Maybe, like me, you read quite a bit of Beatrix Potter as a child. Perhaps you identified with some of her characters? Not, I suspect, the extremely irritating Squirrel Nutkin who gets his comeuppance atthe beak of the terrifying Old Brown. (I couldn’t read that one to my own children as I was still too traumatised.) I rather liked the Two Bad Mice who indulge in an orgy of thuggery after finding that all the food in the dolls house is made of plaster, and I thrilled at the sheer nastiness of Samuel Whiskers and his wife Anna Maria who try to make a roly poly pudding out of Tom Kitten (whom I never much cared for).
But my favourite books centred round the rabbits that were drawn like magnets to the forbidden pleasures of Mr McGregor’s kitchen garden. How I loved their anarchic view of a world where a lettuce could be acquired each week in time for Sunday dinner! Was it not right and proper that old Mr Benjamin Bunny should stroll out of the garden with a handkerchief of onions, a lettuce and a sense of entitlement? And how delightful that the dour-faced McGregor is outwitted not once, not twice but three times in his own garden! Does he think he owns the place? What a loser!
But just a few days ago – perhaps just as I was on my hands and knees planting out young cabbages in the new Ox kitchen garden – the world turned topsy turvy. I looked up, aware of being critically contemplated, and saw, not twenty yards away, two fat little rabbits peering through the gate. I stood up and they scattered. I may have waved a rake at them. I am sure that, had I not seen them, had I in fact gone off in my best bonnet at that moment, and had there been a suitable wall next to the pear tree they would have climbed down and helped themselves to the fruit of my labours. (For these are Milton Street rabbits and they are undoubtedly courageous, athletic and well read.)
Yes, at some point this spring, I have turned into Mr McGregor. Reading the story now I am not quite as sure as I was that he is really the villain of the piece. He looks quite a sensitive sort of chap, goaded perhaps beyond endurance by a greedy young whippersnapper in a vulgar new brass buttoned coat. And check out those neatly hoed rows of lettuces! The immense size of the plot that he works single-handed! Respect!
So it appears I am now doomed to be half-bogeyman, half-figure of fun in the eyes of every rabbit in the village. This is sad for I have always been a big fan of the Milton Street rabbits (see blog archive).
I am still. However, if little Milton Street Peter and Benjamin start to swagger their way among my rows of peas then there will be consequences. Not – I hasten to add – pie and fur lined cloak type consequences, but they should not expect too easy a heist. I will do more than brandish a rake and shout “Stop Thief!”