A farmer client told me this tale of one of his…
In days of old, when vets were bold, and fees were not so expensive, I would roam far and wide to visit my patients and life was so much more interesting. Among my clients I could count the Lord Lieutenants of both Devon and Cornwall, ex-government ministers and various famous people, but most the very ordinary folk who, with their apparently boring lives all have a story to tell. People talk to vets much more than they do to doctors, and so we were a repository of that rich tapestry which is the matrix of all life around us.
I soon learnt that in all levels of society, from the castle to the tenement, you will find equal numbers of the good and the bad. Just because someone lives in a grand mansion he may not necessarily pay his bills as well as the little old lady living in a terrace house on a small pension.
Take the rather querulous old lady who lived with her Sealyham Terrier in a terrace house not far from my surgery. My first impression was not good as she whined and creaked about the house, her legs encased in horrific metal callipers. Then one day she showed me a photograph of herself in WAAF uniform, an attractive 18 year old blonde, and she told me her story. She was being chatted up by an officer outside a hut at RAF Uxbridge when a hit and run Messerschmit fighter bomber attacked the aerodrome. The shrapnel from a bomb shattered her legs and she spent the next 18 months in hospital. Her life was never the same again. Such are the cruel cards that life can deal you.
The daughter of one of the foremost aristocratic families of Devon would often find an excuse to bring her cat to my surgery when the hunt met at her ancestral home. She was beautiful in a Spanish kind of way, and very intelligent. She would stay for a chat, but it was obvious that life sat heavily upon her shoulders; and so it proved because she was soon in trouble with the law and later committed suicide. What a terrible waste.
Mrs. P was the chatelaine of a large stately mansion and still lived in a bygone age. When greeting you she would hold out the back of her hand to be kissed, and even for everyday meals her dining table would be set with elaborate place names. She always referred to her husband as “The Major” and their shooting dogs were all named after wild duck. So we had Wigeon, Mallard, Teal and so on. After Major died, whenever there was any decision to be made about the dogs she would say, “I will ask the Major”, and then the next day she would ring me up and say, “ The Major and I have agreed to your suggestion”. She was a lovely lady.
In the fishing village of Beer, half way up the main street, a group of old houses were due to be demolished and rebuilt. Meanwhile residents were to be moved. But one old retired fisherman refused to shift. “I will never move” he told me. He called me and asked me to collect his elderly cat on the day of the move and put him to sleep. He said he would leave the fee on the kitchen table. When I arrived I found a police car sitting outside. The police told me that he had been found dead sitting in his favourite armchair with his cat on his lap. They said he looked quite peaceful.
One of my favourite memories is visiting a certain lord and his lady, well known for their philanthropy and public duties, to treat their flat-coat Retriever. When I was shown into the lounge by the butler (oh yes!) they turned to me and said, “Mr. Watson would you mind waiting until we just finish this game?” The game was this; one would hold the dog and cover his eyes and ears, while the other would hide a much-loved toy somewhere in the room. Then the dog had to find it. A simple game but thoroughly enjoyed by all three. I remember thinking how different people are in the privacy of their home and what would people think who only see them in their public persona, civic duties and charity work.
All lovely people and all gone now but, as a vet, I got to know them as they really were.