17. Pigs of all shapes and sizes – 7 May 2012

Sooner or later it was bound to happen.  Although the general reaction to Snout and Crackling is one of amused curiosity at worst and an unbridled joy at best, there is always going to be the odd spanner in the works who objects to anything out of the ordinary.  In the early days of walking my pigs, an old woman walked past us one afternoon and snorted “Jesus, you’re lowering the tone of the neighbourhood”, which made my friend Kate, collapse into a lamppost with mirth.  We assumed that she meant that my walking pigs was lowering the tone although it may just have been my appearance that she took exception to.

About ten days ago, whilst walking in Wendell Park, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, who I have come to know over the weeks and months we have spent there, attacked Snout.   I have a great fondness for dogs and am myself the owner of a Terrier, who I rescued from Battersea Dogs’ Home many years ago.  I remember, when I chose Woozle from Battersea, the volunteer who helped me at the Home saying, “There are dogs.  And then there are Terriers.  You have to treat a Terrier with greater respect and control than any old dog”.  In fact, at Battersea, they do advise against taking on a Terrier if you are re-homing a dog for the first time.  Woozle and I have mucked along well in the intervening fourteen years and whilst she can exhibit the traits of a Terrier, being headstrong and wilful at times, she is generally very obedient and has learnt not to chase anything except the odd squirrel.  But I do know that all dogs, Terriers or otherwise, can chase and that although we have domesticated dogs, their feral nature lurks just beneath their fur.

It had been a peaceful walk in the park and I had spent time chatting to the various owners and their dogs.  There was quite a crowd around the pigs when the Staffie went for Snout, which in retrospect was quite a good thing, as people were able to help me in my frantic efforts to detach the Staff from Snout’s left ear.  Snout is a big and boisterous pig and has shown in his battles with his brother, that he is more than able to defend himself in a fight but against a dog, he was terrified.  He ran round and round in desperate circles trying to shake the Staffie off and I darted after both of them as onlookers hurled themselves towards the animals to try and help.  I rugby tackled the Staff and missed, crashing down into the grass but was up in a flash and my second tackle was successful.  I held onto its collar with determination and its owner, mortified by the whole scene, was quick to haul her away.  Snout was none the worse for wear and although he was breathing heavily and snorting, I calmed him quickly and we headed for home.

We returned to Wendell Park a few days later, when it was raining lightly and I reckoned that the park would be all but deserted.  And so it was.  We walked in and there wasn’t a dog or owner in sight but as I led Snout and Crackling to a lush patch of grass under the trees, my peripheral vision caught sight of a police car sitting quietly by the children’s playground on the far side.  As Snout and Crackling munched the grass, the police car slid down the path and round to our side, with the driver’s window purring down as he drew up alongside us.  Evidently he had been tipped off that pigs were being walked in Wendell Park, but as I have my walking licence and keep my walking log up to date, I was able to engage with the policeman with confidence.  He on the other hand, was a bit bemused by the whole thing, but we chatted away, I showed him the licence and assured him that he and his colleagues were welcome to visit us at any time.  He said that he was going to post a report on their website, so that the other policemen and women who patrol that area were aware of our existence and we shook hands and away he went.

The bulletin on the website clearly worked.  The following day I saw a different copper, conspicuous in his fluorescent yellow jacket, sitting on a bench, watching Snout and Crackling.  He looked to be making notes about the whole scene, but as he was a way away and as the pigs were at the centre of a group of people who were stroking and talking to them, I didn’t have the opportunity for a conversation.  I hope that in the course of his observation, he noticed how much joy Snout and Crackling bring to most people and how the children are thrilled by them.  Certainly neither pig provokes anybody or anything and fortunately the Staffie was put on the lead the instant that we entered the gates of the park so harmony ruled that day.

I subsequently learnt, from one of the regular dog walkers at Wendell Park, that a woman who had seen the confrontation between Snout and the Staffie, had complained that “that would never have happened if there hadn’t been pigs in the park” and rung the police.   I happen to think that is a daft remark.  True, if my pigs hadn’t been in the park, one of them wouldn’t have been attacked.  But it might have been her dog, my dog or any number of other options that became its victim.

Yesterday I decided to try Walking Route 1, which takes us around Ravenscourt Park.  We do Route 1 less than Route 2 (Wendell Park) because Crackling is a bit wary of the traffic on the Goldhawk Road and although there is a pedestrian crossing, he is nervous of the cars.  Actually, I think I am anthropomorphising again: I am wary of the traffic on the Goldhawk Road; my pigs are sanguine.

Having broached the crossing without the batting of an eyelid, Snout, Crackling and I hastened to Ravenscourt Park and once inside, the pigs headed for a mound of grass near the football pitches.  This caused consternation amongst the players, who crowded along the wire netting and shouted how disgusted they were by my pigs’ presence.  Snout and Crackling were huge, revolting, smelly and ugly.  Each to their own, I guess.  Calmly, I said that I would move the pigs on and gently towed them back to some thick grass near that entrance of the park and out of sight of the offended footballers.

Undeterred by the negative reception in Ravenscourt Park on the Sunday, we ventured back there this afternoon.  As we rounded the last corner, Crackling broke into a spirited run and kicking his trotters out behind him, cantered towards the park.  Both pigs launched themselves enthusiastically onto the grass and I swapped their short leads for thick, extendable ones and let them potter along.

Between our house and Ravenscourt Park, there is a home for the Blind, called Pocklington Lodge.  As a result, Snout and Crackling and I often chance upon visually impaired people as we stroll around and I am always quick to reassure anybody who is looking a bit bemused that their ears are telling them the truth and they can indeed hear two pigs passing.  This afternoon, in the park, we met a blind man and his companion and had a long chat about my pigs and the inhabitants of Pocklington Lodge that they have encountered thus far.

While chatting, Cracking deposited a large amount of poo on the grass.  Mindful of the exhortations of my local supermarket to recycle plastic bags and also careful to always collect all poo from my creatures, I extracted my Waitrose carrier bag and picked up the three mounds in front of me.  The six-year old son of one of my clients, on being shown a photo of Snout and Crackling, cut straight to the chase and said, “Mummy, what does she do about all their poo?”.  Well, George, the answer is this:  first thing in the morning, I go out into the garden in my dressing gown and my husband’s wellington boots and collect poo in a bucket.  In the winter I wear a headtorch so I can see it shining in the light.  Mercifully, it is summer time now so I can do without the headtorch and thus look slightly less ridiculous at 6am with a shovel in either hand.  Some poo goes into our compost and some is put into rubbish sacks.  In the evening, when I return from work, I repeat the above procedure but without the dressing gown on.  In between time, I pick up dog mess, dispose of my two-year old’s excrement and deal with a lot of shit from my clients.

People imagine that pigs must produce a lot of poo and that it is “slurry”.  In fact, Snout and Crackling, whilst reassuringly regular in the faeces department, don’t produce acres of poo.  And what does come out of them is solid, easy to pick up and much kinder on the nose than any other poo that I encounter on a daily basis.  It is also the best manure and I am making fabulous compost with Snout and Crackling’s help.

But back to encounters in the park.  A few weeks ago, I met a journalist from The Sun, who asked if he could run a small feature on walking pigs in the park.  At the time, I agreed, but having done the interview, I then decided against it as I attract enough attention as it is, without the addition of a story in a tabloid.  The journalist was sorry that I didn’t want to go with the story and tried to encourage me by saying, “No problem at all. Thought it would be a great light-hearted story and open a debate into pigs as pets. No better forum for discussion than Britain’s biggest selling paper – it would be picked up on the Today programme the next day and before you knew it you would be having a three-way with John Humphries (also a Ravenscourt Park resident by the way) and some loony from a fringe animal group. Could be fun !!”

Now, tempting though it would be to chat to John Humphries, who is one of my heroes, the thought of the loony from a fringe animal group had definitely registered in my brain and that was precisely the reason why I declined to go ahead with The Sun’s article.

On our arrival in  Ravencourt Park this afternoon, however, who should come jogging past but Mr Humphries.  And he stopped and had a brief chat.  I wanted to shake Snout and Crackling by the ears and say to them, “look up, stop eating, you’re here with one of the most celebrated journalists that we have in this country”, but they were unfazed by their proximity to journalistic brilliance and carried on eating.  John Humphries had kept pigs as a younger man, he told me and then with a wry smile, he jogged on.  The delight at this encounter offset, to some extent, the attack by another Terrier, that occurred about an hour later.  Luckily, this time, I had my husband to hand.  Unluckily, the Terrier was joined in his attack by an erstwhile peaceful Retriever.  Snout and Crackling ran round and round on their leads as I attempted to bring them closer to me and Snowy and the dogs’ owners ran round and round trying to prevent the dogs from hurting my pigs.  The Terrier was eventually captured by its harassed owner but the Retriever continued to bark.  With brilliant aim, Snowy launched our daughter’s tennis ball at the dog and caught it squarely in the middle of its head.  The shock silenced it for a second and allowed its owner (also mortified by her dog’s behaviour) to capture it and lead it away.  Calm returned and the rest of our amble was uneventful.

Now back home, I can see Snout and Crackling lying in their straw under the tarpaulin.  They are grunting gently in the evening sun and I feel their thoughts are probably turning towards supper.

 

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.

12. Friends Reunited – 30 March 2012

It’s one of those really annoying things that your mum used to say to you when you were little: “good things come to those who wait”. But of course she was right. And after seven days of endless conflict, Snout and Crackling are finally reconciled and friends once more.

A week on from Snout’s return, I was standing guard over both of them on neutral ground. The porcine world is matriarchal and so I was assuming the position of Grand Pigess and making sure that there was going to be no fighting on my patch. And slowly, slowly, both pigs sauntered around and Crackling made no attempt to provoke Snout. I relaxed and felt vaguely optimistic. I put my pig board down and sat on a low wall, enjoying the evening sun. My eyes wandered over to the new flowers that I had planted with my stepson the previous weekend and my thoughts turned to what to cook for supper. So when the final attack came, I was hopelessly unprepared.

With shoulders lowered, Crackling lunged at Snout with ferocious speed. Clamping his jaws around Snout’s ear, he pulled backwards trying to tear it. But Snout was quick to respond and before I had even got my pig board ready, had turned on Crackling and counter-attacked with force. Clearly Snout had had enough and he was now going to stand his ground. After some fearsome fighting, Crackling was vanquished and ran as fast as his little legs could carry him and Snout, breathing heavily, turned back to the weeds that he had been digging up before his brother’s attack.

With Crackling on the back foot, I decided that the time had come to put them both into the same pen. Bearing in mind that animals are quick to pick up on human’s anxiety, I forced myself to be cheery and relaxed, whistling a little tune even as I herded them together. Once they were penned in, I shut the gate and walked calmly back into the house where Snowy was staring anxiously out of the window. I assured him that it was all going to be absolutely fine. I was completely confident. Would he please stop staring at them out of the window because they would pick up on his worry and that might provoke them once more. I pottered upstairs. And then at the top of the stairs did a sort of army manoeuvre creep into my step-daughter’s bedroom, staying below the lintel of her window and then cautiously peered down into the garden.

They weren’t exactly hugging and chatting enthusiastically, but Snout and Crackling were finally tolerating one another. As I watched, Snout went into the pig ark. Crackling followed. Crackling exited promptly. Snout stayed inside. Crackling made himself a nest in the straw outside the pig ark. Silence ensued.

The following night was much better. When I went out to see them both after supper, I found them in their old positions, lying flank to flank and snoring quietly. They both got up to greet me and then Crackling flumped back into the straw and Snouty lay down on top of him and I could see that harmony was completely restored.

This evening I have taken them both out for a stroll. We didn’t get far all together as Crackling decided that he wanted to go home. Snout and I dropped him back to the garden and then we braved crossing the Goldhawk Road so that we could get into Ravenscourt Park for a peaceful stroll and some good grass.

 

11. The Baying of Pigs – 27 March 2012

So we’ve had a ringside view of some skilled but vicious fighting over the past week.  And I have spent almost as much time off work in the role of umpire as I have spent in the preceding three weeks, nursing Snout and keeping Crackling company.  The fights are to establish dominance over the territory.  Originally Snout was the dominant of the two brothers but in his absence, Crackling has taken on ownership of the garden and is now challenging Snout’s right to roam.   Over the past few weeks, Snout has lost a lot of weight and is also much weaker as a result of his operation.  Crackling, on the other hand is in the peak of health and is weighing in at least ten kilos more than his twin.  And he is the instigator of every fight.  Like blokes outside a pub at closing time the world over, Crackling is the pissed aggressive one, who is all mouth and Snout is the happy drunk who can still handle himself.

You can feel the fight coming:  like boxers in a ring they sidle up to each other, keeping their flanks parallel and on the diagonal and then Crackling bites down hard on Snout’s ear, tail or attacks his flanks, which are of course, devoid of any protective fur because of having been shaved for the ultrasounds.  And Snout, although he is lighter and weaker, roundly defends himself.  In the first few days, I stand by with a pig board and a power hose and when I get too alarmed at the intensity of the fighting, weigh in with board, water cannon and feet.  I knew all my kickboxing training would come in handy one day and that day has arrived.  Snowy and I are both appalled by the ferocity of each engagement. Both pigs rear up on the hind legs, engage with their front legs and bite and bite and bite.  When the struggle reaches its zenith the baying starts and I have to hold onto myself not to intervene too immediately but rather let Nature take her course.

Snowy seeks advice from the Kune Kune Society’s forum and I follow my instinct.  We keep Snout and Crackling on separate sides of the garden and although they still fight wildly though the fencing, the damage to each of them is reduced by the pig wire that divides the two areas.  I feed them separately but then allow them onto neutral territory at least three times a day to work out their differences.  Advice varies as to how long this will go on but it is clear that we must allow them to smell one another and to get used to each other’s scent once more.  I rotate them from one side to the other twice a day so that they are constantly smelling each other on the ground and in the straw.  I have blocked off one end of the pig ark so that only one pig can use it at any one time with the other having a large mound of straw to bed down in on the other side.  Apparently, it may take up to three weeks of fighting for one pig to prove his dominance and the other to take on the subservient role.  Three weeks!  The stress levels after just forty-eight hours are severely high.  For Snout and Cracking as well as me and Snowy.  Our blissful thoughts of once more sitting in the evening sun with our creatures nestling up to us have been shattered.  We keep the children and the dog out of the garden and hunker down to weather the storm.

 

10. Repatriation – 26 March 2012

Snout sleeping in the sun at the Royal Veterinary College

It was the way Ami said it.  So casually.  After all the trauma of the preceding three weeks, when Snout’s life hung in the balance, her quiet comment, “well I expect you can take him home on Tuesday or Wednesday”, was almost as shocking as the thought that he might not have been coming home.  That was on the Monday and I rang Snowy to tell him.  But there was no elation in my voice as I passed on Ami’s message.  Utter exhaustion, both physical and emotional, had sapped my enthusiasm and whilst I was thrilled deep down, I was also terrified that there might be a last minute halt to proceedings.

I cleared my diary for Wednesday afternoon and Snowy planned a half day holiday.  On Tuesday I visited Snout as usual, who was free of painkillers and antibiotics and so boisterous that he threw his hind legs out behind him when I went into his pen.  Wednesday dawned and I put in six hours of work before leaving my shop at lunchtime and heading home.  In the quiet of the afternoon sun, I packed the back of the Landrover with straw to make Snout a comfortable nest and Snowy and I made our final trip up the North Circular towards Potters Bar, with me feeling incredulous that I would no longer have to drive this route every day.  No more sitting in traffic as I edged past the Leather Galleria, TravelLodge and Brent Cross shopping centre.  The final time of the Mill Hill and Five Ways roundabouts.  Past the golf course with gigantic models of dinosaurs all across it and goodbye to South Mimms services.

As we passed under the security barrier at The Royal Veterinary College, I told the guards the good news:  Snout was coming home.  And it was only then, that I really believed it.  As Snowy parked the car, I slid out and, credit card in hand, went to pay for my beautiful pig.  The bill was long.  And detailed.   I now regard Snout as my golden pig rather than my ginger one but suffice it to say, it was worth every cent to have him safely home.   James and Ami came to say goodbye, together with Nicole and some of the farmyard students and Snowy and I hoisted Snout, “one, two, three”, into the Landrover and thanked everybody profusely.

With Snowy in the driving seat, we moved away from the Obs Barn at a stately pace.  Before we had even exited the RVC, it was obvious that Snout was not going to travel in a sedate manner.  He had his front trotters up on the rear seats that had been folded away and was shouting, although this time, not with distress but rather with boisterous curiosity.  In an attempt to calm him, I climbed into the back with him and sat down in the straw, looking out of the back window as Snowy put miles between us and the College.  Snout was determined to watch the view of the A1 as we thundered back towards London and alternated between peering calmly over my shoulder and then climbing excitedly onto my legs in order to have a clearer view.

There was heavy traffic as we neared the junction of the North Circular and the A4.  The Landrover juddered along and Snout leapt up and down.  The Muslim lady in the green Ford Focus directly behind us, couldn’t take her eyes off the back of our car with its large spare wheel partly concealing the rear window:  she was convinced that she could see a woman sitting in the boot with a dancing pig on her lap.

I must admit, that I was relieved when we finally turned the corner into our road, my legs by that point quite pulverised by Snout’s trotters.  Snowy opened the boot and together we heaved the Golden Pig onto the tarmac and led him down the side passage.  In our excitement, we called out to Crackling that we were bringing his brother home, anticipating a joyful reunion.  The side door open, we released Snout into the garden and I ran to let Crackling out of his pen so the two of them could greet one another.  Snout had been away for over three weeks and I had seen how much they had felt each other’s absence.  I knew that they would be overjoyed to be reunited and watched as they came towards one another.

How wrong can a person be?  And why do I never learn that it is hopeless to anthropomorphise?  Snout and Crackling weren’t happy to see each other at all.  As far as Crackling was concerned, this was now his patch and his alone.   And onto his patch had come a strange pig, smelling of a veterinary college and not of the brother who had once lived with him.  And Crackling was having none of it and attacked this strange pig on sight.  Never I have I known such a pyrrhic victory:  all the happiness and excitement that Snowy and I had had welling up inside us, dissipated like a burst balloon as we watched the first of many fights ensue.

 

9. A reprieve? – 18 March 2012

This time last week I was preparing myself for Snout’s demise. I had talked to James and Ami about being with Snout when he was put down and also asked if we could have his ashes after he was cremated so that we could bury him in our garden.

However today, for the first time, it felt like there was a chink of light at the end of a long tunnel. When I peered over Snout’s gate, he looked like the pig he was before his illness struck him. Now even his ear catheter has been removed and although he is still receiving his antibiotics and painkillers, they are injected directly into his muscles. His ear that had had the catheter in was beginning to swell and the vets thought it best to remove it. Understandably, Snout becomes agitated when receiving his injections but Ami gives him treats afterwards. It appears however that he can sense a needle coming into his pen, smell it even and he gives Ami, Andrea and their assistants the run around every time.

But my pig is looking SO much better: his ginger coat was shining, his shaved flanks are becoming hairy again, his eyes were bright and he was boisterous and happy. I sat in the corner of his pen and after a while he joined me, climbing on top of me (55kg of pig. My legs are strong but even so!) and putting his head in my lap while his body lay down my legs with his trotters curled up by my feet. In this way, we whiled away a couple of hours, me reading my copy of The Week from cover to cover and Snout sleeping. Every now and then he would dream and his nose would twitch vigorously and his trotters would move backwards and forwards in excitement. Outside a deluge poured down but inside my pig kept the bottom half of me warm.

Eventually two equine students turned up to give him his evening feed and he shifted from his horizontal position with speed. The two girls who came to feed and water him were surprised to find him lying down me like a large dog. They thought that pigs were potential man-eaters and when they had encountered Snout the day before were disconcerted by the noises he made, worrying that his snorting was a sign of aggression. I gave them a quick run down of all his noises and said that he had no reason to be a man-eater as he had always been treated with great love. To demonstrate the lack of man-eating capacity of my pig, I flubbered his lips and then stuck my fingers into his mouth. Both girls looked vaguely reassured and having given him his food and water, pottered off into the evening.

I was so cold by this point that I rode my bike to South Mimms services and stopped for a cup of tea before heading South back down the A1. Note to self: do not have a cup of tea at South Mimms services again: it cost £2.15 and was disgusting but at least it provided a slight warmth and I came home feeling ever so slightly hopeful that Snout may be returning home.

Tomorrow he will finish his course of antibiotics and will be taken off his painkillers and we shall then have to watch him carefully to see how he does. We are all still watching him very closely every time he pees to see how much effort it takes him. Ami says that she can see that the effort is less and he is finding it easier to recover each time he urinates. Fingers crossed that that continues to be the case!

 

8. The Weekend – 17 March 2012

I am so tired, I’m not sure whether I’m coming or going but I think it’s Saturday as I write.  Yesterday I was meant to have an inspection of Snout and Crackling’s living quarters by the Animal Health City of London team but I rang them early in the day to ask them to re-schedule for next week.  It just all felt too much, trying to keep everything going:  Snout, Crackling and work as well as getting the baby to nursery and keep myself sane.  The lady that I spoke to was so understanding and we will meet in the near future.  She is investigating an influx of Iranian goldfish into London at the moment and so is pretty tied up herself.

Snout’s catheter is out and he is healing well.  When I went to visit him yesterday, we went for a blowy and quite cold walk up past the Queen Mother Centre for small animals at the RVC complex to give him some new rooting ground.  His vets, James and Ami are beginning to feel ever so slightly optimistic that he may make a full recovery.  Although he is still on painkillers and antibiotics, he is urinating more easily and confidently and is straining less.  It has all been so doom and gloom for so long and I am so tired that I am finding it hard to share in their optimism and am also afraid to in case he worsens and all hopes are dashed.

Snowy, the baby and I went to visit him this afternoon and he was much brighter than Snowy had seen him for a many days.  We weren’t able to walk him around the campus as there is an outbreak of pig disease that needs to be confined and so we all sat in Snout’s pen while he ran from person to person and was fed fruit.  Ami came by to say hello and have her clean black trousers muddied by an enthusiastic pig.  We left after about an hour and I fell asleep in the car as we drove back to London, exhausted by all the emotional trauma of the last few weeks.

Back at home, Crackling shouted for food.  Since Snout’s illness, I have changed Crackling’s diet substantially.  He now has one third of the pig nuts that he used to eat previously and these are mixed with water to make sure his water intake is increased.  I have also introduced fruit and vegetables into his diet on a twice daily basis rather than as occasional treats.   So tonight he had a mixture of pig nuts, beetroot, a courgette, carrots, cauliflower, a pear and part of a parsnip.  Parsnips, I learnt from Ami today, are not particularly good for pigs as they can develop mouth ulcers so I shall not buy them again for my porcine friends.   The other thing I have learnt that is vital from a pig’s point of view is that pigs do not like drinking very cold water.  I had spent the winter in blissful ignorance of this fact and was content that Snout and Crackling’s water troughs were full and not iced over in the cold weather.  Whenever they drink from their troughs, the water automatically refills and so there is never any shortage but because it would have been so cold, it is possible that Snout stopped drinking as much as he should and that this may have exacerbated his urinary problems.  Now that the weather is warmer, this is no longer a problem but I shall know, come next winter, that I must set up a kettle in the garden to add some hot water to their troughs.

Thank you for keeping your fingers crossed for Snout.  Please continue to cross them as firmly as possible.