It shouldnt happen to a.., p.19
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       It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet, p.19

           James Herriot
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After a job he always asked us in to sample Mrs. Pratt's baking. In fact

  on cold days he used to keep a thermos of hot coffee ready for our

  arrival and he had an endearing habit of sloshing rum freely into each

  cup before pouring in the coffee.

  "You can't put a man like that in court," Siegfried said. "But we've got

  to find some way of parting him from his brass." He looked ruminatively

  at the ceiling for a few moments then thumped a fist into his palm.

  "I think I've got it, James! You know it's quite possible it just never

  occurs to Dennis to pay a bill. So I'm going to pitch him into an

  environment where it will really be brought home to him. The accounts

  have just gone out and I'll arrange to meet him in here at two o'clock

  next market day. I'll say I want to discuss his mastitis problem. He'll

  be right in the middle of all the other farmers paying their bills and

  I'll deliberately leave him with them for half an hour or so. I'm sure

  it will give him the notion."

  I couldn't help feeling dubious. I had known Siegfried long enough to

  realise that some of his ideas were brilliant and others barmy; and he

  had so many ~ideas and they came in such a constant torrent that I often

  had difficulty in deciding which was which. Clearly in this case he was

  working on the same lines as a doctor who turns on a water tap full

  force to induce a pent up patient to urinate into a bottle.

  The scheme may have merit - it was possible that the flutter of cheque

  books the chink of coins, the rustle of notes might tap the long-buried

  well of debt in Dennis and bring it gushing from him in a mighty flood;

  but I doubted it.

  My doubts must have shown on my face because Siegfried laughed and

  thumped me on the shoulder. "Don't look so worried - we can only try.

  And it'll work. Just you wait."

  After lunch on market day I was looking out of the window when l saw

  Dennis heading our way. The street was busy with the market bustle but

  he was easy to pick out. Chin in air, beaming around him happily, every

  springing step taking him high on tiptoe he was a distinctive figure. I

  let him in at the front door and he strutted past me along the passage,

  the back of his natty sports Jacket Lying in a neat fold over his

  protruding buttocks.

  Siegfried seated him strategically by Miss Harbottle's elbow, giving him

  an Unimpeded view of the desk. Then he excused himself, saying he had a

  dog to attend to in the operating room. I stayed behind to answer the

  clients' queries and to watch developments. I hadn't long to wait; the

  farmers began to come in, a steady stream of them, clutching their

  cheque books. Some of them stood patiently by the desk, others sat in

  the chairs along the walls waiting their turn It was a typical

  bill-paying day with the usual quota of moans. The most common

  expression was that Mr. Farnon had been 'ower heavy wi' t'pen' and many

  of them wanted a 'bit knockin' off. Miss Harbottle used her discretion

  in these matters and if the animal had died or the bill did seem unduly

  large she would make some reduction.

  There was one man who didn't get away with it. He had truculently

  demanded a 'bit of luck' on an account and Miss Harbottle fixed him with

  a cold eye.

  "Mr. Brewiss," she said. "This account has been owing for over a year.

  You should really be paying us interest. I can only allow discount when

  a bill is paid promptly. It's too bad of you to let it run on for this

  length of time."

  Dennis, sitting bolt upright, his hands resting on his knees, obviously

  agreed with every word. He pursed his lips in disapproval as he looked

  at the farmer and turned towards me with a positively scandalised


  Among the complaints was an occasional bouquet. A stooping old man who

  had received one of the polite letters was full of apologies. "I'm sorry

  I've missed paying for a few months. The vets allus come out straight

  away when I send for them so I reckon it's not fair for me to keep them

  waiting for their money."

  I could see that Dennis concurred entirely with this sentiment. He

  nodded vigorously and smiled benevolently at the old man.

  Another farmer, a hard-looking character, was walking out without his

  receipt when Miss Harbottle called him back. "You'd better take this

  with you or we might ask you to pay again," she said with a heavy

  attempt at roguishness.

  The man paused with his hand on the door knob. "I'll tell you summat,

  missis, you're bloody lucky to get it once - you'd never get it twice."

  Dennis was right in the thick of it all. Watching closely as the farmers

  slapped their cheque books on the desk for Miss Harbottle to write (they

  never wrote their own cheques) then signed them slowly and

  painstakingly. He looked with open fascination at the neat bundles of

  notes being tucked away in the desk drawer and I kept making little

  provocative remarks like "It's nice to see the money coming in. We can't

  carry on without that, can we."

  The queue began to thin out and sometimes we were left alone in the

  room. On these occasions we conversed about many things - the weather,

  Dennis's stock, the political situation. Finally, Siegfried came in and

  I left to do a round.

  When I got back, Siegfried was at his evening meal. I was eager to hear

  how his scheme had worked out but he was strangely reticent. At length I

  could wait no longer.

  "Well, how did it go?" I asked.

  Siegfried speared a piece of steak with his fork and applied some

  mustard. "How did what go."

  "Well - Dennis. How did you make out with him."

  "Oh, fine. We went into his mastitis problem very thoroughly. I'm going

  out there on Tuesday morning to infuse every infected quarter in the

  herd with acriflavine solution. It's a new treatment - they say it's

  very good."

  "But you know what I mean. Did he show any sign of paying his bill."

  Siegfried chewed impassively for a few moments and swallowed. "No,

  never; a sign." He put down his knife and fork and a haggard look spread

  over his face.

  "It didn't work, did it."

  "Oh well, never mind. As you said, we could only try." I hesitated.

  "There's something else, Siegfried. I'm afraid you're going to be

  annoyed with me. I know you've told me never to dish out stuff- to

  people who don't pay, but he talked me into letting him have a couple of

  bottles of fever drink. I don't know what came over me."

  "He did, did he?" Siegfried stared into space for a second then gave a

  wintry smile. "Well, you can forget about that. He got six tins of

  stomach powder out of me."

  Chapter Twenty-five.

  There was one client who would not have been invited to the debtor."

  cocktail party. He was Mr. Horace Dumbleby, the butcher of Aldgrove. As

  an inveterate non-payer he fulfilled the main qualification for the

  function but he was singularly lacking in charm.

  His butcher shop in the main street of picturesque Aldgrove village was

  busy and prosperous but most of his trade was done in the neighbouring

/>   smaller villages and among the scattered farmhouses of the district.

  Usually the butcher's wife and married daughter looked after the shop

  while Mr. Dumbleby himself did the rounds. I often saw his blue van

  standing with the back doors open and a farmer's wife waiting while he

  cut the meat, his big, shapeless body hunched over the slab. Sometimes

  he would look up and I would catch a momentary glimpse of a huge,

  bloodhound face and melancholy eyes.

  Mr. Dumbleby was a farmer himself in a small way. He sold milk from six

  cows which he kept in a tidy little byre behind his shop and he fattened

  a few bullocks and pork pigs which later appeared as sausages, pies,

  roasting cuts and chops in his front window. In fact Mr. Dumbleby seemed

  to be very nicely fixed and it was said he owned property all over the

  place. But Siegfried had only infrequent glimpses of his money.

  All the slow payers had one thing in common - they would not tolerate

  slowness from the vets. When they were in trouble they demanded

  immediate action. "Will you come at once?', "How long will you be?',

  "You won't keep me waiting, will you?', "I want you to come out here

  straight away'. It used to alarm me to see the veins swelling on

  Siegfried's forehead, the knuckles whitening as he gripped the phone.

  After one such session with Mr. Dumbleby at ten o'clock on a Sunday

  night he had flown into a rage and unleashed the full fury of the PNS

  system on him. It had no loosening effect on the butcher's purse strings

  but it did wound his feelings deeply. He obviously considered himself a

  wronged man. From that time on, whenever I saw him with his van out in

  the country he would turn slowly and direct a blank stare at me till I

  was out of sight. And strangely, I seemed to see him more and more often

  the thing became unnerving.

  And there was something worse. Tristan and I used to frequent the little

  Aldgrove pub where the bar was cosy and the beer measured up to

  Tristan's stringent standards. I had never taken much notice of Mr.

  Dumbleby before although he always occupied the same corner, but now,

  every time I looked up, the great sad eyes were trained on me in

  disapproval. I tried to forget about him and listen to Tristan relating

  his stories from the backs of envelopes but all the time I could feel

  that gaze upon me. My laughter would trail away and I would have to look

  round. Then the excellent bitter would be as vinegar in my mouth.

  In an attempt to escape, I took to visiting the snug instead of the bar

  and Tristan, showing true nobility of soul, came with me into an

  environment which was alien to him; where there was a carpet on the

  floor, people sitting around at little shiny tables drinking gin and

  hardly a pint in sight. But even this sacrifice was in vain because Mr.

  Dumbleby changed his position in the bar so that he could look into the

  snug through the communicating hatch. The odd hours I was able to spend

  there took on a macabre quality. I was like a man trying desperately to

  forget. But quaff the beer as I might, laugh, talk, even sing, half of

  me was waiting in a state of acute apprehension for the moment when I

  knew I would have to look round. And when I did, the great sombre face

  looked even more forbidding framed by the wooden surround of the hatch.

  The hanging jowls, the terraced chins, the huge, brooding eyes - all

  were dreadfully magnified by their isolation in that little hole in the


  It was no good, I had to stop going to the place. This was very sad

  because Tristan used to wax Lyrical about a certain unique, delicate

  nuttiness which he could discern in the draught bitter. But it had lost

  its joy for me; I just couldn't take any more of Mr. Dumbleby.

  In fact I did my best to forget all about the gentleman, but he was

  brought back forcibly into my mind when I heard his voice on the phone

  at 3 a.m. one morning. It was nearly always the same thing when the

  bedside phone exploded in your ear in the small hours - a calving.

  Mr. Dumbleby's call was no exception but he was more peremptory than

  might have been expected. There was no question about apologising about

  ringing at such an hour as most farmers would do. I said I would come

  immediately but that wasn't good enough - he wanted to know exactly in

  minutes how long I would be. In a sleepy attempt at sarcasm I started to

  recite a programme of so many minutes to get up and dressed, so many to

  go downstairs and get the car out etc. but I fear it was lost on him.

  When I drove into the sleeping village a light was showing in the window

  of the butcher's shop. Mr. Dumbleby almost trotted out into the street

  and paced up and down, muttering, as I fished out my ropes and

  instruments from the boot. Very impatient, I thought, for a man who

  hadn't paid his vet bill for over a year.

  We had to go through the shop to get to the byre in the rear. My patient

  was a big, fat white cow whirb ~."

  Now and tb~ ' Well ~ ~ ~ O _ ,_~ ;~ ci ~ ~ O "Oh, fine: ~ r~ ~O ~ ~ bc

  o" there on Tues~= ~ ~ .= :, 3 acriflavine soluti~ a i - _o ~ ~ ~ ~ a

  "But you know w~ ~ ou ~O ~ ~ ~ ~

  Siegfried chewed imp~- ~ ~ <), D ~ r_ a sign." He put down his k.._ ~ O3

  ~ ~i ~ "It didn't work, did it?" =, ,. ~O,: :;

  "Oh well, never mind. As yout' 3 =-3 something else, Siegfried. I'm

  afri.~,.C~ ~ know you've told me never to dish ou~ a talked me into

  letting him have a couple ~^ what came over me."

  particularly perturbed by her situation. r of feet a few inches from her

  vulva. vet's first indication of how tough the hg out of a tiny heifer

  have always ise feet were big enough but not out sufficiently roomy. I

  wondered what i . "There's a head there but I can't an hour." hsidered

  vaguely cissy to wear a be a lot worse. So many of the primitive and

  draughty but this provided a very adequate central the usual

  smoke-blackened oil r made my first exploration and i ey belonged to

  different calves.

  ~legs you've been pulling - a way has both his legs back:

  along his sides. I'll have to push him back out of the way and get the

  other one first."

  This was going to be a pretty tight squeeze. Normally I like a twin

  calving because the calves are usually so small, but these seemed to be

  quite big. I put my hand against the little muzzle in the passage, poked

  a finger into the mouth and was rewarded by a jerk and flip of the

  tongue; he was alive, anyway.

  I began to push him steadily back into the uterus, wondering at the same

  time what the little creature was making of it all. He had almost

  entered the world - his nostrils had been a couple of inches from the

  outside air - and now he was being returned to the starting post.

  The cow didn't think much of the idea either because she started a

  series of straining heaves with the object of frustrating me. She did a

  pretty fair job, too since a cow is a lot stronger than a man, but I

  kept my arm rigid against the calf and though each heave forced me back

  I maintained a steady pressure till I had pushed him to the brim of the


  I turned to Mr. Dumbleby and gasped: "I've got this head out of the way.

  Get hold of those feet and pull the other calf out."

  The butcher stepped forward ponderously and each of his big, meaty hands

  engulfed a foot. Then he closed his eyes and with many facial

  contortions and noises of painful effort he began to go through the

  motions of tugging. The calf didn't move an inch and my spirits drooped.

  Mr. Dumbleby was a grunter. (This expression had its origin in an

  occasion when Siegfried and a farmer had a foot apiece at a calving and

  the farmer was making pitiful sounds without exerting himself in the

  slightest. Siegfried had turned to him and said: "Look, let's come to an

  arrangement - you do the pulling and I'll do the grunting.')

  It was clear I was going to get no help from the big butcher and decided

  to have one go by myself. I might be lucky. I let go the muzzle and made

  a quick grab for those hind feet, but the cow was too quick for me. I

  had just got a slippery grasp when she made a single expulsive effort

  and pushed calf number two into the passage again. I was back where I


  Once more I put my hand against the wet little muzzle and began the

  painful process of repulsion. And as I fought against the big cow's

  straining I was reminded that it was 4 a.m. when none of us feels very

  strong. By the time I had worked the head back to the pelvic inlet I was

  feeling the beginning of that deadly creeping weakness and it seemed as

  though somebody had removed most of the bones from my arm.

  This time I took a few seconds to get my breath back before I made my

  dive for the feet, but it was no good. The cow beat me easily with a

  beautifully timed contraction Again that intruding head was jammed tight

  in the passage.

  I had had enough. And it occurred to me that the little creature inside

  must also be getting a little tired of this back and forth business. I

  shivered my way through the cold, empty shop out into the silent street

  and collected the local anaesthetic from the car. Eight cc's into the

  epidural space and the cow, its uterus completely numbed, lost all

  interest in the proceedings. In fact she pulled a little hay from her

  rack and began to chew absently.

  From then on it was like working inside a mail bag; whatever I pushed

  stayed put instead of surging back at me. The only snag was that once I

  had got everything straight there were no uterine contractions to help

  me. It was a case f pulling. Leaning back on a hind leg and with Mr.

  Dumbleby panting in agony on the other, the posterior presentation was

  soon delivered. He had ~inhaled a fair amount of placental fluid but I

  held him upside down till he had Cughed it up. When I laid him on the

  byre floor he shook his head vigorously and tried to sit up Then I had

  to go in after my old friend the second calf. He was Lying well inside

  now, apparently sulking. When I finally brought him snuffling and

  kicking into the light ~ " mind. will you."

  I couldn't have blamed him if he had said "Make up your Towelling my

  chest I looked with the sharp stab of pleasure I always felt at the two

  wet little animals wriggling on the floor as Mr. Dumbleby rubbed them

  down with a handful of straw.

  "Big 'uns for twins," the butcher muttered.

  Even this modest expression of approval surprised me and it seemed I

  might as well push things along a bit.

  "Yes, they're two grand calves. Twins are often dead when they're mixed

  up like that - good job we got them out alive." I paused a moment. "You

  know, those two must be worth a fair bit."

  Mr. Dumbleby didn't answer and I couldn't tell whether the shaft had

  gone home.

  I got dressed, gathered up my gear and followed him out of the byre and

  into the silent shop past the rows of beef cuts hanging from hooks, the

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