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A pig called Alice


To call Alice ‘just another pig’ would be the gravest insult. She was far removed from the ordinary, the common-or-garden, the routine.

She had qualities that elevated her above the common- place members of that species. All pigs are special, as those who have kept them will tell you, but there was something about Alice that went way beyond. She had a profound effect on me. If anyone were to ask, ‘who has influenced you most in your life?’ my first thought would be Alice.

She was my friend for the best part of a decade. We talked to each other on a regular basis and she listened patiently. I tended and cared for her and in return she gave me comfort too. There is a deep kind of pleasure to be had in the company of a pig (especially Alice) and even more if, in a shared moment, you lean over the wall of her sty and stroke her back with a stick, because pigs like that. Alice would have rolled her eyes, if she could. Blissful hours can be spent just watching a pig, and before long you will find yourself in the same kind of meditative state of mind that mystics seek. There is much medicine prescribed to treat a weary mind, but if doctors would recommend an hour a day talking to a pig, what a boost that would be to our spiritual health.

Much praise has been heaped on the pig for the multi-plicity of its gifts. We know from countless writers that a human in need of food can use every part of the pig ‘bar the squeak’. From their skin to their hearts, there is always something to be found that, with a little cooking skill, will make a fine feast. This much is well known.

But during those quiet moments that Alice and I shared, I often wondered if this pig had more to offer than just her flesh. Having watched how pigs behave – and in particular how Alice led her life and reared her offspring – I came to believe that, here before us, in every field and every sty where pigs are kept, there are lessons that we might learn to help us lead an improved life. Is it possible that pigs have a philosophy? Could it be that they have got life worked out to such an extent that their contentment is complete, and their troubles are few? I believe it to be so, and in the years during which I knew Alice I tried to unravel what this secret might be.

She was the only pig with whom I could hold a genuine conversation. It took time, of course, but soon I learned how to ask if she was happy with her sty, comfortable in her straw or generally at peace with the world. And if it was me who was going through a stressful patch – a common state of mental affairs for farmers large and small – then it was she who could calm me. In fact, she had almost medicinal potential as a soother of the fevered brow.

Alice inspired me in many ways. She forced me to think more deeply than ever before about the working relationship between a farmer and his animals, and what it tells us about ourselves. She also served to bring into sharp focus the damage that has been done to our respect for farm animals in the relentless pursuit of food that must be profitable, whatever the cost to an animal’s dignity. Some people will look at a pig and see only chops, where I observed deep truths.

When we talk about Alice, we are speaking of a figure who was a true giant amongst her generation. She captured the hearts and imaginations of thousands who had never even met her through my writings in The Times newspaper over twenty years ago, where she was often mentioned, and my recollections here are drawn from my diaries at the time.

As pigs go, Alice the Large Black pig was as influential a sow as ever lived and when she died, she was mourned the length of the country. She was the people’s pig. If ever a pig had greatness thrust upon it, it was Alice. Humbly born and expecting no more from life than the drudgery of rearing of piglets, Alice accidentally found fame. Call it charisma, call it star quality, Alice had it from the tip of her slimy snout to the very end of her curly tail. Once, from the far side of a crowded Oxford Street in London came the cry, ‘How’s Alice?’ She was known everywhere. A rock star would have been jealous of Alice’s mailbag, yet she took it like the lady she was and was patient and gracious with all enquiries. What a shame she didn’t live to see the growth of YouTube, for she would certainly have been an influencer to be reckoned with, and certainly more intelligent than some. Now and again she showed a certain impatience with time-wasters: no disgruntled duchess ever gave a look more thunderous than that given by Alice, the Large Black pig. But, on the whole, I was lucky. With all that public attention she could have turned into a monster, but she remained to the very end the sweetest pig in the world.

Extracted from A Pig Called Alice by Paul Heiney

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