Oink: My Life with Mini-Pigs

Oink: My Life with Mini-Pigs

3.9 13
by Matt Whyman

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Matt Whyman enjoyed a quiet writer’s life in the English countryside . . . until his career wife, Emma, discovered the existence of a pig said to fit inside a handbag. She believes not one but two would be a perfect addition to the already diverse Whyman clan, which includes a dog, a cat, a gaggle of chickens, as well as four children. Nobody could have… See more details below


Matt Whyman enjoyed a quiet writer’s life in the English countryside . . . until his career wife, Emma, discovered the existence of a pig said to fit inside a handbag. She believes not one but two would be a perfect addition to the already diverse Whyman clan, which includes a dog, a cat, a gaggle of chickens, as well as four children. Nobody could have anticipated the misadventures two little piglets could bring. From stealing his spot on the family sofa to trashing his neighbor’s garden while drunk on fermented apples, Butch and Roxi swiftly establish themselves as “animals of mass distraction.” Funny, touching, and endlessly entertaining, Oink charts the battle of hearts, snouts, and minds between a family man and two mini-pigs.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Having a mini-pig as a pet may sound cute—indeed, they've become a hot commodity, owned by the likes of Paris Hilton and David Beckham—but when British writer Whyman (Goldstrike) picks up a pair for his family, the dirty truth is revealed.Butch and Roxi turn out to be destructive, loud, and just plain bad company.They place a strain on his marriage, relationships with his friends, coworkers, and kids. The family cat never quite gets over the pesky pigs, though Sesi, the family's Canadian shepherd, quickly establishes herself as the pigs' surrogate mom. Despite all the trouble they cause, Whyman's tale is rife with humor. Early on, Whyman peeks under his desk to discover "the clenched rear flanks of a little pink pig" as Roxi pees on his feet. After warming up to the porkers, Whyman and co. decide to try their hands at pig-breeding. However, he quickly realizes that two pigs is plenty, and abandons the venture. With so many characters carousing about the household, Whyman's raucous mini-pig memoir becomes an endearing meditation on the difficult, but ultimately worthwhile, relationships between people and the pets with which they share their home (or occasional pigsty). (Sept.)
From the Publisher
"What a fabulous, funny read! I enjoyed every page. Highly recommended for anyone with a pet, a partner, a family, a sense of humor. . . or even a mini-pig." —Sophie Kinsella

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Read an Excerpt

On Children and Animals

Ever since she was a little girl, Emma always wanted a big family. She gave me plenty of warning. We were at primary school together, after all, though we didn’t start dating until our twenties. By the time we got married, I knew she had plans to go beyond the national average when it came to having kids.

I took the view that three girls were quite enough. Emma countered that we needed a boy and on that basis pushed it to four. I don’t like to think what would’ve happened had we produced another child ready-made for pink hand-me-downs. Privately, my joy at the birth of a son was also fueled by a massive sense of relief. At last, my job was done. I also knew just who to turn to in order to retire on a permanent basis.

Our doctor divided opinion. Some considered him to be a medical pioneer. Others marked him down as a psychotic self-harmer. When I learned that he had been the first man to perform a vasectomy on himself, I just crossed my legs and expressed disbelief. Why anyone would want to go there was beyond me. I figured it must’ve taken a heroically steady pair of hands or a huge intake of drugs. Either way, he had gone on to become evangelical in providing a walk-in-hobble-out service from his office. Had anyone conducted a straw poll in the neighborhood, I doubt they would’ve found a father of 2.4 children capable of producing any more. I had only escaped the doctor’s clutches because Emma went to great lengths to shield me from him. For quite a while, I wasn’t allowed to be ill. If I’d needed antibiotics, I reckon Emma would’ve faked the symptoms herself in order to get me the treatment. As far as she was concerned, I was not going to be another statistic in the doctor’s fertility cleansing program. But as soon as he was assigned to our son’s first antenatal home visit, something Emma hadn’t foreseen, I think even she knew the game was up.

Within weeks of Frank’s arrival, I prepared to be put out to pasture. Leaving Emma in the waiting room, unusually subdued as she leafed through a magazine recipe for plums past their prime, I took steps to do the right thing. Our doctor needed Emma’s written consent for this, which she provided without a word. Even so, before the swelling had subsided, it became clear to me that, in her view, such a simple procedure would have far-reaching consequences. She didn’t make me feel guilty. Far from it. I received tender, loving care and cups of tea while I recovered. I just knew from the look in her eyes that it was a loss she suffered more than me. Having known Emma from an early age, I knew that her need for a sizable brood stemmed from her experience of growing up. Her childhood home was not a happy one, and much of this was down to her father. A closed individual with a difficult upbringing, he was a man who found it hard to connect with those who looked to him for love. His wife and two daughters saw the good in him, but he just did not know how to show it unreservedly. Instead, he escaped into a solitary drinking habit that would come to overshadow his life. Emma’s mother did her best to cover for him, but their relationship took its toll on her health. Her slide into a fog of medication, along with periods of absence as work became her means of escape, left Emma and her younger sister to spend their formative years with front-door keys around their necks.

I remember being envious of her independence. Emma could pretty much do whatever she pleased. In my eyes, unaware of the bigger picture, she was the true definition of a free spirit. It was only later that I realized she viewed my kind of background as something she would have liked to experience for herself.

Emma’s most vivid childhood memory is of screaming in the street, age five, because she had woken up one morning to find that her parents were nowhere to be found. I, on the other hand, can barely recall a moment when I was home alone. My mother worked for the National Health Service as a part-time physiotherapist, fitting her hours into a school day. It meant she was always there for my little brother, sister, and me, while my dad was a BBC engineer and the kind of greenbelt commuter who would come home to find supper on the table. Naturally, I didn’t fully appreciate the stability at the time. Nor did I seize the opportunity to use it as a springboard into the world. I was a bit of a worrier when it came to taking on new challenges, while Emma was forthright and unafraid to stand up for herself. In a way, we were drawn together by what each of us lacked in ourselves. It had worked well over the years, and despite my wife’s instinct to keep building the family she’d missed out on as a girl, she did agree finally that going to five was, well, insane.

“I can’t help how I feel,” she reasoned, “but I’m sure I can channel it into something other than more babies.”

In short, with the offspring ticked off the list it was time to take on some animals. There was only one obstacle to this newfound need. As we were crammed into a three-bedroom terrace in London’s East End, one of which I used as an office, we had no room for anything other than ourselves. For a time we kept a couple of goldfish. Unfortunately, we rarely saw them. Despite my best efforts, the walls of the tank became increasingly caked in a stubborn film of algae. Every now and then, one would swim close enough to the glass for us to be reminded of their existence. Eventually, they came up for air and never went down again.

In some ways the fate of the fish came close to mirroring our financial situation. Several years earlier Emma had given up a good career to return to full-time motherhood. I kept the roof over our heads and put food on the table by writing books for children and taking what freelance journalism I could find. But with the increase in the number of mouths to feed, I began to struggle. We were OK: happy, but totally cash-strapped. So, when Emma was offered the chance to reignite her career on a parttime basis, the decision was largely driven by a bid to avoid living out of Dumpsters. That the job was outside London proved another draw. Here was our chance to raise our children in a rural county, but one that was not so far away from the capital that they’d be freaked out by things like neon signs and elevators. One final thing persuaded me it was time to move on. I discovered that the youths who frequently parked their cars outside our house and opened up silver foil wraps on their laps weren’t, as I thought, eating sandwiches. As Emma informed me when I made the observation, in front of her mother and toddler group, they were in fact dealing crack cocaine. With her job offer on the table, it didn’t take long for us to agree that it was our chance to relocate to the countryside.

“If we sell this house we can just about find something with a yard,” suggested Emma. “The kids could even keep a rabbit outside.”

I wasn’t resistant to the idea at all. As I worked for myself, it meant I could juggle my hours between writing and being a house husband. Privately, I knew we could do a bit better than a bunny. From my childhood experience of looking after one, I just remembered rabbits to be high on maintenance and low on reward. By the time we left the city behind, I had set my sights on something more robust.

© 2011 Matt Whyman

A Real Man’s Best Friend

A dog made perfect sense. This became quite clear to us within a week of moving. We had fallen for a place on the edge of woods in a ragged region of West Sussex. It was on the crest of a lane leading out from a village, with a few houses peppered sporadically on each side. The property was badly run down with a scrappy, overgrown lawn, all of which made it affordable. In fact, the whole purchasing procedure was fairly straightforward on account of the owner being deceased. Unoccupied for eighteen months, it was one of those places where the interior space and location ticked the right boxes—the sense of abandonment was something we just had to see beyond. Having no curtains didn’t help. Nor did the fact that we were miles from any streetlight. If Emma and I were going to sleep soundly at night, we needed something to protect us from what we regarded as major threats to our safety: the darkness and the silence.

After ten tranquil years of inner-city living, every sundown over the trees here felt like a remake of The Blair Witch Project, and so it was agreed that a canine companion would serve a useful purpose. Emma and the children campaigned for a labradoodle. I didn’t see how something that camp-looking was going to grant us peace of mind. Knowing I would be the one to walk it, I argued for a real man’s best friend. I couldn’t face taking out a curly-haired hybrid—that screamed wrong. I wanted something noble, upright, and strong. I just wasn’t clued up enough about dogs to know which breed would fit the bill.

The answer came that summer, during a camping holiday in France. We were on a beach, fooling around with sandcastles, when a white wolf emerged from the pine trees that pinned the shore to the sea.

“Get back to the tent and zip yourselves in!” I ordered the children, hefting a plastic spade in my hands as if it would protect me from rabies. “No sudden movements. Just take it very easy!”

For a moment, I watched in awe as the creature loped down the beach. As soon as I spotted the collar around its neck, I realized that I was in fact looking at a domestic dog of some description. I had just never seen anything so formidable in my life. With its square-cut muzzle, arching ears, muscular haunches, and sloping tail, it really did look like something from a fairy tale. The dog’s presence was certainly enough to turn heads among the other vacationers. Admittedly, I didn’t see anyone else usher their family to safety. On turning to check mine was out of harm’s way, I realized they had merely gravitated toward their mother for protection.

“Stand down, soldier,” said Emma. “It obviously belongs to someone.”

Sure enough, the creature in question had just dropped down beside a woman on a beach towel with a cell phone in hand. Obediently, it sat there looking out across the water as if on guard for some seaborne strike. Right then, I knew that I had found my kind of dog. I just had to find out the name of the breed. The trouble was the owner in question happened to be young, beautiful, oiled, and topless. I couldn’t simply go sauntering across the sand without looking like I was scoring on her. With pleading eyes, I turned to Emma.

“Oh, go on,” I said. “She won’t feel threatened if you ask.”

“I hardly think you present a threat,” she replied. “You’re the one who wants to find out. Don’t let me stop you.”

I sighed to myself, wishing I had come to the beach wearing more than a pair of oversized, regulation Brit-abroad shorts.

“Very well,” I said, sucking in my belly a little bit. “Just don’t blame me if she falls for my charms.”

The woman in half a bikini became aware of my presence at the same time as her dog. Only one of them growled. I could’ve walked on, but such was my determination that I ignored the loss of feeling in my legs and stopped before them both. I drew breath to introduce myself and my innocent reason for coming across. What prevented me was the fact that she still had the cell phone pressed to her ear. Backing out was not an option. That would’ve been weird. All I could do was stand there and wait for her to finish the conversation. I had hoped she would take just a second or so to close the call. When a minute passed, it felt more like a millennium. While she focused on the sand and did her level best to ignore my presence, the dog simply stared at me with baleful eyes. As for me, I just did not know where to look. Every time I shifted my gaze, somehow it felt like I was trying to sneak a crafty glimpse of her breasts. Even admiring the clear blue sky felt like an invasion of her privacy. Eventually, to my great relief, she snapped her phone shut.

“Hi!” I said brightly, while dying inside. “I was just admiring your dog. I’m really sorry to trouble you, but could you tell me about it?”

The woman said nothing for a beat. Then, much to my discomfort, she crossed her arms to cover her chest. I even found myself doing the same thing, clasping my ribs as she did. She looked unsettled, but thankfully not alarmed. Maybe that was because the dog curled back its slack black lips and showed me its fangs.

“She’s my bebe,” the woman said eventually, in a heavy French accent. “A she dog.”

“Is it? Right. OK. Thanks! Sorry to bother you.” I began to retreat, hating myself for failing, having come so far. It wasn’t exactly the depth of information I’d been holding out for, after all. Only as I turned, however, did she appear to take pity on me.

“She’s a Canadian shepherd, you know? Like a German shepherd, but not so the same.”

I came around full circle to find the woman had risen from her towel. She was still covering herself, which encouraged me to lock my attention on the dog. It was no longer growling now, but watching its owner move toward the water. I raised my eyebrows at the beast, as if to seek permission to follow. The dog climbed to its feet, clearly unwilling to leave me alone in her company.

“Does she bite?” I asked, on catching up with her.

“It depends.”

Warily, the dog glanced across at me and then left me behind to pad into the shallows.

I watched the woman sink into the water. Half of me wondered whether she was inviting me to follow her. The other half that wasn’t living in a total dreamworld knew for sure she was trying to create some distance. Once submerged up to the neck, she turned to face me once more. I didn’t speak much French, but now I could read her body language fluently. I swapped a look with her dog. Even if I had been the sort of person with designs on her, it was clear I wouldn’t get so much as a toe into the water without having my throat ripped out.

“I really just want to know about this fine animal of yours,” I assured her, spreading my palms. “Really and truly. I’m here with my wife.”

I gestured behind me, and then glanced around. I had assumed Emma would be watching me intently. Instead, she had returned to building the sandcastle with the kids. Evidently she wasn’t concerned about my potential to seduce. I turned back to the woman in the water. Judging by her wry smile, it seemed she had drawn the same conclusion.

“OK,” she said. “Ask me anything.”

Over the course of the next ten minutes, despite the language barrier, I learned a great deal about Canadian shepherds. By the time we said goodbye, I was convinced that a dog like this was what we needed to protect our family.

“That seemed to go well,” said Emma, when I joined her on the groundsheet. “What’s her name?”

“She’s a bitch,” I said. “That’s all I know.”

Emma looked at me side on.

“What did she do? Make fun of your shorts?”

“Oh, the woman didn’t say much about herself, probably for personal security reasons. But I can tell you I will be going on a mission to find us a Canadian shepherd. Apparently they’re great with kids, and with none of the aggression of German shepherds.”

“So why was that one showing you its teeth?”

I reached for the sunblock.

“It was doing what comes naturally. A dog like that is fiercely loyal. When the children are a bit older they could take it into the woods for a walk and we wouldn’t have to worry about a thing.”

As I spoke, the woman and the Canadian shepherd returned to their spot on the beach. I had fallen in love. Emma could see it in my eyes.

“You really want a dog like that, don’t you?”

“It’s fate,” I said. “How do you feel about it?”

“It’s some responsibility,” she replied. “Are you sure?”

“We have so many children that we can’t even fit in a normal family car,” I reminded her. “How much extra work can it be?”

© 2011 Matt Whyman

An Escalation of Pets

Back home, sourcing a puppy became my pet project. While Emma prepared to return to work, I spent my free time scanning classified ads in pedigree dog magazines. Once I found what I’d been looking for and sealed the deal over the phone, it was just a question of counting down the days before we could collect our very own white Canadian shepherd puppy. I even settled on an appropriate name before I’d set eyes on her. With such a striking coat, I figured something to do with snow would be fitting. Feeling artistic, I turned to the Internet for an Eskimo term. Sesi struck me as fitting. The name wasn’t hard to find, even though I had assumed it would take some canny research. As it turned out, I picked it up from a Web site called Eskimo Names for Your White Canadian Shepherd.

Sure enough, just as the woman on the beach had promised, our new arrival was a darling. For the first few weeks at least. When our seal-like pup started growing sinew and teeth, and then rounding up the children, I figured she might be a handful. As Sesi became more like the wolf I had witnessed prowling the sands, only less submissive to her master, I began to worry that I might’ve bitten off more than I could chew. In the space of three months, we stopped being afraid of the dark and switched our fears to the dog.

One evening, all but barricaded upstairs with the wife and kids, I realized something had to be done. I took my responsibilities seriously, of course. Despite the half-jokes, I had no intention of having Sesi put down or rehoused. I was responsible for a difficult dog. It was down to me alone to do whatever it took to ensure she found her place within the family. What it took involved much of my life’s savings. At a visit to the local dog-training school I learned that what Sesi needed was a monthlong residential reprograming. The trainer, a man who kept a rottweiler named Satan as a kind of calling card, assured me he could bring out the best in her. Figuring my family also needed the break, I wrote the check and swore to myself I would never take on another animal for the rest of my days. Four weeks later, Sesi returned to me as a different dog. According to a parting comment from the trainer, one I swallowed bitterly, she now had the disposition of a labradoodle.

Despite Sesi’s newfound obedience, the experience left me in the doghouse with my family. I’d had my chance to choose a pet. Now it was their turn.

First came the kittens. We’d had some field mice in the loft, so it did make sense. I put forward just two reservations. Firstly, we now lived at the top of a quiet country lane. It was the kind that could see no vehicles whatsoever for an hour or more. Then, when a car did appear, it would hurtle over the crest as if completing the final leg of the World Rally Championship. In my view, a cat caught in the headlights would stand no chance. My second reason for being less than keen on cats took the shape of the dog.

On Sesi’s return from canine rehab, the trainer offered me some advice. Such was her size and spirit, he suggested, it would be safest for everyone if she had some space of her own. This wasn’t down to a fear that she would turn on the kids. It was evident to one and to all that she loved them to pieces. What concerned the trainer was the risk of her trampling them with affection. So, having fitted child gates on the doors into the kitchen and my office, Sesi now occupied the boot room in between. The arrangement worked wonders. The dog was still at the heart of the family. She just couldn’t dominate it. Nevertheless, I had no doubt that one glimpse of a feline mincing through the house would send her into a frenzy. Frankly, I just didn’t need the grief.

“If you get cats, it’ll be your responsibility,” I told Emma. “Should Sesi tear them to pieces, I am not liable.”

“I’ll have my lawyers contact yours,” she replied, before making the call to a friend whose pedigree puss had been knocked up by a stray.

In retrospect, I should have known that my wife would not stop there. Soon after the kittens arrived, without due warning or negotiation, Emma upped her game with the rabbits she had promised. One for each child, to be exact. By now, in terms of pets, she had come close to breaking me. I even helped in setting up the hutches in the yard and their runs out on the lawn. The kids loved all four bunnies equally. It was just that the kind of love they showed didn’t extend to feeding them regularly, cleaning out their cages, or closing them in securely so Miso couldn’t slaughter them. Quietly, I assumed a kind of support role to ensure they didn’t die.

Before long I began to hold out hope that the rabbits might perish prematurely. Unlike the dog and the chickens, they offered nothing in return. What with their daily demands, including ferrying them to and from the lawn for exercise, it felt more like I was caring for invalids. Emma would argue that the bunnies made the kids happy. As I saw things, their hutches took up much of the yard and the runs left us with little space to sit outside.

“Everywhere I look there are cages,” I complained. “It’s like Watership Down meets GuantÁnamo Bay out there.”

“We’d have more room without the chicken fencing,” Emma suggested. “Why don’t you get rid of it?”

“Because we still have a chicken,” I reminded her. “Maggie might be on her own, but it’s our duty to give her a good life.”

I did think about getting a couple more hens to keep Maggie company and also provide more eggs. What stopped me was the threat of a return visit from the fox. More importantly, I knew that it would prompt the animal equivalent of an arms race. If I could take on more chickens, Emma would regard it as justification for something else that looked adorable but was essentially incontinent. I only had to consider that worst-case scenario to pass on the prospect of additional poultry.

Besides, even Emma could see we were operating at capacity here.

Then the speeding vet reduced the feline contingent by one. It was undoubtedly a sad loss. For my wife, it was also an opportunity. With our number down, here was a chance for her to end the pet standoff once and for all. The stealth moves she went on to make in a bid to swell the animal count would have far-reaching consequences. Not just for me but for every member of the family. Even Emma herself was unprepared for what would become animals of mass distraction.

© 2011 Matt Whyman

Size Matters

Shortly after Emma emailed me the image of two pigs on a twig, the offensive campaign unrolled.

“Kids,” she began on her return from work, showing them the picture she had printed off. “How would you feel about getting a mini-pig? They’ve been especially bred to be as teeny tiny as possible.”

“Is this wise?” I asked as the children cooed collectively. “Shouldn’t you wait a while and see if they do a nano version?”

“Any smaller and we’d risk losing it!” she declared happily. With her enthusiasm in full effect, Emma made way for the children as they gathered around the picture. “This is the perfect size for us.”

I refused to be railroaded. Previously, I’d just let my wife get on with it, but not this time.

“Emma,” I said patiently. “We’ve already made the mistake of taking on animals with the potential to eat one another. Just look at the efforts we have to make to keep the dog from the cat and the cat from the rabbits. Inviting a little pig into the family wouldn’t just be adding to the pet count. You’d be increasing our personal food chain.”

“We’ve never had an incident,” she countered.

“At a cost.” I gestured at the dog in the boot room. She was watching us through the bars of the child gate. “Sometimes it doesn’t feel like we live in a house. It’s more like a series of holding pens.”

“But it works.”

“Yes, but we can’t even let the little ones in the yard if Sesi is out there. She’s just too boisterous. What’s it going to be like with a little pig running around?”

“It would be fun,” stressed Emma, as if I might not be familiar with the word.

Sometimes you just know when the deal is done. Every reservation I could muster was met by a pre-planned response. The proposed pet was highly sociable, good with hens and other animals, but would deter Mister Fox. The daily upkeep would be conducted by Emma and the children. They had learned their lesson with the rabbits, they assured me. This time, things would be different. I would not have to be involved in any way. Pigs were also intelligent, so I learned, even the small model. They clocked in as one of the smartest species on the planet after humans, chimps, and dolphins. According to the kids, piqued by my lack of enthusiasm, that made them sharper tools than me.

“Studies even show that all breeds of pig can dominate at videogames with joysticks,” Emma added, in a brazen aim for my weak spot. “Just think about it. At last you can have some company on the PlayStation.”

They had everything covered. Everything but the price tag. This detail Emma slipped in at the last moment, along with the fact that our name was on the list. Not just for one. For two.

“Out of the question!” I declared, grasping for a reason. “There’s only room for one pig in this household, and . . . erm, that’s me!”

In the silence that followed, as my family left me feeling like an old dog before it’s put to sleep, I swore I could hear the patter of tiny trotters preparing to run riot through my life.

Exactly what is a mini-pig? I’d never heard of such a thing. Could it be a giant con, I asked myself? Searching online was quite an eye-opener. Once I’d got beyond the blog entries about these pint-sized porkers, usually marked by, “OMFG!! I so want one!!,” I found a biomedical Web site that immediately cut through the cuteness. Mini-pigs were real, I learned, only they hadn’t been invented to make women and children go weak at the knees. In 1960s Germany a breeding program had been undertaken to create a pig for one purpose only. Part Vietnamese potbellied, known for its fertility, and part Minnesota, recognized as being one of the most laid-back varieties on earth, the resulting mini-pig came into existence to meet the demands of science.

“These pigs,” I told Emma. “They’re basically lab rats.”

I showed her the Web site. In silence, she clicked through the brief history I had read, only to be confronted by an image of a tiny pig with electrodes attached to its head. I couldn’t say for what purpose because Emma shut down the browser in a blink.

“All the more reason we should give two a home,” she said. “I’ve done my own research too, you know. This breeder has been in the business for years. She raises her own special brand of mini-pigs, but not so they can have shampoo squirted into their eyes. They’re pets, pure and simple, and I’m not changing my mind on this. Pinky and Perky are going to be part of our family.”

I watched her lips shape the two names. I didn’t need her to repeat what I thought I had heard.

“Oh, please. Is that the best you can do?”

“The little ones suggested it,” replied Emma. “Are you going to overrule them?”

“In the interest of good taste, I have no choice.”

“From the man who named the chickens Maggie, Marge, and . . . remind me of the last one?”

“That had an original theme,” I countered. “A tribute to The Simpsons and Futurama.

“But do you think Bender was the most appropriate name you could’ve chosen? The kids went into school and told their teachers, you know.”

“Bender was a lovely chicken,” I said. “So was Marge.” I paused there and glanced out of the window. Ever since the fox attack, the sight of our one surviving chicken at the back of the yard never failed to make me feel bad. I couldn’t genuinely hold Maggie responsible for the impending arrival of two mini-pigs. I just wasn’t sure I could live with the crushingly clichÉd names my wife was threatening for them. “How about we keep the theme going?” I suggest. “Bart is cool. So is Mister Burns. Or, how about Leela?”

“How about learning to live with Pinky and Perky?”

Emma folded her arms. In my mind, I foresaw a day when one escaped, probably the latter, and I would have to roam the village calling its name out loud.

Unlike a parrot or a hamster, you can’t just pop into the pet store and pick up a mini-pig. Nor is there anywhere like the number of breeders as there is for cats or dogs. As a result, you register interest, cry at the last of the savings you’re asked to plunder, and then wait for a litter to arrive. It doesn’t stop there, however. With a pig of any size comes paperwork. Not that I knew this beforehand. In fact, it only became apparent when I opened the mail one morning over breakfast.

“What’s this?” I showed Emma the form that had been sent to me. “It’s from the Department for the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs. That’s DEFRA, isn’t it? The mad-cow people.”

Emma took the form, scanned it for a moment, and then appeared to remind herself of something.

“I forgot to tell you,” she said, and handed it back to me. “You need to register as a farmer.”

“That’s a good one,” I chuckled, and stopped when she showed no sign of joking. “Really?”

“I called them the other day. By law, you have to notify DEFRA if you’re going to keep swine. They told me you needed a registration number. It’s very straightforward.”

“Emma, I’m not a farmer. I write children’s books. If I wanted to get excited by tractors or shout at ramblers, I’d have pursued a different career.” I stopped there to drink my tea as indignantly as possible.

“Anyway, why do I need to be the farmer? They’re going to be your mini-pigs. You be the farmer.”

“I would,” she said, “but you’re at home every day. It just makes sense, in case they need to get in contact or anything.”

I studied the form. “So what else does this qualify me to do? Blockade the lane with sheep carcasses and set light to them?”

“That was the French farmers,” Emma pointed out, before collecting a pen from beside the phone. “And this just needs your signature.”

We didn’t have to wait long before news came that Emma’s mini-piglets had been born. In fact, the breeder emailed us regular photographic updates on the progress of the litter. When she sent us the first image, I took one look and wondered whether we had basically been sold shaved vermin.

“I’m not a complete fool,” I declared. “You should ask for your deposit back.”

The shot in question showed a whole bunch of new arrivals feeding from a saucer of milk. Without meaning to sound distasteful, they were each the length of a sausage.

“They are mini-piglets and make no mistake.” By her tone, I could tell that Emma did not want to believe anything else. At that moment, I really felt as if nothing would persuade her to rethink this upgrade to her pet plan. Maybe she could see the despair in my eyes, because her expression softened considerably.

“If it helps,” she offered, “I’m prepared to rethink calling them Pinky and Perky. Actually, I’ve been wondering about the names you repeatedly suggested before each child was born.”

“The two you always overruled?” I brightened at this. Having done nothing but object to the whole mini-pig venture, this was the first instance where I felt a bit more positive. “Butch,” I said, as if road testing how it sounded. I nodded to myself, smiling as I tried the two names together. “Butch and Roxi.”

Over the next few weeks whenever new images arrived I would study them carefully and question their authenticity.

“Butch certainly looks small,” I said one time, “but how do you know that bucket hasn’t been placed in the foreground? Surely that’s a normalsize piglet with a bucket positioned so it looks tiny.”

“Why would the breeder do that? Her Web site has loads of testimonials on it.”

“And another thing,” I persisted. “If Butch and Roxi are from the same litter, how come they look so totally different?”

“They don’t.”

“Butch is black with white trotters, so he’s basically part cat,” I pointed out. “And Roxi is the color of a proper pig.”

I scrolled to a shot just to illustrate my point. The female had a few dark splodges on her, but otherwise her pinkness marked her out from her brother.

“And you became a mini-pig expert when?” asked Emma.

“Since I became a farmer,” I said. “I think I have a responsibility to know where my flock have come from. If that’s what you call a bunch of pigs.”

“It’s a herd,” she told me. “And the fact that they have different markings just shows their heritage. Mini-pigs are a combination of lots of different breeds nowadays. It means all kinds of aspects of the bloodline can come through in the same litter. Whatever it takes to create the perfect little snorter, that’s fine by me.”

I accepted this without question. Why? Because I had saved the best evidence until last.

“If you’ll just look at this shot with the breeder in it,” I said, moving on to the next image. “You can’t deny that the mini-pigs suddenly look much bigger. It just doesn’t add up.”

Emma studied the picture. It featured a female figure in Wellington boots sitting cross-legged on the floor of a barn. Although cropped at the neck, she was playing with piglets that most certainly could not fit inside teacups.

“They are quite big,” Emma agreed.

“Quite big? She’s not short of a bacon sandwich there!”

I watched Emma take another look. At that moment, I felt a surge of righteous vindication. Then she tapped at the image on the screen and turned to me triumphantly.

“That’s because it isn’t the breeder. It’s her daughter. She’s five!”

With my eyebrows climbing, I faced the evidence once more.

“Is she tall for her age?” I asked, pretty much knowing there’d be no response.

© 2011 Matt Whyman

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"What a fabulous, funny read! I enjoyed every page. Highly recommended for anyone with a pet, a partner, a family, a sense of humor. . . or even a mini-pig." —-Sophie Kinsella

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