“There’s a man on the ‘phone”, my assistant Katie said as she walked into the workroom, “who wants to know if Antonia Pugh-Thomas is also Toni the lady with the pigs. What should I tell him?”
“I will tell him “yes”‘, I replied and picked up the receiver to talk to Jo Reynolds, writer and editor of “Brackenbury Village”, a magazine that embraces all things local to W6 and the surrounding areas.
It had taken Jo a while to track me down but now he had me at the end of the ‘phone, he wondered if I might agree to be interviewed about living with two Kune Kune pigs in West London. Over the last three years of being a pig owner, I have been approached occasionally by journalists and for the most part have shied away from interviews. But Jo sounded a good combination of interesting and slightly mad and I thought that an hour in Wendell Park on a Sunday morning being at liberty to talk endlessly about my favourite subject would be no bad thing.
I actually live a hop and skip from Wendell Park but at this time of year it takes Snout and Crackling a good ten minutes to walk there from our house because the weeds that congregate around the bottom of the trees are so lush and delicious. We stop at each trunk while the pigs harvest vigorously. If I try to tow them forwards in a moment of impatience they scream loudly and so I back off and let them mow down all things green. A lady passing by remarks that the weeds must be horrible as all the local dogs wee on them. I have a sneaking suspicion that this only adds to the deliciousness of them for Snout and Crackling. When I tell her this, she looks horrified and rushes away. Just imagine if I’d gone on to tell her that the pigs like to drink each other’s urine as well: it might have finished her off! But anyway we provide a good service to the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham and the weeds between our house and Wendell Park are kept at bay.
In a bid to get to the park slightly faster, I guide Snout and Crackle off the pavement and down the middle of Wendell Road. Early on a Sunday there is rarely any traffic and so we are able to meander safely. However halfway along I notice that Crackling has deposited a large amount of pig poo in the middle of the road and so I drop their leads to let them go slowly onwards and run back to scoop up the dung. When I look up from bending down to collect poo, I can see Snout ambling down the pavement scouting for weeds. Crackling, on the other hand, has broken into a brisk trot and is racing down the middle of the road towards an old dear who has stalled her aged Fiat, so appalled is she by the sight of an unattended racing pig. I catch up with Crackling and grab his lead sharply, waving an apologetic hand at the driver, who flaps her own hand weakly and makes no attempt to re-start her car. Crackling, furious at having been stopped in his tracks, screams as I attempt to wheel back to collect Snout from the pavement behind us. An angry pig’s screams are in the same decibel range as a harrier jump jet. To my embarrassment the quiet of Wendell Road is shattered by a porcine harrier jump jet, which does not abate until we pass through the park gates.
Peace resumes once we are in the park and I sit on a bench in the sun as Snout and Crackling work their way from the gate to the far left hand corner where the grass is long enough to come up to their shoulders. And it is there that Jo and his colleague, Nigel the photographer, catch up with us as they enter this bucolic scene that is only slightly marred by the municipal bin planted nearby.
A while back a professional animal photographer came to photograph Snout and Crackling for a project he was doing on pig welfare. He became impatient that the pigs wouldn’t get themselves into the sun and pulled Snout hard by his lead. Snout bit him. And the photographer went to hospital. It’s not generally a good idea to pull a pig. They don’t like it.
I tell Nigel that he mustn’t pull the pigs by their leads. He understands instantly and suggests that I control all manoeuvres and please could I get Snout out from the bushes by the fence and Crackling into a dappled patch of sunlight underneath a tree and then crouch down and smile and turn Crackling around so that his face is photographed rather than his bottom and just turn my head slightly towards the lens and could Snout come forward by one pace and the two of them just lean in a little and could I shift backwards and look up and if Snout could just stop foaming at the mouth and Crackling could come to the left a little and I could crouch down lower and look forward, no left, no right, no just straight down the lens, then that would be a most perfect shot. A good twenty minutes later, Nigel thinks that he may have got his picture. By this point, he is lying on the ground with a carrot in one hand while he clicks the shutter and I am trying to stop Crackling charging forwards. I know perfectly well that Crackle takes no prisoners when it comes to carrots and he will take the carrot, the camera and possibly Nigel’s hand into the bargain.
Jo then conducts possibly the most uncomfortable interview of his career, standing up and moving after the pigs as they potter at will. He is constantly interrupted by passers-by, dog walkers and tired fathers with small children. But ever the consummate professional he manages the interruptions easily and taps his iPad to bring up his list of questions, scrawling my answers in shorthand into his notebook. Years ago, as a temporary PA to the head of Goldman Sachs, I remember taking page upon page of shorthand and then sitting at my desk afterwards unable to transcribe a single scribble. It didn’t really matter and I just made it up, I mean it was only stuff pertaining to banking. But the information that I am feeding Jo is crucial and I hope that he’ll be able to translate his notes when he reads back through them.
An hour later, I have exhausted Jo with my enthusiasm for my pigs and he heads off home while I take Snout and Crackling in the opposite direction back towards their sty. They have clearly consumed enough grass with Crackling deciding to lie down under a tree to rest after the effort of eating constantly for nearly two hours. On arriving home, they shuffle into their sty and Snout lies straight down in the pig paddling pool to cool down in the murky water. He then springs up, shakes himself all over me and lies down to sleep beside his brother. But before long, they are both up and shouting as Snowy has opened up the shed and is extracting the lawn mower. The lawn mower produces a Pavlovian response in Snout and Crackling as they know that all the grass cuttings will be emptied over the fence into their sty. And so once more, the peace of W12 is momentarily disrupted by shouting pigs until, as the cuttings rain down upon them, they lapse into quiet mastication and continue where they left off.