I am tenacious by nature and a good thing too: I had to ring and email and email and ring DEFRA for weeks on end to secure my walking licence but eventually it arrived. Just as I was put into plaster with a broken ankle. So there we were, late October with two large piggies, the coveted walking licence but still no ability to walk them.
I stored the precious licence in my bedside table and as I wrestled through the ensuring eight weeks of misery and discomfort in my plastercast, I would sneak a look at it every now and then and know that one day, Snout, Crackling and I would exit stage left and caper down the road.
My cast came off over Christmas and although I was left with a weak ankle that didn’t really want to work properly, I lost no time in beginning my pig walking training. Micropigs ‘tho they are, Snout and Crackling are now fully grown and are both the size of generous Labradors who weigh in at about 65 kilos. However the harnesses bought from bigdogworld.com fit them happily and there is still a bit of letting-out space in the event of additional fatness.
So the initial walk went like this:
I advance towards Snout with his harness and flop it onto his back while giving him some food. He likes the food and ignores the harness. Emboldened, I attempt to get the harness over his ears which I just about do but then I have to get the next bit over his nose and most crucially under his piri piris. And he’s not letting his piris be squidged by a harness. Cue a lot of shouting. From him, that is, not me. So I leave him for a while and try to harness Crackling. Crack is so focussed on his pig nuts that I get his harness on, over his nose, under his piris and around his girth, fastening him in with a satisfying click of the clasp before he has any idea of what is going on. Harness on, lead clipped onto the left hand ring, good to go. Except that Crackling is not interested in going out at all.
Given that Snout is the ringleader of the two, I return to my attempt to harness him and this time there is less shouting and more indignant snorting. Harness on, lead clipped onto the right hand ring so that he is on one side, Crackling on the other, good to go. But he’s not at all sure either. At this point, enter my friend Kate with her two children Jess and Tom who are all very animal-friendly and are used to making obstreperous horses go in directions that they do not wish to go in. Tom holds Crackling, Jess has a jug of pig nuts, Kate and I have a pig board each and we all exit out of the side door and into the street. The side passage is very narrow and none of us are fat (except my porcine friends) but en masse we are a bulk that does not fit well with the dimensions of the passage. Kate and I are thrown against the wall, Tom is towed at speed towards the road and Snout and Jess end up in next door’s flowerbed. Crackling is busy pooing expansively when I catch up with him and I am trying to pick up poo in a Sainsbury’s plastic bag while acknowledging my opposite neighbours who have just come out of their house to go shopping. As we haven’t lived here for very long, I don’t know my opposite neighbours at all and my ideas of a smooth introduction conducted in an elegant way are shattered by pigs, poo and pandemonium.
“Yes”, I say, “they are pigs and yes, they do live in our back garden”. And “yes, our neighbours have been very generous about our unusual choice of pets and have greeted their and our arrival with an equilibrium for which I am most grateful”. It was a while in fact before our neighbours mentioned Snout and Crackling at all. Shortly before Bonfire Night, they very kindly mentioned they were going to have a fireworks party and would the pigs be upset? I said that I didn’t think they would be at all but was very glad that at least the elephant in the room, so to speak, had been outed. Our neighbour on the other side of us told my husband that he rather enjoyed having pigs in the garden as it reminded him of when he lived in our road in the war and pigs were present then. Ah, those halcyon days of the war! Anyway, lucky for me that everybody nearby has been so generous and welcoming.
Back to walking: with Tom, Jess, me and Kate and Snout and Crackling all bunched fairly well on top of one another, we proceeded in an erratic way towards Wendell Park which is nearby and which is one of the parks that I am permitted to use to exercise the pigs. We soon discovered that the only way to make Snout and Crackling go forwards was to keep their jug of pignuts at nose height (given that a pig can’t lift its head, it is crucial to keep the nuts at eye and snout level) and in this way we went forward. To walk from our house to Wendell Park is a matter of minutes. Five at most. That day it must have taken us a good hour there and a good hour back. But the first outdoor experience was accomplished and it gave me something to build on.
Further walks happened, still in the company of friends and with a pig board and jugs of nuts but eventually, come February, I felt confident enough to take the two of them without any additional paraphernalia and go for an extended stroll. We would go out at all times of the day and everybody we met was unfailingly kind and polite, if slightly surprised. When it snowed, we went to Ravenscourt Park where the pigs provoked a lot of interest although they themselves were far too busy eating the snow to be remotely bothered by anybody or anything. Dogs came and did the doggy thing of smelling them up close. Snout and Crackling ignored every overture made by every dog and carried on examining the ground beneath their trotters.
Flu has layed me low for the last ten days but this weekend, I shall be able to get out once more and give my friends a wander around the flowerbeds and grass of the parks. In the meantime, Snout is rooting vigorously in the garden while his brother lies fatly in the Spring sunshine.