Happy Belated Birthday, James Herriot!

herriotHerriot, James. All Creatures and Great and Small.  New York: Bantam Books, 1972.

James Wight, who wrote under the pen name James Herriot, was born on October 3 in 1916.  He was a gentle country veterinarian in the Yorkshire Dales.  He wrote memorable tales of his life and adventures.

I read this book many years ago.  It was the first book I was banned from reading in bed.  My Jim said I laughed too much.  His stories were funny, poignant, and heart warming.  He made the people and animals of the Yorkshire Dales come alive.

He didn’t start writing until he was 50, but his memory for detail is phenomenal.  In the winter attending a calving, you could feel the cold, raw wind blowing across his thin shirt.  In the spring, riding through the Dales, you can smell the wildflowers rising on the wind.  His descriptions are lyrical.  You can see and feel his love for the country and its people.  He writes with such respect and affection.  Here’s a description of one of his annual pleasures, the time of lambing.

And the lambs.  All young animals are appealing but the lamb has been given an unfair share of charm.  The moments come back; of a bitterly cold evening when I had delivered twins on a wind-scoured hillside; the lambs shaking their heads convulsively and within minutes one of them struggling upright and making its way, unsteady, knock-kneed, toward the udder while the other followed resolutely on its knees.

The shepherd, his purpled, weather-roughened face almost hidden by the heavy coat which muffled him to his ears, gave a low chuckle. “How the ‘ell do they know?”

He had seen it happen thousands of times and he still wondered. So do I.

His humor is gentle and humble. It his animals that shine, Strawberry the cow, Old Prince and our family’s favorite Tricki Woo. He is a Pekingese, much beloved by his owner, Mrs. Pumphrey.  She was besotted with this puppy and fed him with twice the amount of food necessary for a small dog.  Here’s a description of Tricki’s ailments.

“Oh, Mr. Herriot,” Mrs. Pumphrey said, looking at her pet anxiously. “I am so gland 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.  When the glands filled up, he showed discomfort by sitting down suddenly in mid walk and his mistress would rush to the phone in great agitation.

“Mr. Herriot! Please come, he’s going flop-bott again!”

This book begins with Herriot as a newly qualified vet traveling to the Yorkshire Dales to interview for one of the very few jobs available. It describes the ups and downs of a young, country vet in a wild, wonderful country with land and people he comes to know, love and respect.  I really enjoyed rereading this book.  It still made me chuckle and I still couldn’t read it in bed.  He writes with kindness and humor even about his trials and tribulations.



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