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David Robbins: Once upon a time, there was a little boy who grew up to love pigs...

There was, in retrospect, an inevitability about my love affair with pigs. The signs were there, if only I'd know what to look for.

The early seeds were planted by tales of the reckless yet heroic Three Little Pigs, with their houses of straw, sticks and bricks, a morality tale of one-off housing and proper planning.

Then there was Charlotte's Web by E B White. If you look behind all that flashy spider-who-could-write stuff, the real star is Wilbur the pig, a lovable young porcine who survives all the dangers the Zuckermann Farm can throw at him.

Soon after came a long infatuation with The Empress of Blandings, the Berkshire sow who appears in the stories of P G Wodehouse.

The Empress is the pride and joy of Lord Emsworth, whose favourite thing in life is to wander down to her sty, exchange a nod with pig-keeper Pirbright, and spend an hour scratching the Empress's back with his stick.

The sow, winner of three silver medals in the Fat Pig category at the local agricultural show, is at the centre of much of the activity at Blandings Castle.

Her rivalry with the equally massive Pride of Matchingham, owned by Sir Gregory Parsloe-Parsloe is the source of much debate.

In the course of the stories, she is pig-napped several times, most notably by the Duke of Dunstable and by the traitorous pig man George Cyril Wellbeloved.

Despite her travails, the Empress maintains a pigly dignity, grunting and foraging away. Her constitution is a marvel. Eating the entire manuscript of Galahad Threepwood's memoirs hardly gives her pause.

After a while, I outgrew these childish attachments. Fictional pigs were all very well, but you couldn't study them in their natural habitat, or smell them, or feed them, or even eat them.

More recently, I have transferred my affections to two large saddelback sows at Airfield Farm in Dundrum.

Airfield was owned by the eccentric Overend sisters, who kept it as a farm, even as the city grew up around it. It's now run by a charitable trust.

Near the entrance resides Glen, a Vietnamese Pot-bellied Pig, who is nice enough in his own way. (George Clooney kept a pig like Glen as a pet for years, and was reportedly devastated when it died.)

But the real, stomper, barn-door sized pigs are in the lower field. Myself and my daughter like to wander down to them, much like his lordship did with the Empress, and simply watch them grow. They're usually asleep, but that's doesn't seem to dim their magnificence.

The Channel 4 series My Dream Farm, in which presenter Monty Don followed various city slickers as they tried to make a go of farming, deepened my attachment to things porcine.

Many of the smallholders featured on the show kept pigs. They are intelligent, clean and, it seemed from a distance anyway, rather fun. The owners were genuinely upset come slaughter time.

I find it almost impossible not to smile when I see a pig. They were designed for humour. I find myself drawn to photos of those charity pig races. Maybe I should see someone.

My interest deepened on a recent train journey. In the seat opposite sat a well-dressed gentleman with the no-nonsense air of the seasoned traveller.

He stowed his luggage, took out his laptop, arranged his papers, and then sat back with a good magazine. I glanced at the cover. It was Pig International.

This was the Playboy magazine of the pig world. I borrowed it later, and read up on back-fat, butchery techniques and the rise of rare breeds.

Then, last week, I attended the GIY (Grow It Yourself) conference in the Guinness Storehouse. (I wasn't the only one: President Mary McAleese was there, too.)

I signed up for one of the afternoon workshops and found myself gazing at pig farmer TJ Crowe and butcher James Whelan, both Tipperary men who, by the looks of them, love their pork.

James proceeded to joint half a pig: ham, hock, ribs, loin, fillet, belly, shoulder. TJ remembered the pig: he had been butchered two days previously, aged seven months.

They exuded such a pride in pigs, such a joy in their work, such a respect for the animals they worked with, that my pig love affair was rekindled anew.

Would it be possible? Could I, in a Rathgar back garden? Just two little ones? "Pigs might fly," replied my wife.

drobbins@independent.ie

Irish Independent