If you enjoy watching The Yorkshire Vet on TV, you’ll love reading his new book – The Tales and Tails of a Yorkshire Vet by Peter Wright – which is out next month. And if you can’t wait that long, we have a sneak preview for you to read here! Plus, we have five copies to give away!
One of the nation’s best-loved vet looks back at the funniest, most absurd and heart-breaking animal encounters and situations he has been in over his long and highly successful career. Peter Wright reflects on the changes he’s seen in vet practice, farming and pet ownership, describes how our relationship with our pets has evolved over the decades, remembers his own personal pets and the relationships we build with our animals and recounts his personal grief at the loss of them.
“My mentor and former boss, Alf Wight, said that the life of a vet is never dull and how true he was. It is funny looking back that he found fame through his James Herriot books, and now his former surgery and myself have been taken to the nation’s heart once again through our show The Yorkshire Vet.
“It just shows what a nation of animal lovers we are and these past few years have been particularly challenging for all of us with the Coronavirus outbreak. But what it has shown me is the comfort and support out pets give us in times like these. All the same, it was this, along with recent changes to my working life that gave me an opportunity to reflect, so I want to look back at some of my favourite cases and share them with you.”
Normal Knowles was a Wesleyan Methodist and as such he did not drink and he did not use profanities.
‘By Jove,’ was as strong an exclamation as you were likely to hear from him. He was a genial God-fearing man who would do anything for anyone and ran the 180-acre Manor Farm, not far from the North Yorkshire market town of Thirsk where I grew up and still live. His only vice was smoking. You would rarely see him without a cigarette hanging from his lips. It would bob up and down when he talked and the ash would drop from it when it got too long, because once he’d started a smoke, Norman rarely removed it from his mouth.
He was a lovely man and had a good sense of humour. His wife Joan, who died recently at the age of over a hundred, was a fervent churchgoer who hardly missed a Sunday service. Norman enjoyed cooking, which was unusual for a man at the time. Joan would go to church on Sunday, while Norman stayed at home.
My grandfather, Fred, worked on Norman’s farm as a farm manager. Previously, he’d tried to work on his in-laws farm but couldn’t get on with them so he left and went to work for Norman, as did my dad, Ken, who worked as a labourer there too for a time. They were treated as friends, not employees. Norman wasn’t one to work his fingers to the bone. He appeared to have many aunts whom he would regularly take to the seaside or for afternoon tea.
Norman had a dog, a black-and-white Border Collie named Pip. Pip was a useless farm dog, but Norman, who was a benevolent man, wasn’t worried. Pip was a companionable dog and Norman forgave him his inadequacies.
If Pip had been a human, he would have been just the type of person that Norman avoided. Pip was always on the lookout to get something he shouldn’t. He was sneaky, stealthy and quite untrustworthy. You could see it in his eyes, which generally darted about seeking opportunities. He was always thinking. He was lean, as a lot of farm dogs were back then, and he tended to skulk and slink about moving like he was made of liquid, curling himself quietly around doors and into places he shouldn’t be, always alert, always looking for food.
Pip wasn’t an extrovert like a lot of collies. He didn’t jump up and smother you. He was not an in-your-face dog, not full of himself, but was generally friendly. He kept himself to himself and 99 per cent of the time he’d be fine. But there was always that one per cent there, meaning you just couldn’t trust him completely.
Norman didn’t expect too much of Pip and Pip was an opportunist who would take any opportunity to grab food from whoever he could. Sometimes he was successful, managing to grab an egg here, a tart cooling on the rack there, or a farm worker’s lunch which had been left carelessly unattended. Periodically, as a youngster, I’d hear the call. ‘Pip! Get away with you!’ And sometimes I’d see Pip streak past the house, a sandwich clenched in his jaws, often followed by a flying boot or a piece of farm equipment hurled hopelessly in his direction by a farm worker who anticipated a hungry afternoon without his lunch.
But these small and occasional hauls were nothing compared with Pip’s finest hour, an audacious heist which went down in Manor Farm folklore as ‘The day Pip got one over on Norman’. Although it is up for dispute, my grandfather may have had something to do with it, providing as he did, an unwitting diversion behind which Pip carried out his dastardly act.
Norman and Fred were friends. Although Norman was technically Granddad Wright’s boss, they got on well and would often stop each other for a natter, putting the world to rights, or complaining about something or other – with Norman it would usually be the increasing price of cigarettes. On the day in question, a Sunday, Fred had walked past the farmhouse around midday on the way to check a calf that was under the weather and Norman was outside, having a cigarette in the garden because he didn’t like to smoke in the house. Naturally the men bid each other good day and started to chat.
‘Morning Norman. I just called in to check on a calf I was worried about this morning.’
Norman explained that Joan had gone to church and that he’d managed to skip the Sunday service because he had urgent farm business to attend to, which was most likely reading the Sunday paper and enjoying a leisurely breakfast and a few Woodbines (cigarettes).
Fred noticed some mouth-watering aromas wafting through the open kitchen window. His stomach gurgled.
‘Is dinner about ready, Norman? What are you having?’
‘Well, Fred, I’m chief cook and bottlewasher while Joan has gone to chapel. We’ve got a lovely rib of beef. It’s just resting on the side now. Puddings are in. I’ve got it all under control, Fred.’
It was then that Fred was momentarily distracted by a flash of black and white in the corner of his eye. He tilted his head to look past Norman, who was waxing lyrically about his prowess in the kitchen, to see Pip sprint away from the open back door, which led to the kitchen. Clenched firmly in the dog’s jaws was a glistening joint of beef, still steaming, dripping with juices which had created a rivulet of reddish brown down his white chest – in fact he looked like he was wearing a tie and bib. Pip’s eyes were wide with excitement, basking in the ecstatic knowledge that he was making off with perhaps the biggest prize of his food-stealing career. Norman was in mid-flow of conversation and oblivious to his disappearing dinner. Fred, head still cocked to one side, narrowed his eyes and cleared his throat as Pip headed for the safety of nearby fields at one hundred miles an hour.
Norman stopped talking.
In classic Yorkshire understatement Fred said, ‘I think Pip’s just had your dinner, Norman,’ and pointed to the dog, who was now halfway across the field and moving at such speed that any attempt to catch him would be a pointless endeavour. Norman looked to where Fred was pointing and realised what had happened.
‘The blessed dog!’ he exclaimed, using the most restrained Methodist expletive he could muster. He ran off after the thief.
Granddad was still laughing about it several hours later when we all sat down to dinner in his cottage. We later heard that the verbal admonishments that were directed at Pip when he finally slunk back home later that afternoon with a full belly were nothing compared with the interrogation by Joan that Norman was subjected to, for leaving the back door open while knowing what a thief Pip was.
The Tales and Tails of a Yorkshire Vet by Peter Wright, published by Mardle Books, is out on 11 May 2023 (RRP £20 hardback)
We have five copies of The Tales and Tails of a Yorkshire Vet to give away!
Five winners will be picked at random. Enter at: https://dogsmonthly.co.uk/contact-us/
Provide your name, address and email address, and put ‘Yorkshire Vet’ in the subject line. Closing date: noon (UK time) on 15th May 2023