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20 December 1999

What’s sauce for the goose . . .

New Statesman Scotland - What's sauce for the goose . . . isn't necessarily what's good for

By Claire Walker

Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat. Unfortunately. It was irresistible, you see. There on the Co-op noticeboard of a Borders’ county town: “Two geese free to good home. Family pets.” Geese! What a brilliant idea. Out to the phone box smartish, get directions. “We’ll be right there.” Drive at breakneck speed (45mph in the antique Land Rover) in case someone should beat us to this once-in-a-lifetime bargain.

We were greeted by not one but three men, all built like brick cludgies. They showed us into the back garden, where two outsize birds, one white, one grey, were demonstrating the meaning of attitude. “Aye, that’s a goose and a gander,” said the older of the men. “The white one’s the goose.”

To show us what tame family pets these were, one of the guys was gingerly stepping round the white one, proffering bread – at arm’s length. She was hissing alarmingly in reply, before snatching the morsel and nearly taking his hand off in the process. There was murder in her eyes.

Well. It would have seemed rude to decline at this late stage. So we watched with mounting horror as the two were chased, caught and shoved into the Land Rover. The door was hastily banged shut on them before vengeance could be wreaked on their assailants. The drive home was even more breakneck (47mph). Pressure on the accelerator bore a direct correlation to the rising goose fury in the back. The previous owners had even thrown in a bag of corn, such was their evident relief at getting shot of these avian psychopaths.

So they were dumped, without ceremony, into the garden, where a makeshift bath was set up. At night, the ingrates retired to the palatial splendour of a double garage – complete with beds. I took to going in with them at bedtime for half an hour or so in a bid to establish positive relations.

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By this time, they had names: Mattie and Wilbur. Mattie was up for the friendly stuff. First eating corn out of my hand, she gradually got to the stage of letting me stroke her. Soon, Mattie and I were sitting on the back doorstep together. She’d clamber up and sit beside me. With my arm around her, and my hand in that pocket birds have for tucking their feet into, we’d stay like bookends, surveying our domain.

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Wilbur was another matter. Once, when I was crouching down talking to Mattie, he came straight out of left field and bit my arm. In an agony-fuelled rage, I grabbed him by the beak. Have you ever caught a tiger by the tail? The only answer was to let go and face him up. Never, ever, give an inch in retreat when dealing with this lot.

The free corn, of course, ran out. So, where do you buy goose food? Not a pet shop, that’s for sure. So it was out with the Yellow Pages to look under “Grain merchants”. “Ah, look at that, Mr Eggo. And he’s not even 20 minutes away,” said Patrick. “You do it.” I declined – I was too much of a wimp to phone. He duly dialled: “Er . . . Mr Eggo? I believe you sell grain.”

“Aye.”

“Well, I’m needing some for my geese.”

“Aye. How many you got?”

“Um, two. Mattie and Wilbur.” Delivered with a defensive air.

“I’ll not be needing to get my grain lorry out, then?”

“Erm . . .” Patrick was embarrassed now. “No.”

“Will you manage to come and collect it yourself?” He was really enjoying himself by this time. We requested half a hundredweight and drove over (40mph). Out comes Mr Eggo, still cracking up. Seeing my consternation, he said: “Lassie, I sell it by the ton!” We gazed upon the little bag of grain sitting forlornly in his courtyard.

The geese were always keen to get into the house – they knew we had comfier beds and more exotic feed. Mattie would rap on the back door with her bill. Once, having accidentally left the door open, I looked out of the kitchen to see the pair of them, stately as galleons and with a serenity to match, strolling along the hall. Doing what geese do – on the carpet.

As friendship blossomed into love for Mattie and me, the indifference with which she had graced Patrick hardened into a white hatred. If she so much as saw him at the kitchen window, she’d fly across the garden in a flurry of feathers, honking and hissing by turn. Hell hath no fury like a hacked-off goose. She took to chasing him if he went into the garden; soon he was a prisoner in his own home. The denouement came one Saturday afternoon. Patrick bravely strode out across the lawn. Mattie was there in a trice and in a hell of a humour.

I started running towards them, but by this time she’d rugby-tackled him to the ground. Just in the nick of time, I stopped her from giving him a serious going over. That was it – they had to go. A farmer from Balerno, who already had geese, agreed to take them. I was gutted. As they were being driven up the A1, any vehicle that had the temerity to overtake got serious verbals through the window from this pair. Road rage didn’t get a look in. All fell into place when the farmer saw them. “They’re both ganders,” he declared.

Mattie was a male and had bonded with me. He regarded me as his girlfriend. These creatures bond for life. Take away their partner and they can pine away. Mattie saw Patrick as the competition. Wilbur had bonded with Mattie, he thought she/he was a girl. So I was the competition there.

Who needs EastEnders?

Many months later, Patrick happened to be visiting the farm and was invited to say hello to the geese. “Mattie . . . Mattie!” he shouted. A terrific din ensued as a furious goose rounded the corner, hissing and dusting the ground with his beak. Mattie remembered.

They say true love never dies. Neither, it seems, does sexual jealousy. Even for a goose. “Leda and the Swan” eat your heart out.