PC 291 More Oinks (2)

If you do a little research about the pig you find an interesting collection of connections. You can call someone ‘pig headed’ if they’re being obstinate or simply ‘being a pig’ when they’re greedy and dirty – grubby! I remember the days when at the rear of canteens and restaurants there were bins for discarded food waste, for example vegetable peel, which were collected by Pig Farmers – Pigs Swill. ‘Pigs in the trough’ can refer to people who have benefitted from something but selfishly spoil it for others; the connection with the pig is that they can eat their fill then cause the trough to spill its contents so that other pigs can’t eat!! Nice huh?

If you have basic knowledge of manufacturing you will remember the term ‘pig iron’. Hot iron is poured into moulds laid out in a sand bed and fed by a common runner. The group of moulds resembled a litter of suckling pigs; the ingot became the piglet and the runner the sow.

In complete contrast to the hard, hot metal of pig iron is the pig tail. From the C17th; in the UK the term referred to braided or plaited hair, which had some vague resemblance to the twisted tail of a pig. In China it’s called a queue or cue. Traditionally Chinese men and women grew their hair long and then styled it in elaborate ways. The Queue was introduced by the Qing Dynasty to show their dominance in Manchuria; the front of the head is shaved, the hair on the top grown long.

For some reason we view pigs as the most endearing of animals and they feature in many children’s stories and cartoons, as well as the adult Miss Piggy from The Muppets. A pig was the subject of a Beatrix Potter story published in 1913, Pigling Bland. Despite being a children’s tale the conversations often reflect the current society’s mores: “You are a worthy person but your family is not well brought up.”I am a great fan of Sheppard’s Winnie-The-Pooh stories, with his friends Piglet (note 1), Tiger and Eeyore. But in the C21st it’s Peppa Pig, a British preschool animated TV series by Astley Baker Davies, that makes the headlines.

The show follows Peppa, an anthropomorphic female piglet, and her family, as well as her peers portrayed as other animals. It was first broadcast on 31 May 2004. The seventh season began broadcasting on 5 March 2021. ‘Peppa’ has been sold to 118 territories generating global sales of £1.1 billion. Last week Quentin Tarantino, whose son Leo enjoys the animated series enormously, claimed it’s the greatest British export of this decade.

And after our Prime Minister’s resignation last week, it’s rumoured she will be made a Dame.

Other miscellaneous facts about pigs: the leather made from pig’s skin ranks fourth after cow, sheep and goat; their bristles are used for shaving and paint brushes; their highly developed sense of smell makes them ideal for hunting truffles; they don’t sweat so roll in mud to cool down; “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear” a proverb from the C16th meaning if it’s ugly, no matter how you dress it up, it’s still ugly (!); “Don’t buy a pig in a poke” means don’t buy something you haven’t inspected first (the poke is a bag).

Leviticus 11.27, from the Old Testament of the Christian Bible, says that God forbade Moses and his followers to eat swine ‘because it parts the hoof but does not chew the cud.’ It’s possible this came about because the climate in the Middle East was not good for raising pigs; they need grass and shade so there weren’t many around! I don’t think this guidance is followed by most Christians today but in Judaism and Islam pork is a taboo food. It seems acceptable to eat animals that eat plants ie Herbivores, but not animals that eat literally anything ie carnivores or omnivores as pigs are. Fish are OK as long as they have fins and scales, so no shellfish. From a common sense view, should we eat anything that eats waste? Does the flesh of the pig contain toxins which are harmful, even in a minute way, to us human?

The story of how my nephew Hugh and his wife Hannah came to have a pet pig is worth telling. Scripting their ‘Wedding List’ in 2015 they put down ‘pet pig’ as a bit of a joke, not imaging anyone would buy them one! Hannah’s boss offered them a pig but if they hadn’t bought it within three months it would turn into a Kenwood’s toaster! Their sense of humour extended to calling it Babar, probably guaranteeing it developed an identity complex, thinking he was something woolly or an elephant! Babar lived in a Wendy House within a pen in their London garden – although obviously the rules were relaxed sometimes.

To visit their local pub, firstly Hugh & Hannah had to get a licence from the council so he could be walked on the pavement on a lead. Then the local publican had to agreed that Babar was a dog so he could come into the pub; this must have further increased the severity of his identify crisis. His life was cut short by severe arthritis in his knees and he left this world in 2017.

Edward Lear (1812-1888) managed to incorporate a pig into his poem ‘The Owl and The Pussy Cat’ (1871). You may remember that …… ‘The Owl and the Pussycat went to sea in a beautiful pea-green boat. They took some honey and plenty of money wrapped up in a five-pound note.’ Well ….. ‘They sailed away for a year and a day to the land where the Bong tree grows and there in a wood a piggy-wig stood with a ring at the end of his nose’. The pig sold the ring for a shilling and the owl and the pussy cat got married!!

George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945) was a ‘Set Book’ when I was at school. It tells the story of a group of farm animals led by a pig called Napoleon who rebel against their human farmer, hoping to create a society where the animals can be equal, free and happy. The historical context is the Russian revolution of 1917 – the allegorical story representing the Russian politicians, voters and workers. Napoleon is said to represent Joseph Stalin and Snowball, another boar, Trotsky. “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

The time has come” the Walrus said, “to talk of many things; of shoes – and ships – and sealing wax – of cabbages – and kings – and why the sea is boiling hot – and whether pigs have wings.” Lewis Carroll The Walrus & The Carpenter.

‘……. and whether pigs have wings’!! Indeed! ‘Pigs might fly’ is an adynaton, a figure of speech so hyperbolic that it describes an impossibility.

Charles Whitehead (1835) must have read Carroll; ‘Pigs might fly, but they are very unlikely birds’.

Richard 15th July 2022


PS We flew to Lisbon yesterday. Outside the Supermercado Tradicional this morning in Estoril I found this. Seemed so apt!

Note 1 “We’ll be friends forever, won’t we, Pooh?” asked Piglet. “Even longer.” answered Pooh.

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