To begin with, it had looked as if it was shaping up to be a quiet day, with two ops cancelled at the last minute due to illness and vehicular breakdown.
This unusual scenario was altered abruptly by the arrival, in close succession, of a cat hit by a car and a staffie with a bloody nasal discharge. X-rays, pins and screws, drips, endoscopy, biopsies and more X-rays ensued.
As the afternoon drew to a close, a new puppy for vaccines, a re-bandage for a pesky tail injury and a health check for a newly registered client was all that stood in the way of home time.
“Sherlock please,” I called, looking out of my consulting room at the likely candidates waiting patiently. Instinctively, I was drawn to the cute and chunky puppy, but that was not Sherlock.
The pup’s owners shook their heads and looked in the direction of the real Sherlock. So did I, and that was when I gasped. The gasp was immediately followed by a huge grin. I recognised the border collie’s owner immediately, even though I had not seen her for over thirty years. There, right in front of me, was my chemistry teacher from approximately thirty-two years ago.
We’d become good friends back then, sharing a passion for both chemistry and outdoor pursuits. When I was seventeen, benzene rings and climbing mountains were my main fascinations and Sherlock’s owner had shared similar interests.
Sherlock was her latest in a long line of border collies. The first one I knew was an amazing dog, called Laska. Her energy was infectious, and she accompanied us all on mountaineering and climbing trips across the Dales and beyond.
Only recently, I discovered the origin of this collie’s name. It was taken from a canine character in Tolstoy’s classic novel Anna Karenina. It turns out, having read the book and known the dog, that the Laska from Leeds shared many characteristics with Tolstoy’s Laska.
Enthusiastic, experienced and dedicated, Tolstoy’s version quickly becomes impatient and excited as her master, a country gentleman, gets organised for a day’s shooting. Fantastically, Tolstoy describes how Laska senses her master’s misfortune and dismay at missing his birds.
She doesn’t want to show any lack of faith in her master’s ability, so she pretends to search for the birds, just to please him. It’s a wonderful moment in the epic story. We quickly covered the Tolstoy connection, before moving on to chemistry, old times and old friends.
The Sponsored Three Peaks of Great Britain expedition held fond and terrible memories for both of us; starting our ascent of Ben Nevis with little or no sleep was a low point (only Laska seemed delighted to be outside that morning, so very, very early).
Reaching the summit before midday, having raised hundreds of pounds – which was a lot back then was the high point, quite literally.
“I remember you once running down the corridor, waving a piece of paper above your head, shouting ‘I’ve worked it out! I’ve got the answer’,” she recounted.
“I don’t remember that. What was the answer?” I asked.
Apparently, it was something to do with a chemical structure of a derivative of benzoic acid.
Again, times had changed.
Once, the structure of a derivative of Benzoic acid had been all-important for us both. Now, more importantly, I needed to find out if there was anything wrong with Sherlock, another dog named after a literary character. It was time to look for clues…
■ The Yorkshire Vet is on Tuesday night at 8pm on Channel 5.