by Esmerelda Weatherwax (Feb. 2007)
This recent incident reported in the BBC brought some stories to mind.
A notorious herd of wild goats has brought havoc to a north Devon village once again. The goats, which have roamed the Valley of Rocks near Lynmouth for hundreds of years, have divided villagers.
Some claim they are destructive and dangerous pests, while others say they are an important tourist drawcard.
In May 2005, the goats were given a reprieve when the town council abandoned its plans to cull them, in favour of installing the grid.
But it has only taken the goats a few months to learn how to "tip-toe" over it to get back into the village, where they have again been eating flowers in the cemetery and damaging gardens, along with the local cricket pitch.
Ms Hibbert said the council was in discussions with the county council, Exmoor Park Authority and grid supplier.
"But to be quite honest I don't think there is a cattle grid to keep them out."
The 80-strong herd grazes in the 300-acre valley in Exmoor National Park and was mentioned in the Domesday Book.
My first and only encounter with a goat (leaving aside an incident at Chessington Zoo when I am told that a goat ate my straw hat but as I was only about 3 I don’t remember it) was the chap, named Billy (very original) who lived at a pub I used to visit regularly. This pub had a large beer garden and the Missus, Gloria, and her husband thought that Billy and his little friend were just the thing to attract and amuse a family clientele. Which they were, although the little one died young from eating something he shouldn’t which stuck in his intestine. Billy was very bold and developed a knack of getting out.
One day he went missing and Gloria was searching for him when a chap ran into the bar with the news that Billy had been seen getting on to the bus which turned round at the war memorial opposite. This was the type of bus where passengers get on at the front and pay the driver, then leave through wide doors in the middle. The drivers tended to leave the doors open while they took a rest break to air the bus. Billy did the fare dodgers trick of getting in by the out door. The local minicab driver came to the rescue and set off in his cab. Follow that bus.
Across the roundabout, past the Catholic Church and caught up with Billy outside a rival pub. I only heard about this the next day but it made local radio and the papers. I kept the cutting. Here he is to the left.
My husband’s family lived in the country for most of his childhood where there was more scope for livestock. Although Dad was the not so proud owner of an Egyptian goat for a brief period. He was stationed in Egypt during the war when he was RAF ground crew. Egyptian civilians were employed at the base and every so often they would organise a raffle. Dad was a bit surprised at this as he had heard that there was a restriction on gambling in Islam but every so often the fellahin came round with raffle tickets for 5 piastras each, the equivalent, so far as Dad can remember of about a shilling. 5p in new money, or 2c.
One day a party came into the hangar.
“Effendi, you are most lucky man; you have won this magnificent goat in our raffle.”
This was the scruffiest smelliest goat you can imagine led on a piece of string. At this point the Wing Commander came over and said that the goat had to be got rid of as soon as possible. What he actually said was apparently longer, and couched in terms euphemistically described as “naval language” but which was not confined to the Senior Service.
One of the Egyptians offered to buy the goat for £2 which suited Dad. He later heard that the goat had been resold for £4 so everybody was happy. The goat’s views were not recorded.
Years later the family were in a vicarage with rather too much lawn to maintain so Mum decided that a grazing goat would do the job. Which is how they came to acquire, first Plato and after he died, Aristotle. All went well until they decided to take a holiday and a local farmer offered to take Aristotle for the week. Dad put him on a lead to walk him the short distance across the village to the farm. Except that Aristotle wouldn’t move. Dad decided to do another errand and try again later. Or more accurately he intended to get Mum to do it. As he opened the car door Aristotle jumped in and got very comfortable on the back seat. So Dad drove to the farm with Aristotle staring out of the back window in a manner reminiscent of the Queen Mother. When they got home from holiday he had to be brought home the same way.
Aristotle grazed so well that the fishing rod factory in the village decided to get several goats of their own to keep their grass tidy. Having experience in the field (or meadow) my husband landed a pocket money job looking after them after school and during holidays. He still cringes when he hears me sing “High on the Hill, Lived a Lonely Goatherd, Yodel, Odel, ay ie di, etc.”
In the course of work I once came across a man who had previous convictions for robbery, GBH and a fine for “being the keeper of a straying goat”.
They are serious business are goats, so don’t be a silly Billy.
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Esmerelda Weatherwax is a regular contributor to the Iconoclast, our community blog. To view her entries please click here.