A High Street Vet

Roger was born in Todmorden, West Yorkshire in 1950. He trained to be a Vet at The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies in Edinburgh. Roger set up his own single-handed practice in Dalbeattie forty years ago. He then formed The Bard Veterinary Group in Dumfries with two colleagues nine years later.

He lives with his wife Judy (all four children having flown the nest), two rescue dogs from Crete and an African Grey parrot called George who was also rescued thirty-five years ago. 

Now that Roger is fully retired, he can spend more time pursuing his passion for photography. This includes wildlife, landscape and portraiture all in still and video formats.

He has visited Peru, Alaska and Africa to raise funds for various charities such as Action Aid, Vet Aid and Sense

In 2014 he conceived an ambitious project called 1000 Faces of Scotland, which is still ongoing. 

Back problems significantly limit most of Roger’s much-loved sporting activities, but he has developed a love for daily yoga practice and, more recently, open water swimming.

You can find Roger here:

On the 1st of December, 1980, I bundled two small boys, two collie dogs and some random bags bulging with essential everyday paraphernalia into my yellow Ford Escort. I loved that car! I was setting off on a journey from Tain up in Rosshire, all the way down to the south to the quiet little town of Dalbeattie in Dumfries and Galloway.

I was pursuing my dream of setting up a single-handed country veterinary practice. My excitement and enthusiasm were in no way dampened by the high pitched wails which began only five miles down the A9 from our small boys: ‘are we nearly there yet Dad?’ ‘Just a few more miles,’ I lied. It is said that one lie inevitably leads to another and so it was as I continued  to lie with various embellishments at least a hundred times more before we reached our destination. 

I was irrepressibly fired up, however, as I waved goodbye to the veterinary practice in the small Rosshire town where I had worked for the previous two years, already visualising the brass sign on our door in Dalbeattie: Roger A Lever MRCVS BVM&S. Considerably less fired up was my heavily pregnant young wife Judy, who was driving solo, close behind me, in a somewhat rusty old Austin with only our prized potted plants and more bags of paraphernalia for company. I am sure that the A9 still had passing places in 1980 and there were certainly no mobile phones!

Daylight was in short supply that Saturday as the heavy grey clouds tumbled around us grumpily and before we knew it, night had descended again. Mercifully for me this induced a welcome sedative effect on the boys. So, I was feeling fairly cock-a-hoop as we drew into the all-night service station in Perth. I anticipated a speedy refuelling and being back on the road before they woke up. I regrettably couldn’t hide my frustration as I watched my baby-laden wife ease herself awkwardly out of her car and waddle slowly across the forecourt towards the ladies loo. My frustration quickly turned to a feeling of utter panic as I realised that she couldn’t actually straighten up. Squinting through the half light I could see that she  was cradling her abundant abdomen, puffing and blowing a lot and interspersing this with words I hoped our young sons could not hear! Was this going to be a garage forecourt delivery? The wee man in the overnight kiosk obviously had the same thought and shouted out that he should perhaps phone for an ambulance. 

There was less puffing and blowing when Judy waddled back to her car, belted up and shot off, old Austin engine roaring, to reach Dalbeattie with the baby still on board. I had no choice but to follow her and gesticulate apologetically to the wee man. I will never know if he did call the emergency services on that dark December night. I do hope not!

We purred into Dalbeattie soon after eight o’clock. The High Street was already festooned with Christmas lights and I felt the first pangs of panic creep into my chest: Christmas was imminent; a new baby was imminent; I was starting up a new practice from scratch and I had omitted to confess to my wife that our rented accommodation was a trifle rough and smelt of fish! 

We parked at the back and unbaled ourselves, our boys and our dogs from the cars. The night was very dark and a thin chilling drizzle did nothing to brighten our tired spirits. I almost dreaded opening the door as I knew what awaited us having travelled down with a good pal and a large van the weekend before with all our furniture and most of our belongings. As I carried two-year-old Stevie into the back kitchen, his little face screwed into something resembling a dried fig as he shook his head wildly muttering ‘mell, mell’ (he was struggling with his s’s at that point.) His four-year-old brother, however, considerably more articulate and with a tendency to overdramatise, mumbled ‘I think I am going to be sick.’

It really wasn’t a good start and the escalating anxiety of what I was inflicting on my young family engulfed my soul. But, I knew that we were at the point of no return as we carried our exhausted and confused boys straight up to their newly made up beds. The smell of fish was noticeably less powerful upstairs and I was mightily relieved by the plethora of brownie points I had accumulated having had the foresight to make up our beds the week before. A short lived moment of elation evaporated as I heard a high pitched squeal and flotilla of unladylike language coming from the bathroom. Loud alarm bells rang as the thought of uprooting the boys and driving into Dumfries maternity hospital at this time of night, after our long journey, was way more than I could bear. The back-up team – Judy’s mum – was at that point in time in the middle of the Irish Sea. She was aboard the overnight ferry from Belfast and the weather forecast had predicted seriously inclement weather!

I stumbled in the darkness towards the bathroom (no bulb of course in the landing light) fully expecting to find Judy in established labour. It was baby number three and we had been forewarned that this could be a speedy birth. 

‘Is it the baby?’ I grunted, dreading the reply.

‘No,’ she blubbed, ‘it’s just the hideousness of this vile place.’

She was sitting, balanced precariously on the edge of the pink bubblegum-coloured bath. Hot tears were escaping and trickling down her tired face then bouncing onto the flourescent nylon carpet, which was an even more alarming shade of pink. The toilet seat and bath surround were a deep ominous black. In fact, it was really more like a venue for a seance rather than a warm relaxing bath!

I couldn’t find any words to console her as she waddled, still blubbering, into the bedroom. I took her place by sitting down on the edge of the bath, and held my head in my hands wondering just what I had got us all into.

Judy and I slept very little that night and we were ridiculously ecstatic when her mum arrived about ten o’clock the next morning looking very tired and still a little green around the gills. 

‘If you have any more babies, please make sure they are not born in December.’

We did keep to that promise, although our fourth baby was born in January, two years later! (That didn’t go down well!)

The next few days disappeared amid a frenzy of organising and preparing my new surgery (which was essentially set up in the front room of this rough and unsavoury dwelling. Little Stevie still spent most of the time with his face screwed up, muttering ‘mell, yeucky mell’ whereas Judy’s mum, Heather, did a lot of tutting and casting withered looks in my direction. But, I held the ace card because Heather adored animals and was still basking in the afterglow of her daughter marrying a real live vet!

Just one week later, early in the morning, baby Victoria arrived and a few days later came home to take her place amid the ensuing mayhem at 31, The High Street, Dalbeattie. And then the wait began. We waited and we waited but nobody came. I made sure that my brass sign was gleaming every day, and checked that the surgery bell was working.

Roger A Lever MRCVS. BVM&S. 

But nobody came.

I was out in the back yard, shoogling Victoria in her high pram trying to get her to sleep.

My degree of deafness even forty years ago was significant so I didn’t even hear the bell.

‘Daddy, come quick, there is a big man who smells of farms in the surgery and I think he might be nearly crying and he is carrying a dog and his eye is all over the place . . . Daddy come quick . . .’

Judy jumped into action, shot outside and relieved me of the baby-shoogling as I almost tripped over myself in my hurry to get through to the surgery. 

Old Matt Taylor was my very first client. His beloved collie, Fly, had been hit by a speeding young driver, and yes, young Andrew’s clinical observation had been spot on. Fly’s right eye was displaced out of it socket and was, as he had described, ‘all over the place’. Nanny Heather did a Mary Poppins act, whisking all three children to the park, and within the hour, I was operating on Fly with Judy by my side as my surgical assistant. 

The new ‘High Street Vet’ was in business.

And so it began.

29 thoughts on “A High Street Vet”

    1. Hi Elizabeth,
      Thanks for the comments. More chapters to follow hopefully. We will be putting our heads together on this in Crete soon!!

  1. Loved it Roger. Anyone who knows you and your lovely family would recognise you in a flash – and smile knowingly! Looking forward to the next episode

    1. Glad to have so many memories of the beginnings and to have been party of the early years.
      Still vet nursing after 40 years.

      1. Hi Leakey?? Thanks for reading. You may recognise some of the animals that appear as the story unfolds. Love to you guys in Australia.

  2. Aw I love this darling Roger. Knowing you both as I do I can picture this so clearly. Look forward to the next instalment !

  3. Hi Roger,
    I have loved reading this. It certainly brought back lots of memories for me. Judy & I met in Cresswell Maternity hospital, Dumfries on the 12th of November 1976 when we shared a room. I had just had my third son Scott, & Judy had just had Andrew. We stayed friends & still are to this day. We had a haulage business & me & my husband Rab came up to Tain to do the house removal. Judy was so heavily pregnant that she was struggling to do anything, I remember brushing floors etc thinking this baby is going to come into this world at any moment!! However she made it to Dalbeattie, & there you started your new life. xx

  4. Great piece, Roger; so well written and humorously told, even though it wouldn’t have been quite so funny at the time. So interesting to see events that took place before Vicky was born, even.

    Looking forward to the book.

    1. Hi Mary,
      Thank you for your comments. Yes it was a bit more scary then but it’s great looking back now at what we had to do at the time. We are looking forward to reliving the next few chapters.

  5. Fantastic roger I didn’t want to stop reading really look looking forward to the next chapters. I could actually visualise Judy at the petrol station ?

  6. You’ve both done a great job on this!
    So engaging and descriptive, thoroughly enjoyed it.
    I can actually hear Judy’s ‘additional’ dialogue
    which you’ve obviously omitted ? under censorship
    Looking forward to reading the next instalment.

  7. Lovely to read how you start off you life as a vet , you were my dog “jake” vet for 14 years and he was very well looked after by you , shame you’ve retired as I’ve just brought home a puppy called Digger and registered him with you old practice,! Can’t wait to read more

    1. Thanks for your comments Jackie. Chapter 2 almost complete. Finding the time is difficult as you can imagine. We will get there eventually.

      1. Loved your story! Having followed my husband up the A74 in a clapped out Ford Escort with 2 tiny children and too much baggage in the back – driving rain, broken windscreen wipers – feelings of utter despair – I felt for your wife sitting on the edge of that pink bath! Still here 40 years later…

          1. Thank goodness, no! Ours was a delicate primrose. No, the bath has long since disappeared. But I’m still here, a contented Englishwoman abroad.

  8. Loved that read.I know the A9 well, that must have been some journey just on its own without the added pressures of kids in the back and poor Judy struggling along behind. You’re both amazing people. Looking forward to the next chapter.

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