It shouldnt happen to a.., p.2
It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet, p.2James Herriot
its height while you're about it; you'll find the measuring stick in ..
His words trailed on as I hurried down the passage. This was a bit
baffling; I usually had a bit of leg-pulling to stand ever since I
became Tricki the Peke's adopted uncle and received regular presents and
letters and signed photographs from him, but Siegfried wasn't in the
habit of flogging the joke to this extent. The idea of Mrs. Pumphrey
with a pig was unthinkable; there was no room in her elegant
establishment for livestock. Oh, he must have got it wrong somehow.
But he hadn't. Mrs.-Pumphrey received me with a joyful cry. "Oh, Mr.
Herriot, isn't it wonderful! I have the most darling little pig. I was
visiting some cousins who are farmers and I picked him out. He will be
such company for Tricki you know how I worry about his being an only
I shook my head vigorously in bewilderment as I crossed the oak-panelled
hall. My visits here were usually associated with a degree of fantasy
but I was beginning to feel out of my depth.
"You mean you actually have this pig in the house."
"But of course." Mrs. Pumphrey looked surprised. "He's in the kitchen.
Come and see him."
I had been in this kitchen a few times and had been almost awestruck by
its shining spotlessness; the laboratory look of the tiled walls and
floors, the gleaming surfaces of sink unit, cooker, refrigerator. Today,
a cardboard box occupied one corner and inside I could see a tiny pig;
standing on his hind legs, his forefeet resting on the rim, he was
looking round him appreciatively at his new surroundings.
The elderly cook had her back to us and did not look round when we
entered; she was chopping carrots and hurling them into a saucepan with,
I thought, unnecessary vigour.
"Isn't he adorable!" Mrs. Pumphrey bent over and tickled the little
head. "It's so exciting having a pig of my very own! Mr. Herriot, I have
decided to call him Nugent."
I swallowed. "Nugent?" The cook's broad back froze into immobility.
"Yes, after my great uncle Nugent. He was a little pink man with tiny
eyes and a snub nose. The resemblance is striking."
"I see," I said, and the cook started her splashing again.
For a few moments I was at a loss; the ethical professional man in me
rebelled at the absurdity of examining this obviously healthy little
creature. In fact I was on the point of saying that he looked perfectly
all right to me when Mrs. Pumphrey spoke.
"Come now, Nugent," she said, "You must be a good boy and let your Uncle
Herriot look at you."
That did it. Stifling my finer feelings I seized the string-like tail
and held Nugent almost upside down as I took his temperature. I then
solemnly auscultated his heart and lungs, peered into his eyes, ran my
fingers over his limbs and flexed his joints.
The cook's back radiated stiff disapproval but I carried on doggedly.
Having a canine nephew, I had found, carried incalculable advantages; it
wasn't only the frequent gifts - and I could still taste the glorious
kippers Tricki had posted to me from Whitby - it was the vein of
softness in my rough life, the sherry before lunch, the warmth and
luxury of Mrs. Pumphrey's fireside. The way I saw it, if a piggy nephew
of the same type had been thrown in my path then Uncle Herriot was going
to be the last man to interfere with the inscrutable workings of fate.
The examination over, I turned to Mrs. Pumphrey who was anxiously
awaiting the verdict. "Sound in all respects," I said briskly. "In fact
you've got a very fine pig there. But there's just one thing - he can't
live in the house."
For the first time the cook turned towards me and I read a mute appeal
in her face. I could sympathise with her because the excretions of the
pig are peculiarly volatile and even such a minute specimen as Nugent
had already added his own faint pungency to the atmosphere in the
Mrs. Pumphrey was appalled at the idea at first but when I assured her
that he wouldn't catch pneumonia and in fact would be happier and
healthier outside, she gave way.
An agricultural joiner was employed to build a palatial sty in a corner
of the garden; it had a warm sleeping apartment on raised boards and an
outside run. I saw Nugent installed in it, curled up blissfully in a bed
of clean straw. His trough was filled twice daily with the best meal and
he was never short of an extra titbit such as a juicy carrot or some
cabbage leaves. Every day he was allowed out to play and spent a
boisterous hour frisking round the garden with Tricki.
In short, Nugent had it made, but it couldn't have happened to a nicer
pig; because, though most of his species have an unsuspected strain of
friendliness, this was developed in Nugent to an extraordinary degree.
He just liked people and over the next few months his character flowered
under the constant personal contact with humans.
I often saw him strolling companionably in the garden with Mrs. Pumphrey
and in his pen he spent much of the time standing upright with his
cloven feet against the wire netting, waiting eagerly for his next
visitor. Pigs grow quickly and he soon left the pink baby stage behind,
but his charm was undiminished. His chief delight was to have his back
scratched; he would grunt deeply, screwing up his eyes in ecstasy, then
gradually his legs would start to buckle until finally he toppled over
on his side.
Nugent's existence was sunny and there was only one cloud in the sky;
old Hodgkin, the gardener, whose attitude to domestic pets had been
permanently soured by having to throw rubber rings for Tricki every day,
now found himself appointed personal valet to a pig. It was his duty to
feed and bed down Nugent and to supervise his play periods. The idea of
doing all this for a pig who was never ever going to be converted into
pork pies must have been nearly insupportable for the old countryman;
the harsh lines on his face deepened whenever he took hold of the meal
On the first of my professional visits to his charge he greeted me
gloomily with "Haste come to see Nudist?" I knew Hodgkin well enough to
realise the impossibility of any whimsical word-play; it was a genuine
attempt to grasp the name and throughout my nephew's long career he
remained "Nudist' to the old man.
There is one memory of Nugent which I treasure. The telephone rang one
day just after lunch; it was Mrs. Pumphrey and I knew by the stricken
voice that something momentous had happened; it was the same voice which
had described Tricki Woo's unique symptoms of flop-bott and crackerdog.
"Oh, Mr. Herriot, thank heavens you are in. It's Nugent! I'm afraid he's
"Really? I'm sorry to hear that. What's he doing."
There was a silence at the other end except for gasping breathing then
Mrs. Pumphrey spoke again. "Well, he can't manage ... he can't do ...
do his little Jobs."
I was fam
mean he can't pass his urine."
... " ... ~we~ she was obviously confused. Not properly."
"That's strange," I said..'ls he eating all right."
"I think so, but ..." then she suddenly blurted out: "Oh, Mr. Herriot,
I'm so terribly worried! I've heard of men being dreadfully ill .. just
like this. It's a gland, isn't it."
"Oh, you needn't worry about that. Pigs don't have that trouble and
anyway, I think four months is a bit young for hypertrophy of the
"Oh, I'm so glad, but something is ... stopping it. You will come, won't
"I'm leaving now."
I had quite a long wait outside Nugent's pen. He had grown into a chunky
little porker and grunted amiably as he surveyed me through the netting.
Clearly he expected some sort of game and, growing impatient, he
performed a few stiff-legged little gallops up and down the run.
I had almost decided that my visit was fruitless when Mrs. Pumphrey, who
had been pacing up and down, wringing her hands, stopped dead and
pointed a shaking finger at the pig.
"Oh (God," she breathed. "There! There! There it is now!" All the colour
had drained from her face leaving her deathly pale. "Oh, it's awful! I
can't look any longer." With a moan she turned away and buried her face
in her hands.
I scrutinised Nugent closely. He had halted in mid gallop and was
contentedly relieving himself by means of the intermittent spurting jets
of the normal male Pig I turned to Mrs. Pumphrey. "I really can't see
anything wrong there."
"But he's ... he's ... 'she still didn't dare to look. "He's doing it
in ... in fits and starts."
I had had considerable practice at keeping a straight face in Mrs.
Pumphrey's presence and it stood me in good stead now.
"But they all do it that way, Mrs. Pumphrey."
She half turned and looked tremblingly out of the corner of her eye at
Nugent. "You mean ... all boy pigs ..."
"Every single boy pig I have ever known has done it like that."
"Oh ... Oh ... how odd, how very odd." The poor lady fanned herself with
her handkerchief. Her colour had come back in a positive flood.
To cover her confusion I became very business-like. "Yes, yes indeed.
Lots of people make the same mistake, I assure you. Ah well, I suppose
I'd better be on my way now - it's been nice to see the little fellow
looking so well and happy."
Nugent enjoyed a long and happy life and more than fulfilled my
expectations of him; he was every bit as generous as Tricki with his
presents and, as with the little Peke, I was able to salve my conscience
with the knowledge that I was really fond of him. As always, Siegfried's
sardonic attitude made things a little uncomfortable; I had suffered in
the past when I got the signed photographs from the little dog - but I
never dared let him see the one from the pig.
~: l , .
Angus Grier MRCVS was never pretty to look at, but the sight of him
propped up in bed, his mottled, pop-eyed face scowling above a pink
quilted bed jacket was enough to daunt the bravest. Especially at eight
in the morning when I usually had the first of my daily audiences with
"You're late again," he said, his voice grating. "Can ye no' get out of
your bed in the morning? I've told you till I'm tired that I want ye out
on the road by eight o'clock."
As I mumbled apologies he tugged fretfully at the counterpane and looked
me up and down with deepening distaste. "And another thing, that's a
terrible pair o' breeches you're wearing. If you must wear breeches to
your work, for heaven's sake go and get a pair made at a proper tailor.
There's nae cut about those things at all - they're not fit to be worn
by a veterinary surgeon."
The knife really went in then. I was attached to those breeches. I had
paid thirty shillings for them at the Army and Navy Stores and cherished
a private conviction that they gave me a certain air. And Grier's attack
on them was all the more wounding when I considered that the man was
almost certainly getting my services free; Siegfried, I felt sure, would
wave aside any offers of payment.
I had been here a week and it seemed like a lifetime. Somewhere, far
back, I knew, there had been a brighter, happier existence but the
memory was growing dim. Siegfried had been sincerely apologetic that
morning back in Darrowby.
"James, I have a letter here from Grier of Brawton. It seems he was
castrating a colt and the thing threw itself on top of him; he has a
couple of cracked ribs. Apparently his assistant walked out on him
recently, so there's nobody to run his practice. He wants me to send you
along there for a week or two."
"Oh no! There's a mistake somewhere. He doesn't like me."
"He doesn't like anybody. But there's no mistake, it's down here - and
honestly, what can I do."
"But the only time I met him he worked me into a horrible rubber suit
and made me look a.right chump."
Siegfried smiled sadly. "I remember, James, I remember. He's a mean old
devil and I hate to do this to you, but I can't turn him down, can I."
At the time I couldn't believe it. The whole idea was unreal. But it was
real enough now as I stood at the foot of Grier's bed listening to him
ranting away. He was at me again.
"Another thing - my wife tells me you didna eat your porridge. Did you
not like it."
I shuffled my feet. "Oh yes, it was very nice. I just didn't feel hungry
this morning." I had pushed the tasteless mass about with my spoon and
done my best with it but it had defeated me in the end.
"There's something wrong with a man that canna eat his good food." Grier
peered at me suspiciously then held out a slip of paper. "Here's a list
of your visits for this morning. There's a good few so you'll no' have
to waste your time getting round. This one here of Adamson's of Grenton
- a prolapse of the cervix | in a cow. What would you do about that,
think ye?" I I put my hand in my pocket, got hold of my pipe then
dropped it back again.
Grier didn't like smoking. I "Well, I'd give her an epidural
anaesthetic, replace the prolapse and fasten it with retention sutures
through the vulva."
"Havers, man, havers!" snorted Grier. "What a lot of twaddle. There's no
need for a' that. It'll just be constipation that's doing.it Push the
thing back, build the cow up with some boards under her hind feer and
put her on to linseed oil for a few days."
"Surely it'll come out again if I don't stitch it in?" I said.
"Na, na, na, not at all," Grier cried angrily. "Just you do as I tell
you now. I ken more about this than you."
He probably did. He should, anyway - he had been qualified for thirty
years and I was starting my second. I looked at him glowering from his
pillow and pondered for a moment on the strange fact of our
uncomfortable relationship. A Yorkshireman listening to the two
might have expected that some sort of rapport would exist between us, if
only on national grounds. But there was none.
"Right, just as you say." I left the room and went downstairs to gather
up my equipment.
As I set off on the round I had the same feeling as every morning relief
at getting out of the house. I had had to go flat out all week to get
through the work but I had enjoyed it. Farmers are nearly always
prepared to make allowances for a young man's inexperience and Grier's
clients had treated me kindly, but I still had to come back to that
joyless establishment for meals and it was becoming more and more
Mrs. Grier bothered me just as much as her husband. She was a
tight-lipped woman of amazing thinness and she kept a spartan board in
which soggy porridge figured prominently. It was porridge for breakfast,
porridge for supper and, in between, a miserable procession of watery
stews, anaemic mince and nameless soups. Nothing she cooked ever tasted
of anything. Angus Grier had come to Yorkshire thirty years ago, a
penniless Scot just like myself, and acquired a lucrative practice by
the classical expedient of marrying the boss's daughter; so he got a
good living handed to him on a plate, but he also got Mrs. Grier.
It seemed to me that she felt she was still in charge - probably because
she had always lived in this house with its memories of her father who
had built up the practice. Other people would seem like interlopers and
I could understand how she felt; after all, she was childless, she
didn't have much of a life and she had Angus Grier for a husband. I
could feel sorry for her.
But that didn't help because I just couldn't get her out of my hair; she
hung over my every move like a disapproving spectre. When I came back
from a round she was always there with a barrage of questions. "Where
have you been all this time?" or "I wondered wherever you'd got to, were
you lost?'or "There's an urgent case waiting. Why are you always so
slow?" Maybe she thought I'd nipped into a cinema for an hour or two.
There was a pretty full small animal surgery every night and she had a
nasty habit of lurking just outside the door so that she could listen to
what I was saying to the clients. She really came into her own in the
dispensary where she watched me narrowly, criticising my prescriptions
and constantly pulling me up for being extravagant with the drugs.
"You're putting in far too much chlorodyne - don't you know it's very
I developed a deep sympathy for the assistant who had fled without
warning; jobs were hard to come by and young graduates would stand
nearly anything just to be at work, but I realised that there had been
no other choice for that shadowy figure.
Adamson's place was a small-holding on the edge of the town and maybe it
was because I had just been looking at Grier but by contrast the
farmer's lined, patient face and friendly eyes seemed extraordinarily
warming and attractive. A ragged khaki smock hung loosely on his gaunt
frame as he shook hands with me.
"Now then, we've got a new man today, have we?" He looked me over for a
second or two. "And by the look of you you're pretty fresh to t'job."
"That's right," I replied. "But I'm learning fast."
Mr. Adamson smiled. "Don't worry about that, lad. I believe in new blood
and new ideas - it's what we want in farming. We've stood still too long
at this game. Come into t'byre and I'll show you the cow."
There were about a dozen cows, not the usual Shorthorns but Ayrshires,
and they were obviously well kept and healthy. My patient was easy to
pick out by the football-sized rose-pink protrusion of the vaginal wall
It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet by James Herriot / Humor have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes