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Alistair Gets his Goat
by Gnome de Plume

Goat It would appear that Gnome de Plume, from the Fantasy Archers topic of The Archers message board, has an even lower opinion of Alistair's veterinary skills than Sam does.

It stared straight back at him: big, brown, round, unblinking and with a defiant, questioning look, Alistair thought. And it had a funny black vertical stripe in the middle, too. Very interesting, indeedy: wonder what THAT meant? Its left eyebrow rose slowly. Alistair blinked first; once, then several times, quickly. He looked away suddenly, an uncomfortable, unsure feeling rising in his stomach. He scratched its head. An itch started up straight away, moving in a zigzag fashion across his scalp. This was what it was all about! This was what he had spent so many years wanting. Yes! Except for that itchy bit: Shula would be SO cross again.

His mind raced at all the possibilities available to him, like tumblers on a fruit machine. No, no, no nooooooo - bad simile. Like, er, like a vet making a, er, what was the word? Diurnal, no, that was prostates! Dial-up, nope: Alistair smiled to himself, relieved at his razor-sharp recall after so many difficult weeks - that losing streak online HAD to finish soon. Diary, diode, diarrhoea: bah! diarrhoea are New Zealand big birds, he recalled from Daniel's Animal World Book (most useful, although Alistair was glad he had no clients with a T. Rex, thank goodness. He'd never get it out of the carrier and onto the table). Alistair laughed aloud softly at the thought, shaking his head. Diagnomic! Vets made diagnomic decisions, then gave bad-tasting sweeties to animals! Ha, easy peasy. He forced his face into what he considered a reassuring smile. He turned to speak.

Nigel's face was one of pure anxiety, his eyes more liquid than usual even for him. Alistair's grimace as he turned to Nigel was the sure sign that the end was nigh, for both the goat and Alistair's career. Nigel's worst fears were confirmed: tears welled up as his bottom lip trembled. A pregnant pause descended. In the background, strains of Land of Hope and Glory interspersed with laughter drifted in from the exhibition tent a hundred yards away (Nigel always thought in old money). There, life went on in a world a million miles from this caprine crisis. Something stirred in Nigel. What would mummy do? In immediate, mute answer, his lips tightened, stilling the nervous tremble. A stiff upper lip clamped firmly and sharply down: gosh, it really did solve problems - or at least external signs of not coping with them: same thing, really.

'Good old mummy!' thought Nigel.. surprised at the fresh, novel use of those three words together, or at least the first word...

'Need to take his temperature, old chap. He seems to have put a bit of weight on recently, though it could just be wind.' Nigel stared in disbelief, a look interpreted as stunned reassurance by the expert.

The goat's jaw clamped down firmly on the glass thermometer, then crunched away contentedly . Alistair groaned as Nigel stared, aghast. 'What now, Alistair? That's awful!'

'Yes, it's worse than I thought.' He reached for a new thermometer and gently inserted it in the moist, resisting cavity. The goat flinched, but not as much as Nigel, his lips well and truly battened down and paling rapidly. 'Er, Alistair, old chap? Is this really necessary? Doesn't it … hurt?'

'No fear, and completely necessary.' Alistair spoke airily and with authority as he removed the thermometer eventually from the goat's left nostril. 'Yep, no temperature there. Here's what you need to do.'

Nigel paused, this creature's life in his neighbour's nail-bitten hands. 'Stop feeding it pear-drops, please. There are NO pears in such things, it's a marketing con. This is a remnant, not a human.'

'Er, ruminant, old chap. Pear drops?' Nigel's head spun, but luckily only metaphorically.

'Pears, yes. Pear-drops, no.' Alistair's voice was confident and the patronising tone minimised. 'I often come across this in fat animals. Cut out the pear-drops and its weight will drop, too. Easy. It's quite bloated' ('That will be £50,' he continued, only in his head.)

'But the kids?' expostulated Nigel, a fainting grinding glass noise continuing in the background as pink froth appeared at the goat's lips.

'Growing up fast, eh, I bet?' laughed Alistair. 'Twins, too. What a handful. Sometimes Shula and I wish we'd stuck with just horses: easier to keep them in shoes than a fashion-conscious child! None of this trainer rubbish. Perhaps we should have sent him to livery.' He shook his head confidently as Nigel slid a hand into his moleskins and fingered his mobile, his heart thudding, politeness fighting his caring instinct. Behind them, the goat flopped over on its side, its flanks heaving unevenly. Nigel knew just how it felt it and was close to joining it.

'Any more probs, just give me a call. Lucky it's nothing serious, Nigel. By the way, that's not a criticism, of course, that you called me out. Best to play safe with a creature's life, eh? See? Fast asleep now!' ('£65' was on the invoice he saw in his mind's eye, or five minutes online to hit that lucky streak). Alistair chuckled, happy at his skills mattering, making decisions, intervening, saving life (sometimes, although strangely there had been quite a few animals too weak to respond to his life-saving, billable gifts these last few weeks). Curious how things went. Never mind, eh?

'Best be off, Nigel. Duty calls! Got a poorly tortoise to sort at the surgery.' Alistair strode off to his tricycle, slung his bag into the rainbow-painted carry-box on the back with its GB sticker, and swung into the saddle. The trike rattled round down the drive, its bell tinging in farewell, windmills whirring on the handlebar, its driver giving an absent-minded wave with nary a backward glance. Nigel stared for a few precious seconds, then pressed a button on his mobile. The call was answered immediately.

'Hallo, Steven? It's urgent. Yes, it's Nigel. Yes, he's done it again… Goat in kid, suspected diabetes. Oh, and glass damage. No, not mercury, thank goodness. Possible sinus damage, too… Thanks. See you.' The distorted electronic voice in response could be heard clearly as Nigel stroked the heaving side of the suffering creature, and groaned inwardly.

The 4x4 roared along the country lane into the drive just as a multi-coloured 3x3 lurched into a tangled, briared ditch, its owner in mid-whistle, 'free as a, you know, those things with wings.'

A snarl came from under the burdock. 'Blasted road-er, pig-like thingy! Try and save lives like I DO, not kill us all!' roared Alistair as he pulled himself out of the mire for the last time - HE thought.

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