Saturday 11 March 2017

For the love of pigs

In my restless surfing of a tiny select corner of the blogosphere, I often come across stories that trigger something from my own experience. I joke that eventually my whole life will be captured in The Blob but that's not true. I'll only get round to the interesting parts before I slip my cable and head out to sea . . .
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail: 
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners, 
Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me— 
That ever with a frolic welcome took 
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed 
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old; 
Ulysses, Tennyson
We read that at my Dad's memorial service, a conscious linking of one mariner with the end of Ulysses. aNNyway, there I was reading about a famous pig on Metafilter and about how she became a full time job for someone in her enormousness. It makes you wonder about the world we live in that a half-tonne of pork can become a million-like facebook celeb.  It's a bit like Stephen Fry having 12 million real people following him on Twitter. He's cute but not that cute.

I really like pork in all it's incarnations (crackling, rashers, chops, meatloaf, sausage) and would far rather keep a couple of pigs for the pot than the couple of dozen sheep that we actually have about the farm. Sheep are hard work and hardship, can be frustratingly stupid and have a tendency to keel over and die on you. But I'm not going to keep pigs until I've sorted out a really good way to keep them, feed them and fatten them. I have some experience from friends and neighbours about how not to keep pigs and will take lesson from those cases. Years ago, when I was travelling about Europe as the Irish node in a EU Bioinformatic quango, I built up a handy network of opposite numbers and colleagues who, in some cases, became friends enough to have me to their homes.

One of these pals, originally from Finland (he gave me a scythe)  had graduated to the Euromecca for our realm of science and was working in the EBI. The European Bioinformatics Institute was built on a green-field site at Hinxton a tiny village about 20km South of Cambridge UK. So accommodation was inconvenient for all and more or less impossible without a car. My pal was living in a tiny cottage in another tiny but super-quaint Olde Englyshe Village nearby. Both he and his wife were working during the day, and their choice of places to rent was limited by the fact that they had a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig instead of a goldfish or a labrador.  These monsters are a distressing miscegenation of a pekinese and a walrus and only their mothers, and two young Finns, could really love them. The deal was that heo nuôi để ăn thịt lived in a small secure back yard during the day and came into the kitchen to feed when the family were home after work. It was Winter when, after a day's work and at no notice, my mate invited me home for dinner. We sat about in the kitchen/living room having a few bevvies and waiting for dinner and it was grand altogether to catch up. When dinner was served, the pig (who'd been left outside because there was Company) heard the clatter of plates and its huge black snout and half the following face appeared with a violent shriek in what was left of the cat-flap in the kitchen door. "Where's mine?" the beast seemed imperiously to cry. We have an expression 'the tail is wagging the dog' to indicate a situation where the priorities are all to hell.  Here was the snout shaking the door off its hinges. As a phrase, I doubt if it will catch on.

A few years ago, our new neighbours, having two small children, decided that having a couple of piglets would be a good idea. A pair because one pig gets lonely, piglets because they are super-adorable [except them pot-bellied buggers] [L: I can has hatburger] and it would be lovely for the kids to have something to look after. As the pigs grew it became increasingly difficult to contain them. Pigs are rooters and will tear out fence-posts and wire  in the process of turning any enclosed area into a set for a film about WWI Flanders. A regular garden-shed, shelter from sunshine, was soon reduced to a drunk-leaning pile of laths and lumber. A hill-walking friend stopped by our place one day and suggested I advise the neighbours that grown pigs and children was not a good mix. When he was a nipper, he continued, he and his sibs would often have tea at their grand-mother's farm. As they sat at the kitchen table eating scones and sponge cake, they'd often look out of the window to see the hired-hand carrying a bucket of pig food in one hand and an iron bar in the other.

One evening, I had just got back from work in Dublin, when I got a call from the neighbours to ask for help moving the pigs into a horse-box. They'd finally had enough of the pigs and found billets for them in a Sanctuary for Surplus Pigs. A bit like the Donkey Sanctuary. in Cork, or indeed like Steve and Derek set up as a solution for EstherTheWonderPig [see top here]. I threw off my work-clothes; put on a pair of shorts, a singlet and wellington boots; seized a generous hank of rope and set off to the rescue. I stripped down to the minimum-for-decency because I knew it would be a muddy, messy business. One of the pigs was, by the time I arrived, in the trailer and the other was getting right ornery and all riled up. I made a lasso in one end of the rope and managed to get it round a rear trotter which limited the amount of 'play' in the furious running about. It only took about 20 minutes of carrot and stick to persuade #2 in to join her companion. The door of the horse-box slammed to; the two guys drove off with their new charges; and everyone heaved a sigh or relief. I don't think any of the adults remaining behind enquired too closely about whether 'Sanctuary' was really a euphemism for 'Sausage'.

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