Thursday, 29 December 2011

How do you find the time?

Hello again, my blog-reading brethren. In the spirit of me opening the remit of my blog up a teeny bit to include my writing career, I thought I'd pop in a quick entry here to mention that Marc Schuster over at small press reviews has very kindly (and very gently) interviewed me about my new fantasy book, The Ancients. You can,if you are so inclined (for instance, you're having a masochistic day) read the interview here.

But that's not all! Oh no! Not by a long chalk! (I really should google how on Earth that expression came about. What's so great about a long chalk? It'd just snap). As a special not-Christmas-any-more-but-not-quite-new-year-either treat, I thought I'd include a short article that I wrote for the New Writer's UK newsletter. Hold on to your hats! (If it's windy. Or your hats are particularly valuable)

How do you find the time?

I am not, to my eternal regret, Doctor Who. The closest I have come to a sonic screwdriver when I accidentally dropped one in the dishwasher. I don‟t own a TARDIS and, probably the bitterest pill to swallow, I don't get to spend extended amounts of time in an enclosed space with Amelia Pond.
Time, therefore, is a problem – a problem familiar to many part-time writers. How do you hold down a full time job, talk to your spouse (there might not be so much of that after my Amy Pond comment, mind you), perform your domestic chores, eat, sleep, walk the dogs...and still find time to sit down and write?
It isn't just the writing, of course. There‟s a whole heap of procrastination to get over before you get anywhere near filling a page with your brain juice. Before I even started to write this essay, for instance, I‟d drunk three cups of coffee, checked my email, twitter and facebook feeds, read a random Wikipedia entry about how pencils are made, re-checked my email, twitter and facebook, and visited the toilet twice (largely thanks to the coffee). All that before I had even begun my titanic battle with the dreaded BLANK PAGE.
"How do you find the time?‟ - a question I am asked often by clients when they discover I'm an author (not that I mention it at every possible opportunity. Ahem). How do you find the time to hammer (or at least tap) out a novel in between all those petty mundanities that modern life throws at you?
The truth is disappointingly prosaic. We use the classic 'stolen hours'. Late in the evening. Early in the day. We find the time because we love it. We sneak those words out in the quiet watches of the night and the gentle hours of the morning because it's our escape, our breath, our passion. We make room in our lives for writing because without it there would be a hollow, empty shell where our souls would be, and we would shrivel away ghosts, almost-people, unable to express our one true love. A TARDIS would still be nice, though.
Just saying.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

We need to talk

Okay, blog, it's time to be honest. I know I haven't spent much time with you lately. I've taken you for granted, I know. Things have been crazy, I've been writing, I've been doing my certificate, and you just...well, you were always there, in the background. I just never found the time. And now I know we've grown apart. It's not you, blog, it's me. I just...I guess I felt you were holding me back, and I wanted to be free.

Can you forgive me, blog? I'm so sorry I haven't been around for you, but I can change, I promise!

There, I said it. I haven't written any blogs since...since May? And even that was a cheat, 'cos it was just an essay (if you're interest, I passed my 'A' unit for my CertAVP! Yay! Only B and C to go know...the ones where you have to know stuff, rather than waffle. Oh dear).

This blog started as a semi-anonymous musing from myself to vent my spleen about veterinary life. Turns out, my spleen didn't need quite so much venting as I thought. Perhaps it has it's own air-conditioning system? In any case, internal organs aside, the blog was really meant to be a veterinary-only chat about the work side of my life. The problem is, getting home from work and then writing about it has recently seemed about as welcome as watching a three-hour marathon of Animal ER - I just wanted a bit of a break from the work, rather than go on about it. Consequently, I'd got into the bad habit of only blogging when I was depressed or annoyed about something - and although I'm happy about all my blog posts, there's no denying the recent ones have had something of the black dog about them!

In the spirit of 'if you haven't got anything nice to say, then don't say anything', I took a bit of a break from blogging, to concentrate on my writing - which has worked very well, and I've got loads done. But I have missed blogging, and I'd like to get back to it - with a few changes.

I'm going to broaden out the scope of my blog! It's no longer just about veterinary life, you lucky people! I want to use my blog as a bit of a pimping point, to bling up my writing career though, innit (I think that's how people talk nowadays, anyway. Rofl.)

Brits are not generally very good at selling themselves or their work (well...actually, a lot of them are, but I'm using that as an excuse for why I'm not very good at it. I wouldn't do well on the Apprentice, anyway - though I must admit I'm still mystified as why Alan Sugar is regarded as some kind of business God when his products have been, and I'm trying to be generous here, almost uniformly second-rate) but from now on this blog is going to have a smattering (and hopefully just a smattering) of talk about my literary career, and possibly even the odd geeky post (though I'll try and keep these to a minimum as t'internet is littered with the blighters). I'm still going to keep blogging about veterinary life too, so don't/do despair, and though I'll try to keep them a bit more upbeat I'm not going to shy away from the less cheery aspects of the job, either.

So, there we are, blog? Our relationship has changed, but I think we can make it work.

Can you forgive me? I'll give you my last Rolo if you do...

Happy Christmas one and all! As something of a reward/punishment, I've done a whole two other blog posts today as well! They might provide a few moments blessed relief from the terrible Christmas telly!

Have a good one, and I'll see you all in the New Year

Always two there are...a master, and an apprentice

It's been a pleasant few weeks at the practice.

Actually, now I come to think of it, that's a bit of a fib. It's been a teeny bit horrible, what with the pre-Christmas busyness and the usual set of 'clearout' euthanasias - but one of the things that has made it a little more enjoyable is the presence of a couple of vet students seeing practice with out.

Ah, vet students. They all look so young, fresh and excited. Makes me quite nostalgic for my student days, and all the things that will never come again - pound a pint nights, Oasis versus Blur, my hair...happy days. I can almost smell the formalin from the dissection room (if hte aforementioned formalin hadn't already sizzled most of my sense of smell away)

Vet students are nice to have around for a number of reasons. Firstly, they're a lot more interested than the typical stand in the corner and look bored work-experience types - probably because they're thinking 'Oh my God I actually have to do this job in a year or so and I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing!' (Don't worry, vet students. I've been doing it for ten years and I'm still not entirely sure either).

Secondly, it's nice to have some company in the consulting room, partly to share some of the strange experiences we have in there (see previous blogs for details), and party to be able to talk medically with someone. Maybe this sounds a bit feeble, but nice as it is to talk to clients and try and explain to them what you think is going on in simple terms, it's also nice to be able to talk to someone who can understand medical terminology, and follow your clinical reasoning. Well, if nothing else, it makes me feel clever (unless the student asks me a question that I don't know the answer too, but I usually brazen that out by telling them to clean my table, or put up some drugs, or as a last resort faking a fainting episode)

The enthusiasm they have is a little infectious too, and reminds me why I wanted to do this job in the first place. I genuinely do love animals, but I also love medicine, and am fascinated at what a complex, wonderful machine a living creature is. It's nice to be reminded of that from time to time, and to talk to someone who feels the same way, without the jaded cynicism that comes from ten years in (I suspect) any job.

For every Jedi, though there is a Sith, and the Yang to the Yin of having a vet student watching me consult is that I'm suddenly very aware of my own consulting skills. Fairly soon into the surgery, I hear myself saying for the fourth time in a row 'Now, the reason I gave that cat an injection of steroids is...'

Steroids are powerful anti-inflammatories, which probably relieve more suffering than any other drug I have in my arsenal. They also have many other effects upon the body, and so using them is a bit like the medical equivalent of using a cluster bomb. Lots of things other things will get hit, but you'll probably get the job done. They are regarded with horror, fear and loathing by veterinary colleges, and students (like me) have it drummed into them to avoid falling into the trap of using steroids at every available opportunity. They're a bit like the Dark Side of the force - quicker, easier, more seductive. And very cheap, to boot.

To me, however, and to many vets in practice, steroids' reputation amongst more academic members of our profession as the drugs of Satan himself is somewhat overstated. Yes, you get side-effects, but these effects are predictable and, for the most part, reversible. One of the more serious side effects, particularily in cats, can be diabetes - but this is rather rare, and I always explain the risk of this to clients. I can think of many cases of mine that would have had to have been euthanased years ago if it wasn't for the anti-inflammatory and itch-relieving power of steroids.

All this I can justify to myself...except when I have a vet student with me, who can't help but notice that I keep reaching for the same bottle on the shelf.

It's not just steroids of course. It's all the little things that you find yourself doing 'just to be on the safe side' - the things that you know probably aren't necessary but you just want to be sure. Things like giving antibiotics for diarrhoea in dogs, or for cystitis in cats. You know you probably don't need to, don't want them coming back tomorrow, and another vet doing it, and you looking stupid for not doing it in the first place.

(The antibiotics issue is, actually to me, a more serious point that the steroids. Vets are as guilty as anyone else (well, more so than doctors, less so than farmers) of the overuse of antibiotics. Bacteria are getting wise to our antibiotics pretty fast, so we've got to try and be more responsible over their useage - but perhaps that's a topic for another blog)

So, I raised this as a bad thing about having vet students at the practice - but it isn't, really. It's a little like watching yourself on video - you're suddenly unpleasantly confronted with all the weird things you do that you weren't even aware you were doing.

As you get older as a vet, there's a certain arrogance that creeps over you - you've seen most things that can happen at least a few times before, and you've got a fair idea of what's going on with a patient within the first few minutes of a consultation. It's the common things occur commonly principle - sure, this animal that is presented to you after collapsing out on a walk -might- have myasthenia gravis...but it's probably just sprained its leg - because the leg sprainers will outnumber the myasthenia cases by tens of thousands to one.

The trick, when you reach my level of experience, is knowing when to listen to those little alarm bells ringing at the back of your head that tell you something isn't quite right here - it might appear to be a normal gastroenteritis, but it seems a little too pale, or a little too sore in it's abdomen, or just...just not right. It's the difference between giving a shot of steroids, or admitting immediately for a blood sample, x-ray and intravenous fluids. It's very easy just to slip into the steroids-every-time-because-you'll-be-right-nine-hundred-and-ninety-nine-times-out-of-a-thousand. I can feel myself of the brink of this 'old-vet' approach. teetering on the tightrope, ready to fall from experienced professional to, essentially, a knowledgeable amateur. It's my duty to my clients, and my animals, to avoid that slippery slope! This is part of the reason that I'm studying for my certificate in advanced veterinary practice.

Which is why vet students making me squirm as I reach for the steroid or antibiotic bottle once again is a good thing. It makes me question exactly what and why I am doing what I am doing, and what the consequences could be if I'm wrong. And, If nothing else, my excuses will get more finely honed!

So thank you, Laura and Jess, for making the last few weeks more enjoyable, if slightly harder on the brain!

The Ancients eBook now available

I'll be the first to admit, that isn't the most subtle, clever, or punny of my blog titles. It's my way of flagging up that this post is largely one big (well, medium-sized) advert for my new book, The Ancients, which I am now going to attempt to sell to you - and if that makes you angry, feel free to screw this blog up, eat it, or flush it down the toilet.

(I should point out that this really only applies if you've printed the blog out, and are currently reading it on paper, because doing any of the above to you laptop/desktop/tablet/smartphone would likely invalidate your warranty, not to mention possibly cause internal bleeding)

And, if you have printed this blog out, then, like, what gives? Get with the program, daddy-o! All the cool stuff nowadays is made of electric - it's like all our dreams from the eighties have come true! Music, games, books - all of them are now essentially made of nothing! It's only a matter of time before E-food catches on. The point is - E-books are where it's at, man. Innit.

Which brings me to (I'd started to forget the point of this blog entry) my new book - The Ancients, now available as an eBook at the Amazon Kindle store.

The Ancients is a rollocking (that's a great word, isn't it? It's like swearing only without actually swearing! I'm going to say it again. Rollocking. Heehee.)

(Oh. I've just looked up rollocking in the online dictionary, and it turns out it doesn't mean quite what I thought it meant. Sigh. Okay, let's try again.)

The Ancients is a rip-roaring (better?) fantasy tale of betrayal, mystery, romance, war, kings and assassins. It starts with a young, embittered knight returning from a civil war that his ripped his country asunder. Here's a little excerpt to wet your collective whistles...

As he turned his face back to the road something in the darkness caught
his eye; a patch of light amidst the unrelenting black, lying by the side of the
road. It was impossible to make out any detail. He nearly ignored it. The last
thing he wanted was another delay, to have to spend all night in this accursed
weather, but something made him stop and look again. A smear of white, fuzzy
in the rain. Something was familiar about the shape. He approached it and as
he did so felt a peculiar feeling of having done this before - walking towards a
lonely shape in the rain. He tensed with expectation and dread, although he
didn’t know why. A brief image of the elven child flashed into his mind. Dazlar
ignored it, as he had learned to over the last few months, and reached the
shape, which finally became visible through the onslaught of water. He sighed.
So close to his home, must he be plagued here as well?

A body lay face down in the mud just off the road - a pathetic, crumpled
figure wearing scraps of soaked peasant clothing, silent and unmoving. Dazlar
rushed forwards and turned the body over, feeling the chill of the skin and
knowing even before he pressed his fingers into the neck that he would find no
lifebeat. He was right.
The corpse was that of a young woman with short, mousy brown hair
and a thin, pinched face. Dazlar suspected the girl had been starving for a time
before she came to this sad end. Her limbs had not stiffened yet but the skin
was cold. She couldn’t have been dead long. He sighed again and rubbed his
eyes with the back of his hand. He had seen so much death in the years he had
been away, but to find it now, almost on his doorstep, made the homecoming
even worse than the rain and wind had done. He looked down at the girl again,
searching for any sign of injury, any clue as to why she lay here. He could see
no blood around, no obvious wounds on her. It seemed as if she had collapsed
as she walked - or more likely thrown from her mount, the way she way been
lying when Dazlar had found her. She was not dressed for riding, though,
horse or drake. What to do now? Dazlar couldn't simply leave her here, not like
this. Burying her was not a prospect that he wanted to think about with the
weather the way it was. He really didn't have much choice, so close to Oldmeet.
He knelt down beside the body and with a grunt of effort hoisted her onto his
shoulders. The body was surprisingly light, despite the rain-sodden clothes.
Wondering if his homecoming could possibly get any worse, Dazlar stepped

back onto the road, such that it was, and continued towards the village he
hadn’t seen for three years.

A few miles down the road, Dazlar is picked up by a smelly, unpleasant farmer, Glanvic. After the sort of stilted conversation that normally occurs at parties where everyone is sober, Glanvic makes a surprising discovery...

The two sat silent for a time as the big shire pulled the wagon on
through the night. Then the small man broke the silence.
‘I'm Glanvic, by the way. Glanvic ap Glanver. I'd shake yer hand but...’
he grinned and wiggled his body to indicate he needed both his hands on the
‘Pleased to meet you.’ Dazlar said, not entirely truthfully. ‘So, how do
you come to be out on a night like this?’
‘Hah!’ said Glanvic, ‘Wouldn't believe it! I've 'ad worse bloody luck
tonight than the sodding Orc Empire, I ‘ave.’ He flashed his brown teeth at
Dazlar again. ‘I'm on my way into Oldmeet for the market tomorrow.’
‘Ah, yes,’ Dazlar said. Of course, there was always the market. It seemed
strange, but reassuring. The country was in chaos, ripped apart by civil war,
but they still held the weekly market in Oldmeet. Dazlar had been half
expecting everything to have changed. Perhaps it was because the homecoming
was turning out so differently than he had imagined. He took it as a good omen
that some things were still the same as they had always been.
‘Yeah,’ said Glanvic. ‘I'm a pig farmer, see.’ Dazlar nodded. He had
guessed as much from the smell. ‘Farm's a few miles from 'ere. Normally only
takes an hour or so to get in, only this bugger 'ere,’ he gestured one arm to the
shire driving the wagon, ‘only goes and throws a bloody shoe a mile into the
trip!’ He paused for the drama of this to sink in.
‘Oh dear,’ Dazlar said politely.
‘Oh bloody dear is right, my son!’ said Glanvic. Dazlar was hit with a
waft of Glanvic's breath, which was even worse than his general body odour.
He leaned back a little. ‘A bloody hour it took me to sort that out, and if that
wasn't enough a mile after that the wagon only bloody...’
Dazlar never found out what had happened next on Glanvic's ill-fated
journey. The pig farmer had stopped mid-flow and turned to look at the back of
the wagon. Dazlar had turned too. A loud spluttering noise was coming from
the covered section. Glanvic narrowed his eyes and brought the wagon to a
halt. He turned and his front half disappeared through the covered flap. When
he emerged he stared suspiciously at Dazlar.
‘I thought you said that girl was dead!’ Glanvic said, the tone of his voice
changed, accusing. ‘She's breathing!’

Ooh! Mysterious! What could possibly happen next?

All this and more can be yours for less than the price of a Starbucks Coffee! (probably...I haven't actually checked the coffee prices. Must be cheaper than of those frozen ones with raspberry juice poured on them, anyway - you need a mortgage to get one of those babies.)

The first few chapters can be read online at amazon, so why not hightail it to your local ebook store, if for no other reason than to check out the lovely cover designed by Eric Smith.

Amazon UK version here - The Ancients at

Amazon US version here - The Ancients at

Thank you for listening! Normal blog service now resumed.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Oh, I say!

Hm...the titles for my blogs seem to be getting camper every time. It's not deliberate, I promise you, it's just by terrible pun-ey way of telling you that I'm cheating with this one. It's not a blog post it's an essay I'm writing for my certificate (in medicine, of course. Kerry's the grunt with the scalpel, so she's doing surgery). (Oh, essay - geddit? No, I'm not proud of it either but let's stick with it (which sounds like something God said on the 7th day))

Don't worry it's not full of boring medical detail! Instead, it's full of tedious introspection and whining. Doesn't that sound more fun?

Anyway, for those of you still reading, part of my certificate is writing ten 'reflective' (i.e. personal rather than academic) essays of various parts of veterinary life. Initially horrified by the titles (of which the one waiting for you below is a classic), I finally realised a few essays in I was actually enjoying myself. Moreover, these essays seem to dropping the pressure on whatever release valve builds up in my brain and causes me to splurge blogs onto the interweb, which might explain why I haven't written a blog for yonks. (Now that's a word I haven't used for a long time...I'm sure there's a joke in there somewhere but I can't quite make it work and I want a pee so I'll have to leave it).

So, I've decided to cheat. Below is my first attempt at essay number 7 for my certificate. I probably won't actually submit it in this state, but as it is it feels -almost- suitable for the blog, so it's all your getting instead of a proper post. Nyah. (Except, of course, for this pre-amble, and I think we can all happily live without any more of it).


A key feature of a profession is “altruism” but much of the modern rhetoric around work relates to “balance”. Discuss the tension which exists between these concepts and how you have learnt to resolve it in your own life

An article on the BBC News Website from Wednesday 5th October 2005 reported a statistic that is already relatively well known in veterinary circles (see Bartram & Boniwell 2007 amongst others) – the suicide rate amongst veterinary surgeons in the UK is nearly four times the national average, and double that of other professions such as doctors and dentists. (Sustained well-being) suggests that such figures are only the tip of the iceberg and that for every suicide, there have been twenty attempted.
The BBC article quotes Professor Richard Halliwell of the BVA, who describes being a vet as ‘extremely stressful’. The research done by Professor Halliwell suggested a number of possible reasons for this worrying statistic, including the ready access of lethal injections for working vets, and the ‘culture of death’ the profession engenders by dint of vets’ use of euthanasia as an ultimate way to end suffering in animals. More relevant to this essay, though, are the contributions to stress from the long working hours of many vets, and difficulties in finding a balance between this and a ‘normal’ social life.
The work-life balance is a frequently discussed topic amongst employees and academics who study the psychology of work, and many articles (such as UNISON) discuss the disappointment felt by new employees who have high expectations of options to improve this balance, but find that their employers are either less enthusiastic than them or are simply unable to provide the flexibility their staff are hoping for.
The veterinary profession is particularly prone to pressures upon the work-life balance. As vets, we are seen (and often feel ourselves) to be part of a caring profession, so are driven to work longer and harder – unlike, say, a mechanic, our patients are capable of experiencing great suffering, and such suffering does not end at five o’clock on a Friday evening, which makes regular hours hard to stick to, even for those members of the profession who don’t have out of hours (OOH) duties to perform.
OOH work is also a large part of this tension – although perhaps less common than it was, many vets work a full time job with OOH work on top of it, which not only adds to stress and makes it harder to ‘switch off’ and relax after work, it also cuts down on time for social activities.
I have worked in practice for nearly eleven years now, and, like many others in our profession, found my first few years in practice extremely difficult, in large part because of long working hours, and especially because of OOH work.
In my first job (a mixed small/large veterinary hospital) I found the shock of the sudden change in my lifestyle almost overwhelming. As a student I had a large network of friends and acquaintances, and a very active, healthy social life. As I vet I found myself working sixty-plus hour weeks with frequent OOH duties on top, with almost no time for socialising (and no energy to do so even when I did find the time).
It helped that I remained somewhat connected to my old social scene, because my then-girlfriend was still in her final year at Langford vet school, but the change was still seismic, and something that I genuinely feel took me several years to overcome. As well as such a change in working life, I was attempting to learn a new profession, and deal with successes, failures, and more than anything the responsibility that comes with entering the profession.
Working on call was deeply stressful to me, for a number of reasons – firstly, the loneliness. It suddenly seems to be you (or, at best, you and your nurse) against the world. Secondly, I was called out from home, which meant that I found it harder to relax at home even when I wasn’t on duty – the lines between working and not working became blurred. I find it very difficult to relax, even now, when I’m on call, basically just wanting to sit in a darkened room and wait for the phone to ring.
I found myself taking solace in alcohol and, something which I had never done as a student, drinking when I was alone – it became a ‘reward’ for me when I didn’t have to work a night on call, a way to signify ‘I can relax now, I’m not at work’. My alcohol intake was not excessive (from a medical perspective) but it was much higher than previously and even now I have never lost that feeling of reward than comes from drinking.
My social life dwindled away until it consisted of visiting my girlfriend, and seeing my parents. Things became tenser when my girlfriend graduated, because we were both experiencing similar feelings, but now we lived much further apart.
After a few years, I left my job to be closer to her, and from then on we have always lived together (she is now my wife). This helped quickly and greatly with the balance, but it did not solve everything – we both worked long hours at that time, and both on different rotas, so that at any given moment one or the other of us was usually working, and therefore either absent or bad-tempered and difficult to live with! We realised that things would not improve until we worked less hours.
In the last five years or so, this has been achieved – we both found work in small animal practices (which we both found less stressful, even though it was probably harder work). My wife found a job with no on-call work at all, and I found one with less, but (more importantly to me) a day off per week – this day off gives me valuable ‘me’ time away from work, a time to remind myself that there’s more to my character than just being a vet.
Now, we both work in the same practice, and, having become a senior vet in my current practice, I work even less out of hours than I did before. As far as time goes, my work-life balance is now achieved, and I am much happier.
Just reducing working time by itself was not enough for me, though. I began writing about my experiences in my rare free time in those first years finding it cathartic to talk about how hard I was finding it, how distressing it was for me when cases ended badly or when deeply loved animals died. People began to comment upon my writing, and to my delight this began to develop in two separate ways – firstly as a blog, where I discuss many aspects of veterinary life, and secondly as novels. I was lucky and very pleased to find a publisher for my whimsical nonsense (which has become increasingly detached from veterinary work).
Forging a second (albeit small) career has been very useful in helping me to ‘switch off’ from veterinary work - and if I am stressed or upset about a difficult case or situation a can write about it, giving me an outlet and some measure of distance from it.
Both myself and my wife have taken active interest in old hobbies, ones that we left behind when we went to University. For her, it is riding. Concentrating on and caring for her horses brings her great pleasure and helps her to relax. For me, I have become a ‘geek’ again – reading science fiction, playing games, meeting up with new friends I have met through this hobby at conventions. In short, we have both developed full and active lives outside of work, sometimes with each other, sometimes with our own interests.
This has been quite a personal essay for me. There was a time, shortly after I qualified, that I felt there was nothing to me but a veterinary ‘machine’- diagnosing, treating, caring, killing (and at home, drinking) – but I’m happy to report that seems like a long time ago.
Thanks to the help of my wife, my writing, and my deep-seated nerdiness, I’ve found myself again.

Friday, 14 January 2011

OOH you are awful...

Please excuse the terrible pun of a title, but...well, they're all like that, and if you're not used to them by now then I'm sorry to tell you that they are unlikely to get any better from here on in.

Some of you may be thinking 'Pun? What pun?' Well, sit still and I'll explain it to you. Still, I said. Don't fidget.

OOH is not a further sign of my rapid descent into campness (campdom? campicity?) but rather an acronym for the dread part of the job known as Out Of Hours. AKA On Call, AKA Duties, AKA stupid bastarding night work.

I am aware that the veterinary profession is not the only job blessed/blighted by out of hours work, but I'm afraid I can't speak for any other profession as I haven't worked in them, but this part of the job, more than any other, really puts the H,A,T and E in my love/hate relationship with my work. Between myself and my wife it has been responsible for one nervous breakdown, several tantrums, two resignations, a near-divorce and a broken remote control (which cost £20 to replace. Scandalous!)

(As to which of us had the nervous breakdown, well, I'll leave that hanging as an intriguing mystery. But ask yourself - which one of us has to write an introspective blog just to cope with the pressures of work, and which one of us just gets on with the job without moaning? (Mind you, it was me who had to pay for the bloody remote control, so we'll call it even))

I am, I like to think, generally cheerful and happy-go-lucky, a fairly relaxed kind of chap (I like to think that. I'm not, but for the purposes of this blog, lets go with it). On call, it's a different story. I turn into a strange Smeagol-esque creature, nervous of human contact, unloved and unlovely. All I want to do, when I'm on call, is sit in a darkened room next to the phone, and wait for it to ring. I can't stand to start doing anything that I couldn't drop at a moment's notice - not really a state of mind conducive to a good night's sleep.

Even more Gollum-like is my relationship with my phone (don't get me wrong, I love my iPhone with a passion that probably should be outlawed in decent, God-fearing countries, but that's because of all the other cool things it does, not because it's a phone. Take away the talky bit and I'd still be very happy with it. I suppose that's why they made an iPod touch, but you really don't want me to digress along these lines or we'll be here all day...) - I loathe loathe loathe talking on the phone even at the best of times. I'm with Stephen Fry on this one (yes, I mentioned Stephen Fry again. No apologies. He's my generation's Yoda. Apart from, y'know, Yoda) - how many other things do you have that will suddenly start shouting at you 'Talk to me! Talk to me! Talk to me!' and then get grumpy if you don't? I suspect I'm not alone in this sentiment, but my wife and mother-in-law seem to consider it a mortal sin if I don't immediately spring to attention and run for the phone. Why? That's what answerphones are for.

It's fair to say that my feelings about phones are mixed, at best. When I'm on call, my phone becomes this weird talisman. Much like our poor hobbits with the One Ring, I hate it, but am unable to part with it, and am constantly getting it out to check that it's working, that there's enough battery, that there's a signal, etc. If only it made me invisible, the analogy would be perfect (there's a suggestion for an iPhone app! I'd probably buy that one). I spend a lot of time on call sitting in my car, looking at my phone and occasionally muttering 'Gollum' to myself.

Why? What it is about OOH work that brings out the ringwraith in me?

It's hard to describe quite what's so horrible about being 'on call', so much so that it inspires in me, even now that I do less of it, a kind of deep, black terror. It's not the busyness - to be honest, I almost always work harder on an average 'normal' day than a day or night on call, and I don't feel the same dread of it (though tell me that on a Monday morning and you may get a different response. Like a punch in the nose).

I think it's a combination of a few things. First is the loneliness. When you're on call, it's you against the world. It's your responsibility, and anything that goes wrong is likely to be your fault. This is especially true of home or farm visits. First of all you've got to find the place - a job in itself before the days of SatNavs, and even then these won't help you too much if you're trying to find a remote paddock or cottage (I'm surprised I haven't heard of some poor young vet driving off a cliff in the middle of the night desperately looking for a farm. I did once nearly drive into the sea in Cornwall, but as that was whilst I was heading for a job interview, not an emergency call, so I don't think that counts. (Yes, somehow I got the job).

You're on someone else's territory, often dealing with a distressed owner and a distressed animal, your heart is racing and you're desperately trying to remember your notes from University. To me, as a new graduate, driving to a call at two in the morning, I felt like the loneliest person in the world (except, maybe, for that guy in the Omega man).

I'm lucky enough to have only ever worked in jobs where someone else took the calls, and then passed them on to me as required. My wife has only worked in jobs where she had the calls from the practice directly forwarded to her phone, so as well as being very annoying (Oh, you're not open at midnight? Well, can I make an appointment for tomorrow?) it adds to the feeling of isolation (and is really not good for the health of any remote controls within easy reach).

Aside from the crushing despair of solitude (I'm not laying this on too thick, am I? No? Good) there's the unpredictability. Always a factor as a vet - you never quite know what you're going to be faced, or when something is going to come through the door that derails your whole day) this effect is compounded out of hours, when there is not routine at all and the whole day is essentially unplanned. I think this part of the job is much tougher on new graduates, for whom every call is a new, unexpected scenario. I'm now old enough and long enough to have seen pretty much everything before (boy, am I going to regret writing that when my next night on call brings me a kangaroo with a lacerated penis) but I still find the fact that either I might make it through a full night's sleep, or I might have the most horrendous evening of my entire life difficult to deal with mentally.

This is especially hard when you are getting one call after another - before you've had a chance to deal with the first one. Nothing to me is more stressful than having emergencies stack up quicker than you can deal with them. The dangerous point to get to is the mental state of thinking 'If that phone rings one more time then my brains will explode!' because, Sod's law being the evil little git that it is, the phone always rings thirty seconds after that thought has passed through your brain.

Early in my career, I was called by the police to attend a horse lorry that had crashed, and fallen into a ditch, complete with horse. The fire brigade has requested the presence of a veterinary surgeon, and I drew the short straw. This call, as I remember, came whilst I was either stitching up a dog, or removing puppies from it. Something surgical, anyway. The terror I experienced upon receiving that call is like nothing I had ever felt before. Although I'm sure it can't compete with the feelings of the soldiers about to go over the top on the Somme, and although the actual call itself turned out to be fine (the horse just needed to be sedated to get it out of the trailer, plus there was a really cool bit where I was waved through a line of flashing police cars and ambulances like some sort of secret agent) an echo of that bowel-destroying fear has stayed with me every night on call I have ever done since.

The third problem with out of hours work is that it's on top of the normal job - you're expected to work a full day, work a night on call, then full day the following day as well. Same for weekends - full day Friday, work 48 hours over the weekend, then back to work Monday morning. Apparently, having a professional job means that things like the working time directive don't apply to vets. Here, at least, I feel I can help out the new graduates. When I was a lad, my rota was such that I worked thirteen days in a row, including four nights on call, for the prize of one day off (during which you slept). Nowadays, we get one day off a week, plus I've fought for giving the new graduates a half-day off in lieu of a night on call (which makes me sound like some Lord-Shaftesbury like crusader, which I'm not, I just didn't want to be one of those vets who said 'Well, I had it tough, so you can too.' Now I'm one of those vets who mutters 'Well, I had it worse, and I didn't bloody complain' whenever the young 'uns complain about anything at all)

It may be that it's just me; that my temperament is not best-suited for out of hours work - I know some vets who are more relaxed, and who will even (gasp!) go out for a meal, or down the pub with friends (not drinking, of course). I'm wound more tightly than a spring caught on a helicopter blade when I'm on call, and I suspect I would probably just shatter if I dared to venture into a public place. Still, I think a lot of vets who have spent much time working out of hours will find at least something to sympathise with in the above.

Well, that's probably enough soul-baring for this month. Please comment if this whole blog has made you rage at my self-indulgent weediness. Just don't do it when I'm on call, I don't think I could cope with it.