Roger Massey and the barren pig

Seven-minute story

Roger Massey and the barren pig

It was Roger Massey who taught us the rudiments of veterinary science at agricultural college. On one occasion he was telling us about his war-time service in the Royal Army Veterinary Corps and he boasted that, in Burma, during the Second World War, he had discovered a universal cure-all for the British army mule. No matter what complaint it was that troubled an army mule it was easily dealt with by means of a .22 bullet. He was an entertaining teacher but clearly there were some creatures with which he had little patience.

Fortunately, he was happy with pigs and so it was that when I took to pig-breeding there were times when I was pleased to engage him professionally. His visits were not frequent but I could always learn from him and his company was always engaging. On one of his visits he was confronted with a young female, a gilt, a pedigree beast from which I had wanted to breed really good stock. Not for her any old boar to get her in-pig; no, I had paired her up with the very best of Landrace boars who lived about a hundred miles away. His contribution to family life arrived at Chelmsford Station in two plastic bottles which I collected and subsequently emptied via an artificial pig’s willy. It was the right time for the performance for the gilt’s rear end was swollen and bright pink and when I sat across her back she remained still, pricked up her ears, which is not easy for a Landrace pig, and grunted hopefully.

Three months went by and Countess – that was her pedigree name – really did not appear to be in-pig and so Roger Massey’s E-type Jaguar appeared in the yard and out he got. I can remember him now, one hand up to his chin and one leg stuck out straight in from of him, squatting on his other heel as he studied the pig.

“I think you’re right, Mr Inson.” When vets send you bills they speak to you politely. “No need for an examination; you might as well get rid of her.” An examination would have been a messy business what with getting Countess to keep still and the rolling up of sleeves and the soapy water, and further expense.

A fortnight later I was on the phone to the surgery and soon the E-type was parked again in the yard. The patient was lying in a farrowing crate and a bucket of hot water was ready with soap and a towel.

“These are all she’s had, Mr Massey.” I waved an arm in the direction of six new-born piglets, huddling under the warmth of a lamp suspended over the corner of the pen. “I simply couldn’t be sure that there aren’t any more to come.”

Mr Massey nodded and remembered to take off his glasses which he slid into the top pocket of his jacket. Then he removed his jacket and hung it on a nail on the piggery wall. As soon as he had wriggled out of his shirt he opened his hand for the soap. Once he had covered his arm with a soapy lather he eased himself to the ground, turned so that he was lying on his side behind the gilt and inserted his arm, up past the elbow, up until his shoulder had eased the length of his arm into the pig. I found some words.

“Do you remember that pig that you came to see a couple of weeks ago, Mr Massey?” He looked up at me as if puzzled, as if I was troubling him with some irrelevance. “You know, the pedigree gilt, the one you said was barren, couldn’t possibly be pregnant.” He nodded. “This is the same pig.”

For a moment Roger Massey continuing searching with his trapped hand. For a moment I wondered whether there would be an explosion. The efforts to reach more piglets continued but his mind was no longer on the job. He was lying half-naked at my feet and then he looked up, straight at me, and he found some words.

“Well I’m blowed,” and then he grinned and reached again just in case there were more piglets somewhere inside the countess.

What do we learn about Roger Massey?

Why does the writer wait until the vet has managed to insert his arm inside the pig before asking him whether he remembers the barren pig?

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