I seem to be in a position in which I have to write a blopost about geese, because my brother Tom has been hassling me to. I really have no idea why – I think he decided it would be funny. Well, see how funny THIS is, Tom. Not at all, I’ll be bound.
I spent a lot of my school holidays as a child visiting my cousins who lived at an animal park. I spent a lot of time wandering about looking at the birds – they had emus, ostriches, a cassowary, pheasants, lots of different cockatoos and parrots, lots of different sorts of ducks – domestic ones like Indian Runners and native ones like plumed whistling ducks. There were peacocks and enormous turkeys, which being horrible kids we used to yell at so that they would be enraged and gobble and hiss and puff up their wattles – like Barnaby Joyce or Alan Jones.
The ones we hated were this roaming gang of tough nasty geese – the greylags and white domestic geese which are descended from the original greylag type, and also brown Chinese geese with the big lumps on top of their bills. (Anyone noticed how serrated goose bills are? They look disturbingly like teeth. Angry toothy birds.) (Lamellae, in case anyone was wondering.)
We would be happily playing one of our endless wandering-about-the-place games that often involved being at war with each other, we would round a corner of a deer enclosure, or the area with the camels and barbary sheep and brahmin cattle and so on, and all of a sudden there would be this…this gaggle of big scary geese. Geese may not seem to be scary to an adult eye, but a child’s eye is nerve-wrackingly close to a goose’s bill. (Apropos of gaggle, apparently when they are flying – not that domestic geese are supposed to fly, and possibly can’t as they grow too fat, they are called a skein or a wedge.)
So these geese would waddle at us, craning their necks up and hissing, staring at us with their ice-blue, pinhole-pupilled eyes. And we would…well…we would back right off.
When we were older we learned that if you march right at them they would back off, but you know, sometimes geese will happily peck an adult, and they pack quite a peck.
My uncle also had Cape Barren Geese with their pink legs and odd, stubby little fluorescent-green beaks, and some Magpie geese, which I think are beautiful, and I would love to see them flocking in the wild. Magpie geese have very bony-looking beaks, and only partially-webbed feet. Apparently they are a Living Fossil and are in a unique order – arranged in a family and genus separate from all other waterfowl. They both (Cape Barrens and Magpie Geese) make very distinctive calls which I can’t remember, but would know as soon as I heard them.
There is a park in Woy Woy I like to go to – along the edge of the tidal ‘river’ between Woy Woy and the large mangrove island which is a huge Ibis hatchery as well as hosting occasional large parties of Hemulens…oh sorry, I mean Royal Spoonbills. Sometimes when I walk along there I see various kinds of cormorants, snakebirds, huge flocks of corellas and rainbow lorikeets, seagulls, pelicans and an enormous er…’sore’ apparently of ducks. (Introduced Mallards and native Black Ducks, and their hybrid offspring, as well as a few ex-domestic ones, some little Maned Ducks, and a Chestnut Teal.)
(Collective nouns for ducks are a bit odd – I get a ‘raft’ or a ‘paddle’ of ducks on water, and a ‘team’ a ‘string’ and a ‘skein’ of ducks in flight, but why a ‘sord or sore’ of ducks not-either-in-flight-or-on-water? What about, um…an ‘appetite’ of ducks, because if you have read my post ‘Freeloaders etc’ you will understand why I think that is appropriate. )
And as mentioned in that episode, there is also a large white domestic goose that lives around there. He paddles around people’s boats, lords it over the ducks and jostles to be fed by the park duck-feeders, and when he was attacked by a dog, a local resident took up a collection from the other residents to take him to the vet to have his badly-damaged leg looked after, which I found charming. He is back in action as healthy as ever now. And I still have a slight reaction of nervousness when he approaches, beak at the ready, as I sit at a table eating.
I have never eaten goose, and apparently they are a bitch to pluck (according to one of my food-writing-heroes, Clarissa Dickson Wright, who actually has one of the longest and most ridiculous names I have ever heard of – Clarissa Theresa Philomena Aileen Mary Josephine Agnes Elsie Trilby Louise Esmerelda Dickson-Wright.) but I do intend to try it one day. Anyone want to cook goose for me? Or go in with me at some point in buying one to cook and eat together?
Which brings to one of my favourite-ever quotes, also by a food writer –
‘A roast goose is like a magnum of claret – too much for one, but not quite enough for two.’ Of course by the writer-most-likely-to-need-a-magnum – Keith Floyd, who even wrote a book on hangover cookery.
So all up I would have to say I am pro-goose. I like the way they look, I think they add charm to any scene (as well as copious amounts of greasy dark-green shit), I like to call people after them, and I would like to eat one one day.
How’s that, Tom?