Memoirs of a pig farmer's daughter

'In those days when pigs went to market, they got grades like GCSEs'

Share

When my stepfather retired from the Bombay Burmah Trading Company in Rangoon he bought a tract of woodland in Hampshire and became a successful pig-farmer. Sometimes, listening to the ongoing problems of pig-farmers on the news (they've just lost a legal battle over BSE compensation), I feel a powerful urge to write a book called perhaps
Memoirs of a Pig-Farmer's Daughter. Part Siegfried Sassoon, part Laurie Lee, it will be universally acclaimed for its elegiac charm and pronounced a modern classic. Maybe
Pig Paradise Lost is a better title.

When my stepfather retired from the Bombay Burmah Trading Company in Rangoon he bought a tract of woodland in Hampshire and became a successful pig-farmer. Sometimes, listening to the ongoing problems of pig-farmers on the news (they've just lost a legal battle over BSE compensation), I feel a powerful urge to write a book called perhaps Memoirs of a Pig-Farmer's Daughter. Part Siegfried Sassoon, part Laurie Lee, it will be universally acclaimed for its elegiac charm and pronounced a modern classic. Maybe Pig Paradise Lost is a better title.

Growing up on a pig farm in the early Sixties was paradise. My stepfather knew more about elephants than pigs, having spent 25 years logging timber in the teak forests of upper Burma. He spoke fluent Burmese to the natives - the oozies, or elephant men, the bearers, the loggers, his cook and his butler, who laid out his dinner jacket in his tent every night. "David always dressed for dinner," said my mother, who I suppose you could also describe as a native, though I doubt she'd thank you for it.

It wasn't a pig farm when we bought it, and the house certainly wasn't a farmhouse. It was the Earl of Warwick's hunting lodge, with Adams fireplaces and tapestry wall hangings. It might be better, suggested my stepfather - a mild man - to buy a working farm. But my mother, whose own stepfather had been a garlic- and lacquer-broker in Taung-gyi, was dazzled by the provenance of North Lodge. We cleared the trees, put up fences and bought three saddleback sows to whom my mother immediately gave Burmese names - Ma Nya, Miss Black, Ma Shweh, Miss Gold, Ma Chi, Miss Love. Joe the pig man, who was the local taxi driver until my mother charmed him away from the rank, called them Peggy, Ivy and Pearl after his sisters.

A month before the sows furrowed, my parents went on a fact-finding mission to Denmark. They had been given the name of a producer with a pig farm the size of Gatwick. Runting piglets went in at one end, and packets of thin-sliced streaky bacon came out the other. We all toured the farm and afterwards had lunch in a farmhouse surrounded by lakes. "How many pigs do you have?" asked Mr Olsen. "Three," said my stepfather. "Three hundred? Three thousand?" said Mr Olsen. "No, just three," said my stepfather. "Do your lakes freeze in winter?" said my mother to fill the conversational hiatus. "No," said Mrs Olsen, "because always in winter we are wearing the wool stocking."

In those days, when pigs went to market they got grades like GCSEs for leanness, length, texture etc. Straight As, my stepfather would say, opening the envelope, and we would take it in turns to scratch Ma Shweh's rough black back with a twig and say how good she was for producing such clever children. The farm grew. We had hens, ducks, a few Galloway cattle and some sheep, but it was the pigs I liked. I would shake the bucket of pignuts and wait for the piglets to come racing out of their hut, poking their snouts impatiently into my boots. After watching the vet a couple of times, my mother said it would save money if she castrated them. My job was to lure Ma Nya away with a bucket of nuts while she gripped each squealing piglet between her knees and spliced their nuts with a razor. It may not have been the career for which the Baptist Mission School in Moulmein had groomed her, but she did it well.

Sometimes old Rangoon hands would visit us, jolly, red-faced men with names like Bagshaw and Thrupp, who said by God they wished they had smallholdings, too. It looked like a dashed good life. "Thruppy could probably manage," said my stepfather afterwards, "but not Bagshaw. He's never been quite the same since he got blackwater fever in Maymyo."

Pig Paradise lasted less than 10 years. The rules changed, prices fell, Joe went back to his taxi and we sold the farm. My mother wept; so did I and still do when I think about it. No time for tears - I've got a book to write.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Senior SAP MM Consultant, £50,000 - £60,000, Birmingham

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Senior SAP MM C...

SAP BW BO

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP BW BO - 6 MONTHS - LONDON London (Gr...

HSE Manger - Solar

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: HSE Mana...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Let's make Eid a bank holiday

Grace Dent
Tulisa Contostavlos arrives to face drug charges at Southwark Crown Court on July 14, 2014  

Tulisa might have been attacked for being working class, but she still has to take some responsibility

Chloe Hamilton
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried