I loved living in the country as a child. We had about twenty acres of land which went up a hill and down the other side. Our house was a ramshackle cottage just below the summit of the hill. The house was surrounded by a large, untidy garden. The rest of our land was a forest of assorted trees.
The nearest neighbours lived in a farmhouse over a mile away, down a rutted dirt track which ran past fields of sheep and cows and eventually came out onto the main road which led into the town where our father worked in the paper factory. The neighbours, the Brownings, were proper farmers who had lived on their land for several generations. Whereas we were newcomers. I think I was about five when we moved from the town. It was before my little sister Julia was born. I could hardly believe we had our own forest having previously been limited to a small patch of garden. My big brother Eddie and I spent hours exploring the land that was our new home, and we also followed the stream to the left of the house for mile after mile down to where it joined the river. Walking beside the stream was hard going in places where we had to scramble over rocks and fallen trees in the narrow gorge. Eddie used to say we were the first people to set foot on the land, and Dad agreed that there were probably some places where this was true.
I remember how we worked for weeks, me and my brother and sister along with our parents, damming up that stream on the left with barrow loads of earth to form a pond. We’d been living there a couple of years by this time. When Eddie and I returned from school we would start loading the barrow with earth and wheeling it round before dumping it on the pile which was gradually growing into a dam. We’d take turns shovelling and wheeling. Mum was expecting Julia at the time and was too tired to help much, but when Dad came home after work he would join us and we’d often stay out until it grew dark.
“Jeannie,” said Dad, patting my head. “You’re very strong for a little girl. We’ll soon have this dam finished.”
When it was built Dad diverted the stream and the water soon filled the dam. When it reached the overflow, it sprang forth and flowed into the stream bed once more. The water in the dam was cloudy with mud for a while, but when it cleared Dad went out and bought four ducks. He built a little house for them and soon they were paddling about happily on our pond.
Then he decided it would be a good idea to get some goats. “They’ll keep the undergrowth from getting out of control,” he said. That was the trouble with him having to go to work, there was never enough time to do what needed doing on the land. Mum did her best to keep the grass around the house cut short, but cleaning the house and cooking our food as well as looking after the new baby kept her busy all the time.
Dad started building some sheds for the goats he planned to buy, and me and Eddie helped. First we had to clear some land on the far side of the hill where it levelled out a bit. That involved cutting down some trees and digging out the stumps which was very hard work. The sheds were made out of odds and ends of timber and looked a bit wonky. Then one Friday night Dad came home later than usual with three goats in a horse box hitched to the back of the car.
“The farmer who sold me the goats lent me the horse box,” he said.
I looked inside and jumped with surprise at the pair of devilish yellow eyes which met my gaze. That was the male, and we called him Satan even though his coat was grey. One of the females was white, so we named her Snowdrop. The other was delicately patterned in brown and cream, and had lovely droopy ears. We named her Caramel. They seemed to like the look of their new quarters and settled in readily.
The only trouble was, the goats didn’t seem to understand that they weren’t meant to eat the flowers in the garden.
“They’ve had all my lupins!” raged Mum.
Dad was more concerned that the lupins might be poisonous and that his precious goats would die. But he bought some posts and wire and hastily built a fence around the sheds, giving the goats a generous enclosure. Luckily the goats suffered no ill effects from their feast of lupins.
Then we discovered that before they were fenced in the goats had somehow dislodged the pipe which fed water from the dam to our water tank. All the water in the tank had run away so there were no baths until he’d fixed it.
Us kids didn’t mind. We loved our goats, and spent ages down at the sheds smoothing their coats and feeding them hay. Little Julia used to make us laugh as she couldn’t say Caramel properly, and would call the brown goat Camarel.
That winter was very cold. The pond froze over, and the four ducks made us laugh with their attempts at skating on the ice. Snow fell thickly around our house and Dad had to dig a track so he could get the car out to drive to work. We had to buy extra hay to feed the goats as the grass was covered with snow for weeks on end.
Then, finally, signs of spring became evident. After the snow melted the deciduous trees started producing fresh pale green leaves, and the grass was littered with colourful crocuses. Then the fruit trees at the back of the house started to flower in delicate shades of pink and white. When we walked back from the school bus I loved to watch the little lambs skipping in the fields. And our garden filled with cheerful yellow daffodils.
To my delight the ducks produced ducklings, six fuzzy little balls of yellow which paddled frantically after their mothers. And there were plenty of duck eggs to eat too. Mum decided we should also get some hens.
I thought Caramel was looking rather plump, but Dad said she was expecting babies. Over the next few weeks she grew wider and wider, and if you looked closely sometimes you could see her flanks moving, the little goats inside squirming anxiously in expectation of being born. Then Dad said Snowdrop was also expecting babies.
One morning Dad came in to breakfast with a big smile. “Caramel’s had her kids,” he announced. “Three little brown ones.”
Breakfast forgotten, we ran down to the shed and made a fuss of the adorable little creatures. They were already tottering around on their wobbly little legs, and their droopy ears were far too big for their heads.
Three weeks later Snowdrop produced two little kids, one white and one grey. Satan looked suitably smug with all his offspring milling about him.
Dad said we’d soon be overrun with goats at this rate. He began talking about killing some of the kids and eating the meat, but we all rose up in protest. Mum included.
“I refuse to cook our pets,” she said firmly.
Dad gave in and we kept the goats. We named the two males Bill and Ben. Bill was grey and Ben was brown. The two brown females were Cocoa and Chocolate, and the little white female, my favourite, I named Daffodil. When no-one was watching I’d let her out of the enclosure and lead her around on a rope like a puppy. Of course a dog would have made my life complete.
Unfortunately when Bill and Ben were a few months old they started to get aggressive. Dad said this was what happened with male goats, and that you could only keep one male in each herd.
“We can’t kill them,” protested Mum. “They’re part of the family.”
Sadly they had to go. The compromise was that they went to other farms, and Dad got a few pounds for them.
I was distracted from my sadness at losing Bill and Ben by a wonderful surprise on the morning of my ninth birthday. When I walked into the kitchen there was a puppy in a basket by the stove.
“Happy birthday, Jeannie!” chorused Mum and Dad. My dream had come true. She was black and white and grey, a Border Collie pup with the most beautiful blue eyes. I named her Star, and the day she came into my life is one of my happiest childhood memories.
by Karenne Griffin
Last Modified on: 05-11-2015