Saturday morning was a bit full-on – and not just because we had to get ready for Her Outdoors’ and the Daughter’s joint birthday party.

As I walked down the drive to feed the animals in the morning, I thought I could see a huge river coming out of the woods on the far side of the land, where a river should not be. Fortunately, it was just a huge river coming out of another part of the land, where it shouldn’t be but sometimes is.

I walked round the caravan at the bottom of the drive to find the awning in tatters, metal poles bent this way and that, plastics dustbins with animal feed open to the rain, many months of accumulated bits and pieces in dire need of clearing up.

Which I would have done straight away, if I didn’t need to check on the polytunnel. The plastic was flapping around in what can also be described as a stiff breeze. Two of the horizontal poles were bent (they’re made from galvanised steel – I think – anyway, they’re bloody heavy). And there were a number of bits and pieces that needed rescuing.

Which I would have done straight away, if I didn’t need to feed the animals. As I walked towards Pepito with some hay, the electric fence blew over (it’s all about timing). The plastic spacers (have I told you how much I hate plastic?) sheered off at the base, becoming landfill for the next 2,000 years. Fortunately, the hay distracted Pepito long enough for me to get some metal spacers from the chicken run, where I found the small chicken house resting on its back, having cast off its roof.

Only Arc One – the pig house – was left unscathed.

I went steadily to and fro, filling the caravan with animal food, tools, rubbish, pieces and bits. Dividing my time between the awning (which I dismantled and then ripped down, to discover I have a new and very useful tarpaulin – huzzah) and the polytunnel (ever tried to handle a 10 x 6 metre piece of plastic in a gale?) when – BANG, CRASH, WALLOW – I looked over to see the pig-house roof cartwheeling down the field, popping a rivet as it went.

At this point I swore. You know the word. I shan’t repeat it here.

Eventually, wooden posts were securing the horse field, rocks had been moved to help the river run through, the caravan was full of stuff, the plastic was stashed, the chicken house righted and I went home for lunch. Where I found we had no electricity and Her Outdoors had no mobile phone reception.

Needful to say, the party was blissful. The house was lit by dozens of candles. The only sound was next door’s generator. And a hardy group of English mafia (not everyone made it, for reasons mentioned above) stood around eating our national dish – Indian.

This office isn’t like the others I’ve worked in.

Instead of extra-shot lattes, almond croissants and airborne viruses, my colleagues bring in things like eggs from their own chickens, rabbits (dead or alive, for table or children), ducks, turkeys, sausages, an impressive variety of fruits and veggies, and an almost constant supply of meat-free kitchen scraps for our pigs.

I’ve got to say I prefer it this way.

So, I had the right pig in the right place. All I needed now was the right method.

For my first trick, I tried apples.

On the day before our next planned trip to the abattoir, I walked past the pig field rustling a bag of apples. I tossed a few into the back of the trailer (I’ve become quite an impressive tosser in the last year – more on this, later) and went off to feed the chickens. Out of the corner of my eye, with much pleasure, I saw the pig climb into the trailer and go about his breakfast.

The next day, I repeated the exercise: I rustled the bag; I tossed in more apples; and after the pig climbed in, I shut the door.

Ta-da. (Thank you very much.)

Minutes later, Sonia turned up with her 4 x 4 and pulled the trailer out of the field. We gave him some extra breakfast to calm his nerves. Then drove, with the mixed feelings that come with taking full responsibility for your decision to eat meat, the 25 minutes to the abattoir at Bergerac.

Which was a surprisingly nice place.

We buzzed at the big metal gate, which slid open to receive us (at 12.05! Lunchtime in France!) and checked in with the receptionist. She put down her roll-up and welcomed us in.

She: (in French) ‘How old is the pig?’

We: ‘About a year.’

She: (looking relieved) ‘He’ll be a good size, then. (PAUSE) There have been lots of pigs in lately who are only six weeks old. For Christmas in Paris. They’ve had to put boards around the bottom of the pens to stop them escaping. It’s absolutely savage.’

This was literally the last place you’d expect to meet an animal lover.

Next, we went through another push-button gate to the dropping-off area. Past the entrances for cattle, sheep and veal, to pigs. A rather impressive piece of reversing followed and we were set. With a little help from a very strong (and equally nice) man, we walked the pig through a shed that felt and smelt very much like a farm, into a waiting pen.

At that time of day (five minutes after opening) there were only two other pigs in there. Two pigs that, “coincidentally”, had been delivered moments before by one other than Gary and Marlene – the people we bought our pigs from in the first place.

My first trip to the abattoir had an immediate effect on the way I look at meat.

When I opened a packet of mince that evening, I didn’t just see a pile of diced beef. I saw a living and breathing animal that had been taken to an abattoir, walked through the same kind of shed and waited in the same kind of pen as our pig was waiting in. It completed a picture I’d never had reference for before.

(Vegetarians will enjoy a small break from pigs while I catch you up with some of the many other ecovallee jobs that are making our lives so unbelievably full at the moment. Then it’s butchery. Without the pictures.)

‘Fucking pigs!’ (OK. Does contain swearing.) This is me last Monday, large stick in hand, running, again, after a large porker that is completely out of hand. I approach from one side; Her Outdoors from the other. Together, we steer the semi-feral beast towards a corridor made by veggie patch and pig field. I think we’ve got him this time. But at the last moment, he breaks left and legs it past the polytunnel, up the hill, across the track and into the woods. All I can say is: ‘Fucking pigs!’

The day had started so well.

After the school run, we popped down to Beaumont to borrow a trailer from Michelin-star Steve. Had a quick coffee and a chat. Lovely. English-mafia friend, Sonya, arrived with a 4×4, and drove said trailer through the slightly soggy field and into position. All we had to do was persuade one of the pigs up the ramp into the back and off we’d go to the abattoir.

Plan A only started to go wrong when it swung into action. Her Outdoors’ freshly finished ramp was tossed to one side by one pig. Another started eating it. The third smashed the food bucket, spilling the incentive all over the ground and started tucking into breakfast.

Plan B was quickly improvised. This involved an electrified path leading up to the trailer, and the separating of one pig from the other two. A number of other Plans followed, all designed to guide the one escaped pig back into the pig area we started with.

Time is no friend in moments like these, and eventually Sonya had to go and collect people from the airport. Which meant the trailer had to stay in the field, ring-fenced to stop greedy pigs eating tyres, wires, or anything else they could lay their teeth into. Thusly:


When I went into work on Tuesday, a colleague asked me how the trip to the abattoir went.

I told her.

‘You didn’t have a method?’ she asked. ‘You have to have a method.’

‘Fucking pigs,’ I replied.