Adventures in Veterinary Medicine

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I am delighted to announce that Gethyn Edwards has completed his reading of the first volume of my memoirs: I have listened to the first chapter; although he is not me, his reading of the story is excellent.  We now have to go through the book together, to ensure that he has got the African and Argentine names correct.  Before he started his reading we had a two hour Skype meeting during which we discussed pronunciation and accents, and so I am sure that there will not be much to correct.




“The Veterinary Detectives –
e Sherlock Holmes than James Herriot”

This, the first volume of my memoirs, was published by the Book Guild in hardback in 2016, and when the hardback edition sold-out the publishers decided to reissue it in paperback form. However, this version has not sold well and so they decided to ‘remainder’ the rest of the copies. Rather than see them turned to pulp, I have acquired them to give to my friends and/or family.  Should you wish a copy or copies you may collect them from Middlefield House. For those coming to the reunion I will be happy to bring them with me, but we will be travelling by train. An alternative is for me to send you a copy by post:

The cost to pack and post the book in Britain will be        £4.00

to Europe will be       £11.00

to the rest of the world FAR TOO EXPENSIVE!

Payment may be made to my bank account: if you write and let me know how man y copies you want I will send you my bank details

Should you wish me to sign the book there will be a charge of £5: all this money will go to SOS Children’s Villages in Botswana, a charity with which I have had a long-standing connexion. Please write to me – [email protected]

You are welcome to have as many copies as you wish: I hope that you will pass them round your family and friends (an inexpensive present!).



My wife, Maxine Apergis was born during the second year of the Second World War, inHolbrook, Suffolk, into a medical family. She grew up in London and was educated at Cheltenham Ladies’ College; in her last year at school she won the Concerto Class at the Cheltenham Competitive Music Festival. She went onto study music at the Reid School of Music at Edinburgh University but left at the end of her first year because the course was too academic and didn’t contain enough ‘real’music.

In 1965 we were married went to live in Kenya, where Richard our eldest son was born. Son Guy and daughter Claire were born in England after our return to Britain where we bought a house in Willingham, Cambridgeshire, where Maxine met Jim Potter, a horn player who had played in the National Youth Orchestra, and who persuaded her to take up playing again as he needed an accompanist.

CClaire & Guy in Willingham  and with Maxine in the orchard

It was when we moved Gaborone, Botswana in 1986 that her musical career really took off. In Gaborone, she met and worked with David Slater, “Mr Music, Botswana”, who taught at Maru-a-Pula, the leading secondary school in the country: he also conducted the Gaborone Orchestra and ran several choirs. Maxine took lessons with David and he persuaded her to study for the Associated Board Teaching Diploma, which she obtained in 1988. Aside from her teaching, she gave solo piano concerts as well as accompanying the Gaborone Singers for their Christmas concert on Radio Botswana, individual singers, instrumentalists, and theatre performances given by the Capital Players (the local amateur theatre group).

When we moved to Arequipa, Perú in the 1986, Maxine was invited to teach at the Dunker Lavalle Music School in the city. She also gave private piano lessons: one former pupil is now conductor of The Arequipa’s Symphony Orchestra; a second is now a leading recorder player in South America. Maxine’s career as a soloist and accompanist burgeoned in Peru, where she gave solo recitals around the country for the American, French and German cultural organisations, for the British Council and in aid of a Catholic     children’s charity. She also accompanied visiting international instrumentalists, including an exciting evening in Cuzco with the French Cellist René Benedetti, when the French Consul insisted that she carry his pistol!

Maxine took masterclasses with Dr H. Delgado, a former pupil of Claudio   Arrau, and was invited with her colleague Hugo Cueto to give a two-piano concert to mark the 450th anniversary of the foundation of the City of Arequipa. The City awarded her the Diploma de Honor, equivalent to the freedom of the city, for her services to music in Perú.

The 450th Anniversary Concert                Diploma de Honor

In 1992 the family returned to Britain and we settled in Dumfries, When she arrived in the town Maxine began setting up a “permanent career” for herself and since that date she has taught more than 300 pupils from the ages of under 8 to over 80! She has accompanied more than 500 singers and instrumentalists in concerts, examinations, or festivals. She nurtured the talents of the young Nickie Spence and accompanied him at his first professional engagement. Alex  McQuiston was still at school when she accompanied this fine young cellist and she accompanied him while at University and into his first graduate concerts. Claudia Wood was another young Dumfries singer who benefited from Maxine’s care. She also took part in the musical life of the community: years. She joined the Music Club, was soon on the committee and for two years was President.

When the Dumfries and District Competitive Musical Festival Association fell on hard times we signed up as trustees and help nurse the society back into financial health. Together with Doreen Jaap, Maxine revitalized the classical music section of the Festival and in one year they had more than 150 entries in the different classes; The Dumfries Musical Theatre Company, The Guild of Players, Male Voice Choir, Balliol Consort and Solway Symfonia have all used her services as accompanist. With John Chaman (clarinet) and the sadly now deceased Susan Beeby (cello), Maxine formed the Caerlaverock Trio which gave concerts round the region, especially for Dumfries Arts Festival.

Today, Maxine plays in informal groups with the leading musicians in the region. For almost 30 years she has given pleasure and provided inspiration as well as tuition to young performers, several of whom have gone on to become professional musicians. On the occasion of her eightieth birthday, Dumfries and Galloway Life said MANY HAPPY RETURNS MAXINE, and “THANK YOU FOR THE MUSIC”..

Feeding the baby leopard





On Saturday 15th July I attended this symposium and had a stand to sell my books. The symposium was a disaster! Instead of glorifying the role that Edinburgh graduates – the doctors, vets, teachers, priests, and engineers had had in building ports, roads, railways, schools, churches, hospitals, clinics, and universities; teaching, healing the sick and controlling animal diseases, the social “scientists” went on about the terrible role that the university had played in the slave trade by accepting money from the profits of slavery. They complained that Edinburgh was behind Glasgow University in unravelling the wicked ways our forefathers behaved: and so judging the mores of the past by present day values.

They went so far as to suggest that the David Hume Tower should be renamed because he was a racialist; Hume was a great philosopher and one of the leaders of the Scottish Enlightenment which was responsible for the prosperity the world enjoys today. Almost the only African man who was mentioned was Julius Nyerere, who apart from being the first president of Tanganyika, translated Julius Caesar into Swahili.   They did not mention that the first South African vet qualified from the Dick Vet in the 1880s,  nor that he was a Cape Coloured! Coming up to the present day Sir David Jawarra (as he became), studied for the Diploma in Tropical Veterinary Medicine during my time at the Dick Vet, having obtained his veterinary degree in Glasgow. He became the first President of The Gambia. In my year was Mike Buada, with whom I have  lost touch but when I was in Ghana, I was informed that he was Dean of the Kumasi Veterinary School.  In the year below me was Ishmael Muriithi, who became Director of Veterinary Services in Kenya and would have gone on to greater things had he not died tragically young. In the same year was Noah Wekesa, who worked in clinical veterinary practice in Kenya for many years before taking up a political career which culminated in his becoming Minister of Tourism. I believe that the University should be proud of assisting these and many other young Africans.

At the end of the morning session we adjourned to the auditorium of the McEwan Hall which is where the stalls were, and where a young Nigerian music scholar  gave a short but delightful recital of Classical and Romantic piano music. Several people showed  interest in my books. We ate a buffet lunch as we chatted to potential purchasers. The picture shows Maxine working on the stand. I did not attend the afternoon session of the symposium which was devoted to the future.  I believe that it should be pointed out to these social “scientists” that Edinburgh University led the way in African development,  and that luckily there were no social scientists around at the time !



My original intention for the cove of “A Vet in Perú” was to have a painting by Evaristo Callo  Anco, that contained the Andes mountains, alpacas, and  a portrait of me together with my son Richard.  The reason that I singled out just one of my three children was that Richard and I had worked together on a project to investigate the economic benefits to the campesino of controlling parasites in their camelid animals.  Richard had to undertake a project for his “A” Lever examination in Biology and at the time the self-financing veterinary laboratory that I had set up was in a reasonable financial position and so able to offer free veterinary services to the animals of Andean farmers. The reason for the work was to introduce ourselves to the farmers and gain their trust

I sent Evaristo a selection of digital photographs of the volcanoes near the project site, of the herds of llamas and alpacas with which we worked, together with various photos of Richard and me; I explained that I wanted the picture to extend round the spine of the book and he produced this wonderful painting, just as  wanted it and he even had an alpaca looking at the viewer from the spine as the book stood on a shelf.

However, the Publishers decided that a picture of the famous tourist venue Machu Picchu would be a greater attraction to would-be purchasers and decided to use this, although they did add a llama to the cover at my request.  They did agree to use Evaristo’s fine painting as the “frontispiece”. The story of Richard’s project is told in “A Vet in Perú”.

One of the photos I had sent to Evaristo was me wearing a tuxedo: I had sent it to him because it was a good picture of my full face and so the first draft of the picture was  of me wearing a bow tie and tuxedo preparing to undertake veterinary work!  The painting is now in Richard’s collection.  This was soon corrected and the final painting showed us both in working clothes.

Because it was his “A” level project, Richard designed the plan of work with some input from my LABVETSUR colleague and he carried out all the statistical analysis on the results.  Despite my sending a letter to Oundle School, informing them that the vast majority of the planning had been the work of my son, the examiners were unimpressed and Richard only received a “B” grade for his project.  However, he has the satisfaction that the results of his “A” level project being published in two peer-reviewed journals.  He gained entry to Edinburgh University where he read for a Master of Arts degree in biology.

Caballos de Paso

When I was preparing the photographs for “A Vet in Perú” I searched to find a good picture of a caballo de paso with its rider, but could find nothing to compare with the watercolour by Evaristo Callo Anco, which demonstrates clearly what the sport is about. When you look at the rider you can see ‘stillness’ even with the horse is going full tilt.  The rider wears a broad-brimmed hat, a silk neckerchief, a poncho, long spurs, and his feet are held in box stirrups.  All this is clearly seen in Evaristo’s painting. The rider  must seem to be motionless, and he controls the horse with his finger tips on the reins.  Normally four horseman form a team and they perform in unison and demonstrations usually end with the horse lined up facing the audience. The set off at full speed towards the watchers and at the very last moment the horses swerve away, seemingly of their own accord.

The caballo de paso does not trot, but ambles.  For the trot the diagonal legs move together, but for the pacings horse it is the legs on the same side that move, making for a very much smoother ride.  The horse ridden by cowboys in the United States are quarter horses with a  similar action to the caballo de paso; this enables the rider to spend the whole day in the saddle.

There is a much more detailed  description in “A Vet in Perú”, the sales of which have been poor, despite the good critiques it has received.   If you do not wish to own a copy of this book, could I please ask you to request a copy from your local library. To date there have been no critiques posted on the website: who will be the first ?



  They can weigh up to 4 tons

They can weigh up to 4 tons

Reviews of ‘A Vet in Perú’ have been very positive; however, some people have told me that they prefer the first volume because there is much in it concerning Africa, and its wild animals. It is true that the wildlife of the mountains and jungles of South American, cannot compare with that of the plains and forests of Africa.  There is nothing on the continent of Africa that can compare with the marine life on the Pacific coast of South America. We saw more wildlife on a boat trip to the Ballestas Islands than anywhere else in Perú; the sea was very rough and the helmsman had difficulty in holding the boat still so that we could watch the antics of the thousands of sea lions, the waddling of the Humboldt penguins or the pelicans swimming majestically by. The movement of the boat made taking photos a difficult business. Not even the wildebeest migrations in the Serengeti compare with those islands for numbers of birds and animals. It brought home to me, the massive numbers of fish that there must be in the sea to feed all these birds and animals. I thought back to my practice days in Malton, Yorkshire where one of the more interesting clients was Flamingo Park Zoo, which had just opened up in Kirby Misperton under the direction of Reg Bloom who had come there from Windsor Safari Park after working as a game trapper in Kenya.  The zoo was constantly acquiring new animals, including a pair of southern elephant seals which had just arrived from South Georgia; they had travelled each in a large open wooden box and for the many weeks on board ship they had not eaten.  We tried them on some herrings, and one had eaten greedily, the second showed no interest in food.  We released the one that was feeding into the newly constructed pool, and I worked out a diet sheet, to slowly build up the fish intake.  I was at a loss to know what to do with the recalcitrant seal, and I finally decided to give a large dose of mixed vitamins by mouth, to stimulate its appetite; I stood on the wooden case then tickled the mouth of the seal with a small stick! – he responded by opening his mouth to grab the stick and as he did so I poured the medicine down his throat – a primitive but effective technique.  It produced a very rapid result and not the one I was expecting: within a few moments the seal started vomiting and out poured a bucketful of intestinal nematode worms! The seal was released into the pool.  This had taken place on a Friday afternoon and I suggested that they feed the seal with one fish that evening, A second fish was to be give the next morning and two more were to be given at midday, and so the quantity was to be built up slowly over the following week.  I was at a dinner party that Saturday night when the phone went.  Our hosts answered it, and indicated that the call was for me. It was Reg. Bloom, and he was very worried:

“Can you get here straight away, that elephant seal you treated is bleeding to death.”

“I will be with you in about half an hour: can you make sure that there are two or three people to help.”

I had no idea what to expect or what I would need to do: I always carried chloral hydrate, which, in those days, was a useful general anaesthetic for large animals (the new anaesthetic agents were still not available for vets).  I arrived at the zoo to find at least a dozen helpers round the pool and the seals swimming round in what appeared to be blackcurrant juice; the one who had refused to eat was obviously in some trouble as it was thrashing about and it had damaged its flippers on the concrete of the pool.

“Tell me what has happened, it seems to me that one of the seals is suffering from severe colic.”

Reg. Bloom pushed forward a young girl who was almost in tears.

“I fed the seal this morning and gave it two fish as you instructed.  I fed him again at lunchtime and gave it three as you instructed, but he looked so mournful that I gave him some more, and in the end I gave him the whole bucketful.”

“Well now we know the problem we can go about sorting it out.  But remember it takes a long time to starve an animal to death but overfeeding can kill in hours.  Can you drain the pool?” I said to Reg. Once we had drained the pool a couple of the workers roped the colicking  half ton beast,  and for the first and only time in my life I gave an intravenous injection to a seal and as the chloral hydrate went in I could see the seal relaxing.  Once the animal was anaesthetized, I was able to give it a detailed examination. Both front flippers had multiple abrasions, which I cleaned with a mild disinfectant solution.  I told Reg. not to refill the pool until the animal had recovered, and the young lady to stick to the diet: I washed up and left.  The seal made a complete recovery. I returned to the dinner party, smelling of disinfectant, but with a good story to tell. Just seeing what one elephant seal could eat in a day and there before my eyes on one small island were thousands of sea lions and hundreds of thousands of sea birds and there were thousands of such islands along the Pacific coast of South America. What a repository of food are the oceans of the world and all the while the boobies were trying to deplete them.



Golden Hare Books in Edinburgh is the most delightful bookshop with very friendly staff: it was the perfect place to launch ‘A Vet in Perú’, and a great place for a Peruvian party. David not only did all the carrying and lifting he poured out the pisco withy élan. A goodly crowd turned up although attendance was reduced by ill health and personal problems. I read out the publishers blurb on the book and spoke about farming in Perú and a little about the British aid project. Aurora Salazar, the Peruvian secretary to the project, was then introduced to the audience. I presented a copy of the book to her and to Joan Taylor, the widow of the project administrator. Aurora then read an extract from the book in which the laboratory team travelled up into the Andes to report to the campesinos the results of a research project on improving the productivity of their animals. I then read about one of the battles that I had with the Ministry of Agriculture vets, in which I lost my temper and was so rude that I thought I would be deported: however, my barbs had struck home and the Ministry staff realized that I was right. I was not deported. I concluded by telling the audience about my feelings for the beautiful country that is Perú and the party continued as the pisco flowed.

Those who were unable to get top the launch should head to Golden Hare Books to obtain their copy of the book. I must thank the staff of the bookshop for helping everything go with a swing.


“More Sherlock Holmes than James Herriot – The Veterinary Detectives” I describe mounting a production of “Cry the Beloved Country” by Alan Paton and bringing all the Botswana school children studying the book for their school certificate to Gaborone to see the play.  The idea was not new to me: when I was working in Kenya, the Theatre Group in Nairobi regularly staged the “set book” so that children educated in rural towns, where there was no theatre, had an opportunity to see the play before they had to take their examinations.  I had the good fortune to secure the part of Guildenstern in Hamlet when it was staged in the National Theatre, Nairobi, directed by John Eames, who had modelled his production on that by Trevor Nunn in the Stratford Memorial Theatre. The set and cast were basically black and white and at the back of the stage were these three “Toblerones” which could present a total black, white or mirrored backdrop. We did 21 performances: on Monday to Friday we played to school audiences and on Saturday there was a matinée as well as an evening performance for paying customers.  

The play was an artistic triumph for Andrew Warwick as Hamlet as well as for John.  But it was an unlucky show: at the dress rehearsal Claudius made a lunge and tore the ligaments in one knee; by the second night Polonius had lost his voice to a fungal infection and was informed that if he went on the stage he would permanently damage his vocal chords: we were able to find a replacement at only a few hours’ notice. On the second Friday night my foot was so painful that I was unable to put on my boots and so played the show in my stockinged feet. That night I was in severe pain and so on the Saturday morning I went to the doctor. He informed me that I had an infected jigger under my big toenail, (a jigger is a burrowing flea that bores in under a toenail and deposits its egg sac: as the larvae develop the increasing size puts on pressure and it becomes very painful).  The doctor, cut back the nail and removed the sac, dressed and bandaged the wound.
“You must not put your foot to the ground for 48 hours or you might get sepsis.”

I phoned John to say that I could not go on but would sit in the wings and say my lines while someone walked my part.  John had a better idea and from where he got a Victorian basket wheel chair I never found out,  but it enabled Rosencrantz to push me round the stage.  Nobody thought it odd.  By the following Tuesday I was able to get my boot on and gave up the wheelchair.

I enjoyed being part of the team and was often on the stage with little to say and I was able to watch the audience.  Many of the children knew the play well and I could see them mouthing the words.  There was no need for a prompt; should an actor dry up then a voice from the audience set him on his way. I like to think that our productions for the African children helped them with their studies and possibly imbued them with a love of Shakespeare.

Snake Man

Constantine Ionides moving a Gabon viper

Constantine Ionides moving a Gabon viper

“Conan Doyle was a great writer but he knew nothing  about  snakes.”

The voice broke my revery: I was standing in the Nairobi  Snake Park, looking at a Gabon viper. I turned and saw a scruffy little man with a cigarette drooping from the corner of his mouth;  he was wearing an old bush hat, a dirty shirt and a pair  of shorts that did not require a belt;  on his feet were an old pair of tackies but no socks.

“The Sherlock Holmes  story called the “Speckled Band” is full of errors.  To start with  this snake, being one of the heaviest venomous snakes,  is not capable of climbing down a bell-rope  and even less could it climb back up.  But the biggest error is that this is a venomous  snake that kills with a haemolytic toxins and so the animal bitten will  take days if not weeks to die as the red blood cells are destroyed. The victim would not be found dead within 12 hours ”

I did not know who was this man who was so badly dressed and yet spoke in the clipped tones of an English public school. He was Constantine Ionides – “The snake man”, one of the world’s leading authorities  on snakes, who at the time was living in Tanzania but was making one of his regular visits to Nairobi to bring snakes that he had caught.  The snake park was not just a tourist attraction: the snakes were regularly “milked” for their venom which was used to produce anti-serum to treat people bitten by these creatures.

This one of the many stories that did not get into the final volume of “More Sherlock Holmes than James Herriot – The Veterinary Detectives” . However, I might be able to work it into a later volume.


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