My grandparents arrived with my great aunt and uncle in tow. They slowly climbed the stairs to our flat, a dignified procession of four. My great aunt climbed the stairs backwards, something to do with her knee. I doubt I could climb those stairs backwards without falling and breaking my neck, but she managed the climb successfully.
The conversation was lively. My Nana and her sister are prolific talkers. Not even my wife, who has been known to talk hind legs off donkeys, could get a word in edge ways. Grandpa and Great Uncle John barely attempted to speak, they knew it would be futile. Instead, they drifted in and out of sleep. Every now and then Great Uncle John would wake with a start, contribute a few incisive thoughts about the "youth of today" and the "immigration problem", and then nod back off.
There was one brief moment when the conversation reached a lull. Great Uncle John woke with a start, seized the opportunity and without prompting told us the goat story.
For years he worked as an engineer for British Telecom. One day he was called out to a house in a quaint middle-class area of Weymouth. A problem with the wiring, he told us. He was met at the door by a lady that was a bit "out there". We asked him what he meant by "out there". You know, he said, shawls and things. I asked him if he meant she was a hippy. No, no, no, he said, not a hippy, just a bit "out there" you know, shawls and things.
The house was a cute little two-up-two-down. The family lived upstairs. The downstairs was populated by goats. The goats were everywhere, he told us. The nanny goats (there were fifteen of them) lived in the front room. The billy goat lived in the back room. What carpets and furnishings there were downstairs had been ravaged. The garden was bare. The goats had eaten everything, including the telephone cable.
The family was happy, the goats were happy, he didn't want to make a fuss. What did he know about the delicate etiquette of household goat-rearing? So he replaced the telephone cable and filed it under "problem with the wiring".
Shortly after this our guests left. My great aunt, of course, went down the stairs backwards. Something to do with her knee.