Wile Goose Chase
Geese have beautiful eyes, I noticed recently, perfectly round and sky-blue, with an innocent, biddable expression - not the sort of close-up you would expect from a bird with a reputation for fierceness and ill-temper.
Thursday, 28 February 2013
I also noticed that they have a strong herd instinct. They will flock together in close formation, a gaggle it's called, and follow the leader, whether that leader happens to be another goose or a human. That's what makes them so biddable and easily directed.
I noticed these characteristics while we were filming the "Wile Goose Chase" feature for this month's "Lesser Spotted Culture". The good people of Culkeeny and Glengad in Inishowen were staging a traditional Yuletide activity whereby the geese would be rounded up from the local farmyards and, in preparation for their long march to the market in Derry-Londonderry, they would be provided with shoes of tar and sand to protect those tender feet.
It's no longer practised in modern times of course, but it's interesting that those people chose to revive it, however briefly, for the sake of this fund-raising activity. I think we're all touched a little by the concern that it appeared to show for the welfare of the birds, even though it was a purely practical step which increased the chances of them arriving safely at their destination.
In this case their destination would have been the Christmas dinner tables of city-dwellers as far away as Glasgow or Edinburgh, so you could argue that there was nothing sentimental about it.
And yet, there's something in those trusting blue-eyes, and in the blind faith that bids the geese follow whoever's in charge, that perhaps moved the very first person who ever thought of it to provide them with a degree of comfort for their last walk on earth.
So what's all that to do with City of Culture?
Well apart from the fact that it provided a fairly seamless transition into the feature on the Turner Prize, (when you're talking about unmade beds and sharks in formaldehyde then geese are a pretty tame topic), it recalls a time in the city's recent past when the quayside would be lined with the produce of local farms awaiting transportation overseas.
Those were the days when the port was right in the heart of the city and geese and other livestock would have huddled in the square behind the Guildhall and that whole area was the domain of cow-wallopers, dockers and cattle-dealers.
This was a hugely important aspect of our "culture" with a small "c".