Big thank you from

Danger of tweaking a goat's beard

by the Rambler 11/01/2002

Part 1

LACK of space compelled me to carry forward the rest of the story of Bertie's Wilson's goats. I will continue from where I left off.

On the positive side, Bertie Wilson relished their bleats of welcome when they heard his footsteps approaching, if they were housed - also their friendly response as he massaged their flinthard skulls when they were feeding. One thing he liked about them was their consistency. No matter how often he chastised them, their affection did not wane. It was as if the imps revelled in provoking him and accepted any thumps which they received as part of the game.

Unfortunately, the goats also provoked the neighbours, when they trespassed. Old Jamie Fiddis who owned an adjoining farm, was most vulnerable. He had a fine vegetable garden and orchard, which were his pride and joy, and there were ructions whenever the goats set foot on his place.

The goats were mother and daughter, Maggie and Nellie, but Old Jamie was more inclined to use very different appellations, of which 'Son of a bitch' was the mildest.

Old Jamie detested them for their thieving habits and he would have thrashed them with his stout ash staff if he could. Being nearly eighty years of age, all he managed was to threaten them.

In retaliation, they slyly ambushed him from the rear anytime he carried a can of water from Wilson's pump, sending the water splashing around him.

The barrage of verbal abuse which he let loose was invariably answered by a duet of mocking 'meh-heh-hehs', which made him hopping made.

If Bertie was within earshot, he got the benefit of old Jamie's unsolicited opinion, but it never took a feather out of him. Mostly his defence was,

"They'll have to go, Jamie. Honest! When Nellie kids, I'll get rid of them" or a slight variation, "I need their milk now, but when another cow calves, they'll have to go".

Of course, the acceptable time never came. Bertie had no more intention of getting rid of the goats than he had of flying.

When a young woman from Belfast moved into a house up the road, and came looking for goat's milk for a delicate child, Bertie wasn't slow to assent. It sort of reinforced his excuse for hanging onto the goats (and his luck).

As his two young sons, Bill and John, grew up they were able to act as additional eyes and ears.

"Ma! Come quick. The goats are in the garden" or "Ma! Ma! The goats at the clothes". Maybe "Hi! Da! The goat's in the meal house" were regular calls to arms, and the alacrity -with which the animals vamoosed as soon as either of the boys shouted, was almost uncanny.

Unfortunately, the growing lads saw the goats as mere playthings and they teased them at every opportunity, mimicking their bleats and tweaking their whiskers through the bars of the farm gates.

As a result, the goats became a danger to young children. Bertie got a shock one day when he had to rescue two of a neighbour's children who had gone looking for mushrooms in a field where the goats were loose.

But for the fact that the tether on their collars caused impediments similar to a three-legged race, the wee ones would not have escaped.

Not long after, he came home one day to find the door of the goat-shed in splinters and the animals loose. It transpired that his two wee boys and their school pal had been tweaking the goats' beards every time they had speeled up on the half-door to see out.

The lads' adventures with the goats brought disaster when they sneaked Bertie's mechanical horse-clippers and gave the younger goat a short-sides-and-belly, in the style of the tracehigh clip which their father always gave the horses in Springtime.

They failed to consider the effect of the bitter March winds on the shorn animal, which quickly developed what the local goat-doctor termed 'a founder'. As time passed, and her condition worsened, with a bad cough and rapid loss of weight, Bertie was compelled to isolate Nellie as TB was suspected.

After nearly a week of dreary bleating by both animals and sleepless nights, Bertie was puzzled when total silence descended one night at bedtime. On investigating, he found that the mother goat had butted the door open, and joined her offspring. Bertie found her lying close to the sick animal which lay panting, in what looked like dying throes.

Assiduously, Maggie caressed and licked the muzzle of the invalid in what looked for all the world like a kiss-of-life, goat style. At the same time she snuggled close to her bairn.

Bertie was concerned about the older goat's well-being and he immediately grasped her horns and tried to drag her away to safety, but she put her front legs firmly in front, and stoutly resisted.

Realising that she was probably smitten, if she was going to be smitten, he relented, closed the door on the pair of them and went back to bed.

Apart from anything else, he didn't want another noisy night.

Next morning, Nellie was not only still alive, but actually brighter, and by evening she had started to chew the cud - a sign of recovery. Gradually, she shook over the illness, and inside a couple of weeks she was engaged with her mother, in still another tail-twitching raid on the meal house. Bertie forever after bragged about how the old one had brought Nellie round with her breath.

Ulster Star