Sunday, 29 September 2013

Only a Pig and Heavy Horses

Ploughing championship day and it was a glorious autumn day. The setting was magnificent and a very good time was had by all.

We walked around, stopping off to look at various tractors, some vintage, some modern, some small and some gigantic. New farm machinery working alongside yester years agricultural implements.  All fascinating stuff.  We were entertained with the terrier racing, ferret racing and a breath taking falcon display.  There was an awful lot for one to try and keep an eye on. Then there were the heavy horses, truly awe inspiring as we watched them pull their ploughs through the Cotswold brash ground and as the mould-board of the plough wreaved the earth over, the heavy horses looked so proud and confident as they worked up and down the furrow and when they approached a line of brand new massive tractors, the look of contempt they gave these machines were as if to say “this is ploughing with heart and soul horse power”. Always a joy to watch and a privilege to behold.
We mingled around bumping in to people who we hadn’t seen since the last ploughing match.  I was tapped on the back by an old friend and like always, it wasn’t long before we started to reminisce on times passed.  Teddy, the chap who tapped me on the shoulder was someone I had known since childhood, always a muscular, strong type of a chap and was a great school boy chum.  We were soon joined by a couple more people whom we knew and the smells from the pig roast set Teddy off on a tale that had happened some forty years earlier.

It was a day much the same as today although the venue was much smaller, it was the village fete.  As children, we all looked forward to the village fete.  We would all be given a few pennies and we could have a go on anything and everything, well, not quite everything because the money ran out always far speedier than there were things to spend it on.  Teddy always had more money than us as a child, largely due to the fact that his family was nowhere near as big as mine.

In those days the biggest prize in a village fete was bowling for the pig.  It was about a six week old piglet that had been weaned from its mother so it was just ready for the stye.  I used to say to Teddy, just how cool that would be to have a weaner as a pet.  Other kids had budgerigars, mice, rabbits but a piglet I would have been top of the stack.  Teddy soon snapped me down, “Those wooden balls are quite heavy and it is the event that all the dads have a go at.  Everyone wants to win the pig.”  He continued “and look how thin and weedy you are, you can’t possibly compete.”  Of course, every word he was saying was true, but where there is a will, there is very often a way.  I used to lay in bed nights thinking about it and then the solution was handed down to me like something biblical.  Cotton and sticker upper was the key.  I got very little sleep that night.  The very next day on our walk to school, I put the plan to Teddy, who at first was very non-plussed with the idea, but as we walked nearer the school my persuasion seemed to be working.  He was now starting to talk on how we were going to share the pig. “We don’t.” I responded. “The pig will be mine!”  This was like red rag to a bull.  He barely spoke to me then for the rest of the day but on the walk home I tried to explain the complex issues of pig keeping to him.  “You need a stye for starters, and my mum and dad rent an estate house and all the estate houses have old pig sties. But you are welcome to come and scratch his back and play with him whenever you want to.”   Teddy seemed very pleased with this idea but came straight back with, “How exactly are we going to do it again? You’re just not strong enough to bowl for a pig, you can’t compete with all those dads.”
“No, you’re the one doing the bowling and I’m sticker upper, but we’ve got to pick the right time for you to bowl your three balls and that will be just as they are all called to their pig roast supper then no one much will be watching, they will be more interested in their feast.”  Fetes in those days, you always had a nice supper to finish the event off with, our timing was crucial. 

The day of the fete duly arrived.  I went with a pocketful of cotton and three pennies.  The Parson had told me that I was sticking up from 3pm onwards.  I had a good relationship with the Parson as I used to get him quite a few duck eggs.  He was quite partial to a duck egg.  I went round the fete with Teddy and spent my three pennies on the coconut shy, the tombola, throwing the cricket ball but kept well away from the bowling of the pig.  Three pm duly came, all the dads now were coming in to try their hand at bowling for the pig, also the mums and the big brothers.  The weaner was in a little wooden crate, all strawed down, looking quite adorable.  It was now ten to five and only ten minutes of the fete remained and the highest score achieved so far with three balls was 24.  For those of you who have never bowled for a pig, there are nine wooden skittles and three wooden balls.  People had now had their goes and had resigned themselves that 24 was going to win it.  I got the cotton from my trouser pocket, it was a thick heavy duty wool sack type cotton, used normally for darning up the wool sacks.  Teddy started to come down towards the bowling alley.  People’s eyes had turned from the skittle alley to the pig roast.  I stuck the nine skittles up and put the cotton on the first skittle and looped it around the others so that the nine skittles stood in the loop of the cotton. I drew the cotton back over the straw bales which act as stoppers for the bowling balls and knelt behind them with cotton tightly held.   “One more person coming to try their luck vicar,” I shouted, for he was scoring.  The vicar looked at Teddy and gave him that no sort of hope type of look.
“Alright, alright,” he replied. Teddy rolled down his first ball.  As the ball approached the skittles it caught the outside one and I pulled the cotton.  “Nine skittles vicar,” I shouted as I jumped up and started to put the skittles back into place. The vicar nodded munching through his pork sandwich from twenty yards away. His attention had been caught by Mrs Robinson, who seemed to be giving him a type of Spanish inquisition. They were embroiled.  “Keep talking to him Mrs Robinson,” I was thinking to myself and I know Teddy was thinking the same.  Teddy stood there holding his second ball ready.  “Hurry up,” he shouted.”
“Shush”, I thought to myself. That wasn’t part of the plan.  Teddy sent down his second ball, this ball was missing the skittles completely, as the ball rolled missing the skittles, I pulled at the cotton again, all nine skittles went down.  “Another nine vicar,”
“Heavens above, what has your mother been feeding you, raw steaks Teddy?” The vicar then started to shout, “We have a budding bowler over here.”  I stuck the skittles up for the third time as quickly as I could, I threw the cotton around them.  The vicar and a few of the dads were approaching the alley.  “Now, Teddy now.” I thought.  Teddy put his head down and heaved the ball down the alley.  For the first half length it was resembling Barnes Wallace’s bouncing bomb, it hit the middle skittle and I pulled the cotton, but I honestly think to this day, and so does Teddy that his last ball would have hit them all down without my intervention.  Teddy’s dad came over and hoisted him into the air.  The vicar had thought he had witnessed a miracle and I made my way over to the crate where the weaner piglet was up on all fours, basking in the excitement. 

Teddy visited the pig on a very regular basis and so did all the other village kids.  The pig became quite notorious, even kids from neighbouring villages would come to feed and play with him.  And although Teddy and myself had won the pig by foul means, we never felt the slightest bit of guilt, our conscience was clear as there wasn’t a pig in England that could have been more happy and content.

The most honourable, honest and hardworking, the land misses such an awe inspiring guardian.

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