Friday, July 15, 2011


We had attended a hog roast in Peasmarsh at some neighbors of Walter and Anthony’s, and the following morning, still full of pork and crackling and applesauce, we – Walter and Anthony’s house guests - took a walk to see another hog who lived in a nearby field. Walter had dubbed him Mr. Pig. He loved this pig. He visited the farm down the laneway practically every day, just in order to see it.

There were six of us on the excursion. We walked up the farmer’s drive. It was a fresh July morning with a billowy sky and fields full of sheep. At the top of the hill between the trees, the road continued up to a house belonging to Lionel and Edward. Lionel had recently died, so now only Edward lived there. I remembered seeing their garden years before. They had strung children’s dolls in the trees as decoration. I was telling Rozzie this as we walked. They also had a pair of mannequin legs with Wellington boots sticking out of a hole in the garden.

“Look!” said Walter. “There he is!” Our first glimpse of Mr. Pig! He sat under a tree like Ferdinand the bull. The head was gigantic, an extension of the body, and disproportionately huge compared with the donkeys and sheep in the field.

Two donkeys trotted to the fence. Alex and Phoebe petted them while Walter called the pig. “Mr. Pig!” he called. The pig made his way towards us. He knew Walter’s voice. You could see he was hurrying, but he seemed to be going slow motion. He wasn’t making progress. It was as if he was trotting in place. Perhaps it was because his feet were small that he took such dainty steps. In any case, his body was absolutely huge, with a fuzzy pink back and an outsized head.

As he got closer you could see all the flies buzzing round. The snout was massive and spongy, flecked in dirt. There was something both repulsive and touching, underscored by the expression in the blue and human looking eyes. He was watchful and intelligent.

“Hello Mr. Pig!” said Walter. “How are you? Isn’t it marvelous?”

We agreed it was. “Why is its head so huge?” asked Phoebe.

“Can you see why I love it?” asked Walter. “And why I come to visit?”

We all said we could.

“But hang on Walt – I think this is Mrs. Pig,” said Rozzie.

“Oh really?” said Walter.

“Males don’t have hanging teats do they?”

“I suppose not.” The conversation went on like this, and got a little worse, for several minutes.

“Let’s just call it Pig,” I suggested.

“No,” said Walter. “I like the name Mr. Pig.”

The donkeys were pretty and enjoyed being stroked on the nose by Alex and Phoebe. But Mr. Pig didn’t like them taking the spotlight. She snorted and spluttered crossly.

Walter tried to stroke her head. The pig tried to smile. It had a gummy smile – with short stubby teeth. The smile seemed vaguely familiar. I’ve seen people with mouths like that.

After a few minutes we headed back in the direction from which we’d come. Actually things happened in a slightly different order than this. But the point is, there was a sheep in distress: a stuck ewe. She had fallen over and was struggling to get up. She was far across the field on her back with her lamb close by. The ewe bleated plaintively.

“Oh gosh,” said Atli. “What’s wrong?”

“Do you think it’s been hurt,” someone asked.

“Perhaps it’s in labor,” suggested another.

“But that’s its lamb, right there.”

The little lamb was basking in the sunshine a few yards off, and chewing grass, while the ewe let out a frightened baa every so often, struggled helplessly, and waved its little black legs. It was either hurt or trapped, we couldn’t be sure which. Meanwhile, its lamb paid absolutely no attention. It merely gazed off in another direction.

The farmer’s cottage was back near Mr. Pig. We decided to knock on the door. Walt went up the path and returned a few minutes later.

“There’s someone inside,” he announced. “But they are hoovering – so they can’t hear me knocking.”

“Well they can’t hoover forever,” I said, thinking he might at least try knocking again.

“No. I suppose not.”

That’s when a car passed down the drive. In the car were two people - a woman and Edward, the man who lived in the house on the hill. They stopped to see what we were doing.

The woman got out and stood with us at the fence, looking at the struggling ewe. “Isn’t nature weird,” she said. “The mother is dying but the lamb just sits there completely unfazed.”

Atli had climbed over the fence and was heading into the field. He approached the ewe; its lamb trotted away. Atli bent to make his inspection. The ewe’s legs were thin black sticks jutting at odd angles from a round wooly body.

“I think she’s hurt a back leg,” Atli called to us. “Should I try to prop her up?”

“Don’t Atli,” Rozzie said. “It might make it worse.”

“Our James Herriot moment,” Walt said, hamming up our hopelessness. “Oh dear! What are we to do!”

By this time Edward had got out of the car and stood with his hands in his pockets, a small elderly man with a gentle expression. “What are you doing? Looking after sheep?” he asked. He had a north-country accent. His face was placid. “Go to the beach,” he said. “There’s nothing to be done. They die, these animals. That’s what they do.”

We returned to Walter and Anthony’s cottage. Walt decided that their neighbor Stephanie would know how to handle it. She was very capable. She was the one who had the pet goose, which was attacked by a mink. I wrote about that goose in a posting in March.

The goose died, by the way.

We wondered what would become of the ewe. Perhaps it would also die. But
later that evening, we heard it was fine. It had just fallen over and couldn’t get up because it was too fat. Stephanie went round, and put it on its feet.

Some geese are pets. Others are Christmas dinner. Some hogs get roasted at big summer parties. Others become our friends. And a great many of us who adore the countryside don’t know the first thing about it.

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