A lot to learn

There was something about being a city vet that always appealed to Mark, something about the delight on the children’s faces when they saw a live animal, bigger than the stick insects, gerbils or cats they lived with.

Nothing, however, had prepared him for Brady ‘What’s that?’ Smith.

*

“No-one will take you seriously if you wear an Eyeore tie,” Emily, Mark’s girlfriend, had said that morning.

“I don’t want them to take me seriously, they’re children.”

“What about their teachers? Aren’t you supposed to be setting a good example?”

“AA Milne, Emily. There’s nothing more wholesome than Winnie the Pooh.”

“Eyeore.”

“Exactly.”

With that she’d kissed him goodbye and gone off to her first day with Clampett, Taylor and Browne.

Mark rinsed his cereal bowl, grabbed his black bag, dropped the flat’s Yale latch, then locked above and below it, something they’d never had to do at Broughton Heath.

As newlyweds they had little to steal but if the place didn’t look secure it was an open invitation – or so said Nick and Rachel who’d moved to London a couple of years before, and whose neighbours had both been burgled.

So after checks bordering on OCD, Mark took the no.27 bus making a mental note of the route so he could walk it home.

Entering the surgery immediately felt like home and Mark knew he’d made the right decision.

“Morning, Mark,” his new boss, Tom Sanderson, said before sipping a cup of steaming black coffee. “Want one?”

“Please.”

“If you’re quick, Josie will get it for you… kitchen on the left, from then on you make your own. We all do.”

“Sure. Thanks, Tom.”

“Good to have you on board. We’ve got Roehill Juniors today.”

“Looking forward to it.”

“Tell me that again later and I’ll buy you a pint.”

“Deal,” Mark said, and disappeared into the kitchen.

*

Mug in hand, Mark was given a guided tour of the complex then shown to his office and given his itinerary for the day, with 10am ’til noon blocked out for the school visit. This left four early slots for patients; Muffin, a sock-swallowing Beagle; Roger, a sneezing rabbit (who it turns out was allergic to carrots); Daisy the Jack Russell for her first inoculations; and Henry the fat hamster who turned out to Henrietta and fat for a very specific reason.

Mark was writing up Henrietta’s notes when he heard loud voices coming from the car park. Pulling up his blind, he saw a congregation of royal blue-uniformed children running in circles, waving their hands and a couple playing patty cake. There were two teachers with them, a tall blonde lady and a shorter black woman who stopped suddenly, making a couple of the children bump into her, then blew a whistle, the children immediately standing to attention. With a click of her fingers the children formed an orderly line and followed her and her colleague round the corner, towards the building’s front door. Knowing he had a minute or two at most, he finished his notes, screen-locked the computer, and headed out into reception to meet them.

The children were standing gazing up their teachers, the blonde woman talking to one of the receptionists, Sylvie, who was pointing in Mark’s direction.

“Thanks Sylvie,” Mark said, and with a swoop of his arms, said, “Do follow me, ladies and gentlemen,” and the teachers escorted the children, one adult at either end.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMark walked past his office and the consulting rooms, and through a back door. Some of the children gasped and looked around at the array of animals; the pigs, cows and chickens being the nearest enclosures. Mark turned to the two teachers. “Good morning, I’m Mark Sullivan. I’ll be your guide for today. Any questions at all just let me know.”

“By raising your hand,” the blonde teacher said to the group, then turned to Mark. “Erin Talbot, Mrs, and this is Mrs Jackson.”

“Pleased to meet you Mrs Talbot, Mrs Jackson.”

Mrs Jackson smiled briefly then clicked her fingers at a young boy who had started to wander off. “Keep in the group, Brady.”

The boy duly returned but looked around him rather than at her.

Unsure as to what the children wanted to know, Mark showed them the first pen, of a variety of chickens, and explained the different species, ensuring he didn’t get too technical.

The pigs followed next and while some of the children stayed with Mark, the rest went on to the cows with their two teachers.

Brady stood closest to the pigs, in front of Mark, and started emulating their noises.

“Very good… Brady, is it?”

The boy nodded.

“You like pigs?” Mark asked.

The boy shrugged his shoulders.

“You don’t know?”

Brady shook his head.

“I like pigs,” Mark said.

The boy said nothing but looked up at Mark.

“Do you eat bacon?”

The boy nodded eagerly.

“Ham sandwiches.”

He nodded again.

“Then you like pigs,” Mark said, trying to be helpful.

The boy frowned.

“Bacon… ham… come from pigs and…” Mark stopped talking when the boy screwed up his face and started bawling. Mark went to crouch down to him, to console him, but Brady ran towards Mrs Talbot and buried his face in her skirt.

Mrs Jackson stormed over to Mark. “What have you done?”

“I’m sorry, Mrs Jackson but he didn’t seem to know what a pig was.”

“And you told him?”

“I am a vet.”

“And he’s just a boy.”

As Mark looked at Brady, he realised he had a lot to learn about children before he and Emily started a family.

***

Photography courtesy of morguefile.com.

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