22. My Animals and Other Family – 15 October 2012

I do sometimes feel awfully sorry for my husband. He knew when he asked me to marry him, that in so doing, he was also marrying my dog, Woozle. He was aware of my desire to keep pigs but I think he may have imagined that that was one of those pipedreams that we all have. I for my part married him and his two children but I’m not sure that the balance remains in my favour once you add two cats into the equation. Duchesse and Zibeline (named after the two most expensive types of silk that we use to make wedding dresses at work) came to live with us about four weeks ago. Rescued from a hostel in High Barnet and taken to the refuge of Battersea Dogs and Cats’ Home, they were to be rehomed together and well, in for a penny, in for a pound, I guess. One dog, two pigs, three children, a full-time business and a husband; why not add in a couple of cats?

Snowy had not lived with cats before but he got the hang of co-habiting with pigs so easily that I wasn’t worried about how he would cope. I wasn’t anxious about how Snout and Crackling would manage either as very little tends to faze them. But for Woozle, who I rescued from Battersea nearly fifteen years’ ago, it was more of an issue. Woo is now in her dotage and is deaf and nearly blind. This doesn’t stop her travelling on the tank of my Triumph Street Triple 675 in a specially configured dog bag, but generally she likes the quiet life.

Much is made about dogs and cats fighting each other but Woozle is an adaptable dog and hope springs eternal. On returning from Battersea, we installed Duchesse and Zibeline in Emily’s bedroom to acclimatise. All went well for the first forty-eight hours and Snowy was to be found, lying on the floor with both cats and scratching them behind the ears. He was, he decided, most in favour of cats. But then Woozle got into Emily’s bedroom and tried to eat Zibeline’s food and there was instantaneous carnage. Zibeline launched himself at Woo with all his flick knives out and Snowy flew to Woozle’s defence. The cat landed smack onto the husband, burying his claws deep into his hands and arms and biting his thumb for good measure. Cue, howling from Woozle with fright and Snowy with pain. That bloody cat was going to go if that happened again. It was going to be minced up and fed to Snout and Crackling. My long-suffering husband sucked his wounds and glared at Zibeline who had retreated onto the top of Emily’s cupboard and was hissing at him.

Later that evening whilst lying in bed, I apologized on my cat’s behalf for the umpteenth time and wondered out loud if it would have been better for my to have taken on a tortoise. Snowy ignored me. I then said that I was feeling enormously excited in anticipation of the alpaca course I was due to attend in a couple of weeks time. Snowy said if I came back from Worcestershire with an alpaca, he would file for divorce.

So I’ve been trying to keep a low profile for a little bit, caring for my animals and doing a lot of reading. I am re-reading “My Family and Other Animals”, written by Gerald Durrell and I regale Snowy with tales of Gerry’s adopted owls, magpies, dogs and endless insects. Snowy is not happy about my choice of reading matter and grunts his disapproval at each of Gerry Durrell’s animal exploits. However the other book I have on the go is Rebecca Asher’s “Shattered: the myth of modern motherhood”, which is considered even more subversive than stories about creatures.

It’s not a name you hear often now: Gerry. And yet, just as Gerald Durrell has imposed himself onto my consciousness, a second Gerry has emerged.

Snowy and I have become terrible bores at social gatherings. In order to break up conversations on mortgage rates and the right choice of secondary school, we whip out our mobile phones and show anyone and everyone the video of Snout and Crackling circling and sitting for food. “Do you like pigs?” I enquire of every stranger I encounter and without giving them time to answer, I launch into a eulogy about pigs.

And so it happened that this video landed on the laptop of Gerry Cott, owner of A-Z Animals. Gerry’s company supplies any and every type of animal to the commercial and film industry in the UK. He trained the pigs for “A Private Function”, found the red stag that featured in “The Queen” and was responsible for the eight foot snake that was wrapped around Engelbert Humperdinck on the front cover of “The Times Magazine”. See any animal in an advert, television series or film over the last twenty years and chances are, Gerry will have supplied it. It is apt that Gerry should be the mastermind behind this company, given that he came to fame as a rat: a Boomtown Rat. So there you have it: a rock star who can lay his hands on a zebra, a water vole or a pig that has been trained to walk on a leash.

I was eating cake in Osterley Park when I took Gerry’s call. Could he come and meet my pigs? In between mouthfuls of Victoria Sponge, I arranged a date for a couple of days hence and told Snowy that Snout and Crackling were receiving a visitor.

On the Tuesday morning, the peace of our road was shattered by deep, pulsating beats emanating from a vehicle driving down it. I peered out of our front windows and knew, even before I had met Gerry Cott, that I was going to like him. There he was, parallel parking a Volvo estate that was shaking with Carlos Santana. Tinted blue glasses perched on his nose and a winning smile; Gerry was out into our garden, talking non-stop, within minutes of his arrival. Here were the pigs, what great animals pigs are, such intuitive creatures, so discerning. He bent down to greet Snout. Snout bit him.

Gerry was completely unfazed by Snout’s discourteousness and leant over him to breathe up his nose. Snout chilled out slightly and Crackling wandered over to say hello. Gerry sat on the wall beside the erstwhile flourishing flowerbed and with a nifty filming device, a sort of large steering wheel with a camera attached to it, filmed the pigs as they ambled about. I fretted silently about the fact that Gerry’s testicles were now level with Snout’s teeth but decided that he was old enough/experienced enough to look after his own scrotum.

It transpired that Gerry was on the look out for a pig to feature in a film about Leonardo Da Vinci that is currently being filmed in Swansea. Out of my two pigs, Snout was more of a contender because he’s a more handsome pig. I’d like to say that in Crackling’s defence, Crackle is a beautiful pig but is perhaps more suited to a comedy role than historical drama. Anyway, the script of “Da Vinci’s Demons” demands the appearance of a pig that will knock over a passer-by, go on to walk down road accompanied by a beautiful lady and finally be rogered from behind by a magistrate.

Gerry Cott is an Irishman and the Irishman’s combination of loquacity and charm is a winner. I should know. I’m married to an Irishman. But loquacity and charm come to nothing when the suggestion is made that my pig be sodomised. I told Gerry he had another thing coming, if he thought anyone was going anywhere near my pig’s anus. A frank discussion ensured. No, no, Gerry assured me, a prosthetic pig would be used for that particular close-up.

Time was of the essence for me as I had a client coming to the shop and so having walked Snout and Crackling up and down the road for the camera, we agreed to speak once Gerry had contacted the Director of the film. So back into the Volvo he jumped and music pumping, vanished off to his next meeting.

There was something I should have told him. But he’d gone. It was something really quite germane to his whole idea. The thing is I have no desire to see my pigs on celluloid. I’m only a pushy mother in terms of people admiring my pets on a fairly basic level. I certainly harbour no desire to see them walking down Florentine streets or participating in anal sex, no matter how good the money is.

Spending six years on set playing parts in many different series, adverts and films while I was training to become a stuntwoman has cured me of the notion that there is any glamour to be had in the world of filming. In a word, filming is hideous. Film sets are full of stressed out people, shouting crew, unrealistic timetables, inadequate budgets and wannabe actors. The call time is at 6am and you sit around all day on a freezing set, in the middle of Guildford, drinking disgusting coffee until 10pm, made-up as a dead person. At 9.55pm you are told that you’re not going to be dead in the next scene but are going to be a stripper and could you please get back to Make-Up and have your dead face removed and substituted for something more alluring. As I say, hideous. Why would I willingly put myself back onto a set with the added complication of being chaperone to a pig? I realise that I am not going to be an integral part of the on-screen action but I am wise enough to know that when the shit hits the fan, metaphorically and literally, I will be in the firing line.

But as I say, I haven’t voiced any of this to Gerry and now he’s gone. I tell myself to give it no further thought. Film crews and Creatives change their minds in a blink: it will probably come to nothing.

Gerry calls a couple of days later to confirm that “Da Vinci’s Demons” would like to use Snouty. He asks me to pencil in a couple of dates. Pencil is the operative word. Nothing is in ink, let alone stone, until just before the First Assistant Director (“The First AD”) shouts “Action”. I draw a line through a couple of days at the end of October and two at the beginning of November. Whilst it will only be Snout who is on set, I have explained to Gerry that as Snout and Crackling are twins, they come as a pair. Crackle will need to be near Snout to calm his pre-shoot nerves. I suggest that Gerry sorts out a trailer as I don’t think I can fit both my pets into the Landrover. I, for my part, will arrange the necessary licences.

You can’t just up and off with a pig. It has to have a movement licence that is granted by DEFRA and once the pig has arrived at its destination, if it is not for the abattoir, then there is a twenty-one day standstill until it can be moved once more. However, it transpires that there is such a thing as a performance licence, which will allow for a brief foray out and about without having to find lodgings for a three-week period. I am almost as skeptical about obtaining this as I am about the filming going ahead but I log onto the emal2.gov.org website and apply for the licence. Having negotiated all categories and filled in my County Parish Holding number, the pigs’ herd number, my Personal Identification number, my address, the film site’s address, Gerry’s car registration number, the day of departure, the hour of the day when I shall be loading my pigs into the trailer, the anticipated amount of time I believe it will take to load my pigs, the amount of time they will be on the road and the estimated time of arrival, I press “Submit”. By return email I receive a fierce letter from the Animal Health Department saying that the details that I have entered do not match their records and this may be because I am not registered to keep pigs at all. I switch off the computer and go to bed.

The following morning I make Snowy take Resa for a walk while I prepare for battle on the phone with the relevant DEFRA department. With great restraint, I ask the operative at the other end of the line to check all my details. Oh no, she says, they’ve got a different County Parish Holding number but now, it’s all corrected. I must phone a different number and talk to somebody else. And then somebody else. And another person beyond that. The Person Beyond That is a pleasant sounding man who laughs and says, “it’s a fierce letter isn’t it?” I try and smile down the phone at him and ask plaintively what I should do in order to obtain this licence. He assures me that all will now be fine and I should print out the licence in triplicate and distribute it to various people en route. I am also meant to text some government department 72 hours prior to my trip or is that 72 hours post my trip? I try to ask but the line has gone dead.

Not to worry, I know that I shall have further governmental dealings in the next few days and weeks. For a start, I haven’t managed to arrange the return licence for the first trip, as I am unsure as to whether we are returning on the Tuesday or the Wednesday. Gerry is in Wales and has no mobile signal. I decide to sit tight and wait.

Gerry rings a couple of days later to thrash out some further details. The Art Department of the film company is in the throes of making a prosthetic pig (presumably with particular attention being paid to the rear end?) Gerry needs to supply them with Snout’s dimensions and also some fur so that the prosthetic is a good colour match. Further calls are made as some hapless member of the Props Department is journeying all the way from Swansea to London to bring a mock-up of a pen that Snout is to occupy on the set. He needs to check that it is the right size for Snouty and his prosthetic partner. I juggle clients’ fittings and childcare and we carve out space in the day for Snout to be interred in the newly created pen.

I always knew that in accepting this filming, my personal life and work diary would be plunged into complete chaos. However on a positive note, Gerry has offered to pay me enough to cover the expense of taking two days off work, all the childcare that I will need to arrange in my absence and I still have £20.00 left over at the end of it all for coffee. Snowy is pleased that the remuneration is not leaving me out of pocket and hints at Snout starting to repay our joint account for the veterinary fees he incurred earlier in the year. Perhaps I shall have to stint on the coffee and pour every penny back into the Saving Snout Fund?


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