The Pig

The exercise was not without merit.
There was only one fatality—but then war is hell.
Napier turned a profit for the benefit of the soldiers' messing account.
And Mrs Middleditch was never the same again.

By: Sustainer
British Army Review, No. 71, August 1986

The list of functions that the Regiment planned to hold during the Christmas period was daunting in the extreme. They ran the full range from the Rugger Club dance, through the Corporals' Mess 'Smoker' and the Warrant Officers' and Sergeants' Mess Draw to the Officers' Mess Ball. The 'All Ranks' Dance was to he held in the gymnasium, the Saddle Club Buffet Supper in the YMCA and the Civilian Staff Party was planned for the Garrison Study Centre. Wherever there was room for two or three to gather together a party was to be held.

Lieutenant Napier was responsible for catering for them all.

Napier considered the list of functions on the sheet before him and patted his pockets for a cigarette. Not finding one he looked up hopefully at his Master Chef who, avoiding Napier's eye, slid his own cigarettes and lighter across the desk and out of Napier's reach.

"Christmas starts on 1 December and ends in about Mid March next year," pronounced Napier gloomily: not having a cigarette to console him, he worried a finger nail. SQMS Horsefall examined the offending list and, nodding his head, said.

"Not only is there one hell of a lot of extra work here but the frustration is that a great deal of it is repetitious. F'instance the Sergeants' Mess want a cold buffet, so do the Saddle Club, so do the Guild of St Helena and the Townswomen's Guild and the Officers' Mess and so on. I'm going to have to produce game pics for them, all. They will all want 'centre pieces' and it's those that take up so much time."

Napier nodded in agreement. The Warrant Officer continued.

"Now the game pies, for example, have got to be fresh otherwise they won't be at their best. The same is true of all the other buffet items like the Salmon and Venison. But the centre pieces are a different matter. We don't expect them to be eaten Napier nodded quickly and interrupted "OK, why not take up several centre pieces that we can use throughout the Christmas period. We can ring the changes and no one will be any the wiser. We can …" he added slowly "… bill them all for everything, thereby keeping the old account in good nick."

Both heads were nodding metronomically as they considered the task in more depth. Napier worried his nail. Horse-fall wanted a cigarette but he was damned if he'd offer the seventh of that day to his officer knowing that it would not only be accepted but that it would not be reciprocated.

"What we want is a Pig," judged the SQMS.



"What sort of Pig?"

"A suckling Pig."

Thus the stage was set for the ghastly events that followed.

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At a local farm several days later, the suckling pig. an endearing little fellow, was selected whilst still on the pap. The piglet was a dirty pink colour and covered in a fine silky down, of the quality normally found only upon chins of Second Lieutenants. He squeaked and squealed as he gambolled innocently in his sty.

"He won't make as much noise as that with an apple in his mouth" remarked the SQMS leaning on the side of the sly in an appropriately bucolic manner.

"We'll take him" said Napier.

The next time the Catering Officer saw the pig he was dressed, the pig that is, in a smart overcoat of honey-coloured aspic jelly. His eyebrows, ears and the line of his snout were all accentuated by carefully cut pieces of truffle and egg-white arranged in a mosaic pattern. He looked quite beautiful in death, albeit a little uncomfortable with a 'Cox's Orange Pippin' jammed between his bicuspids. His tail curled at a jaunty angle and in this the SQMS took a modest pride because, as he explained to his young soldiers. roasting a suckling pig is not easy and he who can cook it correctly but at the same time prevent the tail burning in the process, scores maximum points, passes 'go' and collects £200.

The suckling pig was magnificent.

The Corporals' Club, first on Lieutenant Napier's list, was delighted with its buffet upon which the suckling pig took pride of place. Suggestions that the pig should be cut were met by the cooks behind the buffet with cold humourless stares. Corporal Carstairs poured scorn upon a fellow member of the Corporals' Club who had asked for "just a slice" by saying: "This pig's for lookin' at not for eatin'."

It was rather a shame that the Commanding Officer's Lady did not hear the exchange, because she might then have been more accommodating later. Lieutenant Colonel Middleditch was a charming chap and was invited to all the Regiment's Christmas functions and indeed most of the Garrison functions. To the dismay of all he invariably brought his Lady. She breathed fire and brimstone and there was not a man, nor for that matter a wife, in the Regiment who did not scan the horizon each day hoping to see St George riding into town.

The suckling pig paraded the evening after the Corporals' Mess Smoker at the 'Guild of St Helena and the Women's Institute Combined Christmas Social'.

It sounds awful doesn't it?

It was.

But the suckling pig was the centre of admiration and Mrs Middleditch made enquiries about his availability.

"Well Madam I will carve it if you really insist" offered Corporal Rix helpfully, making no attempt to do anything of the sort and making it pretty evident that he never heard such an absurd idea in his life. Predictably, Mrs Middleditch agreed that it would be a shame to disturb the pig and so it soldiered on, gazing unblinkingly at the bored looking lobster artistically displayed to his front.

The Guild of St Helena and the Women's Institute were billed for a suckling pig.

They paid.

The pig was refrigerated and later that week he reappeared at the 'Rugby Club Dance'. Twas a riotous assembly and Colonel Middleditch, President of the Club, had a splendid evening. Mrs Middleditch was not 'into' rugby club dances and so gave the buffet her particular attention, She noted the suckling pig, asked for a portion, and was told that it was to be carved "Later".

The Rugby Club was billed for a pig.

It paid.

Mrs Middleditch next encountered the pig at the Garrison Hunt Club Ball', a pretentious affair to which 'everyone' had been invited save the hounds. When supper was announced in ringing tones by the toastmaster, Mrs Middleditch made a beeline for Corporal George Arbuthnot Pike who was engaged in steeling a knife behind the buffet counter.

"Ah Ah" she neighed.

George Arbuthnot Pike continued to steel his knife and thought how much his feet ached. He had an arrangement with one of the waiters and he knew a pint of foaming ale was his for the drinking just as soon as he could leave his post.

"I want some suckling pig" demanded Mrs Middleditch.

"Of course Madam, a particularly wise choice, if I may make so bold. I played a personal part in its production only this afternoon. It really is bleeding good. Oh! I'm sorry Ma'am, excellent, …" .


George Arbuthnot Pike looked round for help. The snowy figure of the SQMS hove into sight. With a yelp and muttered apology Pike legged it to the side of his leader and sought sanctuary in the all enveloping presence of SQMS Horsefall.

"She wants some pig" he hissed.

"No" pronounced the SQMS in a voice last used at Taunton by Judge Jeffreys in response to an appeal from the dock.

"Then what the hell do I say?" pleaded Pike.

Horsefall leant forward and whispered in Pike's receptive ear and the latter then doubled back to his post, almost transfixing a horsey looking gent who was approaching the buffet at full gallop from the opposite direction as if it were a five-barred gate.

"Madam, as I was saying before the SQMS sent for me, this suckling pig will be a delight and will do the sort of things to your taste buds that you only read about in books."

At this point Pike looked quickly over each shoulder in turn and gave a convincing demonstration of a man wrestling with his conscience.

"But …" he lowered his voice, his demeanour became more conspiratorial.

"But pork is, well … pork and if you fill up your plate with plain old roast pork you will not have room for the 'Coquilles de foie gras en gelee' nor for the 'Dodine de Canard Charles Vaucher' both especially created for this evening by Mr Horsefall."

By an inclination of his head, Pike indicated the Warrant Officer. The great man was patrolling the limits of the buffet acknowledging the plaudits of the horse fancying public. Suddenly, he wheeled and swooped down on Pike and Mrs Middleditch. With a gesture of dismissal be dispatched Pike and turned his considerable personality to bear with singular concentration upon Mrs Middleditch.

"Mrs Middleditch, how thoroughly nice to see you with us tonight and thank you for coming to the buffet so early. It's a constant joy to Mr Napier, myself and our soldiers that this Regiment has one or two people. who really appreciate good food. Now I last produced this for the King of Tonga when His Majesty visited Sandhurst in 1968."

As Horsefall was speaking, he had taken the plate from Mrs Middleditch's unresisting fingers and was applying to it, with great panache, a prodigious portion of what, in more prosaic parlance, would have been described as stuffed duck. It looked good, it smelled delicious.

"But …" brayed Mrs Middleditch.

Horsefall affected not to hear and moving swiftly to one side he paused for only a moment to add three slices of rare roast fillet of beef before addressing a dish of goose livers. He covered with the goose livers the last area of exposed china upon the plate's surface and then, avoiding her gaze, he thrust the plate at Mrs Middleditch and greeted the Master of the Garrison Hunt.

"General, how thoroughly nice to see you here this evening …"

Mrs Middleditch thoroughly ungruntled, or is it disgruntled, left the buffet and made her way back to her table. Over her retreating back, Horsefall and Pike exchanged a smile. Napier mopped his brow.

The following morning a post mortem was held upon the evening's events. It was decided that the pig needed to be re-dressed. His shining coat had lost its glaze and in several places it had split and had a crazed effect. He would have made an excellent spinner's wicket looking as he did.

Private Palmer was invited to try his hand at redecorating the pig and he was delighted to have the opportunity. Bubbling with enthusiasm he submitted his design to the SQMS. Horsefall made one or two minor suggestions and then let Palmer loose. Napier and Horsefall were in earnest conversation when, some forty minutes later, Palmer appeared at the office door.

"Yes Palmer?" said Napier.

"He stinks!" stated Palmer flatly.

"Who does?" interrogated Horsefall.

"The Pig."

"My Sainted Aunt" croaked Napier.

"I hope not Sir, but she would if she'd died a violent death, been covered in aspic jelly and left lying aroung in smoke filled rooms for the last ten days or so, taking time out to spend her nights in a refrigerator with miscellany of corned beef and left over baked beans" contributed Horsefall crisply, adding "Palmer, here is what you do …"

The following evening the suckling pig, despite his now being well into middle age, was in sparkling form. Palmer had done a splendid job on him and he was the Star of the 'All Ranks' Dance' held, inevitably, in the Gymnasium.

Mrs Middleditch, looking utterly repellent in an evening dress of deep Burgundy that accentuated her florid complexion and toned with the 'Tomatoes Neapolitan Style', surveyed the buffet.

"I've seen him before."

"Yes dear" replied the Colonel. Mrs Middleditch pointed dramatically in the direction of the buffet.

The Colonel looked along the line of the finger.

"Oh Palmer, … Yes, jolly good chap, frightfully good pistol shot I'm told … excellent cook."

"No No No No! … not Palmer … the Pig!" brimstoned Mrs Middleditch.

"Well dear you've seen one pig you've sen them all you know and I wouldn't like to try to tell two of them apart … now really, would you?"

Mrs Middleditch agreed with striking lack of enthusiasm, but muttered under her breath

"It's the tail, the bend in the tail."

The Paymaster who had joined the party half way through the conversation remarked to his wife in bed that night.

"That Mrs Middleditch is a strange woman, don't you think?"

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Mrs Middleditch made several further attempts during the festive season to induce someone, anyone. to serve her with a slice of suckling pig but all the cooks had strict instructions that on no account was the pig, now a popular member of the catering troop, to be touched. It called for some very fancy footwork from time to time but, when the Officers' Mess Ball took place, the pig was … complete.

The Officers' Mess Ball was the last major function in the regimental calendar and a multitude of guests had been invited. The PMC made it clear that an "aspic extravaganza" was required.

The pig was billed to make his sixteenth and last appearance.

He was past his best.

He smelled.

He was not nice to be near.

In a word he was … putrid.

But … he still looked good. His tail had the same jaunty curl and in his newest coat of aspic he was pleasing to the eye. By now eight different cooks had decorated him and he had proved to be, by any yardstick, one hell of a cost effective pig. Paid for sixteen times, he deserved a place in culinary history.

Mrs Middleditch was a trifle liverish on the day of the Ball. She had held a Wives' Club meeting that morning and one young woman had been under the incredible misapprehension that Wives' Clubs were democratic institutions in which the membership actually voted. Mrs Middleditch had had to make it clear that she was the sole arbiter of anything and everything. She was Judge, Jury and if need be Lord High Executioner. Surely everyone already knew that … what on earth was the Army coming to? You don 't have Wives' Clubs for 'fun'… really?

She snapped at the Colonel when he enquired about a clean dress shirt and followed up by warning him that she would be displeased if there was no soft tissue in the Powder Room when she got to the mess. The Colonel made a mental note and then, whilst taking a swift noggin before setting off, made a phone call. He was assured that there was some rather attractive soft paper in the ladies' loo.

The Colonel and his 'ladywife' made their way to the Mess. There had been a light dusting of snow and Mrs Middleditch demanded to be carried. Colonel Middleditch, twice decorated for gallantry, knew his limitations and declined. Mrs Middleditch was thus already furious when she reached the mess and took from the Mess Sergeant her first glass of champagne.

In the dining room Horsefall inspected, tasted, titivated, criticized and generally co-ordinated the final touches to a buffet fit to set before the Queen or, at a push, Mrs Middleditch.

The young soldiers fidgeted with their neck scarves and shuffled their feet. The Non-Commissioned Officers affected boredom and told stories of bigger and better buffets they had worked upon.

All knew that the pig was a culinary time bomb and could not be served under any circumstances.

The Mess Sergeant invited the guests to inspect the buffet and in the van came Colonel and Mrs Middleditch. There was an appreciative murmur but above it the Commanding Officer's wife could be heard bellowing at her spouse.

"Violet is an awful colour why do we have to have violet paper? Aren't you in command here? What's wrong with Pink? or Green? or Blue? or White for that matter? Why Violet?"

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The party eddied and flowed around the buffet. Mrs Middleditch for the sixteenth time looked at the pig and her conviction was absolute. It was the eyes … The pig's eyes had been replaced by two green grapes each rather tastefully decorated with a stuffed olive. They stared sightlessly into the face of Mrs Middleditch.

"It's the same pig" she breathed.

"No wonder they won't carve it. No wonder it looks the same. It is the same …"

Mrs Middleditch turned on her heel, walked over to the group around her husband and pointed back toward the buffet.

"I know that pig."

The Garrison Commander blinked and the Chaplain took a deep draught of sherry. Others in the group affected interest in Mrs Middleditch's porcine acquaintances.

"Yes dear" replied Colonel Middleditch soothingly.

"It's his eyes you know, I've looked into them and they're the same … The same … d'you hear? He's following me … everywhere I go … What about his tail?"

Mrs Middleditch clutched at the arm of the person nearest to her. The arm belonged to the Chaplain and at its extremity his hand was clutching a sherry glass. The agitated grip of Mrs Middleditch caused the sherry to evacuate the glass in panic and take cover on the inside leg of the cleric's Mess Kit. Throughout the room all eyes were on Mrs Middleditch, the band which had been producing appropriate music in the background, realised it had lost everyone's attention and petered out lamely.

Mrs Middleditch pointed an accusing finger at the buffet, She was wild eyed and hysteria was only just around the corner.

"The Pig, that pig, I see him everywhere, it's his eyes. They are made of grapes you know."

She added the last sentence in a conversational tone that served to accentuate the immoderation of her earlier remarks.

Someone, and it was never determined who, said "Violet paper" and giggled. Like measles the giggle spread and within seconds the room was rocking with laughter. Mrs Middleditch looked around her, she had never ever been laughed at before. The hysteria, just around the corner, came in and joined the party.

"Shut-up, Shut-up, Shut-up all of you" she shrieked "Don't you understand? Haven't you noticed? That pig is everywhere. The tail, you must recognise the tail."

All eyes turned to the pig. Several people swore that he assumed a Georgian demeanour and for a few seconds appeared to be clad in a suit of shining armour, a lance under his right shoulder, a high mettled steed beneath him. It was only for a moment … of course hysteria affects different people in different ways. Mrs Middleditch paled to merest puce and beat the Garrison Commander on his chest. The assault was so violent that the Brigadier spilt his sherry down the Chaplain's other leg.

The evening was in chaos and even after Colonel Middleditch had led his shrieking wife away the tumult continued. In the confusion, Horsefall snorted at Rix and Palmer,

"Get that pig out of here now and dump it in the swillbin. Fill the gap on the table with the stuffed pheasant."

The partygoers were thus unable to view the pig that had been at the vortex of the maelstrom. Questioned by a member of the Mess Committee, Napier said.

"Pig? Oh! the suckling Pig? Oh yes, been taken away for carving. We do dozens of course and I know the Master Chef likes to carve them behind the scenes."

Early the following morning, behind closed doors, Lieutenant Napier, accompanied by WO2 Horsefall, spoke to his men.

"Some of you were there last night when Mrs Middleditch was taken Ah … Ah … ill. Those of you who were not will have heard about it. The suckling pigs we produced for all the various functions seem to have er … er upset her and she has formed the impression that a specific pig is following her around … I think that the least we say the better.

Now Palmer you prepared a pig didn't you? And you Corporal Rix? I fancy you did one too Sergeant Pilbeam? … Yes quite—Well as long as we all are um, um, erh …"

"Discreet" supplied the SQMS.

"Discreet" agreed Napier.

"Then there won't be any painful repercussions, if you all get my drift?"

There was a general buzz of approval and in the euphoria SQMS Horsefall offered a cigarette to Lieutenant Napier, who was able to give up the facade of feeling in his pockets for tobacco that he knew he did not have. Oddly enough, the matter of the pig was never pursued but the outburst by Mrs Middleditch was a talking point for weeks.

Just as British influence in the Far East was never the same after the fall of Singapore, so the influence of Mrs Middleditch was never the same after what became known as the 'Pig Palaver'.

Lieutenant Napier did make a substantial sum of money for the messing account, having charged for a veritable herd of swine yet having purchased only the one.

There was, as I said at the beginning, only one fatality … regrettable but inevitable. It was the pig … of course, and he was laid to rest, his epitaph an entry in the swill account.

Cost effective to the last.

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Of course, all this happened a long time ago. Such a thing could never happen today … never.