Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Christmas Raffle with a difference

The Pig Raffle

Between the two world wars, the local branch of the Transport and General Workers Union, of which Ernie (my Dad) was the Chairman, used to have a raffle at Christmas time to provide funds for a party for the members children.
Most years the prizes were the usual ones of bottles and boxes and so on. One year, Ernie had the bright idea of having a “pig raffle”, having in mind acquiring a piglet as the prize. “Something different” he thought. So he ordered a piglet from one of his country cousin connections.
By this time Ernie was working for the Stepney Borough Council in the Engineers Department and responsible for pay, so that apart from the members of his trade union branch he knew most of the workforce.
Three weeks before Christmas he received a phone call from the Station Master at Stratford (east London that is not the birthplace of Shakespeare) asking if he was expecting a pig.
“Yes”
“Have you got a horse and cart ?”
“No”
“Well I don't know how you're are going to get this bloody great thing home then. It took three of my blokes to get it out of the luggage van and I want it moved out of my office quick smart”
Naturally he thought that the Station Master, whom he knew, was exaggeration, so he just took the underground along to Stratford after work to collect the pig. He was still only in his thirties, and whilst no weightlifter he thought he could manage to carry a piglet home under his arm.
This was not to be. When he saw the pig sprawled on the floor of the Station Master's office he could barely believe his eyes. Afterwards he insisted that the beast was at least six foot long and weighed close to two hundred weight (two sacks of coal or over 100 kilos) He just did not know how he was going to get the animal from Stratford to Stepney and already it was gone six oclock in the evening and the Station master was pressing to know when he was going to get his office back.
He not only had to get his prize back to Wapping he would need to have it cut up and he knew that he woulde not be able to do that by himself. Whilst he knew the Stratford Station Master, he knew no one else in the vicinity that he caould call on for help, so he had no alternative but to go home and rustle up some help from there.
These days of course it would be no big deal, a quick phone call to a friend or relative and the cavalry would arrive. But folk didn't have phones at home in those days, so back on the train to Aldgate East, change and then down to Wapping. At home, just time for a cup of tea and explain to his family what was going on and out again. Mum, of course had the solution to one of the problems; ask the butcher in Watney Street to cut up the carcass in exchange for some of the cuts, after all it sounded as though there was going to be too much for the raffle anyway.
Eldest son Ernie was dispatched to Watney Street to make the arrangements with the butcher and now to find transport. Wapping was a purely residential area, there were few shops and no market so there were no costermongers living near by from whom to borrow a barrow. There was no alternative but to use a pram and hope that it could manage the weight. Fortunately on the ground floor of the buildings was a family which had had twins and still owned a larger perambulator, so this was borrowed and then the long walk from Wapping up to Stratford Railway Station. The distance was over four miles, at the end of a working day for a 5 foot two inches man who was still not convinced that the pram was going to take the weight of this enormous beast. He had visions of having to cut the damn thing in half and make two journeys, but he hadn't brought a knife let alone a saw with him. Nothing to do but to press on, taking it in turns with son Tom and a neighbour Dan Connolly, they pushed the pram all the way to Stratford resisting the temptation to go into a single pub on the way.
However, all the anxiety on that score was unnecessary. Perhaps the weight was not as much as he had thought, but with the assistance of a porter so there was one person on each corner, the pig was laid lengthways on the pram, not too much hanging over the ends and off they went to Watney Street, a much shorter distance and in the hope that the butcher was amenable. The pram survived the journey, despite much of the way being along cobbled roads- they don't
make prams like that any more.
The Watney Street butcher was quite happy with the proposed arrangement to cut up the carcass and keep it in his cold room until the day of the raffle.
The raffle was a big success with far more prizes than usual and despite urgings in later years, this was to be the one and only pig raffle.

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