Dear Readers, Thursday was the day that I had my retirement celebrations at work, and what a delight it was. I worked on a City Farm in Dundee for a couple of years when I was straight out of university – it was a place of education for children, of work for the homeless people who used the adjoining day centre, and of solace for lots of people. There’s something about contact with animals, and with the soil, that is very healing, and going to Mudchute, which is on the Isle of Dogs opposite the towers of Canary Wharf felt like a way of coming full circle, from my first paid job to what is probably my last. I was very moved that the person who arranged it had gotten things so right.
I know that you are not supposed to have favourites, and I loved all the animals that I worked with, from the cantankerous Anglo-Nubian goat who would butt every body out of the way when food was around to the over-sexed male lop rabbit who would attach himself to my wellington boot and hump away whenever I was trying to change his feed. But the pigs really won my heart. Intelligent and wily and full of character, I loved going to visit them. I was a very young person, and I was far away from home and sometimes very hung over in the early morning when I went to feed them. I would try to sneak into the farm without alerting them to my presence but the two sows that we had were often propped up on their stall wall, bawling their heads off as soon as they saw me.
On one occasion, the pigs managed to get through the two locks on their sty and to nudge the bolt on the main gate open. They then managed to make their way to the bus station, where they wreaked havoc with the buses and the passengers.. Eventually I managed to lure them home with a bucket full of chicken legs (their favourite food). Once back in their sty, I fixed an additional lock. They looked at me with an unimpressed expression. The next day, they were still in their sty but the door was open, as if to say ‘look, we can still get out if we choose to’.
The winters in Dundee are freezing, and there were never enough places in the night shelter for the men who wanted to stay there. On one occasion, I came in in the morning to find the two sows exiting their sty for their breakfast along with the notorious Dyke Leslie, something of a local homeless character. He modelled himself on The Outlaw Josie Wales from the Clint Eastwood films, and was once reputed to have stuffed a dead seagull through the letterbox of a girlfriend who’d jilted him. Anyhow, Dyke had apparently had a warm and peaceful night cuddled up with the pigs. What they thought of it wasn’t clear.
Anyhow, I loved seeing the pigs today. It was an emotional day and I feel completely drained, but also content. It was lovely to feel so appreciated, and to have time to tell the people that I’ve worked with how very much I appreciated them. It felt like a fitting finale. I couldn’t be more grateful.