Many years ago when I was in my forties, I unexpectedly experienced a mid-life crisis and decided I wanted to do something different.  There is a large agricultural college near us and, on a whim, I called in one day and asked for details of day-release courses.  My only stipulation was it must happen on a Friday – the easiest day for me to escape.  The only available course on a Friday was a City & Guilds course in Milk Production so, because it fell on the right day of the week and because I had never had anything to do with cows before, that was the course for me. 

I was the only odd ball on the course – all the other participants were youngsters who worked on local farms and went to college on Fridays.  Naturally they knew all about cows, silage, mucking out, delivering calves and all the rest of it. The routine was that the mornings were given over to lectures and the afternoons to practical work. This meant that in the mornings I flourished, knowing how to distil the essence from tedious lectures. Then, in the afternoons, when we donned wellies and descended on local farms, the youngsters were in their element.  Slowly, we began to appreciate each other’s strengths; I did the note taking and produced handouts and the lads did their best to rescue me when I got into a pickle with the practicals.    

One of the first proficiency tests we had to pass was disbudding.  This is where the buds that left alone would grow into horns are burnt off with an instrument a bit like a soldering iron.  I remember the routine well; catch an unsuspecting calf, get a colleague to restrain it, fill a syringe with anaesthetic, expel the air, run your thumb nail up the channel that runs from the corner of the eye to the ear, locate the junction about half way along, insert the needle, push the plunger, wait five minutes, stick a pin in the bud, if the animal doesn’t flinch, burn off the bud, if it jumps, give it some more anaesthetic.  Repeat this on the other side.

We had practised this numerous times – in fact it became rather boring.  Then the day came for the proficiency test.  A man wearing a white coat carrying the inevitable clip board arrived.  He was our external examiner.  I was alarmed to see Miss Hap leaning nonchalantly against a nearby gate post (if you don’t know about Miss Hap, please read ‘Introducing Miss Hap’). 

When my turn came to go through the familiar routine I felt unexpectedly nervous.  Under the gaze of the examiner and Miss Hap, I ran my thumb up the familiar channel, found the right spot, put the needle in and pushed the plunger.  My thumb instantly became numb and I realised, in my confusion, that I had inserted the needle into the top of my own thumb!  Of course Miss Hap got the giggles but, thankfully, the examiner was busy making a note about the last person’s performance. I surreptitiously withdrew the needle and put the anaesthetic that remained into the poor beast.  As I waited for the five minutes to pass, my arm went progressively fizzy then numb. Miss Hap was helpless with laughter.  Of course, the poor calf jumped when the pin was applied. The examiner was puzzled but told me to carry on regardless. 

Despite Miss Hap, I passed the test but my left arm stayed numb for the rest of the day.

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