I keep hearing about it, and can hold back no longer! Peter Rabbit is 100 this Easter! Do I need to tell you how much I love those stories? I had the whole collection of Beatrix Potter tales before I can remember, and a large frieze encircling my room.
So in honour of the world's most endearing bunny, please check out the Peter Rabbit website and enjoy a few minutes of joyful innocence. Also, check out the World of Beatrix Potter, her home in the Lake District - and wait for the pair of ears at the bottom of the page!
And Now...Unless you want to be converted into a rabbit lover, then read no further.
Over 20 years later, what did I name my first wabbit? Why, Flopsy of course. Flopsy Bunny Cottontail. All our buns shared the family name of Cottontail, just like Beatrix's characters. After Flopsy came Lulu, Muffet, and Dapple.
Flopsy was a gorgeous white rabbit with red eyes. She was totally angelic, affectionate and so cute - she knew it too, and would exploit us just by sitting pretty. She was Mum's favourite.
Lulu was a really intelligent and neat rabbit, my baby completely. Mum refused to have anything to do with her because she was a biter. I used to say she wore a white shirt and gloves, cinnamon trousers, and white boots, with a splash of white on her forehead. She was my merry Dutch girl, always full of beans and forever learning stuff! Who said rabbits were stupid?
She'd get a look in her eye and I used to pre-empt her bites with "Nu-uh!" (Bunny No), and you know what she'd do? She'd hesitate while adjusting her thoughts, and then kiss the spot she'd meant to bite.
She did other non-rabbit things like climbing, shelling sunflower seeds, and chasing things on string, even standing up and reaching with her paws. She used to stretch like a cat, sit like a Sphinx, and sometimes cross her front paws like a laydee. One time, Mum was on the phone while Lulu was ready for her afternoon nap. Still intent on listening to the conversation, Lulu sat Sphinx-like and bleary-eyed, with her ears twitching and her head bobbing as she fought to keep it up. Bless her little cottontail. I used to call her my catdograbbit.
At other times she would do the bunny roll, the ultimate expression of a relaxing rabbit. From a standing position she would just knock her legs out and flop over with a bump before gracefully stretching full length along the floor. One time while my French teacher was over for dinner, Lulu did the flop right in front of her, and Trina exclaimed that she thought Lulu had just died!
Did you know rabbits waggle their tails when they're being mischievous? Seriously, they "talk back". The waggle, the ear toss, and the peep over the shoulder as they gallop off are signature rabbit cheekiness. But they can also be quite rude, by stamping their feet and grunting if they disagree with you.
We brought Muffet and Dapple home at the same time. Muffet was tiny and fragile at first, but a typical brown rabbit with the white tail and creamy belly. We called him Miss Muffet at first because he was so little and we thought he was a girl. When he was new, he would take a couple of hops and then stop to regroup, looking like a Muffet on a tuffet, hence the name. He was so frail I thought he would snap when I picked him up (once he'd grown he wouldn't let us hold him, but that wouldn't stop him from sitting in my lap and chewing holes in my clothes). Eventually he grew really sharp nails and a wild side, even down to running pure zig-zags. He was still cute to look at though.
Dapple was a mini Rex - her white velvet fur was "dappled" with grey, and her eyes were the same colour. Her velvet coat was so soft that the nerve endings on our fingers couldn't pick up the sensation, so when we touched her it actually felt like our fingers had disappeared. However, she was a very silly girl; we thought she was the boy because she started the humping with Muffet. When they were grown up, there would be competitions in which Muffet would do his job (with very bad aim) and then Dapple would turn round to hump him back and there'd be a circular tangle of bunnies while she pursued his tail. Very odd.
At the same time, she was extremely nervous and would clench her little paws when we picked her up. Buns love bananas but Dapple loved them so much she would inhale her slice till she couldn't breathe, silly girl. Plus she was so lazy that she would strangle herself on the rim of her bowl and then we'd hear a little "woodchuck sneeze" while she caught her breath.
Also, she had these useless curly whiskers so whenever she ran around the house and we heard a little thud, we knew Dap was bumping into furniture.
Flopsy died when Lulu was middle-aged, so by the time we had Muff and Dap, Lulu was a matriarch. However, she really hated Dapple and, spinster that she was, she didn't know what to do with herself when Muff was around. A couple of times Lulu chased Dap down in the garden and bit her (of course), eliciting from poor Dap a toe-curling scream and a puff of fluff.
So Dap and Muff lived together and Lulu luxuriated in her own large cage. I believe if she were human she would have owned a couple of cats by then. Still, she and I shared a deep affection. The day I learned she truly loved me we were at the vet for a checkup. He'd put her onto the floor to let her air out, while Dad and I sat on chairs against the wall. She hopped about a bit looking lost, and then she came up to me and leapt right into my lap! Oh joy! My bunny looked for meeeeee!
I miss the nape of her neck, which is the part of the rabbit which stays babyish. By rubbing the tips of her ears, I could activate her automatic grooming response, so up would come the paws, grooming the face and ears (cat-like).
Rabbits purr by gently grinding their teeth, so Lulu and I would sit together on the floor; I would whisper and she would purr, and I'd kiss her cheek and she'd kiss me back. Sometimes she might kiss my entire face, and it's such a thrill when a rabbit whiffles in your ear as she explores. They do keep strict accounts - kissing, scratching and 'niffing are all exchanged in equal parts. I have to lavish attention until the bunny thinks I've done enough and then it's her turn. When my turn comes round again she will settle in for it and if I am too slow to reciprocate there comes the reminding nudge. Rabbits are great nudgers, insinuating their heads under a lazy hand, just like dogs: "Rub my head now please." And if the response is still too slow, there may be a short reminding nip or tug, "Hey you!". They also nudge to say, "Get out of my way, big person."
The day Lulu died, I was still at university studying over the weekend for exams. She'd been suffering with arthritis for months and at times her back legs would just give out. Every weekend I used to lay her out and she would let me massage her joints. One weekend I was at home and we were watching her in the garden - she had been sitting quietly under a garden chair, when suddenly up she got, leaping and spinning. We said at the time that was her last fling, and how right we were. She died the next weekend after waiting all week for me to come home. That morning, Mum put them outside for their daily play and they ran off. Pretty soon, Lulu came back up to the deck, seeking - once out to play, a highly unusual occurrence. Mum talked to her, asked her what was wrong, and rubbed her all over. Lulu went away again, and in the evening when Dad went out to bring them all in, he found her little body under the deck stairs. Of course I was not informed until exams were over.
Dad used to call them "runny babbits" and we used to love watching them gambol in the garden, like little lambs. It's like an uncontrollable reflex. Put a bun out on the grass and after a few seconds of soaking in the atmosphere, she will shake out her ears, waggle her tail, and then through her little body will thrill a spasm of pure JOY as she springs off the ground to make a mid-air turn. Then there might be a mad dash round the garden as she revels in free bunnyhood. They do this out of nowhere at random moments!
If you watch rabbits being rabbits and don't feel happy then there is something amiss...
Happy Birthday, Peter Rabbit!