The story goes that the day I was born, my paternal grandmother called the labour ward to ask how my dad was feeling.
You see, The Guru, unable to manage his weak constitution, fainted onto the floor into a limp, sodden heap, just as I was emerging into the world.
My mother, the one who had so heroically endured the 14 hour labour, was left to fend for herself as nurses tended to the Guru and his pallid unconsciousness.
When I was old enough to talk, The Goat insisted I call her Nanny, since ‘Grandma’ made her feel old. As Tutti became less and less enamoured of The Goat over time, largely in part to being constantly judged by her fierce beady eyes, antagonistic asides and passive aggressive tsks and sighs, ‘Nanny’ became ‘Nanny Goat’. Before long, we were referring to her rather less endearingly, as simply, ‘The Goat’. We still do, though never to her face. The Goat recently celebrated her 95th birthday.
I can thank The Goat for a few things:
1. She inspired in me my love of nature. I am fascinated by it. I love animals, and plants and unusual insects. (Not cockroaches though. They can all go to hell.)
2. She inspired in me my hysterical fear of nature. Bats that swoop and bite with venomous consequences. Rats that nibble your foot off in your sleep. Magpies that peck your eyeballs out. Sharks that try to rip you to shreds the second you dip your toe in the water. Kangaroos that punch you in the face and kick off your head. Trees that kill. At least, that is what I was led to believe, thanks to a book she gave me for my tenth birthday; a book called Australia’s Dangerous Creatures, featuring every Australian Creature you can imagine (ALL of them Dangerous) and the various, violent and gruesome ways they had dismembered, disembowled, beheaded, and devoured innocent people. I’m not sure the nightmares have ever stopped.
3. She inspired my love of playing piano, and told me wonderful stories about my grandfather, her husband (who tragically died a few months before my parents married) who was a brilliant, self-taught Jazz Pianist. I always try to channel him when I’m indulging my musical side. The Goat once said to me, with a disappointed sigh, “It’s such a shame none of my grandchildren inherited any musical talent.”
5. She taught me the facts of life. Some background: Every year until I was about 16, Tutti, The Guru, Fluffy and I would get up at 3am and drive from Sydney to Brisbane over about 16 hours (listening to an audiotape of J. R. R Tolkein’s The Hobbit all the way). The Goat lived in Brisbane, with my Great Grandmother, in a sprawling, ramshackle tinned-roof house, where we were lulled to sleep at night by the soothing lullaby of a possum being brutally murdered by the carpet snake that lived in the roof.
One particularly hot Queensland day, we all went down to the public pool for a refreshing swim. I was about 11 years old, so I didn’t pay any attention to the man at the pool wearing ‘budgie smugglers’. Except, by The Goat’s reaction, he wasn’t carrying a budgie, it was more like he was packing a Sulfur-crested Cockatoo. The Goat turned to me and, in all seriousness, said, “Just remember darling… Big ones hurt.” I didn’t know what she meant at the time, but ‘big ones hurt’ has since become a Bennett family catchphrase. It can be applied to absolutely anything.
She is an unusual woman, The Goat.