Local haute couturiere : Antonia Pugh-Thomas

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Antonia Pugh-Thomas tells Jo Reynolds that pigs are easier than kids.

How long have you lived in the area?
Since the 12th of September, 2011.  When we moved into the house we didn’t have any running water or electricity but the pig area was beautiful.

How long have you kept pigs?
I’ve had them since they were tiny.  They’ll be three on the 14th of July.

What are their names?
Snout and Crackling.  They’re twin brothers.

What breed are they?
Kunekune.  It means fat and round in Maori.  Originally they were an Asiatic breed.  They’re the smallest domesticated pig in the world.  They’re what stupid people call micro pigs, but they each weigh seventeen stone.

Do they bite?
Have you not heard of the Mafia finishing people off with pigs?  We were burgled once.  The burglars broke in – saw the pigs – and broke out again.  When the boys scream, it’s terrifying, like a supersonic jet.  We reported it to the police and they said, we need to review our back security.  I said, I think you’ll find my back security has eight legs and is quite vicious.

Do you need permission to keep pigs in a city?
Yes.  I have everything I need.  There’s tons of legislation.  I have a licence to walk a pet pig in Ravenscourt Park from Defra.  And for Wendell Park.  I have to carry them with me at all times.  And I have a certificate for my house that says I’m a “legally empowered farmer”.

How do dogs react to them?
We’ve had four dog attacks, some quite nasty.  Once, the Ravenscourt Running Club had to come to the rescue.

Are you a farmer’s daughter?  Did you grow up in the country?
Absolutely not.  I was born and brought up in Battersea.  I come out in rashes in the countryside.

Do you ever let them into the house?
No.

Do they smell?
I don’t think they smell.  There are a lot of misconceptions about pigs: that they’re muddy; that they smell…

What do you do with all the muck?
We compost it for the garden and give it to our neighbours.  They leave buckets outside our door when they want some.  It’s less smelly than you’d think.  It’s nicer than dog or cat poo.  Or foxes’.

Are pigs expensive to buy?
One hundred pounds, castrated and wormed.

And the vet bills?
I vet them myself.  I buy all the drugs online.

What do they eat?  
They’re veggie.  I give them pig nuts, but they’re the only pig that can survive solely on grass.  They love the smell of grass.  They go berserk when my long-suffering husband mows the lawn.

Are you vegetarian?
No, I eat everything.

Would you eat them?
Their meat is sort of okay, but no, they’re too old.  I’d never eat them.  I love them.  Their sisters have been eaten.  Not by me.
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How long can they live?
About 10 to 14 years if treated properly, which mine are.  The other night I was reading in bed that some can reach twenty.  The look on my poor husband’s
face – I could just see he was thinking, oh my god.

Do you have other exotic pets?
I have two Labrador puppies and two rescue cats as well.

Do you see yourself as Mrs. Noah?
I like my animals in pairs.

Did you want pigs as a child?
I worked on a pig farm during the school holidays.  I found a photograph of me as a teenager in my room.  Everyone else had photos of Duran Duran and Simon LeBon, but I had photos of pigs.

Do you have children?
I inherited two children, Sam and Emily, 10 and 15, and had one myself, a daughter, Theresa, who’s 4.

What do they think of the pigs?
The older ones get a bit embarrassed that I’m known as “Mrs. Pig”, but I think it’s very good for children to learn to respect animals.

Would you rather have another child or another pig?
Another pig.  Pigs are much easier than kids.

In one word, how would you describe their characters?
Snout is boisterous.  Crackling is a pudding but if he gets angry he looks like Gordon Brown.  They’re real characters.  They’ve both acted – on television.  You can see pictures on their website.

Your day job is as a dress designer.  Have you ever dressed them up?
No.

How long have you been in fashion?
I don’t like the phrase “in fashion” because I like to think my work is timeless.  I’ve run my haute couture business for twenty years.  I dress the great and the good of Great Britain.  But I don’t do men.

Is pink your favourite colour?
No, it’s purple.

What do your clients think when they discover you’re a Lady Farmer?
No one knows I keep pigs though I imagine that some of them think, how odd that this smartly dressed woman has mud on her trousers.

Does your haute couture stand out as much as your pigs?
No, I like my clothes to be classic and stylish and go on for years like a beautiful classic car.

Were you expecting your pigs to get you so much attention?
I knew it would be weird but I had quite a long time to get used to the idea because of all the licences you need.  I had plenty of time to get ready to face the opprobrium.  But I’ve not had that much.  When I first got them, one woman in Ravenscourt Park was disgusted.  She thought I was lowering the tone.  I was really upset.  I was walking with a friend and asked her, is it because I’m wearing rubbish clothes?  No, she said, it’s because you’re walking two pigs.  I said, I’m not the one lowering the tone.  We have drug dealers on the corner of our road.

What’s the strangest thing anyone’s ever said?
One man in the park insists they’re half pig, half dog.  And I met a boy, who was home schooled – he told me pigs lay eggs.

Do you like the attention?
No, but I’ve got used to it.  I’m still a little bit uneasy about it but I come to the park very early when it’s peaceful and there are just people with their dogs.  I didn’t get pigs thinking, let’s stand out.  Most people have seen them now so it’s not so much of a freak show.  Ultimately, I’ve seen how much joy they bring to people.  People even ring on the doorbell with their kids and say, can we meet the pigs?

Thank you, Toni.  It’s been a pleasure to meet you.

You can read more about Snout and Crackling on www.snoutandcrackling.com

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