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Our friends in red

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THERE they go. Our friends in red, zipping around country lanes, effortlessly locating houses and farmyard tracks, their vehicles appearing immune to the plague of potholes. Their blazing colour and trademark logo can be spotted for miles across the low-lying fields of England, conjuring a warm, noble feeling in the soul. Their daily routine resembles that of a dairy farmer, with peaks of work in the early mornings and afternoons. I am of course talking about the Royal Mail; the posties.

As a farm vet, not a day goes by that I don’t meet them on their rural rounds. I feel an undisclosed connection between the posties and myself. We both spend an insurmountable amount of time on the rural roads of the country. We grow to know each other with a causal salute of the headlights as we pass on the by-ways. Although they may appear to be merely deliverers of lab reports and client cheques, I’ve come to believe they provide other services to vets.

They are an indispensable source of geographical knowledge. If they don’t know how to get to Moathouse Farm, then it shall remain undiscovered.

A few years ago, as I went to an early-morning calving, my usual route was blocked by a fallen tree. I drove through the area’s by-roads in my head, resisting the urge to phone the farmer for fear of losing the little respect and professionalism I had. At last, upon me with twinkling headlights came my friend in red. He instructed me the way round and wished me luck. Being rather cocky I told the farmer I’d worked it out myself, only to be told by him at the post-op check a day later that the helpful postie had not corroborated my story: busted.

Like ourselves, posties rely on a range of inanimate objects to get the job done: postboxes, postcodes and vans. Postboxes serve two main purposes. First, they provide an alternative route to getting samples to the lab and circumventing the rather awkward discussion at the post office counter about whether it’s blood or poo today. Second, and more importantly, the red, metal bastions of the countryside provide a meeting place and aid to directions. With the demise of the phonebox, directions to the farm from the postbox have become more commonplace. If the postbox-based directions fail, there’s always the postcode and a sat nav. The workhorse is the trusty little red van which has changed little from the opening scene of Postman Pat. I’ve never had the pleasure to sit in a Royal Mail van but wonder what delights the passenger footwell holds. Does it act as a functional reservoir for items such as empty crisp packets, orange peel left by last week’s student and warm calcium? Perhaps not.

On a more sincere note, posties and vets provide a similar service. Some of the areas we serve are remote and the postman or vet may be the only person that the farmer sees in a day. We act as stewards of the rural human population; bringing them (hopefully) good news and a friendly face.

There is one major difference between us though. Posties have an incurable desire to wear shorts irrespective of the current meteorological conditions. It puts me to shame when I step onto a yard having struggled to turn the steering wheel due to wearing three fleeces and there, in the cold light of the morning, is Graham in his hi-vis jacket and grey shorts popping Mrs Jones’ birthday cards and electricity bill through her letter box. Now that’s a real rural man.

If you would like to contribute to ‘A practitioner ponders’, please e-mail vet.inpractice@bmj.com for further information. We pay a small honorarium for contributions that are published.

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