Digital Ischemia

21/02/2019

Pigs

My daughter acquired a piglet. On her way home from school, there was a commotion: a livestock transporter had taken a wrong turn and jackknifed around the mini roundabout at the bottom of our hill. With the precarious leaning and the altercation with a lamppost, one of the doors had swung open and some disoriented captives had spilled out. Piglets make an attention-grabbing noise at the best of times and one in particular was stumbling in a circle and squealing its distress most querulously. My daughter couldn’t resist trying to comfort the poor creature. Assessing the scene, she decided that the lorry was destined for the abattoir. Fired with a passion of injustice, she took the executive decision to liberate the piglet by stuffing it up her jumper.

I peered around the door frame of the back kitchen, wondering about the source of the splashing and squeaking. Molly gazed back with the frozen terror of anticipated parental diatribe. Actually my only injunctions were that she could not move it from one place of captivity to another, i.e. it was not going to live in a cage, and that unfortunately she could not release it into the wild, it not being wild. Here she pointed out that ‘it’ was actually ‘she’, because of the neat array of studs across her belly.

Not knowing what stage of weaning the piglet was at, we could only offer water, but that seemed welcome, along with an old towel for comfort. Whatever exactly had happened to her, she must have been traumatised having been separated from whomever and whatever she had been familiar with. The distressed squealing only subsided while Molly was with her so we found ourselves at that impasse. 

My best advice was that she contact the farmer whose land abuts our wilderness garden. Angus Strachan has a gait you can recognise literally a kilometre away. You can’t stride across heather moor and machair. Consequently he has achieved this efficient pumping effort, so that he appears like a tweed-upholstered steam engine: pistons at the bottom, whistle at the top.

Less than an hour after Molly called in our predicament, Angus scissored over the back fence, dragging an empty plastic bin and bearing a huge sack over his shoulder. Apparently this feed would cover all the basics, and could be supplemented with a wide range of kitchen scraps.

By this time Molly had named her new companion Penelope. Recognising that Penelope sharing her bedroom would not be an option, she plotted and presented me with an irrefutable plan. She would set up her brother’s sleeping bag in the back kitchen and the pair of them would magically and hygienically bond.

While we pondered what would be required for a longer term solution, with Angus contributing his invaluable knowledge, Bill Janney, our community policeman, rang the bell. He was trying so hard to stifle a smirk that he appeared, quite misleadingly, to be winking at me. He carefully explained about the navigational incident, the wandering livestock, the chagrined driver, the irate farmer, and asked if I’d seen any unattended farm animals. He seemed less concerned about welfare and more about the repercussions of transport stupidity. I stifled my own smirk and equally carefully responded that, notwithstanding my personal philosophy that one creature cannot be owned by another, I had not seen any domesticated animals owned by any local livestock farmers wandering about unattended. There was no comedically-timed oinking off-stage, but I feel it would not have changed anything. Still smirking, Bill issued the standard advice to call him rather than approach any such individuals, and set off back down the hill, to visit the houses on the other side.

I returned to the back kitchen conference, where Angus had just been struck by inspiration. A land owner over towards the Cairngorms had recently established a herd – if that is the correct collective noun – of pigs to roam about certain areas of his estate, performing land management functions such as thinning out scrub and saplings from the wooded areas and churning the boggier soil to increase the diversity of wild flowers.

Fairly soon we met Trish, the land owner, approved her livestock-conservation experiment, shared ethics and thankfully found Penelope would be welcomed as the member of that herd. Several visits ensued to acclimatise Penelope and gradually leave her with her new family for longer periods of time.

For a couple of weeks Penelope settled in fine. Molly visited her at weekends by charming Angus into giving her a lift on a series of pretexts. We were all happy that she was squealing less and gaining weight.

Then. The third weekend my son Nicky and I happened to go along too. I delayed the outing by some tedious domestic admin. When we arrived Jim the herd was just coming into view, so Molly was excited to greet Penelope on her return from foraging. However, Penelope was missing. Jim tried to cover his concerns. Standard procedure in these circumstances: settle the rest of the herd in their quarters safely, then head back out to search.

Penelope, bless her, we could hear from some distance. With Molly echoing, we reached a crescendo of cacophony. Jim and Nicky triangulated Penelope’s squeals to a drainage gulley surrounded by a few ancient pines. She was standing in the base of the gulley, among long grass, beside a pile of scrub trimmings, quivering with terror. The gulley wasn’t especially deep or enclosed, and Penelope didn’t appear injured, so we were baffled why she hadn’t rejoined the herd.

Molly rushed up to try to comfort Penelope. Jim and I wandered around looking for any indication of the cause. I didn’t know what I was looking for and Jim was similarly non-plussed. For once, being lifted and petted made Penelope even noisier. Any attempt to take her away produced unbearable squeals. Nicky ranged through the scrub clicking his camera compulsively and somehow the lens saw what we didn’t. Hiding, cowering under a thick bush was a smaller piglet with a darker complexion.

Molly’s eyebrows lowered just like her father’s. The obvious accusation was that Jim couldn’t count or didn’t count carefully enough. He tactfully, and with relief, pointed out that this piglet was not one of the herd.

Leaving Nicky circling Molly and the two piglets, in a kind of camera corral, Jim and I searched further. We were so thankful that we had left Molly behind when we discovered the carnage. A sow with mutilated head and limbs lay at the side of a small clearing. Several similarly eviscerated piglets were strewn nearby. I was overcome with nausea and had to walk away. Jim had a stronger constitution and could make a detailed visual assessment.

Jim told me that this massacre was not wild animals: no fox or wild cat would do such damage and leave the meat. Realising what he meant brought me another wave of nausea. The only animal that tortures other animals for amusement is humans.

We would need a vet to confirm with autopsies and we would need a trailer to recover the bodies. We collected Molly; the two piglets seemed less distressed so long as they were together. Jim quietly asked Nicky if he felt able to chronicle the massacre.

In the dazzle of shock, I found myself standing inside the fence around the pig pen, staring out across the moor. The fence wood felt less comforting than I needed; it hadn’t been enough protection. Some of the herd wandered around oblivious. Molly had taken the two piglets somewhere dark and cosy to try to soothe them. My mind homed in on one incongruity: how did a pregnant or nursing sow end up there?

When Jim reappeared, he looked horribly haggard, and was thinking along the same line: he’d contacted the three neighbouring farms and enquired carefully if they were missing a piglet. Farmers value livestock, even if only financially, and none of them were missing anything. Jim had made a joke of it, as if it was as likely, as Molly had silently accused him, that he had simply miscounted. The fact that he hadn’t mentioned multiple piglets or the sow confirmed my fears. He wasn’t ready to announce the find yet.

Livestock owners don’t misplace sows. I thought of the livestock transporter: was it possible that this sow had escaped from there? Jim thought it hugely unlikely that any pig would walk thirty miles. I called Bill Janney, the policeman, and used the same line about a possible extra piglet. Like the farmers, he had no claim. The contents of the transporter had been accounted for, apparently notwithstanding Penelope.

Whoever ‘owned’ this terribly unfortunate creature didn’t care. It appeared that the sow had been released by someone who didn’t know or didn’t care about her condition; not that her treatment was any more acceptable had she not been pregnant or nursing. We stared at each other, trying to penetrate a mindset that was entirely alien to us.

Jim surprised me by asking me what we should do. It wasn’t deference; I didn’t employ him. I think he was genuinely bewildered. All I could think was “get them, get them, get them.” I asked him if there was such a thing as a forensic pathologist vet. He knew someone at the University, and she was on her way over. She could advise who else ought to be notified, but despite the glaring wrongness of the situation, we couldn’t assess which crime might have been committed.

Jim took Helen, the specialist vet, over to the discovery site. The three of us made to go home. I expected Molly to make undeniable demands for Penelope and Peter, the new orphan, to return home with us. However, without having seen the full horror, she seemed to accept that they were in the least worst place, on condition we came back the next day.

When my husband saw Molly’s face he feared the worst. I had to elaborate some sign language until I could get him out of her hearing and explain the full details: the truth was even worse than that.

As promised, the following day we all went, lugging kilos of bruised apples from the garden, as if that could somehow make up for the trauma. Molly introduced Peter to her father, and I could see his brain forming a pun about Parma, and thinking better of it. We were so horribly nervous, trying not to anthropomorphise, yet still hearing echoes of Penelope’s cries.

Penelope and Peter have settled in together. Inseparably. It’s hard to say how well as they are both clearly different from the rest of the herd, but not isolated.

Reports were made, appropriate officials notified, investigations launched. Jim gave me sight of Helen’s report: impressively technical – I didn’t know science was so advanced in this area, but then I wouldn’t – and a straightforward conclusion. Many of the incision marks on the pig flesh were caused by dogs, most likely terriers.

The local newspaper picked up the story from the police. Right on cue local game shooting estates spluttered their umbrage at implications and bleated that they mostly used spaniels or labradors, apparently the classier hunters’ dogs. Their shrill defensiveness, rather than sharing our horror at the atrocity, said a lot. The only animal that tortures other animals for amusement is humans. And some of them train dogs to assist.

Jim is being interviewed by local radio. He has hinted that he may overstate the case in the hopes of putting the wind up somebody. Perhaps it is easier than you’d think to track the buying and selling of pigs. Perhaps the perpetrators were not local, although moving a pig is not easy. Ask that livestock transporter driver.

Ask yourself: when is butchery business and when is it barbaric?

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01/02/2019

Father Episodes

Filed under: Shorts — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Teepwriter @ 15:00

The perils of parental cohabitation: vignettes of eccentricity

Ten years ago, my father arrived for a few months. He stayed five years. He found the place comfortable? Oh no, it was “tolerable”.

——

My concern was always aroused on returning home to find my father sitting in the hall. More so if both front and back doors were fully open allowing a

30mph wind to flow unimpeded through the house, and windows ditto. He was inevitably monitoring some disaster recovery operation / resting during a more active course of same / awaiting my return to explain some destruction / awaiting same to register his dissatisfaction with my substandard domestic furnishings or appliances.

If he was sitting in the hall with the doors closed, he was awaiting the postman.

As soon as I reached the threshold, he would pronounce a well rehearsed summary.

“A blue smoke episode!” This coinage described the regular occurrence where he had commenced frying a slab of meat, become bored with waiting, wandered off, and returned to heavy smog and charcoal. This was attributed to my hob being “peculiar”.

A frequent alternate was: “your washing machine has added a tissue to my laundry, shredded it and deposited it evenly throughout the load. Consequently, in carrying the finished load through to my room, I have scattered a fine layer of bits of tissue along the full length of the hall. I have been picking them up for twenty minutes now. I’m exhausted.”

——

One time I had spent a good hour shovelling snow to clear the drive. I found kneeling more comfortable for my back as it meant less bending and lifting. When I re-entered the house after this practical but style-unconscious exercise, Father was in position in the hall, having well mulled his commentary in anticipation.

“Bad genes. … Your mother’s.” Chuckle. Exit.

Notwithstanding that pragmatism coupled with utter disregard for appearance was closer to his mode and the antithesis of other parent, the highlight was the midway pivot as he realised that the mulling had failed to anticipate the elephant trap.

——

On my return from work I was greeted by the old boy standing in the doorway with the bottom half of his trousers sopping wet.

“The showerhead got away from me.”

What he was doing in the cubicle fully clothed was never explained. (It wasn’t cleaning; such meniality was outwith his purview. In any case, his shower wasn’t dirty. The “black bits” arrived in the water, just as the layer of grey dust that rapidly accumulated on his piles of everything derived from lorries and came in through the windows. The fact that these symptoms were not expressed anywhere else in the house was ignored. More of windows anon.)

——

Early one summer morning I noticed a shimmering on the kitchen counter at Father’s end. My kitchen had been combined with a utility room by replacing the dividing wall with a ‘breakfast bar’. This allowed dual use and served as a convenient demarcation between zones: mine being relatively clean and organised; his being a total clutter of packets and jars and spills. The most frequently used were at the front ranging back to those entirely forgotten, pressed against the wall. The cupboards were already stuffed full of unused crockery and groceries he had brought with him and also forgotten about. I usually avoided looking at that end because I felt like the walls were coming in at me.

On this occasion the counter surface was moving. Among the sticky jam jars, stained cutlery, spilled sugar, splashed juice, biscuit crumbs and residual chocolate powder were ants. I peered in.

The ants were fascinating. They were actively surveying and collecting crumbs and sugar granules. Once loaded, each set off along the counter over the cupboards, around the wall, in front of the sink, under Father’s fridge, diagonally down the bin cupboard door and into the skirting by the back door. This was a well established highway in both directions, connecting somewhere beyond the door to some hidden metropolis under the slabs.

ants on kitchen counter

I felt a curious mixture of concern and elation. I was fascinated and revolted. I carefully checked my end and with relief found it all clear. Amusement recommenced. Before leaving for work I wrote Father a short warning note. I imagined him stumbling in for breakfast, his bleary eyes failing to detect small legs and antennae until they were well up his spoon arm.

Sadly there followed a chemical genocide as we were past the point of tools of dissuasion. The pied piper himself became weary of crushing them individually with a paper towel as they encroached, following their irresistible urge to climb the sugar vapour gradient. Plus I had spotted one or two intrepid explorers in the vicinity of my cupboards. Unacceptable. Still, I’m impressed by their foraging capability.

——

“The bathroom light shade has disintegrated.”

This seemed unlikely. It had been recently installed by an electrician to replace two spotlight fittings which were restricted to 60 watts each, and thus apparently insufficient for Father’s shaving activity.

The electrician had been introduced because the fusebox had blown, and continued to blow despite being reset. The fuse culprit was traced to … the lights circuit. Father had ignored the warning sticker and pushed in two 100 watt bulbs. Being incandescent, the fittings had quickly overheated, the wires in the ceiling had melted into each other, and we were lucky the loft hadn’t caught ‘light’.

I think he was after a theatre dressing room style mirror, framed by two dozen 40 watt bulbs. He made similar demands of his adjustable reading lamp and became incensed when the weight of the galactic strength bulb caused it to constantly droop.

You can understand, then, his disappointment when this new bathroom installation provided only one diffuse 60 watt equivalent CFL bulb, further obscured by a clear glass cover. He decided to ‘upgrade forthwith’ to a 100 watt equivalent bulb. Frustratingly this new bulb was larger and prevented the glass dome from reaching its holder clips. He had carefully wrestled and shoved until it shattered over the bathroom floor. Ideal place for broken glass.

——

Things became a little less humorous with the heating. This was required to be on 24 hours per day just in case the temperature should dip below 22°C. I had turned off the radiators in my rooms as the infrared radiation from his quarters was plenty. Simultaneously, and counter-intuitively, windows fore and aft were required to be ajar to allow a gentle, fresh breeze to flow through at all times. This arrangement came to my attention early on when a repeatedly creaking door kept me awake. He was unmoved by my ‘hyperbolae’ about heating the entire neighbourhood and the remarkable 80% increase in oil consumption.

In the height of summer, during a rare heatwave, from the garden I was astonished to hear the boiler fire up. I swiftly came indoors to query with himself.

“Yes. As I usually do before my shower.” And he would not budge despite persistent argument around the fact that it was actually very warm and he would be complaining about it later, a portable heater could heat just the bathroom if that was necessary, towels could be warmed elsewhere, etc. It was a habit and not to be interfered with.

——

Father was sitting at the kitchen counter scrabbling with a plastic bag of bananas. I wondered if he was having trouble opening it. But no, he liked to keep his bananas in the bag, so they could sweat for several days in the bowl. He would then notice they were brown, complain with disgust about their lack of longevity, and throw them neatly away, still in the bag.

On this occasion it was the bag itself that was cause for concern. He looked up.

“Where do your bananas come from?”

I’m interested in the provenance of my produce, and anticipated a new nugget of ethical consideration. My bananas were loose and helpfully stickered, so I reported back immediately.

“Costa Rica.”

Still scrabbling, with increasing frustration, he explained, “avoid Colombian bananas. Laced with cocaine.”

——

As usual I reversed at full tilt into the drive, stopping just short of crushing a gutter down-pipe. This cathartically expunged my last vestiges of my office tension. I noticed with alarm that Father’s parked car was occupied and its engine running. A few seconds later and our similar reckless reversing habits could have collided. Moving swiftly on, I waved to the coated and hatted phizog in the wing mirror but zero response. He seemed to be concentrating.

After about 25 minutes I noticed his car was again sitting in the drive, chugging away. Shortly thereafter himself entered the hall, removed coat and hat, and expressed surprise that I had snuck past him.

“Entertaining trip?” I enquired, imaging perhaps he’d whistled along to the post box or other local destination that took longer by car than on foot.

“I was tuning the radio.”

——

Unfortunately the entertainment value of the episodes increasingly soured. First there were several occasions when I found the freezer door had been open all night. The compressor had been powering away to no avail. The fridge was tepid. The freezer contents were soft and damp. Father had been the last to visit the kitchen for his statutory sugar-laden ‘supper’. J’accuse!

Having found the fridge at his end of the kitchen insufficient, he had commandeered the top half of mine too, and a reasonable two-thirds of the freezer. Sometimes, when lifting things out, he fumbled the fridge door and slammed it with his elbow en pirouette. This created enough air pressure within the fridge compartment to reverse the flow of chilled air from the freezer below, and, on particularly vigorous occasions, force the freezer door open. When I pointed this out, he naturally countered with “poor design”.

There were also several instances which conclusively revealed his freezer drawer jutting out and preventing the door closing. He denied any awareness. Mind on higher things.

I became tired of trying to consume all my carefully baked and frozen cakes, assorted produce and leftovers in one day. I installed a temperature alarm. The problem didn’t recur, but Father frequently swore at the continual beeping while he stood for 20 minutes with the door wide open, restocking his provisions.

——

He perpetuated an irrational war on insect invaders. He was usually more successful with stealth tactics, picking them off individually, as with the ants. Yet they had their revenge. Swatting flies often resulted in disorder and destruction around the battlefield, and many distant expletives.

The crushing of large spiders was the greatest folly, however. He would leap out of bed late at night and fall into a crouch, poised over the skirting with a carefully funnelled paper towel to absorb the blood—rather like gravy actually—and collect the carcass.

This sudden rush of activity and change of attitude from the horizontal unfortunately upset his balance. With the spider looking on, Father slowly somersaulted backward across the carpet and came to rest against the bed, woefully disoriented. Defeat was admitted pro tem until his blood pressure and proprioception returned to operational levels.

——

One morning I was surprised to find him at breakfast before me. He was already chuckling at his prepared report.

“Upon waking, I looked at the clock, which said 8AM, so I leapt out of bed. Having been through my bathroom routine, I returned to collect my supper plate, and saw that it was in fact 6AM. I shall be ahead of myself all day!”

——

Meanwhile Father’s stock control methodology became extreme ‘just-in-case’. This was ironic at the same time that mine became conversely extreme ‘just-in-time’ to reduce wastage during Father episodes or power-cuts. As my space requirement diminished, he filled any additional available fridge space. However, like the counter tops, unused packets inevitably migrated backward and coalesced like a layer of sediment beginning its geological phase.

Sometimes prompted by my complaints of noxious drippage, sometimes just from an eery sense of losing storage capacity, Father would investigate the deeper recesses of the fridge. He would find cucumbers liquified in their plastic bags, potatoes having valiantly sprouted, withered and returned to primeval slime, cheese that was no longer hospitable to mould and had desiccated to pumice. He found these discoveries hilarious.

——

If I was not present to be regaled, and he grew tired at his post in the hall, he would pen a memo. Another of his habits, retained for its perceived professional prestige, was illegible script, even in capitals. “HALL LIGHT BUSTICATED.” Appended to this was either a small alien emoticon, his self-identified caricature, or his initials, if his timeframe had lapsed and he found himself joyously revisiting the 1950s, dictating to his secretary.

Sometimes the original message would be overlaid with a different colour of scribble to the triumphant effect that he had resolved the problem. When the second colour was the grey of one of my handy pencils, this would involve considerable scratching and scoring of the paper, culminating in a barely visible complaint about the quality of my writing instruments.

——

When snow was swirling but the lights were still on, I would work from home. This included telephone conversations with colleagues. Often, in the middle of a desperately dull discussion of business process revision to ensure the capture of… by which point my forehead was resting on the keyboard with demotivation, we would be interrupted: a click, a series of beeps, and a pause with heavy breathing as the expected dialling noises failed to sound.

Once the departure from standard operating procedure had registered—the ongoing conversation not having registered—I would loudly insert my request.

“Could you possibly wait until I’ve finished?”

“Ah. Forgot you were here. Apologies.” Click.

Luckily this never happened while I was speaking to my manager, or it would have precipitated yet another discussion on business process revision to ensure that my home working environment was conducive to…

——

How he eventually came to depart is another tale of eccentric bafflement. He continues in much the same fashion elsewhere.

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