Monthly Archives: April 2012

16. A new convert – 9 April 2012

Although I am a firm believer in the beauty and brilliance of pigs, I recognise that my passion is not for everybody.  Some people are anxious that pigs may be dirty or smelly (which they’re generally not, by the way.  I know a lot of humans who are dirtier and smellier than my pigs) and others worry that they may bite them or charge over and flatten them.  Still others object to pigs on religious grounds. I have no problem with any of these views.  My view is that pigs are fantastic creatures:  clever, opinionated, affectionate and funny.  But when a willing convert puts himself in my path, I confess, I will try to proselytise.

To my delight, an old friend of mine, who I hadn’t seen for an age but who lives close by in W12, got in touch to say that he fancied a stroll with Snout and Crackling.  And so my piggies had their first encounter with a Muslim.  My Mate The Muslim (MMTM) duly appeared at our front door this morning, wrapped up warm against the predicted cold spell (although I suspect he may have been covering himself as much as possible so that Allah couldn’t spot one of his flock out walking with the enemy) and had his first ever close-up encounter with two pigs. He was cautious on meeting them over the fence of their pen, as he hadn’t appreciated how much they had grown since the photo that I had sent to all and sundry early on in Snout and Crackling’s lives.  I felt a bit bad about this and so here is a photo of my two-year old daughter standing over “her” two pigs to give an idea as to their current stature.When you see them like this, you can appreciate how taken aback MMTM was as he was expecting something just slightly bigger than a Jack Russell.  At a combined weight of 140kg, they are a force, albeit a benign one, to be reckoned with.  But with considerable élan, MMTM grasped Crackling’s lead and led him with great gentleness and direction to Wendell Park.

Once in the park, we let both Snout and Crackling wander and munch and sat on a park bench in the sun.  MMTM confessed to a secret longing to make a short video of himself and a friend, dressed in burkas out walking with the pigs. Posted on YouTube, he felt it would be an instant worldwide sensation.  I feel sure that Allah is all seeing and all knowing and that this impertinence will be noted down and used against MMTM on the Day of Reckoning.

Some children came and took photos of themselves with the pigs, with one little girl instantly making the photo of them into her screen saver.  My friend Jess saw a photo of Crackling the other day as somebody’s screen saver on her mobile phone.  The schoolfriend was saying “look, here is one of the pigs I saw out walking in Wendell Park” and Jess leaned over and said, “oh yes, Crackling” in an all-knowing way, to the other girl’s surprise.  Jess and her brother Tom, are two of Snout and Crackling’s first and best friends as both of them are very animal-minded and Snout and Crackling are very human-minded.  They have all been friends since the early days of the pigs arrival in London and I feel that Jess is most certainly allowed a proprietorial interest in images of my pigs.

MMTM and I sat in the sun for a long time, chatting to each other and to dog walkers and people strolling by.  The most enormous dog that I think I have ever seen came over to visit.  She was a mixture of a Dog de Bordeaux and a Bull Mastiff and towered over Snout.  When Snout met Ella the Great Dane, I thought he looked like a dwarf, but standing next to this huge gentle giant of a dog, Snout almost vanished.

Both the Dog de Bordeaux and Snout were relaxed in one another’s company and after a while, because Snout continued on his quest for weeds and grass, the dog became bored and pottered off.  MMTM quickly got the hang of the patter that accompanies walking a pig or two.  I always knew, before I ever got my pigs, that it was going to be unusual to walk them in a London park.  And I recognised, that if you are going to make a spectacle of yourself, you must expect people to talk and ask questions. I therefore never mind answering any questions about Snout and Crackling and although it means that I do say the same things repeatedly, they are new answers to people who are hearing them for the first time. Everybody is unreservedly friendly and supportive of the pigs walking in the park and it seems to me that the quid pro quo of this is that I must be happy to talk about them.  Where I work, on the Fulham Road, there is a man who walks past the shop on a regular basis with two gigantic blue and yellow macaws on his shoulders.  In the past I have tried to talk to him about them but he has always brushed me aside almost angrily, which is a shame.  Animals are great ice-breakers and Snout and Crackling are helping me make lots of new friends.

But back to my old friend who has grasped the answers to most of the questions and can now respond authoritatively to the enquiries.  MMTM has overcome his initial queasiness about Snout and Crackling rubbing up against him and whilst he doesn’t lie down beside them like I do (which let’s face it, is quite extreme of me), he happily strokes their fur and is totally relaxed in their company.  When it is time to leave, I explain the difficulty in extracting Snout and Crackle from the park.  Today I have had the foresight to bring two apples with me and so handing one to MMTM who is coaxing Crackling towards the gate, and waving the other in front of Snout’s nose, we manage a reasonably peaceful extraction.

Back home, MMTM sits and has a fortifying cup of tea and a muffin and feels justifiably proud of being the first Muslim he knows of to have handled and enjoyed handling a pig.  Whilst I doubt he will be breaking with all his religious convictions and stuffing down bacon sandwiches, he can see the pleasure to be had in pigs.


15. Walking in the week – 7 April 2012

I think, in fact I know, that I am quite a tricky boss. I hope I manage to be fair almost all of the time but I am quite impulsive and erratic. I could put that down to artistic temperament but I always think that is a poor excuse for lack of constancy. However, the benefit of having an impulsive boss is that my employees can suddenly find that they don’t have to obey their daily timetable of constructing dresses of every kind and instead can down tools and come for a pig walk.

Yesterday morning it was sunny and whilst we were busy, all our deadlines for the week had been met. Snowy had left the car outside the shop and on the spur of the moment I suggested a visit to West London and a stroll with Snout and Crackling. You’ve never seen women move faster out of work! Within seconds we were all in the Landrover and heading home to surprise Snout and Crackle with an impromptu visit.

Stina and Robyn last saw Snout and Crackling when they were three months old and could be held and squidged. Emma had never met them before at all. All three were forewarned by me as to their current size and exuberance and so weren’t taken aback by either their bulk or the instant muddy nose marks that were planted on their legs as soon as they met them. Wherever I go with my pigs in tow, people are delighted by them but also amazed at their size. They believe them to be big. For pigs they are tiny. You look at a Gloucestershire Old Spot or a Black Lop eared pig and Snout and Crackling are teeny weeny. And whilst they tower over the odd Bichon Frise, they are matched by the bull mastiffs that we meet on our walks and made to feel very small beside my friend Follett’s Great Dane.

Anyway, we decided to take them off to Wendell Park. I then relinquished responsibility for them and let the girls do the leading and go through the usual walking palaver that is involved in sauntering along with two pigs. I did notice that both pigs really tried it on with new people in control and every now and then, I had to butt in with a quick brisk word or a yank to re-focus them on our goal.

Once in the park, we let them wander and were soon the centre of attention for a huge group of small children who were out from their school and playing in the park. I’m not a desperately child-friendly female and don’t find large groups of children relaxing to be around. Fortunately Snout was reasonably self-possessed and didn’t mind scores of tiny hands touching him and Crackling was entirely focussed on eating as much grass as he possibly could and couldn’t have minded less. At one point I looked over in Crackling’s direction and he was completely hidden by tiny people in fluorescent yellow tabards.

Trying to extricate both pigs from the park was just as difficult as the evening before although at least this time, the girls could help me by heaving their bottoms forwards and away from the grass. But much indignant snorting went on and I am going to have to devise an exit strategy to employ when it is time to leave. It is just too anti-social to have Snout and Crackling screaming furiously when it’s time to go home.


14. Singing in the rain – 5 April 2012

Of course the weather wasn’t going to last.  This morning while I was out feeding the pigs and picking up dung, I considered the blood red sky and reckoned that today was the day the weather would break.

I left work early so that I could collect the baby and head on home.  Now that it’s light later in the evening, I can sometimes fit in a stroll with the pigs after Resa has gone to sleep and before Snowy and I eat.  This evening, Snowy was wonderful and fed Resa and put her to bed so that I could head straight to the park in the light.  As we were driving home, I commented on the thunderous looking sky but no, it was not going to rain, my husband assured me and as I wanted to believe him, I hurried inside to get my pig walking rucksack and their harnesses.

Whenever I take Snout and Crackling for a walk I have to carry my pig walking licence and so I have a special rucksack in which I keep the licence and masses of plastic bags for picking up pig poo.  I ran into the garden to be greeted with huge enthusiasm by my piggies who allowed themselves to be harnessed very quickly this evening.  Sometimes there is much dancing around as an avoidance technique but I think they are beginning to understand that harnesses mean walking, walking means a visit to the park and a visit to the park means a lot of very good grass.

Certainly we moved down the road at speed this evening but before we had gone even ten metres beyond our front gate, the rain started down.  And before we were another five metres on, the hail joined in.  I could’ve gone back.  In fact, that’s rubbish.  Both pigs were firmly focused forwards and I would have struggled to turn back.  So on we went into the storm, water pouring through my hair and down my face while the hailstones lodged in between the fur of the piggies.

Wendell Park was deserted in the downpour.  Funny, that.  And so Snout and Crackling had the entire place to themselves.  They pottered, they ambled, they snorted around in the pouring rain, happily eating all the green grass.  The noise of the grass being ripped up by porcine molars is a very satisfying one and their tails wagged with happiness.  I stood under the densest tree I could find and considered the rain dripping down the back of my neck.  At least it was warmish.  Flocks of green parakeets flew overhead and the blossom on the trees floated down onto the wet grass and all was silent save for the sound of grass being ripped up.

We stayed like that for a long time.  Pigs will graze indefinitely but I will not stand still in the pouring rain for ever and so after about forty minutes, I decided that it was time to return home.   I gently guided both of them towards the exit of the park, hoping that they wouldn’t notice they were being herded away from their green field.   But as we neared the gate, both pigs wised up fast and dug their front legs in.  Although Snout is the bigger of the two, he is actually slightly easier to make move than Crackling.  When Crackle decides that he doesn’t wish to move, he puts his head down, screws up his eyes, wrinkles up his nose and looks like Gordon Brown preparing for a fight.  In his Gordon Brown pose, he is absolutely impossible to shift.  Any attempt to yank on the harness, elicits a scream of indignation that is resonant of a harrier jump jet in terms of decibels and he fights against the pull of the lead.

Snout is more amenable to a quick yank of the lead and will generally come with me rather than fight like his brother.  I managed to get them both out of the park and onto the pavement outside, Crackling shouting like he was possessed.  All around me, the streets were deserted but any possibility of calm was shattered by the fury of my ginger and black pig.  I tried crouching down to Crackling’s eye level which, when he’s in his Gordon Brown pose, is even lower than normal, so I was practically lying on the wet pavement.  I spoke to him quietly.  He reversed away.  I spoke to him more loudly and in the practical, no-nonsense way I talk to my children when they are being aggravating.  Like that was going to have any effect at all.   And so there I was, stuck on the pavement, at eight o’clock on a wet evening with a pig who refused to come home.

Perhaps I could have engaged in a stand-off with Crackling and just waited patiently until he decided that he was bored and would come with me?  This can work with both pigs and one just has to pause until they are ready to walk forward.  Of course there are times when they cannot be indulged, like when crossing the Goldhawk Road.  If they decide to stop in the middle of the pedestrian crossing with traffic waiting on both sides, there is a certain amount of swearing and dragging that has to go on.  However, generally I take the view that it is their walk and they can set the pace.

However this is, of course, if both Snout and Crackling are moving as one.  But this evening, Crackling wanted to stay whilst Snout was already moving off in the direction of home.  With my arms outstretched in different directions and Snout already half way across the road, I pulled Crackling hard to make him shift.  And he did.  But my god, what a noise and what a parlaver!  However, once we had put the road between us and the park, both pigs trotted along reasonably fast.   Unfortunately for Crackling, Snouty has longer legs and is faster, so Crack was towed along a bit to keep up and he shouted loudly the entire journey home.

I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to all the residents of W12 who live around Wendell Park for the extraordinary amount of noise pollution that they may have experienced this evening.

Back in the garden, both pigs are happy to have their supper.  You could be forgiven for thinking that they hadn’t eaten for days, the speed with which they eat.  I walk around their area, clearing dung and checking that their straw is dry after all the rain.  In the dusk, there are tiny frogs bouncing around all over the place.  They like to lurk in the pigs’ water trough and I am forever turfing them out.  We have a perfectly good pond in the middle of our garden for them to live in and I get cross when I see them sitting at the bottom of the trough, mating wildly or swimming around with gay abandon.  I don’t wish Snout and Crackling to be put off from drinking by the sight of all these frogs.  I realise that I am being ridiculous and that it is exceptionally unlikely that either pig will give two hoots about frogs in their water but I am neurotic about them drinking enough and I know that I would not wish to slurp from a bowl containing frogs.

Anyway, both pigs have their additional cider vinegar water beside them as they eat and once I have seen them drink, eat and pee, I am happy that they are happy and go inside to eat yesterday’s moussaka.


13. The sun has got his hat on – 3 April 2012

Like basking sharks, Snout and Crackling have embraced the warm weather and lie fatly in the sun for hours on end.  From the kitchen window, I peer out to see two supine forms with floppy legs and inactive trotters, enslaved to the rays that pour down on them.

I was impressed by Nature’s speed at providing them with thick winter fur when it turned cold.  However she does not seem so efficient now that the temperature has risen and I am worried that my pigs will overheat in the sun.  Both Snout and Crackling’s coats are as thick as ever, save the areas on the former where he was shaved.  As pigs are unable to sweat, they can suffer heat exhaustion quickly and need to be able to seek shelter or cover themselves in mud to cool down.  Snowy has bought an army surplus bivouac shelter that he has suspended from next-door’s plum tree and secured to one side of Snout and Crackling’s ark.  As the plum blossom drops down into the garden it covers the camouflage pattern and my artistic sensibilities are at peace once more.

We have also decided to import a pig paddling pool from the States.  I mean, can one become more barmy than this?  But it seems like a good idea to stop them overheating and you can’t just buy them one from ToysRUs because their trotters would puncture the plastic within seconds.   The States are far ahead of the UK in terms of pet pig paraphernalia and whilst I shall not be buying them a knitting pattern to make them both jumpers, partly because I cannot knit and mostly because this really is preposterous,  we have decided to import a product called Cytra-med together with the pool.  Cytra-med is a powder that you mix with their feed to encourage drinking and mindful of James and Ami’s advice to up the pigs’ intake of water, I am focused on getting as much fluid into Snout and Crackling as possible.  Of course, like a horse, you can guide a pig to water but you cannot make him drink.  Indeed you cannot really make a pig do anything he doesn’t want to do.  But if you add a palatable liquid to the water, suddenly the guided pig will drink with gusto.  Taking advice from a homeopathic dog-walker in Ravenscourt Park, I experiment with adding cider vinegar to the pigs’ water.  My mother used to make me a concoction of cider vinegar and honey when I was feeling under the weather so I know that it is drinkable.

On the first morning of adding the cider vinegar, I pour a small amount in and hover anxiously over both pigs while they sniff the offering suspiciously.  Snout then lowers his furry beard into the water bucket and slurps at length. And from that point on, I have added cider vinegar to their water at breakfast and supper.  Their trough remains pure water and this is on hand the whole time, refilling automatically every time they drink.  But in addition, I place a separate bowl of water beside each pig at mealtimes and this is slightly warmed with the vinegar in it.  My brother-in-law watched this procedure yesterday evening and gently remarked that of course, I am quite, quite mad.  I know this.  But I want my pigs to drink and be merry and if this is what it takes, then so be it.  Our weekly shopping list now includes bottles of cider vinegar and in fact, to my delight, the other day whilst food shopping, I found that cider vinegar was on offer.  With enthusiasm, I cleared the whole shelf into my trolley and smiled wanly at the cashier as she scanned bottle after bottle of the stuff at the till.

In a similar vein, I buy an enormously large quantity of fresh fruit and vegetables each week.  Fortunately I work a few minutes walk from the North End Road market, which I have used for years.  I am a keen juicer and so have been buying fruit from Lu and veg from Carol for a long time.   But even they must be slightly surprised at the frequency of my visits and my increased spend.  Forget the government’s exhortation to eat five pieces of fresh fruit and veg a day.  From their point of view, it must look like I eat triple that.  I don’t like to say that a lot of it is for my pigs.  I think that it might offend them to think that their high quality produce is being fed to pigs.  Of course it is also being fed into my husband, daughter, step-children and me and we do consume a lot ourselves but Snout and Crackling’s arrival has definitely changed my buying habits.

Anyway, back to the sun and the sunbathing:  Snout has turned quite pink where his fur has been shaved and so I dug out some suntan lotion from the back of the cupboard and advanced upon him.  He wasn’t having any of it and ran away.  I squirted the lotion into my hand and ran after him, trying to slap it onto the right flank.  He snuffed his snout up at my hand and sent the lotion all down my t-shirt and splattering up my arm.   So I smelt of sunny summer holidays and my pig was still untouched.  I retreated to the shed, fished two yellow plums out of my blue pig bucket, handed one to each pig and in the few seconds that the plums bought me, slapped suntan cream onto both sides of Snout’s stomach.  Of course as soon as he felt me massaging the cream into his flanks, he was delighted and wilted onto the ground to put himself in the best position possible for more stroking.

They do love being stroked, my piggies.  Crackling is easier to make wilt than Snout.  You tickle him directly in between his two front legs and he keels over with a great flump.  We’ve discovered that you need to be a little bit careful about where you are when you start trying to make him wilt because if you are sitting on the ground, he is likely to flump onto you and 65kg of pig flumping tends to flatten everything that is underneath him.  Snout holds out longer and also needs to be tickled in a slightly different place, deep under his left armpit but he too then keels over at speed.

In the warmth of the evenings, Snowy and I have been sitting out with the pigs until quite late, all four of us lying in the straw with the aroma of suntan lotion still present.  Let’s hope this weather stays for months to come.