It was time to organise my prac work, towards the end of University studies. I picked out a list- one had to include pigs, not my burning desire, but it had to be done. I was talking with one of the final year students, and he had a look over my list.
“Oh- you’re going to work with that fella from Toowoomba,” he chuckled, and shook his head. “Ask him how many flat tyres he averages a month!”
“Why on earth would I ask him that?” I asked.
“Never mind, I’d hate to spoil the story for you,” He told me, and wandered off to his next lecture.
My curiosity was tickled, but pretty soon I forgot all about it. It was months later before I shook off the filthy hangover I had earned on the night after our last exam, packed up my trusty mazda 929 station wagon (a tiny 4 cylinder motor trying to heave a very heavy, big car along the road – it was never, ever safe to overtake anything in that old beast!) and headed off up the highway to Toowoomba. I dropped into the clinic on the first morning, and was shown around. I got to be the extra body in the consult room…
“This is Edward, a final year vet student, he’s here on prac work with us for a couple of weeks.” The boss would tell them.
Then I’d fade into the background and soak it all up like a sponge, watching intently, listening, learning how to interact with real, live, breathing clients. He’d get me to do an exam too, and to listen to a heart murmur he’d discovered, or look down into a yucky ear, full of discharge and pus. He was a good bloke, he really did his best to teach me the real nitty gritty that academia simply cannot provide.
We went out to piggeries – screaming loud, with a smell that hit you in the nose like a sledgehammer. As soon as you walked in through the footbaths (utter cleanliness being a big priority), the pigs would get excited, and all start rushing around their pens and yelling at the top of their voices. We might have to restrain one, to collect blood. to do this, you loop a noose of rope over the top jaw, just behind the canine teeth, and then tie that up right close to the mesh fence, so they can’t move their heads. Another man then holds the struggling pig against the fence, lengthways, with a strong knee. As soon as you catch them with the noose, the scream they emit steps up about five thousand decibels, and that’s nothing to the extra volume they effortlessly and continuously emit when you stick a needle into them. It’s like sticking your ear right beside a jet engine. Conversation is rendered silent, no matter how you shout, so all pig farmers have to be quite adept at lip reading. As soon as you slip off the noose, they give a shake, a grunt, and go back to happily doing what they were before.
We also spent a fair bit of time on the road, in his truck. The first day, he scored a flat tyre. He whipped out of the car and changed it, in, I kid you not, about 3 minutes flat. He was like a formula one pitman, every move lightning swift, never a wasted motion. What the other fellow had said to me so many months before lit up and went ‘ding’ in my brain. He hopped back in and rolled on, totally unconcerned.
“Do you get many flat tyres?” I asked, after a while.
“Oh, not many,” he said. He thought for a moment… “Maybe one or two a week?”
“Jeez, that seems like a hell of a lot,” I replied.
“Nah, ” he said. “That’s about normal. Might be three in a week if I have a bad week, but that’s pretty rare. Just one or two, same as normal.”
He was totally at peace with this, it was just normal for him. I was fascinated! I would have thought a flat tyre once a month was out of control, a huge number of them. I watched him drive, and he was driving nice and neatly, not running over the sharp edges, just driving like anyone else would. So why did he get so many flatties? It’s a mystery to me, to this very day. He got another couple of flats in the two weeks I was working with him, too. The tyre dealer must have loved him!