Why can't pigs learn to fly?

29th December 2000 at 00:00
I seem to remember that it was Pink Floyd, or was it pink gin and Keith Floyd? Someone exited the food programme on breakfast telly calling:

"I haven't had so much fun since pigs ate my sister!" An unlikely way for pigs to start the day, I thought, but (chops and bacon aside) do we really know what fills a pigskin?

US Airways recently welcomed a 20-stone pig, described as "enormous, brown, angry and honking", aboard a six-hour commercial flight from Philadelphia to Seattle. Regarded by its owners - and their medical adviser - as a "therapeutic companion pet" it chose to show its mettle. Despite being offered three seats together, in first class, it declined to fasten its safety-belt, ricocheted up and down the aisle in constant thrombosis-avoiding action and (panicking on landing) charged the cockpit door - no doubt intending to challenge the captain's credentials.

The perplexing thing about this pig is, you can see its point of view. It is, after all, a pig. Would you relax at 30,000ft in the care of a crew who apparently lacked this simple clarity of vision?

Or is it the concept of "pig" which confuses us? What exactly is the essence of pig? Plato had no doubts. A pig eats, drinks and sleeps. A pig has no grey matter. A pig knows no angst, nor does it swallow Valium - although it would, given the chance. Is it possible for a pig to become, intrinsically, piggier?

If a pig cannot become piggier, then is man, who - exercising free will - becomes piggier by choice, really superior to a pig? See Plato. Or, as they say in Glasgow: "See me?" I was once called a "piggy person". This was a term of affection conjured by the Great Pig. (He conjured it up from the depths of his armchair which should have been surrounded by an ashtray the size of a moat.) Now I ask you. If "pig" is a term of affection, as is demonstrated so noticeably in newspapers dated February 14 ("Piglet love Roo" et al) what does this tell us about sexual attraction?

Should alternative beauty therapists counsel us to leave on the mud packs, bleach the eyelashes and "pong naturellement"?

But "pigs are fastidiously clean", protests a Professor Peter Brooks. Indeed, tw Suffolk worthies (of the two-legged variety) have been noted in the Scottish press for inventing "a cooling shower for pigs"; a shower which can be operated by the snout (particularly suited to the Tamworth, a breed once described by a High Court judge as having a snout "well-nigh the length of other pigs' bodies".) So, even if not highly thought of, pigs are thought of in high places, and thought of by high-brows.

Not that this would surprise the average Babe reader. In children's literature, pigs think, feel and act with "human" understanding. They need not speak, but they must then display alternative accomplishments - like square dancing or playing the cello. Certainly the pig personified in story never has any common-as-pig-like characteristics. Quite the opposite. It doesn't like mud, showers daily, sports a spotted bow-tie and matching pocket handkerchief, and drives to the office where it plans brain-storming jamborees, or at least Big Birthday Parties, for its circle of erudite and abstemious friends.

It is usually called Percival. In fact, only pigs are called Percival. When Percival has his portrait painted he is very pink and plump and as smooth as Esau (or was it Jacob?), or at any rate as a baby's proverbial. His pose is usually angelic, poised on one trotter, forelegs conducting some ethereal music such as might have been heard in the Sistine Chapel in the days when pigs were pigs.

What then, is a pig? What exactly is the pig attraction? If we are confused by philosophy, sex, literature and art, are we ready for an authoritative, definitive, doctoral study? Or should we return to grass roots (or nameless things underfoot) and consider pigs in situ? I have just done that.

It was open day at the sty. I was particularly taken with Primrose. Primrose had been toppled sideways, or so it seemed, by a platoon of ravenous piglets. I felt for that pig. Who's bothered by the wolf at the door, when 25 piglets have you up against the wall? Primrose looked back at me and my crisp-chomping kiddies. I could see it in her little piggy eyes. Empathy, that's the essence of pigs.

Primrose was ruminating. "Poor cow," she thought.

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