Many of you will already be acquainted with Clarence Threepwood, 9th Earl of Emsworth. You will know that in a life buffeted by bossy and opinionated women the Earl’s greatest consolation is his prizewinning Berkshire sow, the Empress of Blandings. P. G. Wodehouse’s Lord Emsworth is a connoisseur of pigs and his favourite book, possibly the only one he ever reads, is The Care of the Pig by Augustus Whiffle.
I’m partial to pigs myself. As an asthmatic child of the suburbs I was often packed off to stay with country cousins, in the belief that fresh air would cure me. It didn’t. I suspect all that pollen and horsehair made my asthma worse, but on the positive side I enjoyed a freedom to wander that few children are allowed today, and I became familiar with the sights and smells and facts of country life.
I was mesmerized by the size and stately pace of the cows we brought in at milking time. I learned to be respectful of the capriciousness of horses and I became gruesomely interested in the myriad ways a sheep can find to meet a tragic and premature end. But it was pigs that really drew me.
On one occasion I was invited to visit a maternity sty a couple of weeks after a Large Black had farrowed. She had a litter of eight. ‘If you can catch one,’ said the pigman, ‘you can keep it.’ The prospects for a growing pig in my parents’ small suburban semi didn’t worry him. He knew I’d never hold on to one long enough to claim it. If you’ve never held a piglet let me tell you, it is a warm and velvety, squirmy bag of squeaks. I was smitten. Dog person or cat person? a personality quiz might ask. ‘Pig,’ I would have to reply.
I grew up, lived in cities, never kept pigs, but they remained my domesticated animal of choice. According to Chinese astrology I was born in a Year of the Pig so, you know . . . You may therefore imagine my excitement when, about twenty years ago, I found, in a bookshop in Charing Cross Road,
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