The circumstances in which I first heard the legend of the golden pig were oddly similar to those of the Sermon on the Mount. Crushed in a multitude, I followed a beardy man up on to a hillock, and sat down and listened to him speakâ€¦ well, more or less. There were two or three of us, rather than a heaving mass of humanity, it was a flat field, not a hillock, and we did not listen to a beardy man speaking to us directly but to the disembodied voice of a woman, broadcast from a radio set perched on the back of a farmerâ€™s cart. The voice belonged to the Woman Of Twigs, the radio set was pneumatic, and the cart belonged to mad Old Farmer Frack. It was his field we gathered in, and it was partially flooded.
There was no sign of the horse we assumed must have pulled the cart into the middle of the field. Old Farmer Frack only had one horse, named Desmond, so it was likely he had led it off along the lane to the fruit and nut market. It seemed he planned to leave the cart in the field for some time, for its wheels had been removed. I had seen the cart before, so I knew that they were the big wheels of Motown, to where, at a guess, they were being returned. There were wheels within wheels, too, and it had to be assumed they were also bound for Motown.
My companions and I found a patch of field relatively free of puddles and crouched in the muck to listen to the voice of the Woman Of Twigs. It was hard to tell whether it was a live broadcast or had been pre-recorded, and the reception from the pneumatic radio set could have been better. Buffeting winds howling across the flat landscape caused interference, and we had to take off our densely-knit waxed woollen hats and prick up our ears. We were glad about the winds, though, for they kept spinning the sails of the windmills on Pang Hill. Unlike the windmills of your mind so memorably sung about by Rex Harrisonâ€™s son Noel, the Pang Hill windmills were proper windmills, and on days when the air was still and their sails creaked to a halt there was something ineffably sad about them.
Ineffably sad, too, was the cracked and desolate voice of the Woman Of Twigs as she told the legend of the golden pig, which was what we had come to the field to hear. Old Farmer Frack had sent out a circular a fortnight earlier, to announce this cultural event. It was a welcome interruption to the unremitting tedium of our rustic malaise, as thrilling in its way as the visit of the travelling cinematograph the previous year, when we had been treated to a showing, in a different but no less sodden field, of the first and second reels of Ivan Reitmanâ€™s classic picture My Super Ex-Girlfriend.
It was a mystery how mad Old Farmer Frack found the resources to provide us with such entertainments. He appeared to spend his entire time driving his bellowing cows from field to field, pointlessly, bellowing as he did so, but obviously there was another side to him which we did not see. It was hard to imagine him brokering deals in the offices of media moguls, his huge ox-like frame squashed into a tubular steel executive seating pod, poring over spreadsheets, but we supposed it must be so. The Advanced Powerpoint Presentation Skills Certificate nailed up on the side of the cow byre and laminated to protect it from rainstorms was evidence that Old Farmer Frack had an inner management pointyhead to whom he occasionally gave vent.
The same could not be said of the Woman Of Twigs. She seemed to hail from an entirely other world, remote and ancient and savage. I once read an exciting, and completely comprehensible essay in The Very Difficult Journal Of Postmodernist Impenetrability entitled â€œPippy The Pony And Twee Transgressive Hermeneutics In Narratives Of The Otherâ€, hoping that I might gain some insight into the frankly bewildering nature of the Woman Of Twigs, but I was disappointed. The laugh-a-minute text, or discourse, had nothing in it to help me understand a weird, immensely tall crone draped in a burlap shift, with countless twigs stuck in her mop of matted ghost-white hair. My time was not entirely wasted, however, as the essay contained an astute and devastating analysis of Rawson Marshall Thurberâ€™s film Dodgeball, which I hope to see one day if Old Farmer Frack is able to bring the travelling cinema back to one of his fields.
I was mildly perplexed that the Woman Of Twigs had chosen not to appear in person to tell us the legend of the golden pig. Until recently she had been a familiar sight in our bucolic paradise, tottering about by the horse-trough or standing majestic and windswept in the middle of the moors. Certain spiteful gossips put it about that she had taken the Murdoch shilling and was due to host a breakfast-time chatshow on Sky. I hoped that was not true, and it indeed turned out to be a falsehood, for which those responsible were tethered to a cement block on the village green and beaten with cudgels. Old Farmer Frack rented out the cudgels himself, which showed yet another side to this surprisingly kaleidoscopic mad old man. It remained the case, however, that no one had seen hide nor hair nor twig of the Woman Of Twigs for weeks. Where she dwelt had always been an unfathomable mystery, so it was not a simple case of bashing her door down and clamping a bleeper round her ankle as we would normally do with aged solitaries.
Still, crouched in the field listening to the pneumatic radio blaring and crackling from Old Farmer Frackâ€™s cart, it was good to hear her voice. I was unfamiliar with the legend of the golden pig, and I thank my lucky stars that I was not told it when I was tiny, for it is without doubt the most absolutely terrifying story I have ever heard.