Bentley & Bramble, Spitalfields' twin goats
With the Spitalfields City Farm still reeling from the break-in and nocturnal abduction of a ferret last week, I think Helen Galland, the animals’ manager, was relieved to take a break and enjoy a relaxed chat about the psychological dynamic between Bentley & Bramble, the twin goats that are such popular personalities at the farm. Bentley, of the shaggy locks and extravagant goatee pictured below, and his sister Bramble, the model of inscrutable charm pictured above, were born here in 2005 into the Shoreditch pedigree herd. Living off surplus vegetables from Sainsburys in Whitechapel and stale beigels from Mr Sammy’s Beigel Shop in Brick Lane, the lucky siblings enjoy a fine life down on the farm, constantly surrounded by young admirers.
“Even when they were kids, you could tell that Bentley was going to be the friendly one because he would always jump up for a cuddle, whereas Bramble was more reserved, and that’s carried through into their adult years because Bentley will always come up to strangers, but Bramble likes to get to know people a little first.” revealed Helen, introducing the disparity of character in broad terms.
Widening her eyes in amusement, she added,“Bentley has been castrated which makes him gentler and less testosterone-charged, although he sometimes gets a bit carried away during the Autumn breeding season and thinks he’s a Billy Goat, so then we separate him from the girls to give them a break. He wees on his beard and rubs it against them, visitors are not immune from his attentions either.”
“Bramble has a little face that makes her look suspicious of everyone but she does enjoy being stroked once you have made friends with her,” Helen continued with an empathetic grin,” She’s very fat since giving birth to her two kids, Clover & Camomile, who have gone to live at the Hackney City Family, and now she shares a pen with Ursula her mother and Demeter her younger sister from a different father, a very modern family really.”
The premise for my curiousity was the annual Goat Race to be held at the farm on Saturday 3rd April, scheduled to coincide with that famous Boat Race down on the Thames, and this year it will be between Bentley & Bramble. Bets are already being placed and I was eager to gather a little background to the competitors’ long-held sibling rivalry, a compelling psychodrama that will be played out in front of spectators on the running track this Easter.
“We keep Bentley in a separate pen,” Helen told me, explaining the living arrangements necessary to maintain domestic harmony at the farm,“because when he’s with the girls he needs to prove that he’s the top man but Bramble will always challenge him, she’s the alpha female. They tease each other, Bramble will chase him from the food bowl, and she’ll always be on the top of the climbing frame because he’s not as good at climbing as she is. Bentley will try to climb up after her and collapse in a heap. Bramble always wins the upper hand.”
Helen confided two revealing anecdotes about Bentley. When she tried to steer him backwards recently, Bentley simply pushed forward using the powerful muscular plates in his neck, causing Helen to get tossed over his head – not an isolated event apparently. Also recently, Bentley gorged on a pile of green apples that made him sick with an acidic stomach, a dangerous condition for a ruminant animal, but this would not stop him eating them all over again such is his lack of mental retention, Helen confirmed. Meanwhile, Bramble got a taste for competition last year at the Rare & Traditional Breeds Show at the Weald & Downland Museum where she won second prize in the Best Goat (compact breeds) category, and now she has the appetite for it Bramble will be disappointed with anything less than first prize in this contest.
I was beginning to get a handle on the precise nature of the complex rivalry, intensified because the competitors are twins. Although the extroverted Bentley has greater physical confidence (in spite of his diminished testosterone levels), he has not always shown he has the wit to rival his more introverted sister, the overweight yet nimble and shrewdly competitive Bramble. He needs to assert his status as flamboyant solo male now, but Bramble has ambition to prove she is every bit as good as her show-off brother and cannot disappoint her loyal cheerleaders, Ursula and Demeter.
Polarising spectators, between those who want Bentley to show he has still got what it takes and those who expect Bramble to deliver a decisive win for the sisterhood on Easter Saturday, this is going to be a thrilling race. Personally, I cannot decide which creature has the more powerful motivation to seek victory. But, just between you and me, in photographing the goats yesterday, I spent a pleasant half an hour chasing the fleet-footed Bramble round her large grassy pen and, on the basis of what I observed, if you push me to make a choice, I know which I would pick as my favourite to win.
Which one are you backing?