As the cloud shadows, racing on the wind, flew over me, trailing ribbons of shade and brightness over the endless browns and greens, I felt a rising exhilaration at just being up there on the roof of Yorkshire.
It was an empty landscape where no creature stirred and all was silent except for the cry of a distant bird, and yet I felt a further surge of excitement in the solitude, a tingling sense of the nearness of all creation.
A always, the siren song of the lonely uplands tempted me to stay, but the morning was wearing on and I had several more farms to visit. It was with a lingering feeling of fulfilment that I finished my last call and headed for my town of Darrowby. Its square church tower pushed above the tumbled roofs of the little town as I came down the dale and soon I was driving through the cobbled market-place with the square of fretted roofs above the shops and pubs that served its three thousand inhabitants.
In the far corner I turned down Trengate, the street of our surgery, and drew up at the three storeys of mellow brick and climbing ivy of Skeldale House, my work place and happy home where my wife, Helen, and I had brought up our children. The memories came back of the unforgettable times when my partner, Siegfried, and his inimitable brother, Tristan, had lived and laughed there with me in our bachelor days, but now they were both married and with their families in their own homes. Tristan had joined the Ministry of Agriculture, but Siegfried was still my partner, and for the thousandth time I thanked heaven that both the brothers were still my close friends.
My son, Jimmy, was ten now and daughter, Rosie, six, and they were at school, but Siegfried was coming down the steps, stuffing bottles into his pockets.
“Ah, James,” he cried. “I’ve just taken a message for you. One of your most esteemed clients—Mrs. Bartram. Puppy is in need of your services.” He was grinning as he spoke.
I smiled ruefully in reply. “Oh, fine. You didn’t fancy going there yourself, did you?” “No, no, my boy. Wouldn’t dream of depriving you of the pleasure.”
He waved cheerfully and climbed into his car. I looked at my watch. I still had half an hour before lunch and Puppy was only walking distance away. I got my bag and set off.
The heavenly aroma of fish and chips drifted out on the summer air and I felt a quick stab of hunger as I looked through the shop window at the white-coated figures with their wire scoops, lifting out the crisply battered haddocks and laying them out to drain by the golden mounds of chips, those enticing morsels lovingly known in America as “French-fried potatoes.”
The lunch-time trade was brisk and the queue moved steadily round the shop, gathering up the newspaper-wrapped parcels, some customers hurrying home with them, others shaking on salt and vinegar before an alfresco meal in the street. I always had my gastric juices titillated when I visited Mrs. Bartram’s dog in the flat above the fish and chip shop, and I took another rewarding breath as I went down the alley and climbed the stairs.
Mrs. Bartram was in her usual in the kitchen; fat, massive, deadpan, the invariable cigarette dangling from her lips. She was throwing chips from a bag in her lap to her dog, Puppy, sitting opposite. He caught them expertly one after the other.
Puppy belied his name. He was an enormous, shaggy creature of doubtful ancestry andwitha short temper. I always treated him with respect.
“He’s still rather fat, Mrs. Bartram,” I said. “Haven’t you tried to change his diet as I advised? Remember I said he shouldn’t really be fed solely on fish and chips.” She shrugged and a light shower of ash fell on her blouse. “Oh, aye, ah did for a bit. I cut out the chips and just gave ‘im fish every day, but he didn’t like it. Loves his chips, ‘e does.”
“I see.” I couldn’t say too much about the diet because I had the feeling that Mrs. Bartram herself ate very little else and it would have been tactless to point out that big chunks of battered fried fish didn’t constitute a slimming regime, because her figure, like her dog’s, bore witness to the fact. In fact, as I looked at the two, they had a great similarity sitting there, bolt upright, facing each other. Both huge, immobile, but giving an impression of latent power.
Often fat dogs were lazy and good-natured, but a long succession of postmen, newsboys and door-to-door salesmen had had to take desperate evasive action as Puppy turned suddenly into a monster baying at their heels, and I had one vivid memory of a brush vendor cycling unhurriedly down the alley with his wares dangling from the handlebars, slowing down outside the flat, then, when Puppy catapulted into the street, taking off like the winner of the Tour de France.
“Well, what’s the trouble, Mrs. Bartram?” I asked, changing the subject. “It’s ‘is eye. Keeps runnin’.” “Ah, yes, I see.”
The big dog’s left eye was almost completely closed, and a trickle of discharge made a dark track down the hair of his face. It made his appearance even more sinister.
“There’s some irritation there, probably an infection.”
It would have been nice to find the cause. There could be a foreign body in there or just a spot of conjunctivitis. I reached out my hand to pull the eyelid down but Puppy, without moving, fixed me with his good eye and drew his lips back from a row of formidable teeth.
I withdrew my hand. “Yes … yes … I’ll have to give you some antibiotic ointment and you must squeeze a little into his eye three times a day. You’ll be able to do that, won’t you?”
“Course I will. He’s as gentle as an awd sheep.” Expressionlessly she lit another cigarette from the old one and drew the smoke down deeply. “Ah can do anything with ‘im.”
“Good, good.” As I rummaged in my bag for the ointment I had the old feeling of defeat, but there was nothing else for it. It was always long-range treatment with Puppy. I had never tried anything silly like taking his temperature, in fact I’d never laid a finger on him in my life.
I heard from Mrs. Bartram again two weeks later. Puppy’s eye was no better, in fact it was worse. I hurried round to the flat, inhaling the delicious vapours from the shop as I went down the alley.
Puppy was in the same position as before, upright, facing his mistress, and there was no doubt there was an increased discharge from the eye. But this time I fancied I could see something else and I leaned forward, peering closely into the dog’s face as a faint but menacing growl warned me not to take any more liberties.
And it was there, all right, the cause of the trouble. A tiny papilloma growing from the margin of the eyelid and rubbing on the cornea. I turned to Mrs. Bartram. “He’s got a little growth in there. It’s irritating his eye and causing the discharge.”
“Growth?” The lady’s face seldom registered any emotion, but one eyebrow twitched upwards and the cigarette trembled briefly in her mouth.
“Ah don’t like the sound o’ that.” “Oh, it’s quite benign,” I said. “Nothing to worry about. I’ll be able to remove it easily and he’ll be perfectly all right afterwards."
I spoke lightly because indeed these things were quite common and a little injection of local anaesthetic and a quick snip with a pair of curved scissors did the trick effortlessly, but as I looked at the big dog regarding me coldly with his one eye I felt a twinge of anxiety. Things might not be so easy with Puppy.
My misgivings proved to be well founded when Mrs. Bartram brought him round to the surgery next morning and left him in the small consulting room. He would obviously have to be sedated before we could do anything, and among the rush of new drugs were excellent tranquillisers such as acetyl promazine
There was, however, the small matter of one of us grasping that leonine head while the other lifted a fold of skin and inserted the needle. Puppy made it very clear that such things were not on the agenda. Being on strange ground and feeling threatened he came roaring, open-mouthed, at Siegfried and me as soon as we tried to enter the room. We retreated hastily and locked the door.
Dog catcher?” suggested Siegfried without conviction. I shook my head. The dog catcher was a snare of soft flex on the end of a long pole and was a handy instrument to slip over a difficult dog’s head and steady it while the injection was made, but with Puppy it would be like trying to lasso a grizzly bear. If we ever managed to get the loop over his head it would be the prelude to a fearsome wrestling match. However, we’d had tough dogs before and we had a little trick in reserve.
“Looks like one for the Nembutal,” Siegfried murmured and I nodded agreement. For unapproachable cases we kept a supply of succulent minced beef in the fridge. It was a delicacy no dog could resist and it was a simple matter to break a few capsules of Nembutal among the meat and wait while the animal drifted into a state of blissful somnolence. It always worked. But it was time-consuming.
Removing the tiny growth should have been a few minutes’ job and we’d have to wait for twenty minutes or so until the stuff took effect. I tried not to think of the urgent cases all over the countryside needing our attention as I prepared the medicated mince.
The consulting room opened onto the garden through a sash window, which was open a few inches at the bottom. I threw the meat through this aperture and the two of us went into the office to prepare for our rounds. When we came back we expected to find Puppy slumbering peacefully, but when we peered in he threw himself at the window, snarling like a starving wolf. On the floor the meat lay untouched.
“Look at that!” I cried. “I don’t believe it. No dog’s ever refused that lovely stuff before!” Siegfried slapped his forehead. “What a damn nuisance! Do you think he can smell the Nembutal? Better try him with a bigger proportion of mince.”
I made up another supply and threw it again through the opening. We retreated to allay the dog’s suspicions, but when we crept up ten minutes later the picture hadn’t changed. Puppy had not eaten a single mouthful.
“What the hell are we going to do?” Siegfried burst out. “It’s going to be lunch time before we get out!”
It was indeed getting on towards lunch time because a gentle breeze was carrying the first fragrance from the fish and chip shop down the street. “Just hang on for a minute,” I said. “I think I know the answer.”
I galloped along Trengate and returned with a bag of chips. It was the work of a moment to insert a capsule in a chip and flick it through the aperture. Puppy was on it like flash and swallowed it without hesitation. Another chip, another capsule, and so on until he had received the requisite dose. Even as we watched, the big dog’s ferocity was gradually replaced by an amiable goofiness and when he took a few uncertain steps, then flopped onto his side, we knew we had won.
When we finally unlocked the door and entered the room Puppy was in a happy trance, and we performed the operation in a couple of minutes. He was still dopey and unusually peaceful when his mistress called to collect him later that day. When she brought him into the office, his huge head was level with my desk and he almost smiled at me as I sat down. “We’ve removed that little thing, Mrs. Bartram,” I said. “His eye will be fine now, but I’m prescribing a course of Lincocin tablets to stop any further infection.”
As I reached for a pen to write the instructions I glanced at the other labels I had written. In those days, before injections became the general procedure, many of our medicines were given by mouth. The instructions on the other labels were varied: “Mixture for bullock. To be given in a pint of treacle water.” “Drench for calf. To be given in half a pint of flour gruel.”
I poised my pen for a moment, then, for the first time in my life, I wrote, “Tablets for dog. One to be given three times daily, inserted in chips.”
It's past 10 pm and Daddy isn't back yet. Marathon surgery session. We have been reading and just couldn’t help sharing this excerpt from 'Every living thing' - one of the many extraordinary books by our favourite author James Herriot.
Herriot's books aren't just about how beautifully they were written. There’s so much more to them they stay with you forever.
If you haven’t had a chance to read Herriot yet, you must. We promise you'll thoroughly enjoy his books.
Ginger, Buddy n Shadow