Let sleeping vets lie, p.18
Let Sleeping Vets Lie, p.18James Herriot
We went inside. A gramophone was playing and some pretty teenage girls
were fox-trotting together to the music. A few lads lounged about while
two others were playing billiards on a miniature table in the corner.
The curate gazed fondly at the scene, the music stopped, the record was
changed for a waltz and the dancing began again. It struck me as strange
that it didn't seem to occur to any of the boys to dance with those
I looked at the two billiard players. They would be about fifteen or
sixteen and were obviously devotees of the cinema. There was something
of the Bowery pool room in their scowling attitude, the cigarettes
dangling from their lips, the way they squinted through the smoke as
they bent to play a shot, the tough, deadpan chalking of the cues, the
contemptuous gangsterish disregard of the other occupants of the room.
The curate clapped his hands. "Come now, boys and girls, it's time you
joined the others in the hall Mr. Herriot is ready to talk to you now."
The room emptied rapidly as the young people went through a door in the
far corner. Soon there only remained the gangsters at the billiard
table; they didn't appear to have heard. The curate called on them
several times more but they took no notice. Finally Helen went over and
whispered tensely at them and at length they threw down their cues and
with a single malevolent glance in my direction they slouched from the
This then was the moment of truth when I would face my audience after
the weeks of preparation. I took a deep breath and followed the others
into the hall and on to the platform. Perched on a shaky chair between
Helen and Mr. Blenkinsopp I surveyed the scene.
It wasn't a big hall - it would probably have held a hundred if it had
been full. But it wasn't full tonight, in fact the main feature about it
was space. I made a quick count of the audience; there were twelve. They
were disposed in little knots among the empty chairs. Half way up
clustered the six teenage girls then a few rows behind, a very fat boy
holding a bag of potato crisps and near him a thin, dispirited-looking
youth with sleepy eyes. Right on the back row, against the wall, the two
gangsters lounged in attitudes of studied boredom. What surprised me
most, however, was the sight of two tiny girls, mere tots of about four,
right in the middle of the front row, a long way from anybody else. One
sported a big pink bow in her hair while the other wore pigtails. Their
little legs swinging, they looked up at me incuriously.
I turned to Helen. "Who are those two?"
"Oh, they like to come with their big sisters now and again,"-she
replied. "They love it and they're very good. They won't be any
I nodded stupidly, still trying to adjust my mind to the fact that these
were the people who were going to receive my searching exposition on
veterinary science. None of them seemed to be showing the slightest
interest in me except for one very pretty little thing in the centre of
the teenage group who gazed up at me with shining eyes as though she
couldn't wait for me to begin.
Mr. Blenkinsopp stood up and made a charming introductory speech. As he
spoke, the gangsters at the back giggled, wrestled and dug at each
other's ribs; the girls, with the exception of the little darling in the
centre peeped back at the fighting pair in admiration.
At last I heard the curate's final words. "And now I have great pleasure
in asking Mr. Herriot to address you."
I got slowly to my feet and gazed over the twelve. The gangsters were
still wrestling, the fat boy put a crisp in his mouth and began to
crunch it loudly, down in the front, tot number one was sucking her
thumb while the other, rocking her head from side to side, appeared to
be singing to herself.
I felt a moment of wild panic. Should I change the entire plan and just
talk casually about a few trivial points? But I couldn't. I had the
whole thing o if parrot-like and I'd have to deliver it as I had learned
it. There was no way out.
With an effort I steadied myself and cleared my throat. "What does MRCVS
mean to you?" I cried.
It seemed to startle Mr. Blenkinsopp because he jumped slightly in his
chair, but the audience remained totally unmoved. MRCVS appeared to mean
not a thing to them. I ploughed ahead, sketching out the history of the
Royal College, painstakingly illustrating its development from the early
days of farriery. Nobody was listening except the little pet in the
centre but I was in the groove and couldn't stop.
"A supplemental Royal Charter was granted in 1932," I pronounced after
about ten minutes" hard going and just then the thin boy yawned. I had
him as an ineffectual sort of lad but he certainly could yawn; it was a
stretching, groaning, voluptuous paroxysm which drowned my words and it
went on and on till he finally lay back, bleary and exhausted by the
effort. His companion munched his crisps stolidly By the time I had been
holding forth for twenty minutes I seemed to be standing listening to
myself with a kind of wonder. "After qualification," I was saying" 'the
main avenues open to the new graduate are general practice and work
under the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. The latter is mainly
concerned with preventive medicine and with the implementation of the
laws governing the notifiable diseases."
The gangsters punched each other fiercely with stifled laughter, the fat
boy had another crisp, tot one drew ecstatically on her thumb while her
other hand fondled a lock of her hair. Tot two stuck her legs straight
out and admired her little white socks and red shoes. Only the dear girl
in the middle paid any attention.
I began to break out in a light perspiration. The thing was taking a lot
longer than I had thought to get through, and I had the growing
conviction that I must be looking more and more of a chump in Helen's
eyes as time went on.
I had rehearsed a few light sallies designed to send my audience into
convulsions of laughter as a contrast to the absorbing, serious stuff,
but even those who were listening failed to change expression at my
shafts of wit. Except, of course, for the little treasure in the middle
who pealed back at me sweetly every time.
But I stuck to it grimly. Surely I'd get through to them when I came to
the practical bit about first aid.
"All right," I said, 'you've got a calf with a nasty cut on its leg. The
blood is pouring out and you can't get hold of a vet. If you just leave
it the blood will all run out and the calf will die. What are you going
Nobody seemed to care much either way except for tot two. She obviously
didn't like the turn things were taking and she stared up at me, her
lower lip protruding and trembling.
I went on to explain about tourniquets and pressure pads and then moved
on to a discussion of bloat.
"This cow is blown up ready to burst," I proceeded. "You'
something or she could drop down dead any second."
I glanced apprehensively at tot two. Her lip was sticking out more every
second and was now like a soup plate, but it was no good, I had to go
"You must get a knife like a carving knife and stick it straight into
the stomach," I declaimed desperately. "Now I'll tell you just where to
stick it in ... '
But tot two had had enough. She threw back her head and bawled heartily
till her big sister hurried down a few rows and led her away in floods
of tears, her pig tails dangling forlornly. Tot one was undisturbed,
utterly engrossed as she was with her thumb and the wisp of hair she was
Anyway I was getting towards the last lap now.
"The future of the profession, I am convinced, will be less and less
involved with the problems of the individual animal," I went on,
addressing myself now exclusively to the little sweetheart in the centre
who kept her eyes fixed on me with open admiration. The thin boy went
into another of his mighty yawns while his companion finished his last
crisp and crumpled the bag noisily.
We must also consider the emergence of small animal work in any of our
plans for the future. Over the past few years the increase in this field
has been ... '
But I had to pause as there was a major disturbance at the back. The
jolly feud between the gangsters had flared into ugly warfare. Fists
flew, blood streamed, a few ripe.oaths rocketed over the company. After
a couple of minutes the combatants drew apart and sat glaring and
snarling at each other as they dabbed their wounds.
"Whatever the uncertainties and despite the depressed state of
agriculture I feel there will always be a place for the veterinary
surgeon in our national economy." that was it. I sat down and Helen, the
curate and the little charmer in the middle applauded enthusiastically.
Mr. Blenkinsopp rose, beaming delightedly around him. He congratulated
me on my splendid talk and said how much they'd all enjoyed it and
finished by saying he would now throw the meeting open for questions.
I settled back in my chair. So this was to be the lively discussion he
had talked about. I hunted around anxiously from face to face but my
audience stared back, dead-eyed; for the first time all evening there
was dead silence.
The minutes ticked away and I felt the tension building in me, but at
last there was a stirring in the middle of the hall. It was my darling
girl; God blest and keep her, she was going to say something. I felt a
sudden glow at the knowledge that my words had stimulated a response in
at least one young mind.
She sat up in her seat, moistened her lips and smiled at me, bright
eyed. She was indeed going to ask a question and as it turned out it was
the only one of the evening. I leaned forward expectantly as she began
"Mr. Herriot, I 'ave a little dog what's moultin". What can I do for
C:hapter Fifteen t Probably the most dramatic occurrence in the history
of veterinary practice was the disappearance of the draught horse. It is
an almost incredible fact that this glory and mainstay of the profession
just melted quietly away within a few years. And I was one of those who
were there to see it happen.
When I first came to Darrowby the tractor had already begun to take
over, but tradition dies hard in the agricultural world and there were
still a lot of horses around. Which was just as well because my
veterinary education had been geared to things equine with everything
else a poor second. It had been a good scientific education in many
respects but at times I wondered if the people who designed it still had
a mental picture of the horse doctor with his top hat ~ and frock coat
busying himself in a world of horse-drawn trams and brewers", drays.
We learned the anatomy of the horse in great detail then that of the
other animals much more superficially. It was the same with the other
subjects; from animal husbandry with such insistence on a thorough
knowledge of shoeing that we developed into amateur blacksmiths - right
up to medicine and surgery where it was much more important to know
about "landers and strangles than canine distemper. Even as we were
learning, we youngsters knew it was ridiculous, with the draught horse
already cast as a museum piece and the obvious potential of cattle and
small animal work.
Still, after we had absorbed a vast store of equine lore it was a
certain comfo that there were still a lot of patients on which we could
try it out. I should thin4
in my first two years I treated farm horses nearly every day and though
I never was and never will be an equine expert there was a strange
thrill in meeting with the age-old conditions whose names rang down
almost from mediaeval times. Quittor, fistulous withers, poll evil,
thrush, shoulder slip - vets had been wrestling with them for hundreds
of years using very much the same drugs and procedures as myself. Armed
with my firing iron and box of blister I plunged determinedly into what
had always been the surging mainstream of veterinary life.
And now, in less than three years the stream had dwindled, not exactly
to a trickle but certainly to the stage where the final dry-up was in
sight. This meant, in a way, a lessening of the pressures on the
veterinary surgeon because there is no doubt that horse work was the
roughest and most arduous part of our life.
So that today, as I looked at the three-year-old gelding, it occurred to
me that this sort of thing wasn't happening as often as it did. He had a
long tear in his flank where he had caught himself on barbed wire and it
gaped open whenever he moved. There was no getting away from the fact
that it had to be stitched.
The horse was tied by the head in his stall, his right side against the
tall wooden partition. One of the farm men, a hefty six footer, took a
tight hold of the head collar and leaned back against the manger as I
puffed some iodoform into the wound. The horse didn't see to mind, which
was a comfort because he was a massive animal emanating an almost
tangible vitality and power. I threaded my needle with a length of silk,
lifted one of the lips of the wound and passed it through. This was
going to be no trouble, I thought as I lifted the flap at the other side
and pierced it, but as I was drawing the needle through, the gelding
made a convulsive leap and I felt as though a great wind had whistled
across the front of my body. Then, strangely, he was standing there
against the wooden boards as if nothing had happened.
On the occasions when I have been kicked I have never seen it coming. It
is surprising how quickly those great muscular legs can whip out. But
there was no doubt he had had a good go at me because my needle and silk
was nowhere to be seen, the big man at the head was staring at me with
wide eyes in a chalk white face and the front of my, clothing was in an
somebody had taken a razor blade and painstakingly cut the material into
narrow strips which hung down in ragged strips to ground level. The
great iron-shod hoof had missed my legs by an inch or two but my mac was
I was standing there looking around me in a kind of stupor when I heard
a cheerful hail from the doorway.
"Now then, Mr. Herriot, what's he done at you?" Cliff Tyreman, the old
horseman, looked me up and down with a mixture of amusement and
"He's nearly put me in hospital, Cliff," I replied shakily. "About the
closest near Miss. I've ever had. I just felt the wind of it."
"What were you tryin" to do?"
"Stitch that wound, but I'm not going to try any more. I'm off to the
surgery to get a chloroform muzzle."
The little man looked shocked. "You don't need no choloform. I'll haud
him and you'll have no trouble."
I m sorry, Cliff." I began to put away my suture materials, scissors and
powder. "You're a good bloke, I know, but he's had one go at me and he's
not getting another chance. I don't want to be lame for the rest of my
The horseman's small, wiry frame seemed to bunch into a ball of
aggression. He thrust forward his head in a characteristic posture and
glared at me. "I've never heard owl as daft in me life." Then he swung
round on the big man who was still hanging on to the horse's head, the
ghastly pallor of his face now tinged with a delicate green. "Come on
out o" there Bob! You're that bloody scared ~ you're upsetting t'oss.
Come on out of it and ;et me have 'im!" l Bob gratefully left the head
Let Sleeping Vets Lie by James Herriot / Humor / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes