It shouldnt happen to a.., p.5
It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet, p.5James Herriot
skin," he said lightly and seized a two pound carton. He poised for a
moment over the wound then began to dispense the powder with extravagant
jerks of the wrist. A considerable amount did go into the wound but much
more floated over other parts of the horse, over me, over the
buttercups, and a particularly wayward flick obscured the sweating face
of the man on the foot rope. When he had finished coughing he looked
very like Coco the clown.
Siegfried completed the closure of the skin, using several yards of
silk, and when he stood back and surveyed the tidy result I could see he
was in excellent humour.
"Well now, that's fine. A young horse like that will heal in no time.
Shouldn't be surprised if it doesn't even leave a mark."
He came over and addressed me as I washed the instruments in the bucket.
"Sorry I pushed you out like that, James, but honestly I couldn't think
what had come over you - you were like an old hen. You know it looks bad
trying to work with piddling little amounts of materials. One has to
operate with a certain ... well ... panache, if I can put it that way,
and you just can't do that if you stint yourself."
I finished washing the instruments) dried them off and laid them on the
enamel tray. Then I lifted the tray and set off for the gate at the end
of the field. Siegfried, walking alongside me, laid his hand on my
shoulder. "Mind you, don't think I'm blaming you, James. It's probably
your Scottish upbringing. And don't misunderstand me, this same
upbringing has inculcated in you so many of the qualities I admire
integrity, industry, loyalty. But I'm sure you will be the first to
admit," and here he stopped and wagged a finger at me 'that you Scots
sometimes overdo the thrift." He gave a light laugh. "So remember,
James, don't be too - er - canny when you are operating."
I measured him up. If I dropped the tray quickly I felt sure I could
fell him with a right hook.
Siegfried went on. "But I know I don't have to ramble on at you, James.
You always pay attention to what I say, don't you."
I tucked the tray under my arm and set off again. "Yes," I replied. "I
do. Every single time."
"I can see you like pigs," said Mr. Worley as I edged my way into the
"Oh yes, I can always tell. As soon as you went in there nice and quiet
and scratched Queenie's back and spoke to her I said "There's a young
man as likes pigs"."
"Oh good. Well, as a matter of fact you're absolutely right. I do like
pigs." I had, in truth, been creeping very cautiously past Queenie,
wondering just how she was going to react. She was a huge animal and
sows with litters can be very hostile to strangers. When I had come into
the building she had got up from where she was suckling her piglets and
eyed me with a non-committal grunt, reminding me of the number of times
I had left a pig pen a lot quicker than I had gone in. A big, barking,
gaping-mouthed sow has always been able to make me move very smartly.
Now that I was right inside the narrow pen, Queenie seemed to have
accepted me. She grunted again, but peaceably, then carefully collapsed
on the straw and |
exposed her udder to the eager little mouths. When she was in this
position I was able to examine her foot. I "Aye, that's the one," Mr.
Worley said anxiously. "She could hardly hobble ~ when she got up this
morning." I There didn't seem to be much wrong. A flap of the horn of
one claw was a |
bit overgrown and was rubbing on the sensitive sole, but we didn't
usually get called out for little things like that. I cut away the
overgrown part and dressed the sore place with our multi-purpose
ointment, ung pini sedativom, while all the time Mr. Worley knelt by
Queenie's head and patted her and sort of crooned into her ear. I
couldn't make out the words he used - maybe it was pig language because
the sow really seemed to be answering him with little soft grunts.
Anyway, it worked better than an anaesthetic and everybody was happy
including the long row of piglets working busily at the double line of
"Right, Mr. Worley." I straightened up and handed him the jar of ung
pint. "Keep rubbing in a little of that twice a day and I think she'll
be sound in no time.
"Thank ye, thank ye, I'm very grateful." He shook my hand vigorously as
though I had saved the animal's life. "I'm very glad to meet you for the
first time, Mr. Herriot. I've know Mr. Farnon for a year or two, of
course, and I think a bit about him. Loves pigs does that man, loves
them. And his young brother's been here once or twice - I reckon he's
fond of pigs, too."
"Devoted to them, Mr. Worley."
"Ah yes, I thought so. I can always tell." He regarded me for a while
with a moist eye, then smiled, well satisfied.
We went out into what was really the back yard of an inn. Because Mr.
Worley wasn't a regular farmer, he was the landlord of the Langthorpe
Falls Hotel and his precious livestock were crammed into what had once
been the stables and coach houses of the inn. They were all Tamworths
and whichever door you opened you found yourself staring into the eyes
of ginger-haired pigs;
L there were a few porkers and the odd one being fattened for bacon but
Mr. Worley's pride was his sows. He had six of them - Queenie, Princess,
Ruby, Marigold, Delilah and Primrose.
For years expert farmers had been assuring Mr. Worley that he'd never do
any good with his sows. If you were going in for breeding, they said,
you had to have proper premises; it wasn't a bit of use shoving sows
into converted buildings like his. And for years Mr. Worley's sows had
responded by producing litters of unprecedented size and raising them
with tender care. They were all good mothers and didn't savage their
families or crush them clumsily under their bodies so it turned out with
uncanny regularity that at the end of eight weeks Mr. Worley had around
twelve chunky weaners to take to market.
It must have spoiled the farmers' beer - none of them could equal that,
and the pill was all the more bitter because the landlord had come from
the industrial West Riding - Halifax, I think it was - a frail,
short-sighted little retired newsagent with no agricultural background.
By all the laws he just didn't have a chance.
Leaving the yard we came on to the quiet loop of road where my car was
parked. Just beyond, the road dipped steeply into a tree-lined ravine
where the Darrow hurled itself over a great broken shelf of rock in its
passage to the lower Dale. I couldn't see down there from where I was
standing, but I could hear the faint roar of the water and could picture
the black cliff lifting sheer from the boiling river and on the other
bank the gentle slope of turf where people from the towns came to sit
and look in wonder.
Some of them were here now. A big, shiny car had drawn up and its
occupants were disembarking. The driver, sleek, fat and impressive,
strolled towards us and called out: "We would like some tea."
Mr. Worley swung round on him. "And you can 'ave some, maister, but when
I'm ready. I have some very important business with this gentleman." He
turned his back on the man and began to ask me for final instructions
about Queenie's foot.
I he man was obviously taken aback and I couldn't blame him. It seemed
to me that Mr. Worley might have shown a little more tact - after all
serving food and drink was his living - but as I came to know him better
I realised that his pigs came first and everything else was an
Knowing Mr. Worley better had its rewards. The time when I feel most
like a glass of beer is not in the evening when the pubs are open but at
around four-thirty on a hot afternoon after wrestling with young cattle
in some stifling cow-shed. It was delightful to retire, sweating and
weary, to the shaded sanctuary of Mr. Worley's back kitchen and sip at
the bitter ale, cool, frothing, straight from the cellar below.
The smooth working of the system was facilitated by the attitude of the
local constable, P.C. Dalloway, a man whose benign disposition and
elastic interpretation of the licensing laws had made him deeply
respected in the district. Occasionally he joined us, took off his
uniform jacket and, in shirt and braces, consumed a pint with a massive
dignity which was peculiar to him.
But mostly Mr. Worley and I were on our own and when he had brought the
tall jug up from the cellar he would sit down and say "Well now, let's
have a piggy talk!" His use of this particular phrase made me wonder if
perhaps he had some humorous insight into his obsessive preoccupation
with the porcine species. Maybe he had but for all that our
conversations seemed to give him the deepest pleasure.
We talked about erysipelas and swine fever, brine poisoning and
paratyphoid, the relative merits of dry and wet mash, while pictures of
his peerless sows with their show rosettes looked down at us from the
On one occasion, in the middle of a particularly profound discussion on
the ventilation of farrowing houses Mr. Worley stopped suddenly and,
blinking rapidly behind his thick spectacles, burst out:
"You know, Mr. Herriot, sitting here talking like this with you, I'm
'appy as king of England."
His devotion resulted in my being called out frequently for very trivial
things and I swore freely under my breath when I heard his voice on the
other end of the line at one o'clock one morning.
"Marigold pigged this afternoon, Mr. Herriot, and I don't think she's
got much milk. Little pigs look very hungry to me. Will you come."
I groaned my way out of bed and downstairs and through the long garden
to the yard. By the time I had got the car out into the lane I had begun
to wake up and when I rolled up to the inn was able to greet Mr. Worley
But the poor man did not respond. In the light from the oil lamp his
face was haggard with worry.
"I hope you can do something quick. I'm real upset about her - she's
just laid there doing nothin' end it's such a lovely litter. Fourteen
I could understand his concern as I looked into the pen. Marigold was
stretched motionless on her side while the tiny piglets swarmed around
her udder; they were rushing from teat to teat, squealing and falling
over each other in their desperate quest for nourishment. And the little
bodies had the narrow, empty look which meant they had nothing in their
stomachs. I hated to see a litter die off from sheer starvation but it
could happen so easily. There came a time when they stopped trying to
suck and began to lie about the pen. After that it was hopeless.
Crouching behind the sow with my thermometer in her rectum I looked
along the swelling flank, the hair a rich copper red in the light from
the lamp. "Did she eat anything tonight."
"Aye, cleaned up just as usual."
The thermometer reading was normal. I began to run my hands along the
udder, pulling in turn at the teats. The ravenous piglets caught at my
fingers with their sharp teeth as I pushed them to one side but my
efforts failed to produce a drop of milk. The udder seemed full, even
engorged, but I was unable to get even a bead down to the end of the
"There's nowt there, is there?" Mr. Worley whispered anxiously.
I straightened up and turned to him "This is simply agalactia. There's
no mastitis and Marigold isn't really ill, but there's something
interfering with the let-down mechanism of the milk. She's got plenty of
milk and there's an injection which ought to bring it down."
I tried to keep the triumphant look off my face as I spoke, because this
was one of my favourite party tricks. There is a flavour of magic in the
injection of pituitrin in these cases; it works within a minute and
though no skill is required the effect is spectacular.
Marigold didn't complain as I plunged in the needle and administered 3
c.c. deep into the muscle of her thigh. She was too busy conversing with
her owner - they were almost nose to nose, exchanging soft pig noises.
After I had put away my syringe and listened for a few moments to the
cooing sounds from the front end I thought it might be time. Mr. Worley
looked up in surprise as I reached down again to the udder.
"What are you doing now."
"Having a feel to see if the milk's come down ye."
"Why damn, it can't be! You've only just given t'stuff and she's bone
Oh, this was going to be good. A roll of drums would be appropriate at
this moment. With finger and thumb I took hold of one of the teats at
the turgid it, I i l i !
l ., .1
back end of the udder. I suppose it is a streak of exhibitionism in me
which always makes me send the jet of milk spraying against the opposite
wall in these circumstances; this time I thought it would be more
impressive if I directed my shot past the innkeeper's left ear, but I
got my trajectory wrong and sprinkled his spectacles instead.
He took them off and wiped them slowly as if he couldn't believe what he
had seen. Then he bent over and tried for himself.
"It's a miracle!" he cried as the milk spouted eagerly over his hand.
"I've never seen owl like it."
It didn't take the little pigs long to catch on. Within a few seconds
they had stopped their fighting and squealing and settled down in a
long, silent row. Their utterly rapt expressions all told the same story
- they were going to make up for lost time.
I went into the kitchen to wash my hands and was using the towel hanging
behind the door when I noticed something odd; there was a subdued hum of
conversation, the low rumble of many voices. It seemed unusual in a pub
at 2 a.m. and I looked through the partly open door into the bar. The
place was crowded. In the light of a single weak electri
see a row of men drinking at the counter while others sat behind foaming
pint pots on the wooden settles against the walls.
Mr. Worley grinned as I turned to him in surprise.
"Didn't expect to see this lot, did you? Well, I'll tell you, the real
drinkers don't come in till after closing time. Aye, it's a rum 'un
every night I lock front door and these lads come in the back."
I pushed my head round the door for another look. It was a kind of
rogue's gallery of Darrowby. All the dubious characters in the town
seemed to be gathered in that room; the names which regularly enlivened
the columns of the weekly newspaper with their activities. Drunk and
disorderly, non-payment of rates, wife-beating, assault and battery - I
could almost see the headings as I went from face to face.
I had been spotted. Beery cries of welcome rang out and I was suddenly
conscious that all eyes were fixed on me in the smoky atmosphere. Above
the rest a voice said "Are you going to have a drink?" What I wanted
most was to get back to my bed, but it wouldn't look so good just to
close the door and go. I went inside and over to the bar. I seemed to
have plenty of friends there and within seconds was in the centre of a
merry group with a pint glass in my hand.
My nearest neighbour was a well-known Darrowby worthy called Gobber
Newhouse, an enormously fat man who had always seemed able to get
through life without working at all. He occupied his time with drinking,
brawling and gambling. At the moment he was in a mellow mood and his
huge, sweating face, pushed close to mine, was twisted into a comradely
"Nah then, Herriot, ow's dog trade?" he enquired courteously.
I had never heard my profession described in this way and was wondering
how to answer when I noticed that the company were looking at me
expectantly. Mr. Worley's niece who served behind the bar was looking at
me expectantly too.
"Six pints of best bitter - six shillings please," she said, clarifying
I fumbled the money from my pocket. Obviously my first impression that
somebody had invited me to have a drink with them had been mistaken.
Looking round the faces, there was no way of telling who had called out,
and as the beer disappeared, the group round the bar thinned out like
magic; the members just drifted away as though by accident till I found
myself alone. I was no longer an object of interest and nobody paid any
attention as I drained my glass and left.
The glow from the pig pen showed through the darkness of the yard and as
I crossed over, the soft rumble of pig and human voices told me that Mr.
Worley was still talking things over with his sow. He looked up as I
came in and his face in the dim light was ecstatic.
"Mr. Herriot," he whispered. "Isn't that a beautiful sight."
He pointed to the little pigs who were Lying motionless in a layered
heap, sprawled over each other without plan or pattern, eyes tightly
closed, stomachs bloated with Marigold's bountiful fluid.
"It is indeed," I said, prodding the sleeping mass with my finger but
getting no response beyond the lazy opening of an eye. "You'd have to go
a long way to beat it."
And I did share his pleasure; it was one of the satisfying little jobs.
Climbing into the car I felt that the nocturnal visit had been worth
while even though I had been effortlessly duped into buying a round with
no hope of reciprocation. Not that I wanted to drink any more - my
stomach wasn't used to receiving pints of ale at 2 a.m. and a few
whimpers of surprise and indignation were already coming up - but I was
just a bit ruffled by the offhand, professional way those gentlemen in
the tap room had handled me.
But, winding my way home through the empty, moonlit roads, I was unaware
It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet by James Herriot / Humor have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes