Cackles was not technically a pet, I suppose, and certainly not the border collie I desperately craved, but she was my favorite goose. She was physically difficult to pet, but I tried my best, stroking her long, muscular neck. I sang to her nightly while she sat there quacking along. Or quacking in protest. It was hard to know the difference.
I was very proud of her. No one else I knew had geese, except for the Ballantine’s distillery down the road, which had about 100 guards the whiskey. But no one from Ballantine’s went to my school, so that didn’t count. In short, it was unusual in the 80s to have geese, especially where we lived. But we kept a few at the old wreck of a cottage with a bit of land that my parents had managed to buy cheap – a tiny scrap of country in the middle of a council estate in Dumbarton.
I was most proud when I had my birthday parties. They were so different from my friends’ celebrations. We would gather grass on the way home from school. A little gaggle of girls, with bundles of greenery held tight, back to my garden. I would show them how to feed the geese, not to be scared by those snake-like necks, by the hissing and flapping, the beaks, the long tongues and the little razor mouths. There would be nervous giggling and euphoria afterwards.
The kids weren’t as scared of the geese as their parents. Some had good cause – my uncle Charlie was bitten in the nether regions by Billy, our cantankerous gander.
I remember being scared, too, until I learned to stand my ground. As they chased me from behind, I would turn and they would stop short, as if they had run into a cartoon wall. “You just have to face them,” I would tell wary friends. “Don’t run.” Easier said than done, it would turn out.
One day, I came home to find that Cackles was being taken away. She had chased a new mother wheeling a pram down our lane. The woman had been “terrified”. I was indignant: “Why did she run from a goose?”
My dad said he had to go. I last saw her on my brother’s lap, in my dad’s van. She had a bag over her head, like it was some kind of waterfowl whacking. It was surreal and memorable for all the wrong reasons. I was heartbroken.
My dad promised he went to a local farm for a happy retirement. I called him up for this piece. “Aye,” he said. “She did!” I am choosing to believe him.