Disclaimer: "All Creatures Great and Small" was a BBC TV show from 1978-1990 based on the books of James Herriot. No copyright infringement intended.
Thistle and Lilac
1939. Edinburgh, Scotland.
Miles away from home, I had a sense of purpose. If not urgency. And a plan for my life in mind.
Others regarded me as nothing but a lass far too intelligent. In my mind, I had no intention of staying on my family's farm and waiting for a local young farmer's boy to come to call. I had other ideas - namely, leaving the rural lands of my youth and thinking I'd like to become a nurse. It sounded like the right kind of career for an independent woman like me - especially after reading and hearing on the wireless about that German leader Hitler and how there was going to be a need for nurses - Scottish and English alike - if our country was called to war. I could think of no better way to serve my countrymen than to commit myself to a life of healing. And for women in those days, nursing was an obvious choice.
Realizing early on that all that swotting wouldn't support much of a social life, I accepted that I wasn't going to have scores of gentleman callers, and even the friends I had made in school weren't as close to me as they once were. They were more interested in the latest showing at the pictures and dressing up to go out to dances on a Saturday evening, making no indication that they minded in the least that they were destined to stay in the country forever.
Luckily for me, I had relations in Edinburgh, so when I wore down my parents enough, they allowed me to start at a school in the city, though not entirely far away from my parents and brothers and sisters, but far enough away requiring me to stay with my aunt.
I figured my time in Edinburgh would be a neat getaway - away from my family and the only way of life I knew, so I could strike out on my own and get started on a new chapter in life. I couldn't be bothered with anything else.
It was a usual autumn afternoon for me - sitting under my favorite tree, nibbling on a ham sarnie when my eyes were not fixed on the text in my dogeared copy of Gray's Anatomy, trying to glean as much knowledge from it as I could. On most afternoons, my concentration stayed fixed on the words in front of me. But not that afternoon. Even my attempts at some genuine swotting weren't enough to completely ignore giggling nearby. I lowered the book and peered. Yep, it was yet another gaggle of schoolgirls laughing at the jokes of some chaps from the veterinary college.
The boys certainly acted older than the girls among them - the way they dressed belied a sense of maturity, if not true accomplishment. Yet. I didn't doubt for a second that they were still a ways off from qualifying. If they had already passed their exams, what would they be doing in Edinburgh? It was a new school year and as was usual, the charming types were chatting up the most desirable girls.
I was not one of those girls. I felt disgusted when I saw the way the girls would hang onto a boy's every word, simply because he was handsome or had a certain air about him (usually related to money or ill-placed confidence). On this particular afternoon, I noticed there was a leader in this group of young people - a tall, blond, leggy one, seemingly too sure of himself with all the charm of a bottle of aged whiskey. Too familiar, yet somewhat enough to hold one's interest. Whiskey was enjoyed by other people, for sure, but not by me.
A couple days later when I was having a pint with some mates from school, I found out who this boy was. His name was Tristan Farnon, and he wasn't a Scot - no, he was from the Yorkshire Dales. Whenever I saw him later around town, surrounded by his friends and a new group of girls who were charmed by him, I examined the situation and made mental notes.
I became curious as to how exactly he managed to have these people eating out of his hand so readily, so easily. From the snatches of conversation I heard, he wasn't speaking of thrilling tales that would put the average listener, let alone a female one, on the edge of one's seat. No, one time I heard him going into detail of the life cycle of the bacterium that caused tuberculosis in cows. Another time? Some parasites that were endemic to his beloved Dales. He could really go off on a tear discussing particularly troublesome viruses that infected farm animals - swine fever, foot and mouth, that sort of thing. The kinds of problems that the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (or "the Min of Ag" as he fondly referred to it, as if it were human and an old friend) would have to be notified of, if found on anyone's land. And yet through all of this, it was these girls who were sat there listening, clinging to his every word, seemingly spellbound by such ramblings.
Where does this young Farnon chap get his confidence? I need some of that! I had convinced myself that he was a curiosity of nature that was worth investigating further. Despite my former disgust with the girls that followed him and his friends around, I found myself enchanted with him. To the point that my thoughts often turned to him when I should have been thinking about more important things, like what to brush up on for my next exam.
I was confused. There wasn't too much in this world so far that had thrown me.