Coffeebean the Goat
Our father lost an arm in Belgium [during the Great War] in 1914, and, when he was passed fit again, he became second-in-command of Catterick Camp, where we lived in a lovely house with stables and paddocks and everything small boys could possibly wish for. There, in 1916, when my brother Bill was five and I was seven, we were given a nanny goat, on condition that we looked after her properly, which we did with joy. We loved that goat dearly, milking her daily, grooming her, taking her from pasture to pasture, and seeing that she slept, at night, on nothing but the freshest of fresh bedding. Her name was Cicely Audrey Coffeebean Kaulback, and there is no doubt she was the most thoroughly cherished goat in all Yorkshire – if not in the whole of England. I cannot now remember why we called her Cicely but Audrey was the name of our governess, a great favourite of ours; and as for Coffeebean – well, there should be no need to explain that one. Of the many memories I have of Cicely Audrey Coffeebean (whom, incidentally, we never referred to by any shorter name), I think two are worthy of recording.
Of course, if our beloved goat were to continue to give us milk, there had to be a yearly visit from a gentleman goat; and so, on the first occasion, it fell to my brother to fetch this shaggy and evil-smelling animal from a nearby farm. On the way back they met with a couple of young officers who had the temerity to try and mock our William a little. "Hullo, Bill", they said, "and how much milk does your billy goat give?" Even at five Bill was a hard nut to crack. He looked at the two balefully for a few seconds, and replied, with withering scorn "How much milk do your men-friends give?" – leaving the opposition speechless.
As was the custom in those far-off days, children went regularly to Sunday School, and Bill and I were no exceptions. We slept in one room, with beds close together and one Sunday night, after we had been put to bed and left to go to sleep, I reminded Bill that it said in the Prayer Book, "and hath promised that, when two or three are gathered together in Thy name, Thou wilt grant their requests". He remembered perfectly, and agreed that there could be no misunderstanding of such a plain, clear statement. "Well then", I continued, "we're two, and if we kneel up in bed and put our hands together, we can tell Jesus we're gathered together in His name, and we can request for Cicely Audrey Coffeebean to be able to speak". No sooner said than done, and we spent what seemed to be a very long time kneeling, and praying most earnestly for this small miracle, certain that it would be granted, because that was what it said. Next morning we dashed down to the stall, in perfect faith, knowing that we were about to receive a cheery greeting from CAC; and we were so shattered by the hideous let-down that it was literally years before we were able to believe in anything religious at all. Sad, really, because up till then I had been determined to be a bishop.
As contributed to For The Love of Animals: True Stories from the Famous,
compiled by Bill and Marta Annett, Arrow Books, 1989