An unforgettable, slapstick story of what happens when two tiny porkers move in on family life.
Paris Hilton carries one around like a Chihuahua, while Posh and Becks own a pair. The mini-pig, for reasons unknown, has become the latest celebrity accessory, but what's it really like to invite little livestock into the living room?
Matt Whyman, a successful novelist, enjoys a quiet writer's life in the English countryside ... until his career wife, Emma, discovers the existence of a pig said to fit inside a handbag. She believes not one but two would be a perfect addition to the already diverse Whyman clan, which includes one wolf-like dog, a freaked-out feline, their wild bunch of ex-battery chickens as well as four challenging children. In reality, nobody could anticipate the trials and misadventures two riotous, raucous little piglets could bring. From turning Whyman's office into a literal pigsty, stealing his spot on the family sofa to trashing his neighbour's garden while drunk on fermented apples, Butch and Roxi swiftly establish themselves as "animals of mass distraction."
Funny, touching and endlessly entertaining, Oink charts the battle of hearts, snouts and minds between a family man and two mini-pigs. Will Butch and Roxi ever settle down, or could their growing presence put the squeeze on Whyman in ways he never thought possible?
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Simon & Schuster
September 01, 2011
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Excerpt from Oink by Matt Whyman
On Children and Animals
Ever since she was a little girl, Emma always wanted a big family. She gave me plenty of warning. We were at primary school together, after all, though we didn't start dating until our twenties. By the time we got married, I knew she had plans to go beyond the national average when it came to having kids.
I took the view that three girls were quite enough. Emma countered that we needed a boy and on that basis pushed it to four. I don't like to think what would've happened had we produced another child ready-made for pink hand-me-downs. Privately, my joy at the birth of a son was also fueled by a massive sense of relief. At last, my job was done. I also knew just who to turn to in order to retire on a permanent basis.
Our doctor divided opinion. Some considered him to be a medical pioneer. Others marked him down as a psychotic self-harmer. When I learned that he had been the first man to perform a vasectomy on himself, I just crossed my legs and expressed disbelief. Why anyone would want to go there was beyond me. I figured it must've taken a heroically steady pair of hands or a huge intake of drugs. Either way, he had gone on to become evangelical in providing a walk-in-hobble-out service from his office. Had anyone conducted a straw poll in the neighborhood, I doubt they would've found a father of 2.4 children capable of producing any more. I had only escaped the doctor's clutches because Emma went to great lengths to shield me from him. For quite a while, I wasn't allowed to be ill. If I'd needed antibiotics, I reckon Emma would've faked the symptoms herself in order to get me the treatment. As far as she was concerned, I was not going to be another statistic in the doctor's fertility cleansing program. But as soon as he was assigned to our son's first antenatal home visit, something Emma hadn't foreseen, I think even she knew the game was up.
Within weeks of Frank's arrival, I prepared to be put out to pasture. Leaving Emma in the waiting room, unusually subdued as she leafed through a magazine recipe for plums past their prime, I took steps to do the right thing. Our doctor needed Emma's written consent for this, which she provided without a word. Even so, before the swelling had subsided, it became clear to me that, in her view, such a simple procedure would have far-reaching consequences. She didn't make me feel guilty. Far from it. I received tender, loving care and cups of tea while I recovered. I just knew from the look in her eyes that it was a loss she suffered more than me. Having known Emma from an early age, I knew that her need for a sizable brood stemmed from her experience of growing up. Her childhood home was not a happy one, and much of this was down to her father. A closed individual with a difficult upbringing, he was a man who found it hard to connect with those who looked to him for love. His wife and two daughters saw the good in him, but he just did not know how to show it unreservedly. Instead, he escaped into a solitary drinking habit that would come to overshadow his life. Emma's mother did her best to cover for him, but their relationship took its toll on her health. Her slide into a fog of medication, along with periods of absence as work became her means of escape, left Emma and her younger sister to spend their formative years with front-door keys around their necks.
I remember being envious of her independence. Emma could pretty much do whatever she pleased. In my eyes, unaware of the bigger picture, she was the true definition of a free spirit. It was only later that I realized she viewed my kind of background as something she would have liked to experience for herself.
Emma's most vivid childhood memory is of screaming in the street, age five, because she had woken up one morning to find that her parents were nowhere to be found. I, on the other hand, can barely recall a moment when I was home alone. My mother worked for the National Health Service as a part-time physiotherapist, fitting her hours into a school day. It meant she was always there for my little brother, sister, and me, while my dad was a BBC engineer and the kind of greenbelt commuter who would come home to find supper on the table. Naturally, I didn't fully appreciate the stability at the time. Nor did I seize the opportunity to use it as a springboard into the world. I was a bit of a worrier when it came to taking on new challenges, while Emma was forthright and unafraid to stand up for herself. In a way, we were drawn together by what each of us lacked in ourselves. It had worked well over the years, and despite my wife's instinct to keep building the family she'd missed out on as a girl, she did agree finally that going to five was, well, insane.
"I can't help how I feel," she reasoned, "but I'm sure I can channel it into something other than more babies."
In short, with the offspring ticked off the list it was time to take on some animals. There was only one obstacle to this newfound need. As we were crammed into a three-bedroom terrace in London's East End, one of which I used as an office, we had no room for anything other than ourselves. For a time we kept a couple of goldfish. Unfortunately, we rarely saw them. Despite my best efforts, the walls of the tank became increasingly caked in a stubborn film of algae. Every now and then, one would swim close enough to the glass for us to be reminded of their existence. Eventually, they came up for air and never went down again.
In some ways the fate of the fish came close to mirroring our financial situation. Several years earlier Emma had given up a good career to return to full-time motherhood. I kept the roof over our heads and put food on the table by writing books for children and taking what freelance journalism I could find. But with the increase in the number of mouths to feed, I began to struggle. We were OK: happy, but totally cash-strapped. So, when Emma was offered the chance to reignite her career on a parttime basis, the decision was largely driven by a bid to avoid living out of Dumpsters. That the job was outside London proved another draw. Here was our chance to raise our children in a rural county, but one that was not so far away from the capital that they'd be freaked out by things like neon signs and elevators. One final thing persuaded me it was time to move on. I discovered that the youths who frequently parked their cars outside our house and opened up silver foil wraps on their laps weren't, as I thought, eating sandwiches. As Emma informed me when I made the observation, in front of her mother and toddler group, they were in fact dealing crack cocaine. With her job offer on the table, it didn't take long for us to agree that it was our chance to relocate to the countryside.
"If we sell this house we can just about find something with a yard," suggested Emma. "The kids could even keep a rabbit outside."
I wasn't resistant to the idea at all. As I worked for myself, it meant I could juggle my hours between writing and being a house husband. Privately, I knew we could do a bit better than a bunny. From my childhood experience of looking after one, I just remembered rabbits to be high on maintenance and low on reward. By the time we left the city behind, I had set my sights on something more robust.A Real Man's Best Friend
A dog made perfect sense. This became quite clear to us within a week of moving. We had fallen for a place on the edge of woods in a ragged region of West Sussex. It was on the crest of a lane leading out from a village, with a few houses peppered sporadically on each side. The property was badly run down with a scrappy, overgrown lawn, all of which made it affordable. In fact, the whole purchasing procedure was fairly straightforward on account of the owner being deceased. Unoccupied for eighteen months, it was one of those places where the interior space and location ticked the right boxes--the sense of abandonment was something we just had to see beyond. Having no curtains didn't help. Nor did the fact that we were miles from any streetlight. If Emma and I were going to sleep soundly at night, we needed something to protect us from what we regarded as major threats to our safety: the darkness and the silence.
After ten tranquil years of inner-city living, every sundown over the trees here felt like a remake of The Blair Witch Project, and so it was agreed that a canine companion would serve a useful purpose. Emma and the children campaigned for a labradoodle. I didn't see how something that camp-looking was going to grant us peace of mind. Knowing I would be the one to walk it, I argued for a real man's best friend. I couldn't face taking out a curly-haired hybrid--that screamed wrong. I wanted something noble, upright, and strong. I just wasn't clued up enough about dogs to know which breed would fit the bill.
The answer came that summer, during a camping holiday in France. We were on a beach, fooling around with sandcastles, when a white wolf emerged from the pine trees that pinned the shore to the sea.
"Get back to the tent and zip yourselves in!" I ordered the children, hefting a plastic spade in my hands as if it would protect me from rabies. "No sudden movements. Just take it very easy!"
For a moment, I watched in awe as the creature loped down the beach. As soon as I spotted the collar around its neck, I realized that I was in fact looking at a domestic dog of some description. I had just never seen anything so formidable in my life. With its square-cut muzzle, arching ears, muscular haunches, and sloping tail, it really did look like something from a fairy tale. The dog's presence was certainly enough to turn heads among the other vacationers. Admittedly, I didn't see anyone else usher their family to safety. On turning to check mine was out of harm's way, I realized they had merely gravitated toward their mother for protection.
"Stand down, soldier," said Emma. "It obviously belongs to someone."
Sure enough, the creature in question had just dropped down beside a woman on a beach towel with a cell phone in hand. Obediently, it sat there looking out across the water as if on guard for some seaborne strike. Right then, I knew that I had found my kind of dog. I just had to find out the name of the breed. The trouble was the owner in question happened to be young, beautiful, oiled, and topless. I couldn't simply go sauntering across the sand without looking like I was scoring on her. With pleading eyes, I turned to Emma.
"Oh, go on," I said. "She won't feel threatened if you ask."
"I hardly think you present a threat," she replied. "You're the one who wants to find out. Don't let me stop you."
I sighed to myself, wishing I had come to the beach wearing more than a pair of oversized, regulation Brit-abroad shorts.
"Very well," I said, sucking in my belly a little bit. "Just don't blame me if she falls for my charms."
The woman in half a bikini became aware of my presence at the same time as her dog. Only one of them growled. I could've walked on, but such was my determination that I ignored the loss of feeling in my legs and stopped before them both. I drew breath to introduce myself and my innocent reason for coming across. What prevented me was the fact that she still had the cell phone pressed to her ear. Backing out was not an option. That would've been weird. All I could do was stand there and wait for her to finish the conversation. I had hoped she would take just a second or so to close the call. When a minute passed, it felt more like a millennium. While she focused on the sand and did her level best to ignore my presence, the dog simply stared at me with baleful eyes. As for me, I just did not know where to look. Every time I shifted my gaze, somehow it felt like I was trying to sneak a crafty glimpse of her breasts. Even admiring the clear blue sky felt like an invasion of her privacy. Eventually, to my great relief, she snapped her phone shut.
"Hi!" I said brightly, while dying inside. "I was just admiring your dog. I'm really sorry to trouble you, but could you tell me about it?"
The woman said nothing for a beat. Then, much to my discomfort, she crossed her arms to cover her chest. I even found myself doing the same thing, clasping my ribs as she did. She looked unsettled, but thankfully not alarmed. Maybe that was because the dog curled back its slack black lips and showed me its fangs.
"She's my bebe," the woman said eventually, in a heavy French accent. "A she dog."
"Is it? Right. OK. Thanks! Sorry to bother you." I began to retreat, hating myself for failing, having come so far. It wasn't exactly the depth of information I'd been holding out for, after all. Only as I turned, however, did she appear to take pity on me.
"She's a Canadian shepherd, you know? Like a German shepherd, but not so the same."
I came around full circle to find the woman had risen from her towel. She was still covering herself, which encouraged me to lock my attention on the dog. It was no longer growling now, but watching its owner move toward the water. I raised my eyebrows at the beast, as if to seek permission to follow. The dog climbed to its feet, clearly unwilling to leave me alone in her company.
"Does she bite?" I asked, on catching up with her.
Warily, the dog glanced across at me and then left me behind to pad into the shallows.
I watched the woman sink into the water. Half of me wondered whether she was inviting me to follow her. The other half that wasn't living in a total dreamworld knew for sure she was trying to create some distance. Once submerged up to the neck, she turned to face me once more. I didn't speak much French, but now I could read her body language fluently. I swapped a look with her dog. Even if I had been the sort of person with designs on her, it was clear I wouldn't get so much as a toe into the water without having my throat ripped out.
"I really just want to know about this fine animal of yours," I assured her, spreading my palms. "Really and truly. I'm here with my wife."
I gestured behind me, and then glanced around. I had assumed Emma would be watching me intently. Instead, she had returned to building the sandcastle with the kids. Evidently she wasn't concerned about my potential to seduce. I turned back to the woman in the water. Judging by her wry smile, it seemed she had drawn the same conclusion.
"OK," she said. "Ask me anything."
Over the course of the next ten minutes, despite the language barrier, I learned a great deal about Canadian shepherds. By the time we said goodbye, I was convinced that a dog like this was what we needed to protect our family.
"That seemed to go well," said Emma, when I joined her on the groundsheet. "What's her name?"
"She's a bitch," I said. "That's all I know."
Emma looked at me side on.
"What did she do? Make fun of your shorts?"
"Oh, the woman didn't say much about herself, probably for personal security reasons. But I can tell you I will be going on a mission to find us a Canadian shepherd. Apparently they're great with kids, and with none of the aggression of German shepherds."
"So why was that one showing you its teeth?"
I reached for the sunblock.
"It was doing what comes naturally. A dog like that is fiercely loyal. When the children are a bit older they could take it into the woods for a walk and we wouldn't have to worry about a thing."
As I spoke, the woman and the Canadian shepherd returned to their spot on the beach. I had fallen in love. Emma could see it in my eyes.
"You really want a dog like that, don't you?"
"It's fate," I said. "How do you feel about it?"
"It's some responsibility," she replied. "Are you sure?"
"We have so many children that we can't even fit in a normal family car," I reminded her. "How much extra work can it be?"