Chapter 7 Edinburgh




This is a short chapter as I was only in Edinburgh for two academic terms but a lot happened during that short time.

The students seconded from MAFF were Derek Buckner, Sandy Ross, John Ockey, Eddie Madden, I and Ian Adamson. Over the remaining three students “Bob” Stevenson was a Canadian (nicknamed Bob by Derek Buckner but in reality he was another Bill), Noel Allsup was a private student who had qualified at Edinburgh in 1960 and the ninth member was a Turk called Tufecki. We never discovered Tufecki’s forename.

This motley crew met for the first time in the Principal, Sir Alex Robertson’s office and eyed each other up. What had we let ourselves in for and were we all going to get on with each other? An older man rather glared at me. This was Derek Buckner who I knew was a close friend of Reg Thoumine a Worcester colleague. I introduced myself and with that connection, broke the ice. Derek and I remained close friends right up until the day he died.

The lectures were mostly based in Edinburgh itself and a fine lot they were. Over at Roslin the field station, Professor Gordon Ferguson taught animal health. Ferguson was an odd character and not universally popular with students although I personally got on with him very well. He was tragically killed some years later in a motorway lay-by. Motorway lay-bys are dangerous places. Ferguson was the only member of staff to invite us all to his home. I was surprised and saddened when Eddie Madden decided to use this social occasion to attack Ferguson about something which had happened during one of the lectures. Eddie was right to criticise the point, whatever it was and I cannot now remember what the problem was. But I felt that Ferguson’s home was not the place to tackle Ferguson about it.

Of the nine students Derek Buckner was the eldest and as I mentioned previously he had rather glared at me when we first met but we soon became very good friends indeed. Derek had qualified before the war. Born in India he and his elder brother both became veterinary surgeons. Derek was at school in England when he took his School Certificate. His subjects included Urdu. His Urdu paper had to be sent to India to be marked.

In the years immediately before 1939 times were very hard for a veterinary surgeon. Derek’s elder brother managed to establish himself in a small animal practice in Cheam, Surrey, but Derek himself had to take any job he could get. One job was as a lorry driver in London’s Docklands. That involved backing a lorry on to the deck of a lighter so as to unload the lorry’s contents by tipping it up. He said that was very scary. Once war came he volunteered for the RAF and became a flying instructor. He never actually went into combat. Derek was a natural teacher and a polymath by the time I knew him.

After the war he became an assistant in the practice of Pier H Blampied in Guernsey. Derek’s first marriage was when he was in the RAF. That failed and he married Betty by whom he had three daughters. It was when he was still in practice in Guernsey he had met Reg Thoumine who was a Guernsey man. Reg was a student with Derek. After Derek became disillusioned with practice he joined MAFF and was stationed at Winchester, Hampshire.

Of the other students Sandy Ross was a Scot and a very keen member of the Oxford movement of evangelical Christians. Sandy was a very kind man and a wonderful artist. John Ockey was the son of a Scotland Yard detective. Very tall he was stationed in Hereford which was next door to where I was stationed in Worcester. We had been together in a fowl pest centre in Worcestershire. Eddie Madden was younger than me. He had qualified at Glasgow in 1951 a year after Duncan McNicol my colleague at Birkenhead Port. Eddie and Duncan were friends. Eddie had a brilliant mind and a very good sense of humour. I remember we students had just watched an American film on bovine mastitis. The presenter of the film wore a terrible brown suit. He finished the film by summarising what he said were the five main points, ticking each off on his fingers. Eddie was sitting in front and as soon as our tutor was out of hearing he turned round, holding up both hands and one foot, and with a “psst” sound said urgently, “Derek, Derek, I have fifteen points to make”.

Ian Adamson was also younger than me. He was stationed in Hamilton and very nervous but he had no need to be for he was astonishing knowledgeable. The Canadian Bob Stevenson was actually Dr Bill Stevenson but had been named Bob by Derek and it stuck. Stevenson was a son of the veterinary surgeon who had founded the giant Canadian firm of Stevenson Turner and Boyce who sold veterinary pharmaceuticals. Noel Allsup was another evangelist. He had a colostomy bag fitted following an operation; I suspect the surgery was for a malignancy. Despite the colostomy bag he was a long distance runner. He never told anyone about the colostomy and no-one ever mentioned it in my hearing but with my keen sense of smell there was a slight distinctive odour which again I never mentioned. Noel was a very clever student. Of the last of the eight, the Turk, Tufecki we never knew what to make. Possibly due to a language difficulty the course appeared too much for him. He never confided in any of us so we never knew what problems he might have had.

I think it was towards the end of the year that we were all invited to the Dick Ball. Anthea came up for it and stayed in my room at the Kildary. At the Ball I wore my tails. That was the last time in my life I ever wore them. In my bachelor days in Derby I had had the suit made and bought the stiff shirt and the white vest. I think the outfit cost £50 which was a lot of money in those days. Terry Marshall my boss in the practice got one at the same time. In the suit I certainly looked like Fred Astaire. But it was a pity I didn’t dance like Fred Astaire. Ian Adamson’s wife was in an eightsome reel with us and someone criticised this Englishman for the way he was dancing in the middle. I did as I was taught in Mrs Forrest’s dance class in Derby. “He’s doing it right” said Mrs Betty Adamson, for which I was very grateful.

In the picture below left to right are Me Anthea, Betty Adamson and Ian Adamson.

Me, Anthea, Betty & Ian Adamson at the “Dick Ball”

It felt very strange to be with Anthea in Edinburgh, almost like an illicit weekend, although I have never had an illicit weekend with which to compare it. Betty Buckner came up from Hampshire and brought her youngest daughter Jenny. It was good to see them both. Jenny was probably about eight years old at the time but I may well be wrong about this.

Derek Buckner had a tape recorder, a Grundig. He used it to help him study, feeding stuff into it that he had to remember and then listening to it over and over again. He said it helped. Eddie Madden had a contact in Preston who sold Tape recorders he bought a machine for himself and through him John Ockey and me also bought a machine. It was a Phillips. I must say that I found it of little help with my studies but we were all rather panicking over them and the low marks we were scoring. But they were wonderful for playing music. Derek had Zoltan Kodaly’s Hary Janos Suite on tape and I loved to listen to that.

Further entertainment in Edinburgh came on Saturday nights when we all went to an Indian Restaurant. At that time there were very few Indian Restaurants in the UK. For example I knew of none in Liverpool. But there was one in Edinburgh and Derek Buckner it was who discovered it. Every Saturday night we went there. My glasses always steamed up when I entered. I usually had Bhuna Ghost. In January the DVSM Cass met for the first time the DTVM class. They were studying for the Diploma in Tropical Veterinary Medicine for which Edinburgh is famed. In fact both the DVSM and the DTVM are highly prised.

The DTVM students were of African Asian or Indian origin. For a while we did not mix. Then Derek said something to one of them in Urdu. The man addressed smiled broadly and from then on we all got on like a house on fire. The DTVM students used to join us on Saturday nights at the Indian Restaurant. I may say they were highly critical of the food. An Indian on the DTVM course said to me “This fellow (meaning the chef) would not last five minutes in India”. But it all tasted good to us and I found I preferred it to Chinese food which I had often eaten in Liverpool.

The Chinese restaurant in Liverpool had been started by Kwok Fong. He had run or worked in lighters on the Mersey taking provender out to the ships. He then went on to start the restaurant. Anthea and Winifride and perhaps also another medical student friend Doreen Jacob had delivered one of Kwok’s daughters or grand daughters and the three were always well received at Kwok’s.

Coming back to the DVSM Course one term of this was to be spent at a Veterinary Investigation Laboratory. Eddie Madden and Ian Adamson had been seconded to the Veterinary Laboratory, Eskgrove, Lasswade, Edinburgh which specialised in poultry research. Eddie asked if any of us would be interested in buying a turkey for Christmas. The lab at Lasswade carried out various tests and as good scientists they included control animals, or animals which had not been infected or otherwise involved in experiments. Several of us agreed to buy a turkey. Eddie said we were not to be surprised if the turkey control animals turned out to be very large. That was an understatement. Although somewhat chastened by poor exam results I drove home from Edinburgh that Christmas with an enormous turkey and also a Phillips tape recorder.

The turkey I arranged to have put into the deep freeze at Woodside. That later caused problems for when I went to get it out of the freezer no-one knew where the chap was who held the key. I was late getting it out and as it was a very large bird it needed about four days to thaw out sufficiently to allow it to be cooked. We were able to cook it despite its large size because we had an Aga cooker installed in our bungalow home on the Wirral. But I learned a valuable lesson in that various bits of the turkey were cooked before the bird had fully thawed out. They result was a certain amount of brownish yellow meat. But the rest of the turkey was fine and it was so large there was plenty left for us to eat.

During our Christmas party The Head Office Regional Veterinary Officer (RVO) who was in charge of staff chose to telephone me about my next posting. I had anticipated that MAF would not have spent good money on my DVSM Course if they had not intended me to be transferred back into the field. But the call came at a very bad time for me. John Pierce told me at length all about the place I was to go to, Beverley in the East Riding of Yorkshire. Under the circumstances I did not pay nearly enough attention to what he was saying. I really ought to have asked him to call at another time but in those days nobody would have dared to do that. I did not get the best out of that telephone call.

Anthea and I drove over a few days later to Beverley to meet the DVO, Peter Baird. It was obvious even at first sight that he a very nervous and impatient man. “Come on, come on” he would say to another driver who for some reason was a little slow. I now recognise in him the signs of hypertension. We had a meal or something in his house. Anthea and I were astonished when at one point he decided the fire needed fuel and he called out loudly to his wife “Coals for the fire, woman” on this summons his wife Betty dutifully trotted out with the coal scuttle. I realised I was with a male chauvinist par excellence in an English county famed for male chauvinism.

With his staff he proved later to be equally impolitic. He said to one Veterinary Officer “I want to be a father to you Frank”. The reply came at length. “Well I am older than you Mr Baird so it is a biological impossibility. Secondly I already have a father. Thirdly if I wanted another father Mr Baird I most certainly would not pick you”.

During a lengthy train journey he told another Veterinary Officer to go to the lavatory. She said “Well I am happy to take directions from you most of the time but I think I know better myself when to go or not to go to the lavatory.” All in all it was obvious from the start that things would be very different for me serving under this DVO. And so it proved. Baird had his good points too. His main problem was lack of self confidence which he covered up by aggressive behaviour and the other fault was his narrow intellect. He had been promoted, it was said, because his wife, the long suffering Betty, had nursed Lady Ritchie, wife of the MAFF Chief Veterinary Officer. Sir John Ritchie in any case was known to greatly favour Scotsmen. Englishmen looking for promotion would refer to it as “The Tartan Curtain”. It was an early form of Ethnic Cleansing.

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