Big thank you from

Butcher and the beast

By the Rambler 30/03/01

IN 1925, when James increased his stock of pigs, the children got a bonus. Mick-the-butcher came more often. They lived a dull hum-drum life, and when Mick was coming they ran the whole way home from school in excitement. Mick lived about a mile away, "as the crow flew" and, since he came on foot, across the field, his route was indeed as the crow flew.

He was a crotchety old man, with a monopoly locally, an expert who poured scorn on any learner who sought to invade his pitch. "That yahoo" he would growl, "If you want a 'shoulder sticker' he is your man" according to Dick, an amateur was liable to puncture a ham and run the market price of a carcase, when he drove home his knife. "Sticking" a pig was a skill which no-one but Dick could do right (according to Dick). He, was always in a hurry when the weekly pork market loomed, and, as soon as he got within hailing distance, i.e., when he reached the middle of the front-field, he was guldering, "Hi, Jammy, have ye the water boiling?"

The water was always boiling, actually boiling half-an-hour ahead of the time that Dick had said he would arrive, for the simple reason that the old boy had every pig-farmer on his pitch under threat. If the essential supply of water wasn't "plumping" he would have pulled out and gone to his next customer, couldn't wait a minute.

Dick took on "X" pigs for each Tuesday market and he worked to precision with a target of three to the hour. On arrival he headed for the piggery and in minutes he had a victim roped, i.e. a noose around each hind trotter. At the place of execution, he overturned the animal with a deft jerk and twist of the two ropes. An assistant had to move in fast, and keep the ropes taut. Then, in a flash (literally), Dick's razor-sharp knife made the kill ...cold-blooded.

While the carcase was still shuddering, boiling water was poured on and scraping (shaving) began. In minutes, every hair, or other blemish, was cleaned off, leaving the hide shining like a baby's bottom. Disembowelling also took only a matter of minutes. Cleeks were inserted in the sinews of the back feet, hooks were attached, and the hulk of pork was hoisted unto a beam erected for the purpose. By that time the waiting lads had grabbed the pigs bladder and made off to inflate it with a bicycle-pump for football purposes.

Black metal kettles were kept by every pig farmer and one of these, full of boiling water, had to be resting at Dick's left foot immediately he withdrew his knife from a stuck pig. Without the boiler in the shed, James could only have provided a chain of kettles for one pig, but with the boiler well stoked, four pigs were now no problem.

Fortunately, disease was not a problem in the mid-twenties. With his boots, puttees and overalls caked with grease and gore, Dick would have been a prime carrier. Even James' docile farm dog would have savaged the man if he had not been chained up. The squealing of pigs, and the smell of Dick's person sent not only "Carlo", but also one of the farm horses, berserk.

With four pigs "market-ready", Dick was off to the next farm in little over one hour, six shillings richer. His charge was one shilling and sixpence a skull (7½p).

Next Wednesday evening, he was back, a different personality, dressed in a clean butcher's apron, boots shining, armed with a different array of instruments, ready. to cut up one pig and put the pork down to cure in a large wooden tub, smothered in salt and saltpetre. This time, he was urbane, chatty and in no hurry. The heat was off, and he even stayed for a feed of fresh pork chops.

Ulster Star