One of the great joys of veterinary practice in my day was that, owing to the reasonable charges for visits, I was able to see people in their home environment and even to discuss matters close to their heart. In fact if a case was proving difficult to diagnose I would often make a home visit to see the animal in it’s natural home, often without any extra charge. However it could cause embarrassing moments.
You have to remember there was much less crime and so folk did not lock their doors, especially in the countryside. It was my habit to just call out as I walked in the front door and this saved me waiting time which over the course of a day could add up. One such time, in Ottery St. Mary, I walked through the house to the kitchen, whilst calling out. Now the old couple must have been hard of hearing for when I entered the room Mother was stood at the kitchen table having a stand-up wash, stripped to the waist. Then, as I stopped in my tracks, Father appeared from behind his newspaper in the corner and cried out, “Ere what’s a goin’ orn?” I beat a hasty retreat.
Quite a different experience occurred when I was called one evening to a calving near Talaton. It was snowing a storm and I had never been to this farm before. As I passed Escot the snow was banking up and even my old Landrover was finding it hard going, when I saw the faint lights of a farmhouse. Partly to check my way and partly, if I am honest, to meet another human being in this maelstrom of a night I pulled into the yard. I knocked and walked right in. The scene I met has stayed with me all my days. At a large table sat about 10 children, graded roughly down their ages and about to start their supper. Behind them stood their Father, an almost biblical figure in a farmworkers smock. The only lighting came from the log fire and candles and this gave an ethereal setting to the scene. The man set me on my way in a kindly manner with heartfelt good wishes. That house has now been gentrified but I think of that night whenever I pass by.
I often used to visit a farm at Goodameavy on Dartmoor. It was run by a very eccentric lady and even by the primitive standards of the moor it was run in a rather casual manner. You had to step over a small stream to enter the kitchen door. Come to think of it I am not sure there was a door at all. Anyway this day I walked through the kitchen and was just about to enter the living room when 3 sheep passed me on their way out. I believe one of them even bleated a greeting to me as it passed.
A much less pleasant encounter happened one summer evening when I was called away from my evening meal to an emergency at a vicarage near Plymouth. As usual the front door was open so I walked in whilst calling out. I had just reached the foot of the grand staircase in the hall when a woman appeared at the top of the stairs and subjected me to a tirade of abuse for entering her house without permission. It eventually transpired that my client, in his panic, had failed to point out that he lived in a flat at the back of the vicarage. However such was the stream of vituperation that the vicar’s wife aimed at me that before I left I said to her, “Madam, I think you should see somebody!” This proved prophetic because a few weeks later her husband, the vicar, was charged with abusing young children and I learned a great lesson of life, that the outbursts of invective people sometimes let loose are often less about the immediate subject but more about some hidden pressure in their life.