I was five weeks old when we moved to Kent. My parents bought a house on the edge of the village. It was a big place, divided into two and on the other side there was a farm. On the farm they had a goat who’d just had twins - a male and female - and John the farmer offered the boy goat to my brother as a pet. My brother asked our Dad who said, "ask your Mum"; so he asked Mum and she said "No". John the farmer said "what a pity; I shall have to kill it." So we had a goat.
This was when my parents first met the local vet who became a good friend, which is miraculous really because he informed my Mum that she would have to assist him in both de-horning and castrating our new pet. Ugh! Our new pet was called Rubin because bilirubin is the stuff that makes your blood red. (Billy Rubin, get it?)
|Dad, my brother and Rubin, early 70s|
He had a nice warm hut to sleep in at night and a long bull chain from which we tethered him everyday so that he could eat the garden. A year later we moved and the garden at the new house was around 2 acres and had been empty for years so Rubin had a grand time eating down an enormous amount of overgrowth. Some new people moved into a shop in the centre of the village and asked if they could borrow Rubin to eat down their overgrown garden. My parents agreed but the shop had no back entrance so he had to be taken him through the shop! They managed this without any accidents (or health and safety issues) but unfortunately Rubin must have seen the enormous pile of cardboard boxes on his way through and he spent two happy days eating those rather than the weeds.
When my parents first got him he was tiny. My Mum says he was ‘like a long legged puppy dog - really charming - but he seemed to grow minute by minute and in the end he was the size of a pony.’ He was already of considerable size by the time we moved to the new house. It was ten days before Christmas when we moved. My Mum was irritated to be told that she and my brother had to walk the goat the mile and a half to the new house because Dad had to dismantle Rubin's hut and re-erect it in the new garden so that he had somewhere nice and warm to sleep. They walked him round in pouring rain; Rubin stopped every five yards to eat somebody's hedge or a bush or to rip the bark off some juicy looking young tree. At this rate it was a slow and nightmarish journey and Mum was fast losing her sense of humour. It wasn’t helped when, still a long way from the new house, a passing car slowed down, wound down his window to ask, “which way to the manger?”
If it’s anthropomorphizing to say that Rubin had a wicked sense of humour himself, then I’ll just have to go with the fact that our family memories of him make it look so. He chewed up a much loved monkey puppet of my sister's which she only just managed to yank out of his mouth before it disappeared inside. Another day, when she bent down in the garden to pick something up – I think it might have been his food - he eyed her rear, put down his head and dashed towards her, butting her bottom with such strength that she left the ground, sailed through the air before landing with a start on her feet. My Granny always wore an apron; Granny swore blind that Rubin would only try and eat it when it was a floral one, which none of us ever believed. So it was a surprise that during a childhood birthday party (we were 8 or 9, I suppose) he took a great liking to my friend C's flowery new dress and started to eat it. As the pretty flowery fabric disappeared further into his mouth she began to have hysterics, convinced that he was going to eat her.
As he got older, although reasonably fit, he did have the occasional medical emergency (it was hardly surprising, given his diet of floral fabrics…) There was one terribly hot summer when Rubin got very poorly. Dad diagnosed heat stroke and he and my brother hosed him down. Granny, who was devoted to Rubin, insisted on getting the on duty vet - on a bank holiday Monday - he looked at the goat, and ‘yes, yes,’ he said, ‘it was definitely heat stroke and that was the right treatment and that will be £40 if you please.’ (This was early 70s and a vast amount of money.)
My Dad was away from home during Rubin’s final illness. It was again very hot but he wasn't suffering sunstroke this time. We were all worried sick about him and tried to make him comfortable. G, a good friend and neighbour turned up with a pony trailer in which she had half a dozen large bales of straw for us to assemble a comfortable bedroom around him so that he was protected from the sun and could stay out all night in the cool. We kept a vigil by his bedside but it was getting late and my sister and I had school the next day. Eventually Mum persuaded us to come in for a bath and we left Granny sitting out watching him, feeding him sips of water. At about 9 o'clock, after our bath, we reappeared in the kitchen to say goodnight and Granny walked in and said, "Oh, I'm sorry, but he's died". Everybody burst into tears. I couldn’t remember a time without Rubin and so my sister and I were inconsolable. Granny and Mum treated their shock with scotch and my sister and I didn’t get to bed until 11 o clock.
The trouble was the weather was baking hot and we had a large corpse on the lawn. It was obviously a health risk to leave him there, so the following morning Mum had to get the local building firm in with a digger, to dig a big hole and to lift his heavy weight into the grave. He's buried next to the compost heap and lots of lovely things (the technical term) grow on top of him.
Rubin lived to be nine years old but he continues to live on in our family myth. If ever anyone requests friends to come and stay, the answer is usually ‘yes, I think the goat’s hut is free.’