Let sleeping vets lie, p.11
Let Sleeping Vets Lie, p.11James Herriot
envied him his massive authority as he stumped, bowler-hatted and
glowering around each animal, leaning occasionally on his stick as he
took stock of the points. I couldn't imagine anyone daring to argue with
It was late in the afternoon when the loudspeaker called me to my final
duty. The Family Pets contestants were arranged on wooden chairs drawn
up in a wide circle on the turf. They were mainly children but behind
them an interested ring of parents and friends watched me warily as I
The fashion for exotic pets was still in its infancy but I experienced a
mild shock of surprise when I saw the variety of creatures on show. I
suppose I must have had a vague mental picture of a few dogs and cats
but I walked round the circle in growing bewilderment looking down at
rabbits - innumerable rabbits of all sizes and colours - guinea pigs,
white mice, several budgerigars, two tortoises, a canary, a kitten, a
parrot, a mynah bird, a box of puppies, a few dogs and cats and a
goldfish in a bowl. The smaller pets rested on their owners" knees, the
others squatted on the ground.
How, I asked myself was I going to come to a decision here? How did you
choose between a parrot and a puppy, a budgie and a bulldog, a mouse and
a mynah? Then as I circled it came to me, it couldn't be done. The only
way was to question the children in charge and find which ones looked
after their pets best which of them knew most about their feeding and
general husbandry. I rubbed my hands together and repressed a chuckle of
satisfaction; I had something to work on now.
I don't like to boast but I think I can say in all honesty that I
carried out an exhaustive scientific survey of that varied group. From
the outset I adopted an attitude of cold detachment, mercilessly
banishing any ideas of personal preference . If I had been pleasing only
myself I would have given first prize to a gleaming black Labrador
sitting by a chair with massive composure and offering me a gracious paw
every time I came near. And my second would have been a i benevolent
tabby - I have always had a thing about tabby cats - which rubbed its
cheek against my hand as I talked to its owner. The pups, crawling over
each other and grunting obesely, would probably have come third. But I
put away these unworthy thoughts and pursued my chosen course.
I was distracted to some extent by the parrot which kept saying "Hellow"
in a voice of devastating refinement like a butler answering a telephone
and the mynah which repeatedly adjured me to "Shut door as you go out,"
in a booming Yorkshire baritone.
The only adult in the ring was a bosomy lady with glacial pop eyes and a
white poodle on her knee. As I approached she gave me a challenging
stare as though defying me to place her pet anywhere but first.
"Hello, little chap," I said, extending my hand. The poodle responded by
drawing its lips soundlessly back from its teeth and giving me much the
same kind of look as its owner. I withdrew my hand hastily.
"Oh you needn't be afraid of trim," the lady said frigidly. "He won't
I gave a light laugh. "I'm sure he won't." I held out my hand again.
"You're a nice little dog, aren't you?" Once more the poodle bared his
teeth and when I persevered by trying to stroke his ears he snapped
noiselessly, his teeth clicking together an inch from my fingers.
"He doesn't like you, I can see that. Do you, darling?" The lady put her
check against the dog's head and stared at me distastefully as though
she knew just how he felt.
"Shut door as you go out," commanded the mynah gruffy from somewhere
I gave the lady my questionnaire and moved on.
And among the throng there was one who stood out; the little boy with
the goldfish. In reply to my promptings he discoursed knowledgeably
about his fish, its feeding, life history and habits. He even had a fair
idea of the common diseases. The bowl, too, was beautifully clean and
the water fresh; I was impressed.
When I had completed the circuit I swept the ring for the last time with
a probing eye. Yes, there was no doubt about it; I had the three prize
winners; fixed in my mind beyond any question and in an order based on
strictly scientific selection. I stepped out into the middle.
"Ladies and gentlemen," I said, scanning the company with an affable
"Hellow," responded the parrot fruitily.
I ignored him and continued. "These are the successful entrants. First,
number . six, the goldfish. Second, number fifteen, the guinea pig. And
third, number ten, the white kitten." ;4
I half expected a little ripple of applause but there was none. In fact
my ., announcement was greeted by a tight-lipped silence. I had noticed
an immediate change in the atmosphere when I mentioned the goldfish. It
was striking - a sudden cold wave which swept away the expectant smiles
and replaced them with discontented muttering.
I had done something wrong, but what? I looked around helplessly as the
hum of voices increased. "What do you think of that, then?"
"Not fair, is it?" 3
~Wouldn't have thought it of him?"
"All them lovely rabbits and he hardly looked at them."
I couldn't make it out, but my job was done, anyway. I pushed between
the chairs and escaped to the open field.
"Shut door as you go out," the mynah requested in deepest bass as I
I sought out Tristan again. The atmosphere in the beer tent had changed,
too The drinkers were long since past their peak and the hilarious babel
which had met me on my last visit had died to an exhausted murmur There
was a general air of satiation. Tristan, pint in hand, was being
addressed with great solemnity by a man in a flat cap and braces. The
man swayed slightly as he grasped Tristan's free hand and gazed into his
eyes. Occasionally he patted him on the shoulder with the utmost
affection. Obviously my colleague had been forging deep and lasting
friendships in here while I was making enemies outside.
I sidled up to him and spoke into his ear. "Ready to go soon, Triss?"
He turned slowly and looked at me. "No, old lad," he said, articulating
carefully. "I'm afraid I shall't be coming with you. They're having a
dance here on the showfield later and Doreen has consented to accompany
me." He cast a loving glance across the counter at the red-head who
crinkled her nose at him.
I was about to leave when a snatch of conversation from behind made me
"A bloody goldfish!" a voice was saying disgustedly.
"Aye, it's a rum 'un, George," a second voice replied.
There was a slurping sound of beer being downed.
"But the knows, Fred," the first voice said. "That vet feller had to do
it. Didn't 'ave no choice. He couldn't pass over "'squire's son."
"Reckon you're right, but it's a bugger when you get graft and
corruption in ""Family Pets."
A heavy sigh, then "It's the way things are nowadays, Fred. Everything's
"You're right there, George. It's hulterior, that's what it is."
I fought down a rising panic. The Pelhams had been Lords of the Manor of
Darrowby for generations and the present squire was Major Pelham. I knew
him as a friendly farmer client, but that was all. I'd never heard of
I clutched at Tristan's arm. "Who is that little boy over there?"
Tristan peered out glassily across the sward. "The one with the goldfish
bowl, you mean?"
"It's young Nigel Pelham, the squire's son."
"Oh Gawd," I moaned. "But I've never seen him before. Where's he been?"
Boarding school down south, I believe. On holiday just now."
I stared at the boy again. Tousled fair hair, grey open-necked shirt,
sunburned legs. Just like all the others.
George was at it again. "Lovely dogs and cats there was, but squire's
lad won it with a bloody goldfish.
"Well, let's be right," his companion put in. "If that lad 'ad brought.
along a bloody stuffed monkey he'd still 'ave got just prize with it."
"No doubt about it, Fred. T'other kids might as well 'ave stopped at
"Aye, it's not like it used to be, George. Nobody does owl for nowt
"True, Fred, very true." There was a gloomy silence punctuated by noisy
gulpings Then, in weary tones: "Well you and me can't alter it. It's the
kind of world we're living in today."
I reeled out into the fresh air and the sunshine. Looking round at the
tranquil scene, the long stretch of grass, the loop of pebbly river with
the green hills rising behind, I had a sense of unreality. Was there any
part of this peaceful cameo of rural England without its sinister
undertones? As if by instinct I made my way into the long marquee which
housed the produce section. Surely among those quiet rows of vegetables
I would find repose.
The place was almost empty but as I made my way down the long lines of
tables I came upon the solitary figure of old John William Enderby who
had a little grocer's shop in the town.
"Well how are things?" I enquired.
"Nobbut middlin" lad," the old man replied morosely.
"Why, what's wrong?"
"Well, ah got a second with me broad beans but only a highly commended
for me shallots. Look at 'em."
I looked. "Yes, they're beautiful shallots, Mr. Enderby."
"Aye, they are, and nobbut a highly commended. It's a insult, that's
what it is a insult."
"But Mr. Enderby ... highly commended ... I mean, that's pretty good
isn't it ?"
"No it isn't, it's a insult!"
"Oh bad luck."
John William stared at me wide-eyed for a moment. "It's not bad luck,
lad, it's nowt but a twist."
"Oh surely not!"
"Ah'm tellin" you. Jim Houlston got first with 'is shallots and judge is
his wife's cousin."
"Never!" ' It's true," grunted John William, nodding solemnly. "It's
nowt but a twist."
"Well I've never heard of such a thing!"
"You don't know what goes on, young man. Ah wasn't even placed with me
taties. Frank Thompson got first wi" that lot." He pointed to a tray of
I studied them. "I must admit they look splendid potatoes."
"Aye, they are, but Frank pinched 'em."
"Aye, they took first prize at Brisby show last Thursday and Frank
pinched 'em orf "'stand."
I clutched at the nearby table. The foundations of my world were
crumbling. "That can't be true, Mr. Enderby."
"Ah'm not jokin" nor jestin"," declared John William. "Them's self and
same taties, ah'd know them anywhere. It's nowt but a ... '
J could take no more. I fled.
Outside the evening sunshine was still warm and the whole field was
awash with the soft light which, in the Dales, seems to stream down in a
golden Rood from the high tops. But it was as if the forces of darkness
were pressing on me; all I wanted was to get home.
I hurried to the stewards" tent and collected my measuring stick,
running a gauntlet of hostile stares from the pony people I had outed
earlier in the day. They were still waving their certificates and
On the way to the car I had to pass several of the ladies who had
watched me judge the pets and though they didn't exactly draw their
skirts aside they managed to convey their message. Among the rows of
vehicles I spotted the man with the mustache. He still hadn't taken his
terrier away and his eyes, full of wounded resentment, followed my every
I was opening my door when Helen and her party, also apparently on the
way home, passed about fifty yards away. Helen waved, I waved back, and
Richard Edmundson gave me a nod before helping her into the front seat
of a gleaming, silver Daimler. The two fathers got into the back.
As I settled into the seat of my little Austin, braced my feet against
the broken floor boards and squinted through the cracked windscreen I
prayed that just this once the thing would go on the starter. Holding my
breath I pulled at the knob but the engine gave a couple of lazy turns
then fell silent.
Fishing the starting handle from under the seat I crept out and inserted
it in its hole under the radiator; and as I began the old familiar
winding the silver monster purred contemptuously past me and away.
Dropping into the driver's seat again I caught sight of my face in the
mirror and could see the streaks and flecks of blood still caked on my
cheek and around the roots of my hair. Tristan hadn't done a very good
job with his bucket of cold water.
I looked back at the emptying field and at the Daimler disappearing
round a distant bend. It seemed to me that in more ways than one the
show was over.
i .~ 1 L Ben Ashby the cattle dealer looked over the gate with his
habitual deadpan expression. It always seemed to me that after a
lifetime of buying cows from farmers he had developed a terror of
showing any emotion which might be construed as enthusiasm. When he
looked at a beast his face registered nothing beyond, occasionally, a
This was how it was this morning as he leaned on the top spar and
directed a gloomy stare at Harry Sumner's heifer. After a few moments he
turned to the farmer.
"I wish you'd had her in for me, Harry. She's too far away. I'm going to
have to get over the top." He began to climb stiffly upwards and it was
then that he spotted Monty. The bull hadn't been so easy to see before
as he cropped the grass among the group of heifers but suddenly the
great head rose high above the others, the nose ring gleamed, and an
ominous, strangled bellow sounded across the grass. And as he gazed at
us he pulled absently at the turf with a fore foot.
Ben Ashby stopped climbing, hesitated for a second then returned to
"Aye well," he muttered, still without changing expression. "It's not
that far away. I reckon I can see all r
Monty had changed a lot since the first day I saw him about two years
ago. He had been a fortnight old then, a skinny, knock-kneed little
creature, his head deep in a calf bucket.
"Well, what do you think of me new bull?" Harry Sumner had asked,
laughing. "Not much for a hundred quid is he?"
I whistled. "As much as that?"
"Aye, it's a lot for a new-dropped calf, isn't it? But I can't think of
any other way of getting into the Newton strain. I haven't the brass to
buy a big 'un."
Not all the farmers of those days were as farseeing as Elarry and some
of them would use any type of male bovine to get their cows in calf.
One such man produced a gaunt animal for Siegfried's inspection and
asked him what he thought of his bull. Siegfried's reply of "All horns
and balls" didn't please the owner but I still treasure it as the most
graphic description of the typical scrub bull of that period.
Harry was a bright boy. He had inherited a little place of about a
hundred acres on his father's death and with his young wife had set
about making it go He was in his early twenties and when I first saw him
Let Sleeping Vets Lie by James Herriot / Humor / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes