Thursday, 27 January 2011

All Pigs Great and Small

When I was young, my brother and I were regularly sent off to stay with some cousins who had a nanny who was so vile we used to beg our parents not to make us go. They took not a blind bit of notice, of course, waving us off without a trace of remorse (and, as they would I'm sure point out, if they read this, we did actually survive [but the scars, my dear, the terrible emotional scars]). Anyway in the end I discovered that there was only one truly effective refuge from the horror of the subsequent fortnight - hiding in a cupboard with Lord Emsworth and the Empress of Blandings.

For those who haven't had the pleasure, (you poor things), Emsworth and the Empress are the creations of PG Wodehouse. Emsworth is a pig besotted earl, 'a backwoods peer to end all backwoods peers' whose normal attire is 'baggy flannel trousers, an old shooting coat with holes in the elbows, and a hat which would have been rejected disdainfully by the least fastidious of tramps'. The Empress is 'his pre-eminent sow, three times silver medallist in the Fat Pigs class at the Shropshire Agricultural Show.'

The books Wodehouse wrote about these two fine characters usually revolve around the attempts of the Duke of Dunstable to steal the Empress and the travails of Emsworth at the hands of a range of bossy sisters and brutal secretaries - with sub-plots involving hapless Bertie Wooster types who want to marry chorus girls, to the consternation of their aunts. During our stays at the house of the scary nanny, I felt as hunted as Emsworth is by his overbearing sisters. I suppose that was what made the stories such a source of comfort then - although, to be honest, they still are, even though there is no nanny-tyrant on the horizon.

Anyway, I thought of the Empress - and, by implication, Lord Emsworth - again today, when I found a series of pictures of pigs in my picture file. They came from the Telegraph weekend magazine and the photographer was Andrew Perris. I'm not sure why I kept them but they are a rather magnificent bunch, (even if some of them might look a little out of place at the Shropshire Agricultural Show):

1. This one matches most closely my image of the Empress of Blandings. The caption on it explains that it is an Oxford Sandy & Black sow. The breed, apparently, first emerged 200 years ago. It is often called the Plum Pudding pig and its members are known for being good walkers.

2. This one is a Gloucestershire Old Spot, a breed that became well-known after the First World War but, by 1974, was classified as endangered. This might have had something to do with the fact that Gloucestershire Old Spots were much used as 'bacon pigs'.
3. This one comes from Belgium and is called a Pietrain (there should be an acute accent over the first 'e' but mine will not work today, for some reason). It is 'superbly meaty', which is fine if you don't like fat I suppose. On the other hand, if stressed it can drop dead and its extraordinarily large hams and short legs mean it cannot reproduce naturally. Nuff said, I think:

4. This tousled little creature hails from Hungary, we are told. I don't think you need me to add what is quite obvious from looking at it - namely, that from a distance it looks like a sheep:
5. This amazing beast is a Kune Kune which means 'fat and round', according to the caption (in Maori, I assume, since this is a Maori pig from New Zealand, although no-one knows how it got there.) It is very hairy and never curls its tail. The Maori, if the Telegraph is to be believed, did not usually eat these animals, but kept them as outdoor pets. This statement is contradicted slightly by the information that the Maori kept their pigs for lard, in which they preserved their dried meat.

6. Last, and, in size, least, comes the Black Vietnamese Pot-bellied pig, which was developed in the 1960s. For a while there was a craze for these as pets in the US at some unspecified time and they sold for thousands of dollars. They have to be slaughtered young if they are to be used for meat, so, to anyone who has one and was thinking about eating it, it is probably already too late:

7 comments:

  1. Fascinating images, especially the sheep/pig one

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  2. The Empress of Blandings was a fine black Berkshire pig. Other literary Berkshires include Pig-Wig in the Tale of Pigling Bland (hooray) and Napoleon in Animal Farm (boo).

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  3. I was in Surry Hills the other day and every second person on Crown Street had a miniature Schnauzer at the end of a diamante lead. My challenge to you, Nurse Myra, is to get yourself one of those sheep-pigs and take it for walks in your neighbourhood. I am sure you will set off a wildfire trend. And the beauty of the thing is, when you get bored of having a pet, you can have a barbecue instead.
    Sophie - I think you could give Pirbright a run for his money.

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  4. I'm not sure the Telegraph had it exactly right. Kunekune aren't really that old in NZ: they were brought in by sealers and whalers in the late 1800s. The pigs that were in NZ for the hundred years before that were the 'Captain Cookers', which were wild boars and often of great size, and which the Maori certainly ate. There aren't any native mammals in NZ, and there were no pigs before Captain Cook.

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  5. There is something slightly uncomfortable about them being called Captain Cookers, given some theories about Captain Cook's eventual fate and the fact that human flesh is known as 'long pork'.

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