Last Friday I had my first Enid Blyton moment in many years : my dog chased his first rabbit. But since I am a grown-up and live in a world where I now know it’s wrong to enjoy cream teas with “loads” of cake and “lashings” of strawberry jam, I also know that it’s wrong for Rover to chase bunnies. So no matter how proud I felt inside (blame Blyton’s wishing chair, faraway tree and other adventures), I immediately took my dog home, in disgrace.
Our “Rover” (names and places have been changed to protect the innocent) is no spaniel. He’s a fully grown Rhodesian Ridgeback weighing in at well over 40 kg. But don’t imagine this gave him unfair advantage. It might count in his favour when the quarry is a lion, but when chasing rabbits, size is actually a disadvantage. A terrier would fare better. Rabbits run “through” thorn bushes and fences. Ridgebacks need to go over or around them. But it was a fine spectacle, with the peak hour morning traffic adding spectator value to the chase.
Fortunately for the rabbit, my dog has an ON/OFF switch, which came into operation some time after he rounded the corner and disappeared downhill. As my daughter puts it, he must have had an “Oh shit!” moment when he suddenly realised I was no longer attached to the end of his lead. I wish I could have seen it. By the time I rounded the bend he was already trotting back up the hill, lead trailing behind. In the distance I saw the motionless bunny silhouette – the position of its ears expressive as a bubble above its little pointed head: “Thinks: Is that it?!”
This morning (Monday) I made sure to give the scene of the bunny incident a wide berth. I also set out earlier to miss the morning traffic. However, as we began our ascent of the hill, what should I see but not one, not two, but four black bunnies lolloping down the road toward us.
I might weigh a little less than “Rover” and have a fraction of the olfactory glands, but the wind was in my favour and I have the advantage of walking upright, so I spotted the rabbits first. If the road had been a stage and the rabbits a troupe of ballerinas in black leotards, they could not have “filled their space” more effectively. They were hopping everywhere with strange confidence. Father Rabbit was probably telling his offspring the story of the chase: “And here the brute turned tail and fled…”
“Rover” and I (swiftly) took a side-road. I was just congratulating myself on my quick thinking when I spotted yet another black bunny – considerably smaller perhaps, but still undeniably Rabbit. This time there was no alternate route, but “Rover” did not so much as blink. His ears gave a little flicker of recognition as we walked by, but he now knew the rules (or maybe bunny was under-sized). Bunnikins hopped smartly through the fence to join Mother, waiting motionless and gnome-like in the flowers.
Now we get to the part where I have to mention my Book. The first agent I approached in an attempt to market my wares twelve years ago, told me my book was not politically correct, because it was about gundogs and mentioned blood sports. People don’t want to read about such things these days, I was told. Apparently we must write about a world where violence does not exist – give our readers escapism, humour and fantasy. (Ring a blyton bell?)
Unfortunately, my book is about reality. How was I expected to paint a picture of the dangers of firearms or tell a story of domestic violence without breaching these bounds of “political correctness”?
No, I do not support blood sports. No, I do not own a firearm. No, I do not advocate gun ownership. And above all, No, I am not the hero of my own novel. Just because I write about something does not mean that I “own” it or identify with it in any way. I am simply describing something that I feel deserves attention. I am neither passing judgement nor advocating particular behaviour – only trying to tell it like it is.
Despite providing endless escapism and “ideal” worlds where (if I remember rightly) no bunnies were actually harmed, Enid Blyton has been blamed for many things (Big Ears, Golliwogs). I believe that even Black Beauty has had its share of criticism (my bunnies just happen to be black – all of them – don’t ask me why). Yes, the world has changed for the better in some ways. But I don’t think we should judge things from a distance, be that from another country or across the expanse of years. The process by which two bunnies become six over an interval of three days is no theoretical mathematical exercise. It is the firm foundation on which blood sports were originally based. Dear old Enid Blyton was closer to that kind of reasoning than we are today. Her Rovers could chase rabbits to their hearts’ content, whereas ours must be restrained and taught manners.
If by the end of the week my six bunnies have become, say, thirty-six, I might find myself unable to flick Rover’s switch. Then what? My mother (93) could probably still make rabbit stew with equanimity, but I’m incapable of burying a soft furry corpse at the bottom of the garden. Gosh, better bring on the lemonade and chocolate biscuits – looks like I might be needing it!