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Hi everybody and welcome to the final instalment of The Hog Blog! I hope you’ve all enjoyed reading it and I’m pleased to let you know that Nicola’s adventures raising her pigs continues beyond what she has written about on this blog so there is a good chance that more instalments may appear somewhere in the future.

Cheers, Thomas

The Hog Blog – February 2008, part 4

The Hog Blog - February 2008, part 4

I spent today sorting out who gets what and what will be left. By the time I have given Jules and Joe their share and taken some for me, the pile looks smaller. But there is still a lot to sell and it takes about seven minutes to clear the lot. We cooked a small pan of the sausages in the kitchen, opened the office doors, allowed the sweet smell to roll up the building and it worked. People arrived with their purses and cheque books and then it was gone. I just managed to write down who had what in time. But then there were the disappointeds. I kept having to nip back to my own supply and raid the sausages and chops – but not giving my joint away. Then I felt like Jonesy in Dad’s Army, sidling up to some of the disappointeds with a small package and nodding at them conspiratorially.

Meat is currency, and getting cash back for it gives me a good, wholesome feeling. I worked harder physically for that pork than I have in a lifetime of sitting at a computer. But I still have only made a tiny dent in my original costs, and those costs will rise if I get more to fatten. I am hooked, and write out cheques like a mad woman who has won the pools.

So, I can do meat. I immediately order another couple of fatteners from the farm in Devon. They will be about a couple of weeks behind Trotter and Elvis in age – so now I will get meat from three pigs instead of one. And I will still have my breeders, Elvis and Mabel. That will be the next learning curve.

Love has not sprung up between them yet, but I am hopeful. Elvis is incredibly friendly – almost gobby. I have clothed him in my mind in a rather jaunty leather jacket and some torn jeans – I know he will grow up to be a quirky ne’er-do-well, just my sort of a bloke. And I hope that my precious, stand-offish Mabel with her priggish lace cap will quiver with desire and fall under his spell. I now know I was over Beatrix-Potter’d as a child.

The weather at the moment is amazing. Still frosty and freezing at night, sunny during the day. It’s like skiing weather: it’s perfect. In the afternoons, at about 4.30, it is magical, with the sun going down on a golden pink sky and opposite a silvery full moon has risen already. We have a little robin friend. He keeps hopping about the pig pen pecking at something on the ground – maybe husks of straw or something the pigs are dropping. When he is there the wagtails are not. I heard robins were the bullies of the bird world; maybe it is true.

The End (for now)

Nicola

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Hi everybody. I’m still playing catch-up today so even though it it two days in a row, I’m giving you more Hog Blog. But it’s a bumper instalment this time where Nicola goes into great detail about the experience of eating an animal that she has raised and cared for herself. I really recommend you read this one right through to the end. There is something quite sweet yet pragmatic about how she describes it all.

Cheers, Thomas

The Hog Blog – February 2008, part 3

The Hog Blog - February 2008, part 3

Joe has produced a spreadsheet. Julia doesn’t agree with it and produces one of her own. I don’t like it because it requires Elvis to go to the abattoir to give us more profit.

I don’t want to send my prize board to the abattoir. But I don’t want to argue with anyone about money, least of all two people I am fond of.

Have radical plan. Will hurl even more money into pig project but will be the only investor. I will give all others their money back and pork in exchange for labour. With any luck Julia and Joe will still want to give time in the future towards helping look after them and I can pay them for that time with meat rather than money. Solves all discussion about money. Feel relief to have made a decision and email the others to ask what they think.

They agree! And they want to continue helping in exchange for meat. Now I will be poor, but at least I will be my own boss.

Today I discover, quite by accident, that Berkshires are not fully grown until they are three years old. Why do they make them breed so early? It’s like teenage mums in council flats, and quite unworthy of a Berkshire. Who knows what they could achieve if they weren’t weighed down with the burdens of motherhood so early? Feel a plan coming on to make Mabel wait another year before encountering sex or babies. But can I afford it? Probably not.

February is very cold indeed, surprising us with thick frosts, icy grass and ponds, freezing fog which gives way to bright sunshine by coffee time. I drive to the abattoir in Frome to collect not Porker, but a carcass. I pay them £27 which seems incredibly cheap compared to all the other bits of looking after pigs. The body is in two halves with the head and feet still attached, the head sliced neatly down the very centre, so that whichever way I lay the long bundle one eye is looking up. She smells like meat and not like a pig. All her hair is gone and her skin is pink, but there is a small tuft or two of strong black hair close to her snout so I know it is her. It strangely reminds me of visiting my newly-dead father in the chapel of rest and noticing little tufts of cotton wool stuck to the bristle on his chin. But it turns out not to be sad. I knew that wasn’t Dad, just his husk, and I know this isn’t Porker, just her outside. Wrapped in a huge tarpaulin she makes the journey back to Bristol again, and Steve the butcher at the farm shop takes her in as if this is normal. He promises to have her ready in three days and I leave, feeling strange.

I have no idea how much meat to expect back really. I rang the abattoir and they said the dead weight was 57 kilos, but that doesn’t really help me work out how many chops, how many sausages.

I find out when Steve rings late in the evening to say all is ready to collect. Clever Porker gave: 16 bags of chops in twos, weighing about 500g a bag, 8kg of sausages, 4kg of belly pork, four rolled boned shoulder joints all weighing about 1.5kg, 6 leg joints (which I still fail to understand) weighing about the same as the shoulder joints, and two long ribs at about just over a kilo each. Steve charges me £30 which I think is incredibly cheap. Was thinking of maybe doing a butchery course but it is hardly worth it when he does a professional job at such a low cost. He is even cheerful about it and tells me it is good meat, which gives me a burst of pride. The head and the offal and the trotters and some innards were all in a separate bags, which I gave straight to Joe so he can experiment in the kitchen. I stuff as much as possible into the two fridges at work, put the rest in the freezer and go home with two pork chops.

I walk into the house with my precious package, feeling nervous. If it doesn’t taste good then all this will have been a bit pointless, and too expensive to repeat. I shout to all and sundry that I am home and I have meat! Silence. Nobody at home. This is rare. For a moment I’m tempted to feel sad about it, but actually the quiet is good, and the tasting maybe too solemn a thing to attempt with others.

I put the chops in a roasting tin. They look good. Chunky and lean but with a good layer of fat around them. I drizzle a little olive oil over them and sprinkle some chopped-up thyme from the garden, then pop them in the top oven of the Aga.

I have some fabulous purple sprouting broccoli so I prepare that while I wait for the pork. I set the table properly, light a candle, award myself (and Porker) a proper linen napkin, open a good bottle of red wine. After about quarter of an hour I take them out to turn them over. A quite remarkable smell wafts through the kitchen and I feel very very hungry. On the plate they look delicious. I sprinkle some lemon juice over them and push a knife through the first one. It goes through the meat as if it were butter. The flesh is white and moist and smells slightly gamey, but it is tender and the best pork chop I have ever tasted. The darker meat near the bone is almost like offal, and with a strong pork taste. Good indeed. Two of these huge chops is far too much for one person, but I am greedy for more so I keep eating until I have not only finished them both, but licked the bones clean too. I give a tiny bit of gristly fat to Bobbie. She is ecstatic. Her barking has, at last, got the better of Porker.

Feeling rather bloated now. But by golly it was good. Porker did so well I raise a little toast to her. She was a good piglet, a lovely pig, she went to her death with hardly a squeak (apart from the ear tag noise) and she gave us all fabulous meat. What a pig! I will never forget her, and in fact she gets her own back, because I am windy all night. My fault.

Nicola

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I realise that I’m posting very late in the day today but having been at the London Book Fair the past 3 days I’ve been frantically catching up on a backlog of emails. Sorry to make you wait! Some good news that I found waiting for me is that our July release What About China? will be getting featured in an influential book trade publication. More about What About China? later but in brief it is a book about how to answer awkward questions about climate change such as “What is the point of doing anything when China opens a new power station every week?”

But for now here’s another instalment of Nicola’s Hog Blog. Have your tissues ready.

Cheers, Thomas

The Hog Blog – February 2008, part 2

The Hog Blog - February 2008, part 2

We arrive early at the abattoir and I go in to sort out the paperwork. Three forms for one pig. A pig movement form, a transportation form and a what she has been eating form. One of the forms is three pages long and I understand none of the questions. They are in code. The guy who manages the abattoir is about 65, with the ginger grooved wrinkles and the deep, watery chested voice of the dedicated smoker. His ‘office’ is a sort of freezing cold garage with a tiny electric fire at one end and a small wooden table and chair at the other. He is an old hand. He is not overly friendly. He’s seen it all before. I feel like an idiot. I am behaving like a ridiculous townie at a cocktail party, enquiring about his job and whether he ought to have a bigger fire, and oh gosh, these forms, how on earth does one make head or tail of them? He groans and lights another fag.

Help is at hand from a lovely young man in a white coat and white wellies: the man from DEFRA. He helps me fill in the forms, then helps us get Porker down the ramp and along a long, stone corridor. He is so gentle and sweet with her ‘Come on lovey, come on sweetie’, patting her gently and encouraging her down. Pigs don’t like going downhill much. I instantly like him and trust him and there is a lovely, straw-filled pen waiting for her with a drinking bowl and everything. I give her a pocketful of pignuts and stroke her nose for the last time. She is next in line. I walk away. Turning once I see her just rooting about in the straw like normal. I am not worried.

I make arrangements to collect the carcass in three days and return to work. Feel strange all day. Quite grown up.

Nicola

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Hello and firstly I just want to remind you all that Alastair will be making his final promotional appearance for Go Slow England next Tuesday (15 April) at Stanfords in London. Audiences at his Bristol and Bath appearances have really enjoyed meeting him and hearing him discuss all things slow so for those of you in and around London, please don’t miss out on this event.

You probably should book ahead so please click here for more details.

Devon – Monday 28 April

Alastair will be in Devon on Monday 28 April to speak at an event in Torquay followed by an event in Bovey Tracey. First he will be at the Riviera International Conference Centre in Torquay to speak for half an hour about distinctive, green and slow holidays as part of the Keen To Be Green programme from 12:30pm – 4:15pm. Alastair will then head over to the Devon Guild Cafe in Bovey Tracey to present How to Choose a Green Holiday to Bovey Climate Action at 7:30pm. 

Both events are free but booking ahead is strongly recommended. Click the below links for more information:

Keen To Be Green (Torquay)

How to Choose a Green Holiday (Bovey Tracey)

Have a good weekend and note that there won’t be any blog entries next week until Thursday as most of us will be off at the London Book Fair.

Cheers, Thomas

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Goodness! It looks like the end is nigh for dear old Porker. Nicola shares her thoughts…

The Hog Blog – February 2008, part 1

The Hog Blog - February 2008, part 1 

Bitterly cold with a strong easterly wind, but the sun is shining and there’s a frost on the mud, so not claggy, but sparkling. I meet Tom in the field, he’s already reversed his Landrover and trailor up to the gate and is asking me which pig? I point to Porker, feeling like Judas except I didn’t get the 30 pieces of silver. No, I had to pay much more than that for this particular act of treachery. Porker, as usual, is at the front of the queue so it’s easy to open the gate and let her out and start shutting it on Mabel. The new little ones escape too, though, and rush up the straw-ridden trailer ramp as if they are just sooo excited about a trip to the slaughter house. Tom puts them back in the pen and Porker is alone. He loads up the ear tag thing and advances up the ramp to insert it. I walk away and look over the fence, dreading the moment I will hear her scream. How unfair to have to have this shock and pain and then go to the abattoir with nothing nice happening in between. I resolve to tag the next one at least two weeks before slaughter and then give him treats in between so he’s forgotten all about the ear when the trailer time comes. A pineapple I am thinking, or some kiwi fruit, their favourites. No scream comes at all. Tom comes down the ramp and says he dropped the tag at the last moment because she moved her head. He loads up another. I think maybe 50 wasn’t enough? Second attempt resoundingly successful judging by the terrific noise. Pigs are the most dramatic creatures on earth. They should all be on the stage. If you don’t believe me pick up a piglet, gently and kindly, and they’ll make the sort of noise that is only heard during the last few minutes of a Jacobean tragedy when all on stage are tortured and killed and there’s a lot of fake blood.

Nevertheless the sound produces fear in me. The same sort of fear one feels when holding out your precious baby to the surgery nurse for a jab. I immediately give her an apple to cheer her up. She eats it happily. Good.

Off we go then in the Landrover to Frome. Cross country – through Chew Stoke and over hills and down dales. Sun bright and low, flickering through hedges, blinding round bends. And Tom talks. We chatter about family, animals, bloody paperwork, how things have changed. I’m getting old: I enjoy it.

Nicola

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As promised last week here is a new set of sample pages from Go Slow England that have not previously been available anywhere else. So I hope you enjoy the Angel Inn in Yorkshire and remember that all previous sample pages can be found here.

Also, for those of you in London don’t forget Alastair’s appearance at Standfords next Tuesday. Click here for more details.

Cheers, Thomas

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Angel Inn 

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It’s time for another Hog Blog and I think you will agree that it’s starting to get a bit dramatic!

Cheers, Thomas

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The Hog Blog – January 2008, part 2

The Hog Blog - January 2008, part 2 

Rang abattoir in Nailsea today. Porker has only four weeks or so left to go. I need to hire a trailer and also get her an ear tag or slap-mark of some description. Not sure how to go about it, but I phone the North Somerset council man and he tells me which company to order them from. He is also, he says, coming to inspect me in February. Blimey. Order ear-piercer and tags with my herd number stamped on them over the internet and they arrive in the post. Fifty ear tags minimum order. Oh well, I shan’t have to order again in a hurry.

I have a mad two weeks trying to get out of going to the Nailsea abattoir (I hear gossip from Steve the butcher at the farm shop that a mate of his sent some rare-breed pigs to Bakers and didn’t think he got his own pigs back; and there were bits missing that he had specifically asked for). But I’m worried about not having any alternative. People keep telling me about nod-and-a-wink travelling folk who come with a small gun and do it in the field. On research, they don’t appear to exist, or only do it secretly.

Steve says there’s another abattoir in Frome which is smaller and less commercial and gives me the number of a mate who knows them. The mate recommends them and I worry about the fact that it is 27 miles away rather than eight. My address book, which used to be filled with city numbers, is now criss-crossed with numbers for trailer hire folk, ark builders, mates of mates who shoot pigs in fields on the sly, farmers and hedge trimmers, oh and abattoirs. Weird. It is make my mind up time. Every time I look at Porker I feel like a traitor.

Later that month…
Time up. I opt for the Frome abattoir. But how to get her there? Ring Pete the hedge trimmer as he is a Long Ashton local. He tells me to ring Tom James who keeps cows in the field below me. Tom is brilliant and agrees to help (for £60!) We talk pig on the phone and I like him. He meets me in the field the next day and we check to see he can get his trailer in and every question I ask (there are many) he answers patiently and kindly.

Nicola

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