Fergus Pong's Staffordshire farm is one of only three places in Europe where pigmongery is still practised, and we were delighted to be invited to a demonstration. Pong himself is a bow-legged, cross-eyed man in his late sixties, blessed with a permanent look of disgruntlement, and on our arrival he greets us with typical rustic bonhomie.
"Who the hell are you?"
We introduce ourselves and his demeanour mellows.
"Fucking townies," he growls. "Well don't just stand there frightening the chickens, follow me."
Fergus Pong's brusque manner no doubt results from his no-nonsense rural upbringing. He's been a pigmonger all his life, as was his father and his grandfather before him. His great grandfather was an accountant, but then every family has its own private shame.
In earlier times every village had its own pigmonger - horsemongers, goosemongers and dogmongers too. But now they've all but died out, save the fishmongers, the ironmongers and the occasional costermonger. Mongery, it seems, has had it's day.
"Come on," Pong harries us impatiently as he leads us to the 'monging paddock'. "I don't have all day." Clearly he's a busy man: chickens to plant, sheep to milk, that sort of thing. "I know you town folk have nothing better to do than wandering off to coffee shops and swanky boutiques, but here in the country there's a different pace of life. Now looky here - this here is what we call the 'mong stick'."
The 'this here' to which he refers is a short stick with a length of chain attached and a lethal looking spike at the end.
"We do all our monging with this. It's traditional, see. You townies with your trendy satnavs and your space hoppers and your weird sandwiches on funny bread, you don't know nothing about tradition. Well, this here mong stick was handed down to me from my father, who got it from my grandfather. Unfortunately, my grandfather had to go out a buy it, because all he got handed down to him was a set of ledgers and an abacus with half the beads missing."
"It looks lethal," we observe, and Pong instantly goes on the defensive.
"Oh I see," he says, giving us his best boss-eyed glare. "So, you've been here five minutes and already you're telling us how we should mong our pigs?"
"No," we protest, anxiously. "We were just making conversation." Pong isn't having any of it.
"Hundreds of years of tradition means nothing to you, does it?" he grumbles. "You come prancing out here in your funky trousers, spouting your lah-di-dah nonsense and spreading your urban voodoo. Well you're not in Carnaby Street now, my darlings. You see that stuff you're standing in - that's nature that is, so think on. Now, step back and let me show you a craftsman at work."
Pong pushes back his sleeves, revealing the sinewy, weather-beaten forearms of an experienced pigmonger. Grasping the mong stick firmly he begins to swing it in circles above his head. The long chain whistles as it describes a figure of eight then, with a flick of the wrist, it loops downwards and the spike strikes him squarely in the testicles. We wince.
"Is that supposed to happen?" we ask.
"Why - got a problem with it?" Pong replies in a high-pitched rasp as the tears well in his eyes.
We think it looks painful. We tell him it looks painful. "That looks painful," we say.
"Ha!" he snorts, though with some difficulty. "You would think it's painful - you with your soft, town-dwelling balls. But we country folk are made of stronger stuff... Of course, it works better when you've got a pig."
Luckily for us it just so happened that Fergus Pong had a pig. He had several of them, in fact. The one he picked out for the purpose of this demonstration was called Hamilton Squiggles: a serene and particularly intellectual looking animal, that watched disinterestedly as Pong once again started to swing his mong stick above his head.
"You see how the creature is mesmerised," says Pong. "These are mystical techniques handed down from generation to generation. You won't find this stuff in your sophisticated townie picture books, or on your newfangled iPodules. Now, watch and be astounded."
Pong chooses his moment then once again a flick of the wrist brings the chain looping downwards. Once again the spike strikes him squarely in the testicles. If the pig's expression is anything to go by, it appears he finds this highly amusing. Who would have thought a pig could grin?
"Right, I think that's quite enough pigmongery for today," Pong croaks. "That's the trouble with life on the farm - it doesn't half play havoc with your gentleman's trouser area."
"Clearly," we agree. Given that the procedure is such a stressful one, we go on to say, it's probably no wonder that it's dying out.
Pong takes offence at this, reading into it an attack on his craft. He curses beneath his breath, straightens his underwear and one of his eyes manages to fix us with a baleful stare. "You'd rather the pigs went unmonged, would you?" he challenges us. "You can live with that, can you? Hordes of wild unmonged pigs roaming the countryside, upsetting young ladies, riding around on tricycles and leaving their mess on your lawn?"
We don't want to upset him, but we feel we have a valid point to make. "It's just that we don't see what all the fuss is about. We're not really sure if we could tell the difference between a monged pig and an unmonged one. It looks like the pigs themselves are getting off lightly."
"Can't tell the difference!" Pong splutters. "Pah, you fluffy deodorised flopsies with your men's personal grooming products and your twisted ideas about interior design. I'll show you the difference." He leads us to an adjacent shed and shows us a series of pens, in each of which are two or three pigs, grunting and shuffling about quite happily. "See here - that's Gracie Shuffletrotter, she's been monged. Snuffly Crackles and Snorty McAllister III - they've both been monged. Porky Hambone, Curly Scratchit and Snouty Dewdrop - all monged."
"They look quite contented," we say.
"Well of course they do, brainiac, they've been monged," Pong says. "But in here..." He leads us to a pen separate from the others. "...in here you'll see a real wild, unmonged pig - Ant McPartlin."
"Ant McPartlin?" we ask.
"Aye, Ant McPartlin," he responds ominously.
"As in 'Ant and Dec'?" we enquire. "Light entertainers and presenters of popular Saturday evening game shows?"
"I shouldn't think so," Pong says. He leans over the pen. "Here," he says to its occupant. "Have you been presenting popular Saturday evening game shows?"
"What did he say?" we ask when the animal grunts a reply.
"Nothing," says Pong. "It's a chuffing pig."
Curiously, we peer into the pen. It is indeed a chuffing pig, and not a diminutive Geordie celebrity. What's more, it looks exactly like the others, and we point this out.
"Well, you're frigging townies, aren't you," Pong replies dismissively. "I wouldn't expect you to be able to tell the difference. But you'd have another think coming on the other side of your face, and woe betide, if you walked into your local butcher's and you were attacked by a sausage."
We ask him if that is something that is likely to happen. He is forced to admit that it isn't. But he insists that the tradition of pigmonging needs to be upheld.
"Listen, we've already lost too many of our customs," Pong says. "Spiderbaiting, cuckoo spitting and porkromancy have fallen by the wayside, and duck felching is now only practised in East Anglia. We have to protect this tradition."
"Even if it means the constant damage to your trouser furniture?" we ask. "Why enslave yourself to tradition if all it leads to is a repeated assault on your equipment? Perhaps there's a better way of doing it; a less painful way? After all, just because something has been done like this for generations, it doesn't mean it can't be improved upon."
Pong listens to us patiently, then dismisses it as 'typical townie talk'. Our time with this cantankerous one-dimensional comedy stereotype is at an end, but as he escorts us back to our car, he can't resist one parting shot.
"No wonder your streets are overrun by electric chip shops, twenty-four hour snooker emporia and secondhand fruit importers," he says. "You've no feeling for the old ways. Oh yes, we all want progress, don't we, but what happens to our heritage? So, thank you but you can keep your fancy new flushing toilets - we'll just keep crapping in the yard. And as for your fashionable vaccines, I don't think so. We'll keep dying of smallpox and tuberculosis, just as nature intended. And if upholding the ancient tradition of pigmonging means that I've got to keep taking a pounding in the crackers, then so be it. I'll just have to grit my teeth, brace myself and bear it."
And now, the same fucking joke, but this time about chickenmongers. Fergus Yolk's Lincolnshire farm is...
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