On James Herriot

In James Herriot’s autobiographical book, If Only They Could Talk, we see that Herriot has many strong characteristics which help him through his tough, and oftentimes demanding, career. He has a vast knowledge of his practice, as well as his employer and friend, Seigfried Farnon. Herriot has a great sense of humour, and is able to take embarrassment excellently. He also works well in strange, or uncomfortable situations. One of his strong character traits is his adaptability, he is very flexible with his customers, and adapts to their lifestyles. James Herriot’s most endearing quality is his deep passion and concern for his patients.
James Herriot has a tremendous memory of all the signs, symptoms, medications, diseases, and sicknesses concerning animals. This helps him very much throughout his career. He remembers thinking to himself about a horse reference book, “I had gone through it so often in my mind final year that I could recite stretches of it like poetry.”(1) He is able to deduct a patient’s problem without even needing an x-ray, or anything of that sort. In one situation, a bull was in danger of dying, and no one knew what was wrong. Herriot felt the rays of sun on his face and knew then that the bull had sun-stroke, and when asked, the owner told him he had put the bull out to pasture for a long length of time. James Herriot also understood his employer, Farnon, well. He knew when to steer clear, and when to ask him for advice and guidance. Herriot said: “I could read his mind without much trouble.”(2)
Herriot had a wonderful sense of humour, and was always happy to get a laugh, even if it was at his own expense. Once, he was out with another aged veterinarian, Angus Grier, and found himself in quite a predicament. Grier insisted on Herriot coming with him to a cleanse a cow. This was a fairly simple procedure, where you remove the afterbirth still inside the cow. Herriot did not feel he needed to go, thus he said he did not have the proper clothes for the job. Grier was annoyed, but forcefully suggested Herriot put on Grier’s new calving outfit. It was an immense plastic suit of armor, and Grier made Herriot put every part of it on, including the helmet. This was, of course, quite ridiculous just for cleansing out a cow. But Herriot did it, and was the center of attention at the families’ farm. The suit scared a little girl so much, she started crying! When Farnon first invited Herriot to come and see about being his assistant, Herriot found himself very much alone: “This was all very odd. Why should anyone write for an assistant, arrange a time to meet him and then go to visit his mother?”(3) Herriot waited patiently, and tried to start a conversation with a woman who came to call on Farnon. He also passed the time by imagining Farnon. He kept playing scenes in his mind of a short, pudgy, satirical German man. He was way off target, as it turned out. When Farnon showed up, they went out on a call so Seigfried could see Herriot at work. As it turned out, Herriot had to open up a swelling on a Clydesdale’s hoof. The hoof was so very heavy, and to make matters worse, the horse was leaning on him: “I was wondering how it would look when I finally fell flat on my face…”(4) James Herriot was also very aware of his patients, and found them very humourous. This must have helped very much in his practice. Having a good sense of humour certainly helps any situation. Making humour out of something makes everything seem better, and happier. He also took time to think about how funny he must have looked to the animals. The very last sentence of this book refers to all of the animals Herriot has treated: “And do they manage to get a laugh out of it all?”(5)
Herriot’s ability to adapt to his surroundings has helped him very much. He has learned to deal with the people of the Dales, and understand them. Adaptibility is a very significant trait to have when you