Once again, myself, Beth and Ashley volunteered our services to the team at Veterinary Practice magazine to help steward at the annual and very popular VetsNorth Conference, a two-day event providing lectures and practicals for vets (and this year also vet nurses!) to count towards their obligatory CPD. This year a new venue was selected at the AJ Bell rugby stadium, it was a much more suitable venue for the rapidly expanding event and provided exhibitors and attendees much more ‘wiggle room’ than the previous venue. It was also much easier for us to help set up as the lift actually worked at an acceptable speed and I was much more confident it had passed its safety certificate than the rickety service shaft I had had to clamber out of the previous year! It was nice to start being recognised by some of the exhibitors we’d assisted last year and we enjoyed having a laugh and a chat to everyone while setting up (and eyeing up which exhibitors had the best freebies!). The most interesting part of the set up was squirrelling a dozen frozen dogs heads upstairs ready for the dental practical so the venue staff didn’t notice (I would like to point out we did have permission for this! We just did’t want to turn any stomachs carrying decapitated dogs in)!

Sporting our bright red polo shirts (so no one could miss us a mile off!) the next day we arrived bright and early to man the registration desk. We greeted everyone with a pick and mix bag from one of the exhibitors, Virtual Recall which I think was an ingenious way to get people to come to your stand! It’s also amusing that the technique employed to bribe small children still works on fully grown adults (me being one of them!). Once the morning stampede had subsided we were free to poke our noses in some of the sessions. This year there was a focus on dentistry with Bob Partridge (back by popular demand), animal behaviour, with Liverpool lecturer Sarah Heath, Wound Management with Georgie Hollis and lots of other topics and workshops to suit all interests. It was our job during the lectures to throw ourselves across the room brandishing a microphone when someone asked a question. The problem was, everyone tried desperately hard to deliver their question at the speed of light before we got there to avoid using the microphone which left us stood there like awkward decorations trying not to block anyone’s view.

The lunch I must say was a little interesting; the food was really tasty and everyone’s preferences were catered for but, in the style of the Mad Hatter’s tea party in Alice in Wonderland, everything came in miniature cups! Now it is common knowledge that most vets have hearty appetites and you could see the flood of panic on everyone’s faces when they saw the portion sizes preceded by a lot of semi-polite pushing and shoving with most delegates taking an armful of cups to stave off the appetite they had worked up sitting in lectures (which I know all too well!). The rate the lunch went down did baffle the staff somewhat which I found surprising as we were at a Rugby ground and I was under the impression the burly rugby lads were fellow foodies too! In credit to them, like troopers a small army of catering staff made several runs back down to the kitchen to bring out more food for everyone and eventually appetites were satisfied.

The evening was finished off with a well-deserved pint at the pub across from the venue. The harvester-esque pub served traditional British grub in mammoth portions which, let’s face it, is just what everyone wanted! A number of the lecturers joined us, some of which were our lecturers at university (I just sincerely hope they don’t remember us too well for when I inevitably cock up on rotations as I feel it will come back to haunt me!) and there was great excitement over the mammoth size of the desserts (one slice of cake was enough to feed the whole table) and there was much deliberation over which of the many weird and wonderful ice cream flavours to sample, this was definitely the hardest decision of the day!

Day two was a little more relaxed so we had a little more time to wander around the exhibitions, stock pile freebies and sit in lectures we had an interest in. During our spare time Beth and I went on a mission to bully and charm exhibitors into donating supplies to our cause, Help in Suffering, the charity we were travelling to India to work for that coming weekend! To our surprise and delight we were incredibly successful and left the conference with arms brimming with our spoils (in fact there is a mug shot of us doing so in the August edition of veterinary practice magazine!) Big Thank you to Georgie Hollis of the Veterinary wound library who went home empty-handed after we fleeced all her demonstration bandaging materials and to DVH veterinary supplies for the 20kg box of goodies they kindly had shipped to my house with next day delivery so it could be taken to India in time.

In the afternoon I helped John and Margaret Cooper, the exotics gurus set up for their workshop. I always enjoy my encounters with the Coopers, they are wonderfully eccentric and always come accompanied by numerous stuffed and pickled animals they have acquired on their travels. They are incredibly interactive lecturers which is amusing to see still terrifies vets over 30 years my senior when they see John bouncing towards them with a microphone to fire a question at them. I wish more of my lecturers had such a novel and interactive approach, it would definitely help to make some of the more tedious topics a little more exciting!  I can only hope I can become that knowledgeable (though I fear both John and Margaret have probably forgotten more than I will ever know in a life time!) and have so much passion for life and my career at their age.

Beth also acquired two spiny stick insects from the Coopers – she really should have got the Animal Hoarder award at our half way weekend award ceremony! They were a big hit with a number of the attendees and the venue staff and a great conversation starter as we walked around with them happily clinging to our shirts like bizarre broaches. But they were a nice little souvenir of this year’s conference!

Also, wheeling round thousands of pounds worth of dentistry equipment on incredibly haphazard wheels was a little hair raising! Thankfully everything was packed without a hitch in spite of my clumsiness and we waved everyone off in hopes of seeing them all at next year’s conference.As the conference drew to a close on the second day it was time for us to help pack up. Me and Beth ended up on the floor in the men’s toilets scrubbing blood off the dental instruments armed with nothing but some Trigiene and toilet roll which I can safely say I never imagined myself doing!

Overall it was yet again another fun and educational weekend spent with a fantastic bunch of incredibly knowledgeable and aspiring people. David and Micheal Ritchie and David Kimberley really do deserve a slap on the back for all the work they put in and for pulling of the conference so successfully each year. Although I do find it a little worrying that in a few years’ time, I won’t be stewarding at Vets North but I may well be attending as a graduate vet! Thankfully I still have a couple of years left to figure (hopefully) out what I’m doing!

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