Sunday, June 6, 2010

All Creatures Great and Small

All Creatures Great and Small

James Herriot

My Rating: 5 Stars

(Note: all pictures, except for the first are from the t.v. series based on James Herriot's books. Enjoy!)

"We did two more visits, one to a calf with a cut leg which I stitched, dressed and bandaged, then to a cow with the blocked teat.
Mr. Sharpe was waiting, still looking eager. He led us into the byre and Farnon gestured towards the cow. “See what you can make of it.”
I squatted down and palpated the teat, feeling the mass of thickened tissue half up. It would have to be broken down by a Hudson's instrument and I began to work the thin metal spiral up the teat. One second later, I was sitting gasping in the dung channel with the neat imprint of a cloven hoof on my shirt front, just over the solar plexus.
It was embarrassing, but there was nothing I could do but sit there fighting for breath, my mouth opening and shutting like a stranded fish.
Mr. Sharpe held his hand over his mouth, his innate politeness at war with his natural amusement at seeing the vet come to grief. “I'm sorry, young man, but I owt to 'ave told you that this is a very friendly cow. She allus likes to shake hands.” Then, overcome by his own wit, he rested his forehead on the cow's back and went into a long paroxysm of silent mirth." (Chapter 2)

It's no wonder why James Herriot's books were best sellers in their day and why people (myself included in their numbers) still love them and want their kids read them. As a country vet practicing in Darrowby, a small village in Yorkshire, England, James Herriot's tales appeal to the humanity in each of us. What makes the stories even better is that they are true. Somehow, it makes his work more enjoyable. :-)

Some of the chapters are stories in themselves; sometimes there are several chapters to one tale. Regardless, I found it difficult to put down the book once I'd started. There are so many different kinds: some are very humorous; others, sad and lonely; some are just comfortable. You learn all about the farmers in Yorkshire and what types of animals they keep and what their families are. You get to read about births and deaths, friendships made and enemies kept, romance (Tristan was always up to his neck in it!) and a wonderful woman named Helen who happened to be James' better half in waiting.

Sigfried and Tristan Farnon: Sigfried was the elder and he owned the clinic. Tristan had followed in his brother's footsteps (well, to a certain degree, anyways. What does it matter?) and out of begrudging sense of duty, his brother shared the practice with him. James worked as an assistant to Sigfried until Sigfried made him a partner vet of the clinic.

Sigfried was an odd duck, to put it kindly. In real life, he was even more peculiar. But he was a good vet and he really did care about those in his life, even though if he had difficulties showing his affection. For the most part, he was very responsible and was always on James and Tristan's cases for their not being as diligently conscientious as he was... on occasion.

“We must put on a better show at these operations on the farms. It just isn't good enough to fish out a few old instruments from a bag and start hacking at the animal. We must have cleanliness, asepsis if possible, and an orderly technique.” (Chapter 27; during one of his “efficiency drives” during which everyone suffered...)

Tristan was the exact opposite of his brother. He was jolly, funny, as irresponsible as possible. He pulled some humdinger pranks on James, my personal favorites being the prank phone calls and ghost monk. But my most favorite story of Tristan is the time he threw his girlfriend out the living room window.

Tristan wiggled in his chair. “I'm sorry, I can't think how...”
Siegfried held up his hand. “Oh, don't worry. Your usual luck has come to your aid...”

And James? Sweet, kind, naïve, not above pranking Tristan out of revenge. It isn't surprising that Helen fell in love with him as deeply as he had fallen in love with her. Because for all of his faults, he had a surprising lot of good character traits.

She turned a quizzical eye on me. “You look kind of pleased with yourself this morning, Mr. Herriot.”
I leaned back against the oak dresser. “Yes, Mrs. Hall, I've just been thinking. It must be very nice to be the principal of the practice but, you know, it's not a bad life being an assistant.”

Of course, you'll read all about vetting in green hills of Yorkshire. Some of his stories are full of very practical advice and we've used it more than once. Just the other day, we had a cow prolapse and used the trick of putting sugar on the uterus to help it back in. It worked well. I don't know what we'd have done without that bit of knowledge tucked away in our heads.

There is so much humor in the books. I love the story about the dog that had surgery and wouldn't stop howling for hours (I mean, 12 hours, at the least). Sigfried was feeling a little malicious and made sure that he and James were away all day, leaving Tristan stuck with the dog. Poor Tristan was nearly driven insane by the time he decided getting drunk might be a good idea. When Sigfried found all the empty bottles on the living room floor, he felt a big-brotherly need for Tristan to learn more responsibility (it had nothing to do with Sigfried not wanting to watch the dog) and stowed both of them away in Tristan's room for the night. (Chapter 21)

There was the story about the cow that had picked up a wire in her feed and had to be operated on. During the process of being cut open, she literally exploded, sending foul, green liquid over everything... Sigfried being her prime target.

...but it was the unkindest cut of all when a particularly powerful jet sent a liberal spray over the new jacket hanging on the wall. Sigfried's face was too obscured for me to detect any change of expression but at this disaster, I saw real anguish in his eyes.
The colonel's [owner of said cow] eyebrows were now raised to a maximum and his mouth hung open as he gazed in disbelief at the chaotic scene. Siegfried, still hanging grimly on, was the centre of it all, paddling about in a reeking swamp which came half way up his Wellington boots. He looked very like a Fiji Islander with his hair stiffened and frizzled and his eyes rolling whitely in the brown face. (Chapter 27)

Things to Know:
1: There is some drinking and carousing.
2: Some girl/romance stuff that never goes beyond kissing and Tristan having a girl sit on his lap.
3: For those squeamish about blood and animals and birthing, etc, these stories are very detailed.
4: For the most part, all of James Herriot's books are clean and good for family reading.

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