I pity the poor porkers. Damn the swine that gave them that fever

I said this tale was sad, and there is more sadness yet to come. What would make a man feed a ham sandwich or a pork pie to a pig?
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The Independent Online

Nothing illustrates the sadness of mute creation more poignantly than the life and tragic death of sow number 847Y, on whom the recent outbreak of swine fever has been blamed. Even before the story unfolds, it is bleak. We know that pigs are intelligent. There are allusions in Shakespeare to a pig at whom the Elizabethans marvelled on account of its numeracy, easy social graces and low opinion of the plays of Christopher Marlowe. Is it not a cruelty, then, that a sentient being with more skills and better taste than most graduates from our universities should be deprived of the dignity of a name and sent to meet its maker known only as 847Y?

Nothing illustrates the sadness of mute creation more poignantly than the life and tragic death of sow number 847Y, on whom the recent outbreak of swine fever has been blamed. Even before the story unfolds, it is bleak. We know that pigs are intelligent. There are allusions in Shakespeare to a pig at whom the Elizabethans marvelled on account of its numeracy, easy social graces and low opinion of the plays of Christopher Marlowe. Is it not a cruelty, then, that a sentient being with more skills and better taste than most graduates from our universities should be deprived of the dignity of a name and sent to meet its maker known only as 847Y?

Then there is the village where 847Y was raised and perished. Quidenham, in Norfolk. I am not aware that I have ever been to Quidenham, so what I am about to say is not personal. Like everybody else, I love place-names that have a Q in them. The Quantocks, in Somerset. Qingcheng, in China. Quezaltenango, in Guatemala. Qs are cute. And exotic. Exotique! But is there not something Latinately and legalistically indeterminate about Quidenham? It sounds as though it means "That Which a Thing Just Happens to Be". It seems to imply blind chance, mere nameless accidentality, moral no less than geographic arbitrariness. In the village of That Which a Thing Just Happens to Be lived a pig called 847Y... Heartbreaking.

But it gets worse. 847Y was a free-range pig. That should have been an advantage. No doubt, to 756K and 934Z, confined to the stinking battery-sty down the road, in the village of That's Just the Way It Is, 847Y was living in pig heaven.

But beside the farm on which she roamed ran a little footpath. And you know what footpaths bring. Behold, then, striding our way, a sticked and knitted-hatted quidnunc in walking-boots and thick red socks, a rambling-map, sealed against the elements, around his neck, and a sufficiency of lunch kept fresh inside a ball of silver foil kept fresher still inside a plastic box kept fresher yet inside a backpack. Hey ho, let's stop and eat.

It may be lunchtime, or it may be the power of suggestion, for the lunch that the quidnunc carries wrapped like a Russian doll upon his back is a ham sandwich and a pork pie, and your thoughts are bound to turn to ham and pork when you espy 847Y grunting on the other side of the hedgerow. Pig, pig, snap!

I said this tale was sad, and there is more sadness yet to come. What would make a man feed a ham sandwich or a pork pie to a pig? What brutality, what horrible perversity of humour, what distortion of kindness (to take the charitable view) would lead you a) to think of such a thing and b) to go ahead and do it? Here, piggy, piggy, come and eat your own.

The prohibition against cannibalism acknowledges a principle of kinship that extends beyond humankind. You don't eat family. You don't encourage family to feed on family. You don't throw one cat to another. Soon we will breed cats who don't feel pain. At which point the earth will open and swallow us down. In the meantime, we try to act as though we understand the difference between good and evil. Which means we know better than to offer pork pies to a pig.

Yes, 847Y should have refused. It's no excuse that she didn't have the Book of Leviticus to help her to make the right decision. Uncleanness is uncleanness. You sense when you are transgressing dietary laws, because they are the laws of your nature. Besides, the smell tells you. None the less, it remains true that, in the case of livestock, we are our brothers' keepers. The whole point of our stewardship being that we set a good example. And in this instance we did not.

One month later 847Y and all her piglets were dead. Some life! The cause - pork or ham imported from a country less nice about swine fever than we are. The rest is history; 60,000 pigs so far slaughtered, and plenty more to go.

That somebody knows the person who started all this goes without saying. The usual telltale signs. Depression. Nightmares. A compulsion to burn hiking gear. Plastic lunch-boxes going missing. And a sudden and uncharacteristic aversion to pork pies. If that description fits your husband, hand him over. You owe that to the farmers and the pigs. Look on the bright side - since he wears thick red socks and carries his lunch in rucksacks, you'll have been wanting to get rid of him for a long time anyway.

But I'm more interested in the fate of sow number 847Y - the Typhoid Mary of the swine world - than that of just one more human clown. It's strange to me, and I cannot pretend I understand all it means, but I am noticing a growing fellow-feeling with animals (if that's not a contradiction in terms), the more I age. I used to think it pathological of Gulliver to prefer the company of horses to humans on his return from the Houyhnhnms. Now, hunting for meaning and desperate to escape vanity, I'm not so sure. I haven't yet reached the stage of forbidding my wife and children to touch my bread or share my cup, but my pigs understand me tolerably well, I converse with them four hours every day, and they live in great amity with me and friendship to each other.

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