Wednesday, 4 August 2010

The New Geese.

I am looking out of the window at eight very happy hens.
They have taken on a new lease of life since the cockerel cull, and are barely recognisable from the down trodden, anxious looking creatures who lived in constant fear of sexual assault.
They used to be permanently on edge, ever watchful for the presence of subversive terror tactics.
Emboldened by the removal of their violent co-habitants, they have started to explore, wandering beyond the parameters of the garden, digging for worms in the verges, taking leisurely dust baths in the farm yard, and sidling up beside me to watch me weeding, beady eyes looking out for worms as I turn over the earth with my trowel.
Dotty, the silver Pekin, used to be terribly timid, rarely emerging from the shadows of the hen house, so I was delighted this morning to discover her wallowing brazenly in the pot of trailing Lobelia outside the kitchen door.
Lily adores them, and will sit in the garden for ages, watching in fascination as they go about their business. The only one I am concerned about is Betty, who seems to be suffering from a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She is clearly still living on her nerves. If she sees the slightest movement in the long grass, she thinks she is being ambushed, and immediately squats down and braces herself with her eyes closed. (Jasper says she's thinking of England).
We have one remaining cockerel; a white silky named Dennis. He avoided execution by bolting through Jamie's legs on the day of the Cull. He dived between the outstretched hands and made a dash for liberty, the pom pom on his head wobbling violently from side to side as he shot off down the drive squawking in dismay. I took the fatalistic view that his escape was a sign, and so he was granted a pardon.
He pottered back to the house as dusk fell over the farmyard. The hens were gathered outside looking confused but pleased, as though they could scarcely believe their luck that the reign of terror was over. They stood up to their full height and bristled as Dennis shuffled round the corner, looking absurd in his feathery knickerbockers and fluffy boots. They glared at him, and he hesitated for a few seconds looking discomfited, before bowing his head and humbly making the long walk of shame beneath their censurious gaze.
What passed in the Hen House that night remains a mystery, but I imagine that the hens took a united stand and presented Dennis with some firm ground rules, including a zero tolerance attitude to rape and violence, and priority over the the pellets and corn at EVERY meal time.
I opened the pop hole the next morning and watched in amazement as he followed the girls meekly down the ramp, traipsing along at a respectful distance behind them, like a former Noble Court Chancellor demoted to Butler. He has, thus far, treated them with the utmost deference, politely suggesting sex, rather than demanding it, and quietly standing back at meal times until the girls have eaten their fill.
I am proud of Dennis. He is a reformed character.

It is Lily's first Birthday on Saturday. We have already bought her a pony: a sweet bay miniature horse named Tilly, who is the size of a large dog.
When Jasper saw her for the first time he remarked that Lily could just have well learnt to ride on My mother-In-Law's labrador.
Tilly spends her days dozing in the Orchard, and bustling in and out of the kitchen (much to Lily's delight) to see if there's any food on offer. Carrot toppings are a favourite, although I came in from the vegetable garden the other day to find her diligently licking up the last crumbs of a batch of home made shortbread that i had left cooling on the side.
She has also cottoned on to the benefits of waiting by Lily's high chair at meal times, patiently waiting to hoover up the dropped morsels; she's particularly partial to petit filous.
Aware of the fact that Lily is going to be given lots of toys for her Birthday, and mindful of her love of animals and the great outdoors, I decided to buy her a pair of ducks. What could be nicer for her than watching them splashing about in water amidst a chorus of happy quacking?
My friend Laura from down the lane breeds all sorts of poultry and had mentioned that she has some lovely Indian Runners, so i asked Jasper what he thought about buying a couple.
"Are they normal looking?" he asked.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean what do they look like?"
"They look like ducks."
"Are you sure?"
"For goodness sake , what do you think they look like? Elephants?" i tutted impatiently.
"It's all very well to be sarcastic, but the last lot of chickens you bought home looked like they were dressed for Ascot." he tittered.
I ignored the jibe. "The ducks are lovely - browny coloured and quite upright, like this..." i doodled a quick drawing on a piece of paper.
"Okay" he said grudgingly. "But no more than two. Understand?"
I nodded happily.
Ten minutes later Lily and I were driving down the lane to Laura's.
I was twitchy with excitement. The whole process of acquiring new poultry gives me a real buzz; my heart beats a little faster and i feel slightly giddy at the mere sight of a rare breed chicken! A girl friend of mine tells me she experiences the same rush of blood to the head and sense of heightened awareness when she sees a new pair of Jimmy Choos for the first time.
Laura greeted us at the gate and and led the way round to the back paddock where she keeps all the ducks. We couldn't see the Indian Runners at first; then she called them and they appeared from behind the oak tree, quacking a welcome. I stopped and caught my breath. They were adorable! The sun bounced off their light brown feathers as they waddled towards us, quacking merrily; the upturned corners of their bills gave them a humourous appearance as though they'd just heard a good joke.
I fumbled in my handbag for my wallet and shoved the money into Laura's hands before she changed her mind about selling them. We picked them up, and I let Lily stroke their sleek heads before we put them in their travel box. I couldn't wait to show them their newly painted house and their deep bed of golden straw, and the make shift swimming pool i had fashioned out of an old plastic drum.
We had almost reached the garden gate when i saw them. I turned my head at a soft honking sound coming from beyond the rhododendrons. As i watched, two enormous white geese strode majestically into view. Oh God. I tried to keep walking but i was rooted to the spot. I couldn't take my eyes off them. I WANT THEM I WANT THEM I WANT THEM.
"Nice aren't they?" said Laura.
I nodded, unable to speak. I gave myself a stern mental shake and managed to turn my back on them, but not before i had taken in their pale blue eyes, majestically curved necks, stout orange legs and the perfect snowy whiteness of their stocky bodies.
"Keep walking, keep walking" I told myself as I headed to the car. We don't need any geese. Apart from the fact that Jasper would spontaneously combust, they poo everywhere, they'll destroy the herbaceous borders, they're noisy and aggressive, and they're another mouth to feed.
"How much?" I asked in a shaky voice. My palms were clammy.
Two minutes later I was handing over next weeks housekeeping and looking proudly at my new geese. I tried not to think about Jasper's reaction. It would be difficult to hide them as they are so big. And he would hear them honking!
The boot of the car was full of horse feed, but we managed to wedge the duck carrier into a space on the back seat. Laura's husband appeared around the corner carrying a goose under each arm.
"Got a box for them?" he asked me.
"No. Have you?" I replied.
He shook his head. "It's okay, you can come back for them in the morning."
"No!" i shouted. I couldn't bear it. I wanted them now!
He stared at me, confused.
"You haven't got a box. How are you going to get them up the lane? You can't exactly put them on the front seat!" he joked.
"Why not? We haven't got far to go."

A short while later we were edging out of the driveway onto the lane. Lily was keeping the ducks company in the back, and the geese jostled for space on the passenger seat. They rocked unsteadily backwards and forwards as I changed gear. I hummed along to the soothing strains of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata as we set off towards home. The geese shuffled around on their precarious perch and stuck their heads out of the window to take in the scenery. "Honk! Honk!" It was all going swimmingly until a fox ran out in front of us. I slammed the brakes on and the geese shot off the seat and clunked their beaks on the glove compartment. "Honk Honk!" they cried angrily. "Honk! Honk!" The Moonlight Sonata had given way to Mahler; the honking reached a crescendo as the speakers boomed forth a particularly strident passage of The Fifth Symphony.
It was all too much for them. There was a loud squelching sound followed by a vile smell as the geese forcibly ejected the contents of their bowels. I watched grimly as the slimy green guano dripped off the handbrake and pooled in the folds of the gearbox. The engine was sputtering into life , when Bob appeared, swaying slightly and clutching a pint glass of his deadly home brewed cider.
"Afternoon!" he said with a toothy grin as we chugged past.
"Good afternoon Bob." I waved with a dignified smile.
I could see him staring after us in the rear view mirror, as we revved, honked and quacked our way up the lane.

It was an enormous relief to get home. I did a quick recce to make sure Jasper wasn't about . I was terrified at the prospect of being apprehended as I attempted to smuggle the geese in. The coast was clear. I shut them in the stable for the night, before taking a bucket of hot soapy water to the car and mopping up the evidence.

An hour later i was reclining in a Floris scented bath with a face mask on and cucumber slices over my eyes. Jasper appeared in the doorway.
"I've just seen Bob down the lane when i went to shut the bottom gate. He seems to think he saw you driving past with two geese in the passenger seat."
I chuckled indulgently. " Geese in the front seat! Ho Ho! Dear old Bob. He must have been at the cider again!"
"That's what I thought." said Jasper.

Safe. For now....


  1. ah herein lies the road to ruin methinks! I started with 2 geese, to mow the lawn and ended up with 10,000. You have been warned!

  2. I am crying with laughter. thank you x