Beware of the goose

2008-02-23 00:00

Benjy the sort-of spaniel was dead. Considering that in his later years, Benjy had developed BO, canine halitosis and a tendency to dribble, there was no major sackcloth-and-ashes routine when his passing was announced by a phone call from the vet’s nurse. But as the days went by, his absence began to be felt. First by the fleas who went on a feeding frenzy with humans as the latest link in their food chain and, when that was over, by the children.

Must have a new dog, they said.

Why? we replied. Security? We remembered Benjy in his mock-Rottweiler role and laughed. Then we remembered the day the TV, stereo, binoculars, camera and most of the clothing were cleaned out by burglars, with Benjy fast asleep in his wicker basketnear the front door, and stopped laughing. Companionship? Only the fleas were still in mourning. Somehow it is very difficult to retain a meaningful relationship with a dog that smells like Gorgonzola cheese.

No, forget a dog, we said. Well, what about a goose? queried Rachel, my eldest. What about a goose? we responded absently, our minds elsewhere. The Romans used geese, she said. It seemed that they used geese as watchdogs, an idea of near-surreal imagining.

But who or what is scared of a goose, said I, remembering a hodge-podge of fairy tales in which small but canny foxes devoured large but silly geese by the flock load.

Do you know how big a goose is? asked my daughter. Look, I replied. A goose might be big to a chicken, or maybe a rabbit, but to a person it’s just another bit player in the barnyard line-up. And no one, I proclaimed, warming to my theme — with the exception, say, of a slug or a nunu — is scared of poultry.

How wrong we were. Such is the persuasive power of my children that the very next weekend found us at a rural goose retailer, putting in a bid for three geese. Forget the poultry slur, I soon discovered, not only are geese very, very huge, but they are very, very fierce. For some reason, they got on exceptionally well with the children. But their hatred for adult human beings is unparalleled in petland and probably has something to do with the bad press they’ve received from the pens of the Grimm Brothers and to a lesser extent, Beatrix Potter.

This loathing was revealed in a host of goosey ways. Firstly, they would attack everybody over the age of 12 without discrimination. Good people, bad people, friends, family, random delivery people, mail carriers, all these folk got the goosey-goosey run around which, while fun to watch through a closed window, was living hell to experience.

It would go something like this: the unsuspecting visitor to the Basckin home would open the little white picket gate with the tinkling windchimes so prettily arranged upon it. With the sound of the bells still ringing, he or she would gasp in joyous amazement at the scene of tranquil floral beauty that greeted the eye. No sooner had this idyll imprinted itself on the visitor’s brain, than one, two but most usually three big white geese would wander into the picture. Overcome by the rural charm of the scene, the visitor would carefully shut and lock the gate so that the geese didn’t accidentally run into the busy street. At this point, knowing their prey was trapped, all three geese would hiss and honk with rage, and rush at the visitor, their hideous serpentine heads held high, their serrated orange beaks wide open and snapping like ragged-tooth sharks.

If you were skilled in the ways of geese, you would clout them across the back of the head and scream “Oh please goosey-goosey, go away and play!” or more usually, the shorter, two-word version. This would send them back to their former activities and you could make it safely to the veranda. But, like I said, this only worked if you knew what to do. Most people didn’t. They would turn and run, while all three geese hissing like puff adders, chased the victim round the yard, snapping — painfully — at the little bits of tender flesh at the back of the knee.

After six weeks of this we had no friends left in the whole world. So one Saturday night, I invited those who still accepted my phonecalls, to come to dinner. At first they were disinclined, but as soon as I revealed the menu, their reserve melted and the acceptances poured in. The first course was a stunning pâté de foie gras, for which you need the livers of three large geese, the fresher the better ...

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