It shouldnt happen to a.., p.8
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       It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet, p.8

           James Herriot
 
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  "Look, we're getting nowhere," I said. "I've got a lot of other work

  waiting for me. Isn't there anything more we can do."

  The farmer stamped down the twist with his thumb, drew deeply and

  pleasurably a few times then looked at me with mild surprise. "Well,

  let's see. We could bring a dog out but I don't know as he'll be much

  good. He's nobbut a young 'un."

  He sauntered back to the farmhouse and opened a door. A shaggy cur

  catapulted out, barking in delight, and Mr. Kay brought him over to the

  field. "Get away by!" he cried gesturing towards the cattle who had

  resumed their grazing and the dog streaked behind them. I really began

  to hope as we went up the hill with the hairy little figure darting in,

  nipping at the heels, but at the barn the rot set in again. I could see

  the heifers beginning to sense the inexperience of the dog and one of

  them managed to kick him briskly under the chin as he came in. The

  little animal yelped and his tail went down. He stood ~i l ~1

  uncertainly, looking at the beasts, advancing on him now, shaking their

  horns threateningly, then he seemed to come to a decision and slunk

  away. The young cattle went after him at increasing speed and in a

  moment I was looking at the extraordinary spectacle of the dog going

  flat out down the hill with the heifers drumming close behind him. At

  the foot he disappeared under a gate and we saw him no more.

  Something seemed to give way in my head. "Oh God," I yelled, 'we're

  never going to get these damn things tested! I'll just have to leave

  them. I don't know what the Ministry is going to say, but I've had

  enough."

  The farmer looked at me ruminatively. He seemed to recognise that I was

  at breaking point. "Aye, it's no good," he said, tapping his pipe out on

  his heel. "We'll have to get Sam."

  "Sam ."

  "Aye, Sam Broadbent. Works for me neighbour. He'll get 'em in all

  right."

  How's he going to do that."

  "Oh, he can imitate a fly."

  For a moment my mind reeled. "Did you say imitate a fly."

  "That's right. A warble fly, the knows. He's a bit slow is t'lad but by

  gaw he can imitate a fly. I'll go and get him - he's only two fields

  down the road."

  I watched the farmer's retreating back in disbelief then threw myself

  down on the ground. At any other time I would have enjoyed Lying there

  on the slope with the sun on my face and the grass cool against my

  sweating back; the air was still and heavy with the fragrance of clover

  and when I opened my eyes the gentle curve of the valley floor was a

  vision of peace. But my mind was a turmoil. I had a full day's Ministry

  work waiting for me and I was an hour behind time already. I could

  picture the long succession of farmers waiting for me and cursing me

  heartily. The tension built in me till I could stand it no longer; I

  jumped to my feet and ran down to the gate at the foot. I could see

  along the road from there and was relieved to find that Mr. Kay was on

  his way back.

  Just behind him a large, fat man was riding slowly on a very small

  bicycle, his heels on the pedals, his feet and knees sticking out at

  right angles. Tufts of greasy black hair stuck out at random from under

  a kind of skull cap which looked like an old bowler without the brim.

  "Sam's come to give us a hand," said Mr. Kay with an air of quiet

  triumph.

  "Good morning," I said and the big man turned slowly a,nd nodded. The

  eyes in the round, unshaven face were vacant and incurious and I decided

  that Sam did indeed look a bit slow. I found it difficult to imagine how

  he could possibly be of any help.

  The heifers, standing near by, watched with languid interest as we came

  through the gate. They had obviously enjoyed every minute of the

  morning's entertainment and it seemed they were game for a little more

  fun if we so desired; but it was up to us, of course - they weren't

  worried either way.

  Sam propped his bicycle against the wall and paced solemnly forward. He

  made a circle of his thumb and forefinger and placed it to his lips. His

  cheeks worked as though he was getting everything into place then he

  took a deep breath. And, from nowhere it seemed came a sudden swelling

  of angry sound, a vicious humming and buzzing which made me look round

  in alarm for the enraged insect zooming in for the kill.

  The effect on the heifers was electric. Their superior air vanished and

  was replaced by rigid anxiety; then, as the noise increased in volume,

  they turned and charged up the hill. But it wasn't the carefree frolic

  of before - no tossing heads, waving tails and kicking heels; this time

  they kept shoulder to shoulder in a frightened block.

  :i ~

  Mr. Kay and I, trotting on either side, directed them yet again up to

  the building where they formed a group, looking nervously around them.

  We had to wait for a short while for Sam to arrive. He was clearly a

  one-pace man and ascended the slope unhurriedly. At the top he paused to

  regain his breath, fixed the animals with a blank gaze and carefully

  adjusted his fingers against his mouth. A moment's tense silence then

  the humming broke out again, even more. furious and insistent than

  before.

  The heifers knew when they were beaten. With a chorus of startled

  bellows they turned and rushed into the building and I crashed the half

  door behind them; I stood leaning against it unable to believe my

  troubles were over. Sam joined me and looked into the dark interior. As

  if to finally establish his mastery he gave a sudden sharp blast, this

  time without his fingers, and his victims huddled still closer against

  the far wall.

  A few minutes later, after Sam had left us, I was happily clipping and

  injecting the necks. I looked up at the farmer. "You know, I can still

  hardly believe what I saw there. It was like magic. That chap has a

  wonderful gift."

  Mr. Kay looked over the half door and I followed his gaze down the

  grassy slope to the road. Sam was riding away and the strange black

  headwear was just visible, bobbing along the top of the wall.

  "Aye, he can imitate a fly all right. Poor awd lad, it's t'only thing

  he's good at."

  Chapter Eleven.

  Hurrying away from Mr. Kay's to my second test I reflected that if I had

  to be more than an hour late for an appointment it was a lucky thing

  that my next call was at the Hugills. The four brothers and their

  families ran a herd which, with cows, followers and calves must have

  amounted to nearly two hundred and I had to test the lot of them; but I

  knew that my lateness wouldn't bring any querulous remarks on my heads

  because the Hugills had developed the Dales tradition of courtesy to an

  extraordinary degree. The stranger within their gates was treated like

  royalty.

  As I drove into the yard I could see everybody leaving their immediate

  tasks and advancing on me with beaming faces. The brothers were in the

  lead and they stopped opposite me as I got out of the car, and I thought

  as I always did that I
had never seen such healthy-looking men. Their

  ages ranged from Walter who was about sixty, down through Thomas and

  Fenwick to William, the youngest, who would be in his late forties, and

  I should say their average weight would be about fifteen stones. They

  weren't fat, either, just huge, solid men with bright red, shining faces

  and clear eyes.

  William stepped forward from the group and I knew what was coming, this

  was always his job. He leaned forward, suddenly solemn, and looked into

  my face.

  "How are you today, sorr?" he asked.

  "Very well, thank you, Mr. Hugill," I replied.

  "Good!" said William fervently, and the other brothers all repeated

  "Good, good, good," with deep satisfaction.

  s William took a deep breath. "And how is Mr. Farnon."

  "Oh, he's very fit, thanks."

  "Good!" Then the rapid fire of the responses from behind him: "Good,

  good, good."

  William hadn't finished yet. He cleared his throat. "And how is young

  Mr. Farnon ."

  "In really top form."

  "Good!" But this time William allowed himself a gentle smile and from

  behind him came a few dignified ho-ho's. Walter closed his eyes and his

  great shoulders shook silently. They all knew Tristan.

  William stepped back into line, his appointed task done and we all went

  into the byre. I braced myself as I looked at the long row of backs, the

  tails swishing at the flies. There was some work ahead here.

  "Sorry I'm so late," I said, as I drew the tuberculin into the syringe.

  "I was held up at the last place. It's difficult to forecast how long

  these tests will take." All four brothers replied eagerly. "Aye, you're

  right, sorr. It's difficult. It IS difficult. You're right, you're

  right, it's difficult."

  They went on till they had thrashed the last ounce out of the statement.

  I finished filling the syringe, got out my scissors and began to push my

  way between the first two cows. It was a tight squeeze and I puffed

  slightly in the stifling atmosphere.

  "It's a bit warm in here," I said.

  Again the volley of agreement. "You're right, sorr. Aye, it's warm. It

  IS warm. You're right. It's warm. It's warm. Aye, you're right." This

  was all delivered with immense conviction and vigorous nodding of heads

  as though I had made some incredible discovery; and as I looked at the

  grave, intent faces still pondering over my brilliant remark, I could

  feel my tensions beginning to dissolve. I was lucky to work here. Where

  else but in the high country of Yorkshire would I meet people like

  these?

  I pushed along the cow and got hold of its ear, but Walter stopped me

  with a gentle cough.

  "Nay, Mr. Herriot, you won't have to look in the ears. I have all

  "'numbers wrote down."

  "Oh, that's fine. It'll save us a lot of time." I had always found

  scratching the wax away to find ear tattoos an overrated pastime. And it

  was good to hear that the Hugills were attending to the clerical side;

  there was a section in the Ministry form which said: "Are the herd

  records in good order?" I always wrote "Yes," keeping my fingers crossed

  as I thought of the scrawled figures on the backs of old bills, milk

  recording sheets, anything.

  "Aye," said Walter. "I have 'em all set down proper in a book."

  "Great! Can you go and get it, then."

  "No need, sorr, I have it 'ere." Walter was the boss, there was no doubt

  about it. They all seemed to live in perfect harmony but when the chips

  were down Walter took over automatically. He was the organiser, the

  acknowledged brains of the outfit. The battered trilby which he always

  wore in contrast with the others' caps gave him an extra air of

  authority.

  Everybody watched respectfully as he slowly and deliberately extracted a

  spectacle case from an inside pocket. He opened it and took out an old

  pair of steel-rimmed spectacles, blowing away fragments of the hay and

  corn chaff with which the interior of the case was thickly powdered.

  There was a quiet dignity and importance in the way he unhurriedly

  threaded the side pieces over his ears and stood grimacing slightly to

  work everything into place. Then he put his hand into his waistcoat

  pocket.

  When he took it out he was holding some object but it was difficult to

  identify, 1" _

  .~CI, I saw that It was a tiny, ~,"~-er~veren miniature diary about two

  inches square - the sort of novelty people give each other at

  (Christmas.

  "Is that the herd record?" I asked.

  "Yes, this is it. It's all set down in here." Walter daintily flicked

  over the pages with a horny forefinger and squinted through his

  spectacles. "Now that just cow - she's number eighty-fower."

  "Splendid!" I said. "I'll just check this one and then we can go by the

  book." I peered into the ear. "That's funny, I make it twenty-six."

  The brothers had a look. "You're right, sorr, you're right. It IS

  twenty-six."

  Walter pursed his lips. "Why, that's Bluebell's calf isn't it."

  "Nay," said Fenwick, 'she's out of awd Buttercup."

  "Can't be," mumbled Thomas. "Awd Buttercup was sold to Tim Jefferson

  afore this 'un was born. This is Brenda's calf."

  William shook his head. "Ah'm sure we got her as a heifer at Bob Ashby's

  sale."

  "All right," l said, holding up a hand. "We'll put in twenty-xix." I had

  to cut in. It was m no way an argument, just a leisurely discussion but

  it looked as if it could go on for some time. I wrote the number in my

  notebook and injected the cow. "Now how about this next one."

  "Well ah DO know that 'un," said Walter confidently, stabbing at an

  entry in the diary. "Can't make no mistake, she's number five."

  I looked in the ear. "Says a hundred and thirty-seven here."

  It started again. "She was brought in, wasn't she?"

  "Nay, nay, she's out of awd Dribbler."

  "Don't think so - Dribbler had nowt but bulls ..."

  I raised my hand again. "You know, I really think it might be quicker to

  look in all the ears. Time's getting on."

  "Aye, you're right, sorr, it IS getting on." Walter returned the herd

  record to his waistcoat pocket philosophically and we started the

  Laborious business of clipping, measuring and injecting every animal,

  plus rubbing the inside of the ears with a cloth soaked in spirit to

  identify the numbers which had often faded to a few unrelated dots.

  Occasionally Walter referred to his tiny book. "Ah that's right,

  ninety-two. I thowt so. It's all set down here."

  Fighting with the loose animals in the boxes round the fold yard was

  like having a dirty Turkish bath while wearing oil-skins. The brothers

  caught the big beasts effortlessly and even the strongest bullock grew

  quickly discouraged when it tried to struggle against those mighty arms.

  But I noticed one strange phenomenon the men's fingers were so thick and

  huge that they often slipped out of the animals' noses through sheer

  immobility.

  It took an awful long time but we finally got through. The last little

  calf had a space clipped in his shagg
y neck and bawled heartily as he

  felt the needle then I was out m the sweet air throwing my coat in the

  car boot. I looked at my watch - three o'clock. I was nearly two hours

  behind my schedule now and already I was hot and weary, with skinned

  toes on my right foot where a cow had trodden and a bruised left instep

  caused by the sudden descent of Fenwick's size thirteen hobnails during

  a particularly violent melee. As I closed the boot and limped round to

  the car door I began to wonder a little about this easy Ministry work.

  Walter loomed over me and inclined his head graciously. "Come in and sit

  down and have a drink o' tea."

  "It's very kind of you and I wish I could, Mr. Hugill. But I've got a

  long string of inspections waiting and I don't know when I'll get round

  them. I've fixed up far too many and I completely underestimated the

  time needed for your test. I really am an absolute fool."

  1

  ~. ~,~,~<,` ~`, a v et 1 69

  And the brothers intoned sincerely. "Aye, you're right, sorr, you're

  right, you're right."

  Well, there was no more testing today, but ten inspections still to do

  and I should have been at the first one two hours ago. I roared off,

  feeling that little ball tightening in my stomach as it always did when

  I was fighting the clock.

  Gripping the wheel with one hand and exploring my lunch packet with the

  other, I pulled out a piece of Mrs. Hall's ham and egg pie and began to

  gnaw at it as I went along.

  But I had gone only a short way when reason asserted itself. This was no

  good. It was an excellent pie and I might as well enjoy it. I pulled off

  the unfenced road on to the grass, switched off the engine and opened

  the windows wide. The farm back there was like an island of activity in

  the quiet landscape and now that I was away from the noise and the

  stuffiness of the buildings the silence and the emptiness enveloped me

  like a soothing blanket. I leaned my head against the back of the seat

  and looked out at the checkered greens of the little fields along the

  flanks of the hills; thrusting upwards between their walls fill they

  gave way to the jutting rocks and the harsh brown of the heather which

  flooded the wild country above.

  I felt better when I drove away and didn't particularly mind when the

  farmer at the first inspection greeted me with a scowl.

  "This isn't one o'clock, Maister!" he snapped. "My cows have been in all

  afternoon and look at the bloody mess they've made. Ah'll never get the

  place clean again."

  I had to agree with him when I saw the muck piled up behind the cows; it

  was one of the snags about housing animals in grass time. And the

  farmer's expression grew blacker as most of them cocked their tails as

  though in welcome and added further layers to the heaps.

  "I won't keep you much longer," I said briskly, and began to work my way

  down the row. Before the tuberculin testing scheme came into being,

  these clinical examinations were the only means of detecting tuberculous

  cows and I moved from animal to animal palpating the udders for any

  unusual induration. The routine examinations were known jocularly in the

  profession as 'bagsnatching' or 'cow-punching' and it was a job that

  soon got tedious.

  I found the only way to stop myself going nearly mad with boredom was to

  keep reminding myself what I was there for. So when I came to a gaunt

  red cow with a pendulous udder I straightened up and turned to the

  farmer.

  "I'm going to take a milk sample from this one. She's a bit hard in the

  left hind quarter."

  The farmer sniffed. "Please yourself. There's nowt wrong with her but I

  suppose it'll make a job for somebody."

  Squirting milk from the quarter into a two ounce bottle, I thought about

 
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