Cowboys & Italians

I wrote this on Friday, and I can only assume that I forgot to publish it because my brain was so frazzled… but here we go!

So this week has been absolutely packed with stuff to talk about: the good, the bad and the downright ugly!

Monday was straight in at the usual 9am lectures for our entry into Veterinary Public Health. What’s that? It’s the line veterinary professionals form to hold back the thousands of zoonotic diseases from ya’ll. I’m talking the terrifying stuff like listeria, Hendravirus, ebola, anthrax… eugh. At every single step along the way from farm to fork and anywhere else animals interface with humans, there’s a vet. These lectures were one part dry, one part horrifying. We’re putting pressure on our natural world, and driving animals into closer contact with people. And the result is a rapid emergence of lethal zoonotic diseases that previously lived harmlessly in the environment. Global travel means that pathogens don’t respect political borders and as much as I marvel at the efficiency and order of viruses in particular, it’s not a pleasing thought.

Tuesday and Wednesday saw more of these lectures, so the information flowed thick and fast. But each one was delivered by the most Italian Italian on the planet. If ever I got bored to distraction about Hazard Analysis at Critical Control Points, I could just sit and listen to his accent. The little ‘a’ on the end of every word, the ‘eh?’ in the middle of each sentence, and the crown jewel of it all… his pronunciation of ‘burger’.

“If’a you had’a bad’a meat’a eh?… say’a dodgy booger…”

Oh, my. I lost it every time he said the word, and had to sob with laughter under the desk so that he couldn’t see me.

But anything was better than our pig lecture on Tuesday. I was looking forward to this one, and ultimately I found the notes very interesting, especially given the sheer concentration of pigs in Yorkshire. Our lecturer didn’t work at the university, but for a specialist pig veterinary service, managing pig farms, their productivity, welfare and biosecurity. She said to us that, “What’s in your notes will be on the exam.” which flustered me a bit as I scanned the four solid sheets of tiny writing.

But as she started talking through, no… rattling through… her lecture, I flapped the pages backwards and forwards. What is she talking about? Where has she put this in the notes? I highlighted frantically.

Soon, and seemingly in synchrony with the rest of the lecture hall, I realised that what she was saying had nothing to do with the notes, except the common theme of pigs. Whilst the notes discussed rearing, slaughtering, legislation, welfare, hygiene etc. she told us about what a great job her company was doing, and showed us lots of maps and pie charts. What a spectacular waste of time.

In contrast, Tuesday afternoon brought to me the kind of thing I came to vet school to do: milking. Yep, it was the bus down to the school’s dairy farm and a session on milk composition and value before pulling on enormous waterproofs and marching down to the parlour.

No, not a parlour where you sit on a stool and pull on a cow’s teats for three hours. Specifically, a herringbone parlour, where the cows stand on a platform facing away from the aisle at both sides. Thankfully, I was extremely familiar with the layout and process, so when the black and white ladies came in, I was happily putting machines onto their udders for two hours. Much to their objection, I might add. There were a lot of flies that day, and that meant a lot of kicking. When you have your face and arms between the back feet of a cow, this is not what you want. But I loved it. I looked around at the beautiful rows of cow anuses and thought, “This is where I go to school. What an amazing thing.”

But the event of the week, the one the school had been building up to for the last few weeks, and which finally arrived on Tuesday night… was Mummies & Daddies.

I have two vet parents in second year, grandparents in years above that, and two siblings in my year. This is my vet family. And this was our family night. The theme was: kids were cows, parents were cowboys and grandparents were sheriffs.

The rumours about Mummies & Daddies had accumulated over the preceding days, and when the event arrived, I was nervous. Are the stories true? What will they do to me? Can I cancel gracefully?

The answer to that last question was no. No, you cannot cancel now. You haven’t attended any of the club nights with your family, and this is the family event of the year. Grow a pair – you’re going.

The time to arrive at the flat was 20:33. Earlycomers and latecomers would be punished, so they said. So, the five of us stood outside the flat door in the spitting rain, dressed as cows, waiting for the right minute to enter. When we did knock, we were too early, and sent back out into the rain.

Eventually the door opened again, and two girls stood there with trays, “Take your colostrum and vaccine!” they shouted.

As I entered the door, I collected my shot of vodka and then my shot of… milk. Chucking the vodka back and chasing it down with milk, we trudged upstairs to the flat. Marching happily in the door, we were assaulted by a line of water pistols, and scurried through to the lounge, where we were given name tags to hang around our necks. I read mine upside down, and saw that I was named “Meatloaf” of the “Horny Ranch”.

“Right. Everyone on all fours, and give us your best cow impression. The loser has to do a forfeit.”

Dropping to our hands and knees, we crawled around the room mooing for a length of time that likely felt much, much longer than it was, all the while being targeted by the water pistols. The least convincing bovine was identified, and given a shot. No, I don’t mean a shot of alcohol. I mean, she was given a milk/vodka mix via a big syringe squirted into her mouth. Yeah, that kind of shot.

Next, we were invited to help ourselves to drinks in the kitchen. Leaving my bag and its contents in the lounge, I moseyed through to the kitchen to investigate what was on offer. Halfway to pouring some punch, someone shouted, “Whose milk is this!?”

Crap.

I emerged guiltily from the kitchen, “Mine.”

Along with two others who had made the same ghastly mistake, I was told, “You have to forfeit. Down it, the whole lot.”

“The whole lot!?” I couldn’t believe it. A pint of milk. A whole pint.

“Yep.”

And so off I went, the whole bleeding pint in one go. And you know what? I did it. Not that it was a pleasant feeling afterwards, but managing a forfeit like that is a point up on those who enforce it.

“First game! There’s a parsnip hidden inside the flat, the one who finds it gets a prize!”

As I began looking, I suddenly doubted whether I knew what a parsnip looked like, but I carried on. Ultimately, my brother found it in the next room. His prize?

“Lick it. Yeah, lick the parsnip.”

“First of all,” he said, “It’s not a parsnip, it’s a swede. Second of all, it went out of date on the thirtieth of September.”

But, as you might expect, he was pressured into licking the swede. Credit to him, he even took a bite out of it.

Next, I was given two balloons to attach to my trouser button, as my udder. It was my job to prevent my udder from being burst for the evening. Immediately, I didn’t trust anyone in the room.

And the next game? A proper uni classic: shot roulette. For those not familiar, it’s a roulette wheel, but each number corresponds to a shot glass. They were filled with a variety of things: milk/vodka mixes, punch, cider and straight vodka. I can tell you, everything got significantly funnier after a few rounds of that game.

What next? Ah, yes, musical statues.

I was out, on the very first stop. Why? Because someone asked me a question, and I was so busy answering that I didn’t hear the music stop. And my forfeit was a trip to the slaughterhouse (a cardboard box in the corner of the room), where my forehead was marked for slaughter and I was put to death with a plastic pistol.

But I was soon back in the party and learning the hoedown dance, as well as mastering a very simple but challenging party game. A cereal box has the top cut off, and you must pick it up with your mouth. Hands can’t touch the floor, only feet. Every round, a layer is cut off the box, so it gets shorter and shorter.

And I made it all the way down to the base of the box. Doesn’t sound all that difficult, does it? Give it a go, you’ll see!

Having impaired my coordination and torn a lot of muscles, it was time for more roulette and lots of family photos. Finally, after being offered yet another roulette round, I put my foot down and said no, the room is getting unsteady. Or is it me?

But what an amazing night I had. My family are absolutely fantastic, the spirits were high, the games were hilarious, and I just felt at home. Dressed as a cow. In a cardboard box.

Also note my clear recollection of the entire night. That has to count for something, right?

Thankfully, the first forelimb dissection was on Thursday, not Wednesday. I’m not sure many of us could have handled a dissection that Wednesday.

We set about exposing the extrinsic muscles of the left forelimb, which was really supposed to be a case of taking the skin off the trunk and leg, and lifting the fascia off to expose the muscles. What we actually did for three solid hours was attempt to remove layer upon layer of fat from our elderly labrador.

Fat, fat, fat. Everywhere. On everything. Between everything. Coating everything.

By the end, our hands were cramping from removing all this fat, but the job was done. And I had my moments to marvel at how beautifully put-together the animal is. But boy, he was fat.

Next week looks equally busy, with more wonderful cell biology, more dissections, a zillion lectures on cattle handling… and an actual session handling cattle! This weekend, my folks are coming up, so there’s lots to look forward to. I can’t wait!

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