  with easy flicks of the wrist.

  He looked at me as before and spoke the encouraging words.

  "You're comn along grand, Jim. It's just know in' how to do it." -;,

  But there were many compensations. The biggest was being among farming

  food on my fork. on "Never mind, Jim," he laughed.

  "It's just know in' how to do it."

  An hour later we were going into the kitchen for our meal when Mrs

  Edwards said

  "My husband's still on with that cow. He must be having difficulty

  with her."

  I hesitated in the doorway.

  "Do you mind if I go and see how he's get ting on?"

  She smiled.

  "All right, if you like. I'll keep your food warm for you."

  I crossed the yard and went into the byre. One of the old men was

  holding the tail of a big Red Poll and puffing his pipe placidly. Mr

  Edwards, stripped to the waist, had his arm in the cow up to the

  shoulder. But it was a different Mr Edwards. His back and chest

  glistened and droplets of sweat ran down his nose and dripped steadily

  from the end. His mouth gaped and he panted as he fought his private

  battle somewhere inside.

  He turned glazed eyes in my direction. At first he didn't appear to

  see me in his absorption, then recognition dawned.

  "Ullo, Jim," he muttered breathlessly.

  "I've got a right job on 'ere."

  "Sorry to hear that. What's the trouble?"

  He began to reply then screwed up his face.

  "Aaah! The old bitch! She's Squeezin' the life out of me arm again!

  She'll break it afore she's finished!"

  He paused, head hanging down, to recover, then he looked up at me.

  "The calf's laid wrong, Jim. There's just a tail com in' into the

  passage and I can't get the hind legs round."

  A breech My favourite presentation but one which always defeated


  I Couldn't blame them really because they had never had the opportunity

  to read ~ranZ Benesch's classical work on Veterinary Obstetrics which

  explains the ~" ~ mechanics of pa
rturition so lucidly. One phrase has

  always stuck in my mind "The necessity for simultaneous application of

  antagonistic forces'.

  Benesch points out that in order to correct many mar-presentations it

  necessary to apply traction and repulsion at the same time, and to do

  that one hand in a straining cow is impossible.

  As though to endorse my thoughts Mr Edwards burst out once more.


  it, I've missed it again! I keep push in' the hock away then grab bin'

  for the f but the old bitch just shoves it all back at me. I've been

  coin' this for an ~ now and I'm about knackered." .

  I never thought I would hear such words from this tough little man, but

  there was no doubt he had suffered. The cow was a massive animal with

  a back I a dining table and she was heaving the farmer back

  effortlessly every time strained. We didn't see many Red Polls in

  Yorkshire but the ones I had were self-willed and strong as elephants;

  the idea of pushing against one for hour made me quail.

  Mr Edwards pulled his arm out and stood for a moment leaning against

  hairy rump. The animal was quite unperturbed by the interference of

  this puny human but the farmer was a picture of exhaustion. He worked

  his dangling fingers gingerly then looked up at me.

  "By God!" he grunted.

  "She's given me some stick. I've got hardly any feel left in this


  He didn't have to tell me. I had known that sensation many a time. E'

  Benesch in the midst of his coldly scientific 'repositions',

  'retropulsions', 'm positions' and 'counteracting pressures' so far

  unbends as to-state that

  "Great demands are made upon the strength of the operator'. Mr Edwards

  would agree with him.

  The farmer took a long shuddering breath and moved over to the bucket

  hot water on the floor. He washed his arms then turned back to the cow

  w something like dread on his face.

  "Look," I said.

  "Please let me help you."

  He gave me a pallid smile.

  "Thanks, Jim, but there's nuthin' till Those legs have got to come


  "That's what I mean. I can do it."

  "What . . . ?"

  "With a bit of help from you. Have you got a piece of binder twine

  handy "Aye, we've got yards of it, lad, but I'm tell in' you you need

  experience this job. You know nuthin' about . . ." .

  He stopped because I was already pulling my shirt over my head. He was

  tired to argue in any case.

  Hanging the shirt on a nail on the wall, bending over the bucket and

  soap my arms with the scent of the antiseptic coming up to me brought a

  rush memories which was almost overwhelming. I held out my hand and Mr

  Edwards' wordlessly passed me a length of twine.

  I dipped it in the water, then quickly tied a slip knot at one end

  inserted ~to the cow. Ah yes, there was the tail, so familiar, hanging


  Nyic bones. Oh, I did love a breech, and I ran my hand with elm 0,

  satisfaction along the hair of the limb till I reached the tiny foot

  , work to push the loop over the fetlock and tighten it while ~ ~ ~d

  between the digits of the cloven foot.

  - , ~ ~ ~jd to the farmer, 'and pull it steadily when I tell you." :~

  He look~.~ ~ ~` the hock and began to push it away from me into I

  along grand, ~"~'c ~f 11 D 't j k ~, Like a man in a dream he did as I

  said and within seconds the foot popped out of the vulva.

  "Hell!" said Mr Edwards.

  "Now for the other one," I murmured as I removed the loop.

  I repeated the procedure, the farmer, slightly pop-eyed, pulling on the


  The second little hoof, yellow and moist, joined its fellow on the

  outside almost immediately.

  "Bloody hell!" said Mr Edwards.

  "Right," I said.

  "Grab a leg and we'll have him out in a couple of ticks."

  We each took a hold and leaned back, but the big cow did the job for us

  giving a great heave which deposited the calf wet and wriggling into my


  I staggered back and dropped with it on to the straw.

  "Grand bull calf, Mr Edwards," I said.

  "Better give him a rub down."

  The farmer shot me a disbelieving glance then twisted some hay into a

  wisp and began to dry off the little creature.

  "If you ever get stuck with a breech presentation again," I said,

  "I'll show you what you ought to do. You have to push and pull at the

  same time and that's where the twine comes in. As you repel the hock

  with your hand somebody else pulls the foot round, but you'll notice I

  have the twine between the calf's cleats and that's important. That

  way it lifts the sharp little foot up and prevents injury to the

  vaginal wall."

  The farmer nodded dumbly and went on with his rubbing. When he had

  finished he looked up at me in bewilderment and his lips moved

  soundlessly a few times before he spoke.

  "What the . . . how .. . how the heck do you know all that?"

  I told him.

  There was a long pause then he exploded.

  "You young bugger! You kept that dark, didn't you?"

  "Well . . . you never asked me."

  He scratched his head.

  "Well, I don't want to be nosey with you lads that helps me. Some

  folks don't like it...." His voice trailed away.

  We dried our arms and donned our shirts in silence. Before leaving he

  looked over at the calf, already making strenuous efforts to rise as

  its mother licked it.

  "He's a lively little beggar," he said.

  "And we might have lost 'im. I'm right grateful to you." He put an

  arm round my shoulders.

  "Anyway, come on, Mister Veterinary Surgeon, and we'll 'ave some


  Half way across the yard he stopped and regarded me ruefully.

  "You know I must have looked proper daft to you, fumblin' away inside

  there for an hour and damn near kill in' myself, then you step up and

  do it in a couple of minutes.

  I feel as weak as a girl."

  "Not in the least, Mr Edwards," I replied.

  "It's. . ." I hesitated a moment.

  "It's not a question of strength, it's just knowing how to do it."

  He nodded, then became very still and the seconds stretched out as he

  stared at me. Suddenly his teeth shone as the brown face broke into an

  ever-widening grin which developed into a great shout of laughter.

  He was still laughing helplessly when we reached the house and as I

  opened the kitchen door he leaned against the wall and wiped his


  "You young civil!" he said.

  "You really got a bit o' your own back there, didn't you ?"

  I looked through the window at the wind sock blowing over the long flat

  stretch of green, at the scattered aircraft, the fire tender, the

  huddle of low wooden huts. The playing was over now. This was where

  everything started.

  Chapter Twenty-eight At last we were on our way to Flying School. It

  was et Windsor and that didn't' seem far on the map, but it was a

  typical war-time journey of endless stops an changes and interminable

  waits. It went on all through the night and we too our slee
p in

  snatches. I stole an hour's fitful slumber an the waiting-room tabl at

  a tiny nameless station and despite my hard pillow less bed I drifted


  back to Darrow by.

  I was bumping along the rutted track to Nether Lees Farm, hanging on

  the jerking wheel. I could see the house below me, its faded red tiles

  showing above the sheltering trees, and behind the buildings the

  scrubby hillside rose the moor. i Up there the trees were stunted and

  sparse and drifted widely over the stee .] flanks. Higher still there

  was only scree and cliff and right at the top, beckoning in the

  sunshine, I saw the beginning of the moor Smooth, unbroken and bar.

  A scar on the broad sweep of green showed where long ago they quarried

  the stones to build the massive farmhouses and the enduring walls which

  have stood against the unrelenting climate for hundreds of years Those

  houses and those' endlessly marching walls would still be there when I

  was gone and forgotten.

  Helen was with me in the car. I loved it when she came with me on m

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