How do you cure a pooch addicted to fudge, pate, triifle – and brandy? IT DID HAPPEN TO A VET!
EARLIER this month, the actor Robert Hardy — who played Siegfried Farnon in TV’s much-loved All Creatures Great and Small — died aged 91. And in tribute, all this week we are revisiting the magnificent memoirs by James Herriot that provided the basis for
THE PAST five years had been leading up to this one moment. I was about to do my first solo visit as a qualified vet. I wondered idly what it would be …. Probably a real anti- climax: a coughing calf or a pig with an upset stomach.
In the middle of my musings, the phone rang. ‘Is that Mr Farnon?’ It was a deep voice with a harsh edge to it. ‘No, I’m sorry, he’s out. This is his assistant. Can I do anything for you?’
‘I am Mr Soames, Lord Hulton’s farm manager,’ said the voice. ‘I have a valuable hunting horse with colic. Do you know anything about colic?’
‘I am a veterinary surgeon, so I think I should know something about it,’ I said, my hackles rising slightly.
The voice took on a hectoring tone. ‘I know the injection the horse wants. Bring some arecoline with you. And for God’s sake, don’t be all night getting here.’
I drove into a spotless, gravelled yard surrounded by loose boxes. A broad- shouldered, thick- set man was standing there, trim in check cap and jacket and well- cut breeches.
‘Mr Soames? I understand you have a horse with colic.’ I wished my voice didn’t sound so high and unsteady.
‘In there,’ he said, jerking his head towards one of the boxes.
Inside, a bay horse was staggering round and round the perimeter. It was lathered in sweat from nose to tail, its nostrils were dilated and its eyes stared blankly ahead. Through its clenched teeth, gobbets of foam dripped to the floor. Steam rose from its body as though it had been galloping.
My mouth had gone dry. ‘ How long has he been like this?’ I whispered.
‘ Oh, he started with a bit of bellyache this morning. I’ve been giving him black draughts [used historically as a laxative] all day — or at least this fellow has. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s made a bloody mess of it, like he does everything.’
I saw that there was somebody standing in the shadows in the corner: a large man with a head collar in his hand.
‘Oh, I got the draughts down him, right enough, Mr Soames, but they haven’t done ’ im no good.’ The big man looked scared.
‘You call yourself a horseman,’ Soames said, ‘ but I should have done the damn job myself. I reckon he’d have been better by now.’
It didn’t take me long to examine the animal and reach my verdict.
I took a deep breath and told him: ‘I’m convinced this horse has a torsion — a twisted bowel. There’s nothing anybody can do. There is no cure. The important thing is to put him out of his pain as quickly as possible.’
Soames screwed up his face. ‘No cure? Put him out of his pain?
‘What are you getting at? He’s got a bit of bellyache, that’s all.’ I took another deep breath. ‘I suggest you let me put him down immediately.’
‘Are you stark raving mad? Do you know how much that horse is worth?’
‘It makes no difference what he’s worth, Mr Soames. He has been going through hell all day and he’s dying now. He might live a few hours more, but the end would be the same.’
ASwe talked, the horse had recommenced his blind circling of the box, stumbling round in a despairing attempt to leave his agony behind.
I strode quickly out and got the humane killer from the car.
‘Steady his head,’ I said to the big man and placed the muzzle between the animal’s glazing eyes. There was a sharp crack and the horse thudded to the floor.
I turned to Soames, who was staring at the body in disbelief.
‘Mr Farnon will come round in the morning and carry out a post mortem,’ I said. ‘ I’d like my diagnosis confirmed.’
As I started the car, Soames pushed his head in. ‘I’m going to inform his lordship about this night’s work,’ he snarled. ‘And Mr Farnon, too. You’ll be proved wrong at the post mortem and then I’m going to sue you.’
As I drove away, I had the feeling my career might have ended before it had even started.
Later that evening, Siegfried poured me a whisky and said: ‘Well, you certainly got chucked in at the deep end tonight, my boy. Your first case! And it had to be Soames.’ ‘Do you know him?’ ‘Oh, I know all about him; a nasty piece of work. Rumour has it that he’s a bit of a crook, feathering his nest at his lordship’s expense. He’ll slip up one day, I expect. Here — have some more whisky.’
The following day my boss gave me the news I needed to hear.
‘Well, you’ve nothing to worry about,’ he said. ‘The post mortem showed a classic torsion. I’m glad you put the poor beggar down straight away.’ ‘Did you see my friend Soames?’ ‘Oh, he tried to get in a few digs about you, but I pointed out he had delayed far too long in sending for us and that Lord Hulton wasn’t going to be pleased when he heard how his horse had suffered. ‘I left him chewing over that.’ I wasn’t expecting to see Mr Soames ever again, but a few months later I was surprised to spot him in the waiting room between an elderly woman with a cat in a box and two small boys trying to keep hold of a rabbit.
This was a vastly different character from the one I’d met. He wore an ingratiating smile and radiated anxiety to please. But the most interesting thing was that his right eye was puffed and closed and surrounded by an extensive area of bluish-black flesh.
‘I hope you don’t mind my coming to see you, Mr Herriot,’ he said. ‘The fact is I have resigned my position and am looking for another post. I was wondering if you and Mr Farnon would put in a word for me if you heard of anything.’
I was too astonished to say much. I replied that we would do what we could, and Soames thanked me effusively and bowed himself out.
‘Well, what do you make of that?’ I said to Siegfried later.
‘Remember I told you he was working one or two shady sidelines up at Lord Hulton’s?’ he replied. ‘Eventually he got a bit careless and he was out on his ear before he knew what had happened.’ ‘And how about the black eye?’ ‘Oh, he got that from Tommy, the horseman.’
My mind went back to that uncomfortable night and to the quiet man holding the horse’s head. ‘I remember him. Big chap.’
‘Yes, he’s a big lad and I’d hate to have him punch me in the eye. Soames gave him a hell of a life, and as soon as Tommy heard about the sacking he paid a visit … just to settle the score, you understand.’ AS autumn wore into winter and the high tops were streaked with the first snows, the discomforts of practice in the Dales began to make themselves felt.
This was when some small animal work came as a blessed relief: to walk into a warm drawing room and tackle something less formidable than a horse or a bull.
And among those comfortable drawing rooms, there was none so beguiling as Mrs Pumphrey’s.
Her late husband, a beer baron whose breweries were scattered across Yorkshire, had left her a vast fortune and a beautiful house on the outskirts of Darrowby. Here she lived with a large staff of servants and Tricki Woo.
Tricki Woo was a Pekingese and the apple of his mistress’s eye.
It could only be the hilariously lavish diet of Tricki Woo, the posh Pekingese made famous by James Herriot. And as our summer reading revival continues, the answer was deliciously simple . . .
Tomorrow: A bull with sunstroke – and love over the kitchen sink
Standing in the doorway, I could almost see the deep armchair drawn close to the leaping flames, the tray of cocktail biscuits, the bottle of excellent sherry.
Because of the sherry, I was careful to time my visits for half an hour before lunch. Mrs Pumphrey greeted me with a cry of delight.
‘Tricki! Tricki! Here is your Uncle Herriot.’ I had been made an uncle very early and, sensing the advantages, had made no objection.
Tricki bounded from his cushion, leaped onto the back of a sofa and licked my face thoroughly before retiring, exhausted. He was quickly exhausted because he was given roughly twice the amount of food he needed. And it was the wrong kind of food: fudge, pate, trifle. Tricki loved it all.
‘Oh, Mr Herriot,’ Mrs Pumphrey said, looking at her pet anxiously. ‘I’m so glad you’ve come. Tricki has gone flop-bott again.’
This ailment, not to be found in any textbook, was her way of describing the symptoms of Tricki’s impacted anal glands — a common problem in dogs, although not normally the stuff of drawingroom conversation.
It baffled me that the Peke was always so pleased to see me. Any dog who could still like a man who squeezed his bottom hard every time they met had to have an incredibly forgiving nature.
But Tricki was an outstandingly equable little animal of whom I was genuinely fond. Driving home, I mused on the many advantages of being Tricki’s ‘uncle’. When he went to the seaside, he sent me boxes of oak- smoked kippers; when the tomatoes ripened in the greenhouse, he sent me a pound or two each week. But it was when the Christmas hamper arrived from Fortnum & Mason’s that I realised I was on to a really good thing. I WAS really worried about Tricki this time. I had pulled up my car when I saw him in the street with his mistress and I was shocked at his appearance. He had become hugely fat, like a bloated sausage with a leg at each corner. His eyes were bloodshot and his tongue lolled from his jaws.
Mrs Pumphrey hastened to explain. ‘He was so listless, Mr Herriot. I thought he must be suffering from malnutrition, so I have been giving him some little extras to build him up.’
‘And did you cut down on the sweet things, like I told you?’
‘Oh, I did for a bit, but he seemed to be so weak. He does love cream cakes and chocolates so. I can’t bear to refuse him.’
The expected call came within a few days. Mrs Pumphrey was distraught. Tricki would eat nothing. He spent all his time lying on a rug, panting and vomiting. Didn’t want to do anything.
I had made my plans in advance. The only way was to get Tricki out of the house. I suggested that he be hospitalised for a fortnight to be kept under observation.
The poor lady almost swooned. She had never been separated from her darling before; she was sure he would pine and die.
BUTI took a firm line. Tricki was very ill and this was the only way to save him. Followed by Mrs Pumphrey’s wailings, I marched out to the car carrying the little dog wrapped in a blanket.
Out on the road, I glanced down at the pathetic little animal gasping on the seat by my side. I patted his head and Tricki made a brave effort to wag his tail.
‘Poor old lad,’ I said. ‘But I think I know a cure for you.’
For two days I gave him no food but plenty of water. At the end of the second day he started to show some interest, and on the third he began to whimper when he heard Siegfried’s dogs in the garden.
From then on, Tricki’s progress was rapid. All day he ran about with the other dogs, joining in their friendly scrimmages and becoming an accepted member of the gang — an unlikely, silky little object among the shaggy crew, fighting for his share at mealtimes and hunting rats at night. He had never had such a time in his life.
All the while, Mrs Pumphrey hovered anxiously, ringing a dozen times a day for the latest bulletins. I dodged questions about whether his cushions were being turned regularly, but I was able to tell her that the little fellow was out of danger and convalescing rapidly.
The word ‘convalescing’ seemed to do something to Mrs Pumphrey. She started to send round fresh eggs, two dozen at a time, to build up Tricki’s strength. When the bottles of vintage sherry and Cordon Bleu brandy began to arrive — to enrich Tricki’s blood — the possibilities of the situation began to dawn on the household.
Lunch became a ceremonial occasion, with Siegfried and his student brother Tristan taking it in turns to propose Tricki’s health with the sherry. The standard of speech-making improved daily.
As his sponsor, I was always called upon to reply. And our days ended luxuriating by the fire with the glorious brandy.
It was a temptation to keep Tricki on as a permanent guest, but I knew Mrs Pumphrey was suffering and after a fortnight felt compelled to phone and tell her that the little dog was better and awaiting collection.
Within minutes, about 30 feet of gleaming black metal drew up outside the surgery. I could just make out the figure of Mrs Pumphrey inside.
‘Oh, Mr Herriot, do tell me the truth. Is he really better?’
‘Yes, he’s fine. There’s no need for you to get out of the car — I’ll fetch him.’
Out in the garden, a mass of dogs was hurtling round and round the lawn. In their midst, ears flapping, tail waving, was the little golden figure of Tricki. In two weeks, he had been transformed into a lithe, hard-muscled animal.
I carried him back to the car. The chauffeur was holding the door open, and when Tricki saw his mistress, he took off from my arms in a tremendous leap and sailed into her lap. She gave a startled ‘Ooh!’ as he swarmed over her, licking her face and barking.
As the car moved away, Mrs Pumphrey leaned out of the window. Tears shone in her eyes.
‘Oh, Mr Herriot,’ she cried, ‘how can I ever thank you? This is a triumph of surgery!’