Leisured and privileged
Geraldine, a Wessex Saddleback sow, of intermediate age, established herself in the order of things from the first moment of her arrival on our farm. In build she was short and dumpy, but this was as irrelevant to a proper appreciation of her as a whole, as if you had applied the same description to Queen Victoria (if you were unwise enough to do so.) I've heard it said that, while a dog looks up to you, and a cat looks down on you, a pig looks you straight in the eye. When she fixed you with her gaze you knew it was a privilege to be considered an equal by Geraldine.
She was black, except for the distinctive white saddle. Her long ears hung like an awning over the candid eyes. Thus blinkered, she could still pinpoint your approach with uncanny precision, swinging her head round like a radar scanner. If she was bulky, she wasn't ponderous; her deliberate tread could break into a gallop if fair weather beguiled her into staying abroad until she had to be summoned for dinner. Normally, she would be ready for you either slumped across the gateway, like a mountaineer awaiting the St. Bernard dog, or alternatively, climbing the gate, grumbling loudly, if you were late.
Geraldine's little hut, which she kept scrupulously clean, was set in a suite of fields leading down to a copse. Here she liked to come during whatever heat an English summer might afford, and cool herself by the stream. Her domain provided her with all the grass and freedom a pig could wish for.
Geraldine provided us with two litters of piglets a year to raise, and it was to further the appearance of these litters that we would make a twice-yearly journey to her mate, on the far side of the village. He was a large White boar, and had the irregular build of an article which has been assembled in the dark. A pair of tusks made one treat watchfully in his vicinity, although, as they pointed backward, one couldn't help reflecting that if his forebears had used them for spearing their food, it -was remarkable that the breed had survived to the present day. Toward Geraldine, his manner was unfailingly gentlemanly.
Geraldine accepted life as it came, and set out on these journeys without any surprise. We would travel in a wagon train, one of us leading, the other bringing up the rear behind Geraldine's gentle saunter. Dougal, our yellow Labrador, would scout ahead, or trot importantly up and down the line. He watched the same Westerns we did.
The journey was serene, a moment out of time, as always seem to be the case when you share of a tree if the day was hot, and not failing to notice anything along the way, which might prolong the journey. She liked to liven things up at the crossroads, be pretending to forget the route, and it look careful deployment of manpower, not to mention the strategic dropping of apples, to guide her in the right direction. From time to time we would be come upon by round-eyed holiday- makers who had left the main thoroughfare and were braving the hinterland, and we would feel very rural.
At last we would arrive at the boar's field and announce our arrival. A profound silence was followed by a rumbling and a scuffling, and he would burst out of his hut, (a modest wooden construction), to greet Geraldine, snuffling winningly at her ears and chattering amiably. Geraldine, however, was not to be so easily won over, and went about an orderly inspection of the field, particularly studying the quality of the grass and lifting any intervening sow out of the way with her imposing forklift snout.
Delivering Geraldine was one thing. Collecting her, in the teeth, as it were , of the boar was something else altogether. A week later we would present ourselves at an apparently empty field, the ten acres sloping away out of sight, suggesting an infinite search and lurking livestock. Once slighted, however, Geraldine would respond readily to our calls, and the production of a few apples. Alas for the attentive boar, she would stalk after us without a backward glance.
The return journey gave ample time to reflect on the pleasure of the homecoming, and of once more having her presence, mostly unseen, but always felt , on the farm; and as we fastened her securely into the field where her hut was, it struck me that Geraldine was the only one of our animals to have a house-that- weny-with-the-job, and two weeks' holiday a year.