“B’aint you the young maid that loves the babbies?”
I blushed with pleasure at being singled out from my annoying siblings. We were making our annual visit to a farm, which I adored for its kittens, puppies and so on. Yes, it seems that even at eight years old, I was already destined for a career with animals.
Ever since I can remember, I have always been drawn to animals. But my desire to be with them was thwarted by my parents, who had no intention of becoming pet owners.
Instead, I took to watching natural history programmes on TV, especially those with David Attenborough or Jacques Cousteau. I read every book about animals I could find, such as the ‘My Friend Flicka’ stories, ‘Black Beauty’ and ‘White Fang’, even though they made me cry. I longed for a pet of my own, but unfortunately my parents did not share my enthusiasm, so I never acquired my first pet until I was at University and could make my own choices.
As a small child, one of my absolute favourite treats was visiting a farm. We always holidayed for two weeks every year in the same house in Devon, which belonged to my grandfather. Everyone loved the Devon clotted cream that we could buy direct from a farmhouse. My parents’ favourite source was a farm that was a good forty minute drive away on narrow winding roads. Every year, as our holiday drew to an end we would make our pilgrimage there to stock up on cream before the return journey home.
But I was only peripherally interested in the cream. What I adored about this wonderful place was the animals.
The farmer’s wife gradually began to recognise us, and she would say to me “There’s a litter of kittens in that basket over there.” or “a calf in yonder barn”, or “puppies in the shed”. And I would rush away to meet the new babies, and remain with them as she scooped out the wonderful thick gooey cream from a vat into a take-away pot and take the money for it. I had no eyes for that ritual, but I loved everything about the newborns. The mystery of their helplessness, their mewling little cries, and the delicious scent of them.
Becoming a Vet was simply the obvious extension of that passion.