Making ends meet is becoming increasingly tough for farmer Fergus Pong. Mounting competition, shrinking profits, roving packs of mutant carrots and a man called Billy who lives in his airing cupboard have meant that he must use every trick in the book just to stay in business. So when I heard that Mr Pong had hit upon an innovative new way of turning a profit, I invited myself down to his Staffordshire farm to take a look.
"You can't park yer shitty hatchback there," he welcomed me with typical joviality as I pulled up outside his charming, rustic farmhouse. "You'll put the chickens off layin'. I ain't joking. Go and stick it over there behind that mound of crap."
Mr Pong looks every inch the typical farmer with his ruddy, shit-flecked complexion, piggy little eyes and reeking trousers held up with fraying parcel string. He leans back against some weirdly exotic sculpture of rusting farm machinery and watches as I move my car then gingerly squelch across the farmyard to greet him. The sensation of cold sludge gradually seeping over the tops of my loafers is probably one of the most unpleasant things I have ever experienced. "Sorry," I apologise. "I'm not really dressed for this."
"Aye," he agrees. "Bit of a twat, aren't you?" And as he speaks a distressingly energetic border collie suddenly streaks around the corner, bounds up to me playfully and sinks its teeth into my leg. "Looks like rain," Mr Pong adds, seemingly unperturbed that I now appear to have formed an extraordinarily painful symbiotic relationship with his dog. "Come on then," he says. "Let's take you to see the livestock before it turns nasty." And he waddles off down the farmyard.
I'm in no state the waddle anywhere, seeing as the dog sticking out at right angles from my shin shows little sign of releasing its grip. I call out to Mr Pong and ask him ever so nicely if he could arrange for my release, and through my tear-filled eyes I see him turn and scowl at me in disgust.
"You ain't never seen a doggy before?" he says and he shakes his head, dislodging a cascade of straw, mud and assorted parasites. "Gone out of fashion where you come from, I s'pose. I 'spect you go in fer more exotic pets - chinchillas and geckos and snakes and all them bollocks."
I'm aware that my strength is ebbing and that the prospect of remaining conscious is rapidly receding, but I summon up the strength to explain that the dogs I have previously encountered were less familiar with the taste of human flesh.
Mr Pong shakes his head once more and again the delicate ecosystem that has established itself in his wiry hair is rent asunder. "All right then, Julian," he says to the dog. "You can put the gentleman down now. You can play wi 'im later."
At this the animal casually releases my swollen limb and merrily trots off to find something else to attack. After examining my tattered trousers - and my only marginally less tattered leg - I express my gratitude, and then opine that 'Julian' seems a strange name for a dog.
"Well it's a very strange creature," Mr Pong tells me, sounding slightly offended. "Have you ever seen a dog that could ride a bike?"
"Your dog can ride a bike?" I answer, a little startled.
"No," says Pong. "I just wondered if you'd ever come across one." And he shuffles off. "Well, are you coming or not?" he calls, and I limp after him.
We amble down the track, past a few farm building and a gently steaming pile of manure, along by a feed store and a skip full of dung, past a big tank of slurry and on towards the cow sheds, which lie just beyond a stack of dried excrement. You might be forgiven for thinking that crap is all that Mr Pong produces. In fact, some people might suggest that you could form that opinion even without the benefit of visiting his farm - but I am not one of those people. I know that Mr Pong has a more lucrative line of business, and as he slides back the bolt and swings open the battered steel door I can't help but feel a thrill of anticipation at what I am about to witness.
"Bankers," Mr Pong announces with pride.
"Good - " I start to say, but the remainder of the sentence emerges as "Arrrrgh!" and various other exclamations of that nature as I feel a sudden sharp pain in a certain private area at the top of my leg. I instructively twist around to find a large, dirty white bird, flapping and bucking as it manoeuvres to tighten its hold on my vulnerable flesh.
"Get it off! Get it off!" I shriek. "Get this mental turkey off my arse!"
"That ain't no turkey," Mr Pong says casually. "That there's a goose. They make very good guard dogs. You want to get yourself one."
"I seem to have already acquired one and it's trying to kill me!" I cry. Looking over my shoulder I find myself staring directly into its eyes as it glares back at me malevolently. Well, one eye glares back - the damn thing is cross-eyed - the left one pointing lazily up into the sky - but the frenzied bastard fixes me with a terrifying look of concentration all the same.
"Don't be bloody ridiculous, you soft tit," Mr Pong sympathises. "Nobody ever died from a peck on the arse - except maybe my Aunt Olive, but then we all knew that Uncle Barry was a strange man. Now, my Uncle Jack, on the other hand -"
"I couldn't give a flying fetid fuck about your Uncle Jack, or your Aunty Barry or any other member of your inbred mutant family, just get this fucking duck off my arse."
Mr Pong falls silent. On some level I realise I that I have offended him, although I remain too preoccupied with my current predicament to give it much thought. Mr Pong grumbles beneath his breath then claps his hands smartly. "Alright there Mary, that'll do," he says. "Go on in, Masterchef will be on in a minute."
The goose releases its grip, turns and heads off in the direction of the farmhouse, but not before offering me a rude gesture.
"Not very good with animals, are ye?" says Mr Pong.
"Not very good!" I exclaim. "As a matter of fact I am quite good with animals, as a rule. But then, as a rule, the animals that I tend to encounter in my day-to-day existence don't immediately try to remove chunks from my person. I mean, what did I do to offend it? I'm not pursuing some vendetta against bird-kind. I've got a bird bath in my back garden. I feed the pigeons at lunch time. I have even been known to make a special trip down to the river to throw bread to the ducks, so why should the retarded creature suddenly take against me?"
Mr Pong shrugs. "Maybe you looked at it funny?" he offers, oblivious to the fact that the sneaky creature goosed me from behind. "Now, do you want to see these bastards or not?"
By bastards Mr Pong is referring to his bankers, of which he has a herd of about thirty. I peer into the shed and all thoughts of bird strike are banished as I marvel at these magnificent creatures, milling around in their creased business suits, chattering away to each other via iPhones and Blackberries.
"Astonishing!" I breathe. Thanks to government subsidies and tax breaks, farming bankers is now a much more lucrative business than raising cattle. "Are they easy to keep?" I ask.
"Well I don't know about that," Mr Pong says. "They don't half make a racket during the night, and they can be quite fussy about what they eat, but I suppose clearing up the shit is marginally better. They can be quite boisterous though. You have to take a firm line with them." No sooner has he said this than he raises his shotgun, takes aim and fires. I instinctively turn away. When I look back I see a young investment banker lying on the floor, a widening circle around him as the others gently move away from his still twitching body.
"Yes, I see," I say sombrely. "I suppose that one had turned rogue, yes?"
"No, no really," says Mr Pong. "I just didn't like him. You see, they've all got personalities of their own. Some of them are vicious, some quite playful, others timid and shy, but they are all fucking irritating."
I nod sagely. "And what about that one?" I ask, pointing to a large silver male sitting at the back, wearing a pink tie and red-rimmed spectacles.
"Ah, well that's the pack leader," says Pong. "He came into his prime during the eighties, hence the distinctive markings."
"So they live quite long then?" I ask.
"If you let 'em," Pong replies. "We used to butcher them when they were quite young."
"For the meat?" I ask.
"For the hell of it," says Pong. "But the novelty soon wore off. Now we keep them for as long as possible."
"You don't sell them?"
"Christ no," says Pong. "Who would buy them? No, as long as we hang on to them the hand-outs just keep rolling in."
"Sounds like an ideal situation," I venture, but Mr Pong is doubtful. He is increasingly of the opinion that these bankers are more trouble than they're worth, and this is why he is branching out. He takes me to a small annexe away from the noise and the smells of the bankers, and bids me speak softly as he shows me the contents of a small pen. There, curled up asleep on the straw is a baby accountant, fresh from having completed its very first tax return.
"Now these things are much less trouble," says Pong. "Just give it an abacus and a set of ledgers and it's as happy as a lamb - which is more than I can say for the lambs since we started feeding them to the bankers."
I learn from Mr Pong that although the financial advantages may not be realised for some time, a fully grown adult accountant will still fetch twice as much as the average cow, and nearly three times as much as an advertising accounts manager or office supervisor. But according to Pong the real money is in charity fundraising consultants.
"That's the luxury end of the market," Pong explains. "Course, they're very expensive - it usually costs about six or seven times as much to keep them than they actually raise, but a lot of charities really go for 'em. It's a status thing, you see and they're prepared to pay through the nose for 'em"
However, this is as nothing, Pong says, compared to what he believes will be his greatest money spinner. He calls it the ultimate cash cow and after a moment or two of reticence he agrees to take me to see it. We cross the farmyard, past a lopsided tractor with one wheel missing, to a low concrete blockhouse partially hidden behind a silage tank. There is a high fence around it and as Mr Pong fertles in his pocket for a key to the padlocked gate, my excitement mounts at the prospect of what I am about to see. I've heard the rumours: a cutting edge breeding programme using an estate agent, a health and safety officer and a radio disc jockey. What kind of creature could result from such a union? What things might it be capable of? Who would want it?
I would not find out. As Pong swings open the gate a dark shape leaps from a nearby roof, bowls me to the ground and sinks its fangs into my shoulder. I shriek as I roll around in the mud, howling in pain as I try to escape this maniacal creature. I finally manage to get enough leverage to prise its jaws apart. I hurl it bodily into a nearby corrugated iron wall. It ricochets from it with a dull clang and finally I see the creature for what it is: a piglet - short, stocky with tufts of dark wiry hair sprouting from its pink body, foaming at the mouth, its eyes gleaming with murderous rage.
"Why do all your animals want to kill me?" I shriek, as the beast recovers and rushes me again. I scramble to my feet just in time to aim a savage kick at its head. Its reactions are too quick and it catches hold of my shoe and twists my leg. I scream in agony. Something has to give. Fortunately it is my footwear rather than my foot. Separated from my shoe I decide that this battle is not worth fighting and make a run for it. The mad porker is, thankfully, too preoccupied with my shoe to react instantly and I am able to reach the road before I hear it behind me, snorting and snuffling, its trotters beating the soft ground as it tries to catch up. But I'm far enough in front to reach my car. I tear open the door, dive in and slam it hard behind me; hard enough, in fact, to send a tremor through the huge pile of manure next to which I am parked. There is a low rumble, then the car rocks and suddenly gloom descends as the whole pile comes crashing down on top of me.
I sit in the darkness, and over the sound of my own laboured breathing I hear my latest assailant scratching and scrabbling as it tries to reach me. But it can't. I'm safe. Moments later I hear Mr Pong's muted voice. "Ain't you never seen a piggy before?" I think I hear him say. The words are indistinct, distant, and eventually the noises die away completely.
I remain there in silence for a long, long time before I eventually dare move. I turn the key in the ignition and slowly pull forward. The car slides out of the heap like a wellington boot being pulled out of wet trifle and with a pop I'm am clear. The sky is turning deep purple. Evening is approaching. There doesn't seem to be anyone around in the farmyard, but in the distance I can hear the gossip and chatter of bankers being fed, the growls and snarls and yelps of various psychotic livestock and a deep braying sound of something dark, foreboding and which probably wants to sell me a house.
I'm cold, I'm hungry, I'm suffering from my many wounds and everything smells of shit. In short, I've had enough so I swing the car around and head back up to the main road, putting as much distance between myself and Mr Pong's mad menagerie as I possibly can.
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