Let sleeping vets lie, p.23
Let Sleeping Vets Lie, p.23James Herriot
from trees, stalking them endlessly through the shrubbery. But from my
point of view it was rewarding in many ways.
For instance there was the diversity of names she had for her cats. True
to her London upbringing she had named many of the Toms after the great
Arsenal team of those days. There was Eddie Hapgood, Cliff Bastin, Ted
Drake, Will Copping, but she did slip up in one case because Alex James
had kittens three times a year with unfailing regularity.
Then there was her way of calling them home. The first time I saw her at
this was on a still summer evening. The two cats she wanted me to see
were out in the garden somewhere and I walked with her to the back door
where she halted, clasped her hands across her bosom, closed her eyes
and gave tongue in a mellifluous contralto.
"Bates, Bates, Bates, Ba-hates." She actually sang out the words in a
reverent monotone except for a delightful little lilt on the "Be-hates".
Then once more she inflated her ample rib cage like an operatic prima
donna and out it came again, delivered with the utmost feeling.
"Bates, Bates Bates, Ba-hates."
Anyway it worked, because Bates the cat came trotting from behind a
clump of laurel. There remained the other patient and I watched Mrs.
Bond with interest.
She took up the same stance, breathed in, closed her eyes, composed her
features into a sweet half-smile and started again.
"Seven-times-three, Seven-times-three, Seven-times-three-hee, It was set
t o the same melody as Bates with the same dulcet rise and fall at the
end. She didn't get the quick response this time, though, and had to go
through the performance again and again, and as the notes lingered on
the still evening air the effect was startlingly like a muezzin calling
the faithful to prayer.
At length she was successful and a fat tortoiseshell slunk
apologetically along the wall-side into the house.
"By the way, Mrs. Bond," I asked, making my voice casual. "I didn't
quite catch the name of that last cat."
"Oh, Seven-times-three?" She smiled reminiscently. "Yes, she is a dear.
She's had three kittens seven times running, you see, so I thought it
rather a good name for her, don't you?"
"Yes, yes, I do indeed. Splendid name, splendid."
Another thing which warmed me towards Mrs. Bond was her concern for my
safety. I appreciated this because it is a rare trait among animal
owners. I can think of the trainer after one of his racehorses had
kicked me clean out of a loose box examining the animal anxiously to see
if it had damaged its foot; the little old lady dwarfed by the
bristling, teeth-bared Alsatian saying: "You'll be gentle with him won't
you and I hope you won't hurt him - he's very nervous"; the . farmer,
after an exhausting calving which I feel certain has knocked about two
years off my life expectancy, grunting morosely: "I doubt you've tired
that cow out, young man."
Mrs. Bond was different. She used to meet me at the door with an
enormous pair of gauntlets to protect my hands against scratches and it
was an inexpressible relief to find that somebody cared. It became part
of the pattern of my life; walking up the garden path among the
innumerable slinking, wild-eyed little creatures which were the outside
cats, the ceremonial acceptance of the gloves at the door, then the
entry into the charged atmosphere of the kitchen with little Mr. Bond
and his newspaper just visible among the milling furry bodies of the
inside cats. I was never able to ascertain Mr. Bond's attitude to cats -
come to think of it he hardly ever said anything - but I had the
impression he could take . them or leave them.
The gauntlets were a big help and at times they were a veritable
godsend. As in the case of Boris. Boris was an enormous blue-black
member of the outside cats and my bete noire in more senses than one. I
always cherished a private conviction that he had escaped from a zoo; I
had never seen a domestic cat with, such sleek, writhing muscles, such
dedicated ferocity. I'm sure there was a bit of puma in Boris somewhere.
It had been a sad day for the cat colony when he turned up. I have
always found it difficult to dislike any animal; most of the ones which
try to do us a: mischief are activated by fear, but Boris was different;
he was a malevolent bully and after his arrival the frequency of my
visits increased because of his habit of regularly beating up his
colleagues. I was forever stitching up tattered ears, dressing gnawed
We had one trial of strength fairly early. Mrs. Bond wanted me to give
him a worm dose and I had the little tablet all ready held in forceps.
How I ever got hold of him I don't quite know, but I hustled him on to
the table and did my: wrapping act at lighting speed, swathing him in
roll upon roll of stout material.
; :1 , 1~ ,~
1 2 ~i Just for a few seconds I thought I had him as he stared up at me,
his great brilliant eyes full of hate. But as I pushed my loaded forceps
into his mouth he clamped his teeth viciously down on them and I could
feel claws of amazing power tearing inside the sheet. It was all over in
moments. A long leg shot out and ripped its way down my wrist, I let go
my tight hold of the neck and in a flash Boris sank his teeth through
the gauntlet into the ball of my thumb and was away. I was left standing
there stupidly, holding the fragmented worm tablet in a bleeding hand
and looking at the bunch of ribbons which had once been my wrapping
sheet. From then on Boris loathed the very sight of me and the feeling
But this was one of the few clouds in a serene sky. I continued to enjoy
my visits there and life proceeded on a tranquil course except, perhaps,
for some legpulling from my colleagues. They could never understand my
willingness to spend so much time over a.lot of cats. And of course this
fitted in with the general attitude because Siegfried didn't believe in
people keeping pets of any kind. He just couldn't understand their
mentality and propounded his views to anybody who cared to listen. He
himself, of course, kept five dogs and two cats. The dogs, all of them,
travelled everywhere with him in the car and he fed dogs and cats every
day with his own hands - wouldn't allow anybody else to do the job. In
the evening all seven animals would pile themselves round his feet as he
sat in his chair by the fire. To this day he is still as vehemently
anti-pet as ever, though another generation of waving dogs" tails almost
obscures him as he drives around and he also has several cats, a few
tanks of tropical fish and a couple of snakes.
Tristan saw me in action at Mrs. Bond's on only one occasion. I was
collecting some long forceps from the instrument cupboard when he came
into the room.
"Anything interesting, Jim?" he asked.
"No, not really. I'm just off to see one of the Bond cats. It's got a
bone stuck between its teeth."
The young man eyed me ruminatively for a moment. "Think I'll come wi
you. I haven't seen much small animal stuff lately."
As we went down the garden at the cat establishment I felt a twinge of
embarrassment. One of the things which had built up my happy
relationship with Mrs. Bond was my tender concern for her charges. Even
with the wildest and the fiercest I exhibited only gentleness, patience
and solicitude; it wasn't really an act, it came quite naturally to me.
However I couldn't help wondering what Tristan would think of my cat
Mrs. Bond in the doorway had summed up the situation in a flash and had
two pairs of gauntlets waiting. Tristan looked a little surprised as he
received his pair but thanked the lady with typical charm. He looked
still more surprised when he entered the kitchen, sniffed the rich
atmosphere and surveyed the masses of furry creatures occupying almost
every available inch of space.
"Mr. Herriot, I'm afraid it's Boris who has the bone in his teeth," Mrs.
"Boris!" My stomach lurched. "How on earth are we going to catch him?"
"Oh I've been rather clever," she replied. "I've managed to entice him
with some of his favourite food into a cat basket."
Tristan put his hand on a big wicker cage on the table. "In here, is
he?" he asked casually. He slipped back the catch and opened the lid.
For something like a third of a second the coiled creature within and
Tristan regarded each other tensely, then a sleek black body exploded
silently from the basket past the young man's left ear on to the top of
a tall cupboard.
"Christ!" said Tristan. "What the hell was that?" That" I said, 'was
Boris, and now we've got to get hold of him again." I climbed on to a
chair, reached slowly on to the cupboard top and started
"Puss-puss-puss'ing in my most beguiling tone.
After about a minute Tristan appeared to think he had a better idea; he
made a sudden leap and grabbed Boris's tail. But only briefly, because
the big cat freed himself in an instant and set off on a whirlwind
circuit of the room, along the tops of cupboards and dressers, across
the curtains, careering round and round like a wall of death rider.
Tristan stationed himself at a strategic point and as Boris shot past he
swiped at him with one of the gauntlets.
"Missed the bloody thing!" he shouted in chagrin. "But here he comes
again ... take that, you black sod! Damn it, I can't nail him!"
The docile little inside cats, startled by the scattering of plates and
tins and pans and by Tristan's cries and arm wavings, began to run
around in their turn, knocking over whatever Boris had missed. The noise
and confusion even got through to Mr. Bond because just for a moment he
raised his head and looked around him in mild surprise at the hurtling
bodies before returning to his newspaper.
Tristan, flushed with the excitement of the chase had really begun to
enjoy himself. I cringed inwardly as he shouted over to me happily.
"Send him on, Jim, I'll get the bugger next time round!"
We never did catch Boris. We just had to leave the piece of bone to work
its own way out, so it wasn't a successful veterinary visit. But Tristan
as we got back into the car smiled contentedly.
"That was great, Jim. I didn't realise you had such fun with your
Mrs. Bond on the other hand, when I next saw her, was rather
tight-lipped over the whole thing.
"Mr. Herriot," she said, "I hope you aren't going to bring that young
man with you again.
I always liked having a student with us. These young men had to see at
least six months" practice on their way through college and most of
their vacations were spent going round with a vet.
We, of course, had our own resident student in Tristan but he was in a
different category. I often envied him his remarkable brain because he
didn't have to be taught anything - he seemed to know things, to absorb
knowledge without apparent effort or indeed without showing interest. If
you took Tristan to a case he usually spent his time on the farm sitting
in the car reading his Daily Mirror and smoking Woodbines.
There were all types among the others the towns, some dull-witted, some
bright some from the country some from - but as I say, I liked having
For one thing they were good company in the car. A big part of a country
vet's life consists of solitary driving and it was a relief to be able
to talk to somebody. It was wonderful, too, to have a gate-opener. Some
of the Outlying farms were approached through long, gated roads - one
which always struck terror into me had eight gates - and it is hard to
convey the feeling of sheer luxury when somebody else leaped out and
And there was another little pleasure; asking the students questions. My
own days of studying and examinations were still fresh in my memory and
on top of that I had all the vast experience of nearly three years of
practice. It gave me a feeling of power to drop casual little queries
about the cases we saw and watch the lads squirm as I had so recently
squirmed myself. I suppose that even in those early days I was forming a
pattern for later life; unknown to myself I was falling in to the way of
asking a series of my own pet questions as all examiners are liable to
do and many years later I overhead one youngster asking another: "Has he
grilled you on the causes of fits in calves yet? Don't worry, he will."
That made me feel suddenly old but there was compensation on another
occasion when a newly qualified ex-student rushed up to me and offered
to buy me all the beer I could drink. "You know what the examiner asked
me in the final oral ?
The causes of fits in calves! By God I paralysed him - he had to beg me
to stop talking."
And students were useful in other ways. They ran and got things out of
the car boot, they pulled a rope at carvings, they were skilled
assistants at operations, they were a repository for my worries and
doubts; it isn't too much to say that during their brief visits they
revolutionised my life.
So this Easter I waited on the platform of Darrowby station with
pleasant anticipation. This lad had been recommended by one of the
Ministry officials. "A really first class chap. Final year London
several times gold medallist. He's seen mixed and town practice and
thought he ought to have a look at some of the real rural stuff. I said
I'd give you a ring. His name is Richard Carmody."
Veterinary students came in a variety of shapes and sizes but there were
a few features most of them had in common and I already had a mental
picture of an eager-faced lad in tweed jacket and rumpled slacks
carrying a rucksack. He would probably jump on to the platform as soon
as the train drew up. But this time there was no immediate sign of life
and a porter had begun to load a stack of egg boxes into the guard's van
before one of the compartment doors opened and a tall figure descended
in leisurely manner.
I was doubtfu
walked over, held out a hand and surveyed me with a level gaze.
"Yes ... er ... yes. That's right."
"My name is Carmody."
"Ah yes, good. How are you?" We shook hands and I took in the fine check
suit and tweedy hat, the shining brogues and pigskin case. This was a
very superior student, in fact a highly impressive young man. About a
couple of years younger than myself but with a mature air in the set of
his broad shoulders and the assurance on his strong, high-coloured face.
I led him across the bridge out on to the station yard. He didn't
actually raise his eyebrows when he saw my car but he shot a cold glance
at the mud-spattered vehicle, at the cracked windscreen and smooth
tyres; and when I opened the door for him I thought for a moment he was
going to wipe the seat before sitting down.
At the surgery I showed him round. I was only the assistant but I was
proud of our modest set-up and most people were impressed by their first
sight of it. But Carmody said "Hm", in the little operating room, "Yes,
I see," in the dispensary, and "Quite" at the instrument cupboard. In
the stockroom he was more forthcoming. He reached out and touched a
packet of our beloved Adrevan worm medicine for horses.
"Still using this stuff, eh?" he said with a faint smile.
He didn't go into any ecstasies but he did show signs of approval when I
took him out through the french windows into the long, high-walled
garden where the daffodils glowed among the unkempt tangle and the
Let Sleeping Vets Lie by James Herriot / Humor / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes