3 August 2001

ENDOFERAASGEESEPUTUNDERTHREAT?

Keeping geese has become a way of life for Arthur Green,

ever since he inherited a flock when he was a toddler. Now

at the age of 83, wheelchair-bound Arthur faces losing his

cherished birds because of local authority cut-backs

THE reduction in visits from social services may eventually mean that Arthur Green, who has lived in Ledbury, Here-fordshire for most of his life, will have to move into a nursing home and abandon the geese he has looked after for eight decades.

"When my uncle died he gave instructions in his will that the geese and the goats were to go to baby," Arthur explains. "Well I was baby and Ive had geese ever since. At one time we had about 18 geese and 14 goats. My favourite goat was Chloe – she was quite a character. I had her for 19 years and had her in milk all the while, but she never had a kid. I took her to be mated, but as soon as I left she sat down at the gate and cried to come home. She died of arthritis about six years ago."

Childhood memories of farming life are an established topic and Arthur recalled his tale about Gertie the pig.

"My family always said I was mothered by a pig. As a child the family had a sow called Gertie and I would get down on the ground and she would roll me along like a dog plays with a ball. My aunt, who I lived with, used to go mad and said one of these days that animals going to bite your legs off.

"The sow would sit outside and squeal underneath my bedroom window until I went out to play with her. But one night I heard my cousin say that Gertie was barren and would have to go to market.

"In the middle of the night I got up and got the pig out and led her down the lane, about a mile, to the main road. When we got there I didnt know what to do. So I lay on the ground and cried a bit, and the more I cried, the pig drew me to her belly. So after a long time I decided that if they sold Gertie Id go and sit in the pen and whoever bought her would have to buy me too.

"Unfortunately, when I let Gertie out, I must have let the boar out too, because the following morning the postman arrived and met the boar. I got a good hiding for that."

Stories of rural life have been passed down the generations and Arthur is a keen raconteur.

"When my great grandfather, Robert Passey, was a young man he would do the trip to London. They took geese and calves to Smithfield market. My grandmother, who was one of his daughters, kept all the stories alive. It took just over a week to reach the market and she said that they used to tar the birds feet to protect them on their long walk.

"They used to stop along the way to sleep, probably mostly at pubs, but the last field that they stopped at before they reached London was near Eltham. Apparently it is still known as Passey Place today."

Although there were local markets at Ledbury, there was still quite a lot of movement of animals around the country.

Arthur recalls: "When I was a child we had a bull here, and my cousin had to load and take the animal to the station as it was going off somewhere.

"She took the bull up to Ledbury station and in those days there was an archway that you went through to get to the goods line on the other side.

"It was a prize bull and everybody had heard about the bulls journey. They closed the gates at the bottom of the slope and my cousin gently led the animal up to the station and through to the other side.

"All the farmers were sitting along the wall, watching my cousin and the bull. Apparently theyd opened up a book and were taking bets that shed get killed."

Arthur enjoys his family stories but they cant exclude his worries about the geese.

"I would miss the geese terribly, theyve been such a large part of my life. They have always been here. Weve had them in the family for centuries and I dont know what Id do without them. But I intend to live here and look after them for as long as I can manage."

Liz Boynton