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A country practice

There’s no news. When the first three headlines are foreign news stories, including about the Middle East, there’s no news.

So here’s some fun stuff instead.

If the swallows are flying high above the house in the morning, it’ll be a fine day. But if it’s going to rain later, they fly low to the ground; the cattle lie down in the field behind the house and the hills beyond are clear.

I know rain is coming tomorrow when I find large, scary spiders in the bath downstairs. Then the cute little spiders dangle from the window frames and the rain is nearly here.

But what to do about the big fellas? I hate killing creatures. Mice I can deal with, dead or alive, but I can’t go near spiders.

So I was delighted to discover that if you drape loo roll over the edge of the bath, spidey will make his own arrangements.

I dropped another contact lens, outside the pet shop this time. Having knocked out my contacts in various awkward situations, I know they don’t obey the laws of physics. With patience, and youthful eyes, the lens may be found, but never in the predicted location. They defy the space-time continuum, they test the inter-changeability of matter and energy.

I didn’t find it.

I went to buy my usual free-range eggs but the ‘Egg Inspector’ won’t allow it. The organic farmer, with his flock of hens, must not sell eggs to a shopkeeper. Why not?

As a child on holidays in summer, we were sent barefoot through the fields to the farm next door to get eggs. Mrs Costello stayed by the range in her shadowy kitchen, while we searched the hen house and the bushes. Once, triumphantly, I brought in a nest of 12 eggs. Mrs Costello said nothing but got out a pan of water: they all floated — rotten.

My dad learned to boil an egg but preferred to delegate the task to one of his five daughters. He said he found them easier to peel if put in cold water first. ‘Huh’ I thought, with the arrogance of youth and scientific training. And what textbook is that from?

Later, I read it in the wonderful book On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee and felt some mortification at my younger self.

It applies to fresh eggs, so it won’t matter in most sandwich bars. The eggs are boiled and peeled centrally, then transported in preservative. What are they doing to our food? Maybe it’s Egg Inspector rules.

I buy my sandwich from a little café that not only boils and peels fresh eggs, but cooks ham on-site too.

My dad’s egg know-how would be called ‘experiential learning’ now. It used to be called experience.

It’s because of clinical experience that I don’t say ‘relax’ to a patient, if I want to examine the abdomen, or test reflexes. That’s the best way to make a person tense up.

And never say to the family of an older patient, ‘she’s old’. They’ll presume you are ageist and prejudiced against their relative. Say instead, ‘she’s not young’ or ‘the years are against her’. They’ll nod at your wisdom, and say, ‘sure, she’s nearly 90, doctor’.

As for being one of five daughters, my mother would greet good behaviour in her little ones with great enthusiasm: “You’re the best girl in the house!” followed solemnly by “…of your age… and size.”

I still remember the phrase fondly and use a version on my dogs too. Best black girl dog! Best golden boy dog!

I’m trying to re-establish camaraderie between the dogs and the cats. When they were all little, they’d share a dish of porridge or milk and curl up together. Then the dogs realised they could torment the cats, so they did.

There was a remarkable turn-around when I reversed the feeding order, giving the cats their food first. Immediately, the dogs understood that they were not Top Dog after all. They love cat food, but humbly they sit and wait for the cats to finish a leisurely breakfast before gobbling any leftovers in seconds.

There are still times when they decide to bait one of the cats, working as a team, until the cat has enough and runs off, with two happy dogs chasing.

But I have high hopes that they’ll share a bed again. Then again, maybe it’ll be a case of: the lion shall lie down with the lamb, but the lamb won’t get much sleep.

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