My first physical encounter with the world of leather and…
The terrapins were an exotic mistake. ‘Toast’ and ‘Marmalade’ were purchased in Chapel Market, alongside a plastic, kidney shaped pool complete with a fake palm tree. Of course, this was before they were declared an unsuitable pet for British soil.
The little turtles would emerge from the water and ‘sunbathe’ but they weren’t cut out for life in a mock Tudor semi-detatched…and died. Despite the overwhelming grief, a small part of me was pleased they could be buried together in a large matchbox, so Toast and Marmalade received a solemn Catholic funeral in the back garden.
Having accrued a taste for unusual animals, my next pet was a lop-eared rabbit. Essentially, they’re like other rabbits except their ears droop to the floor, instead of pointing up. They’re rather like flaccid cocks and just as soft to stroke. ‘Floopy’ was snow white, red-eyed and according to my Granny, “as big and brainy as a cat”. He lived in a two-roomed hutch, but loved nothing more than to roam ‘round the garden, hopping about, ears dragging behind him. He’d bound up the lawn to greet visitors and came 3rd in a beauty pageant at Surbiton Pet Club.
As the ‘80s progressed and adolescence ensued, I found myself strangely attracted to the tunes of the Goombay Dance Band and Tight Fit. I hung out with local kids whose parents worked as warders in the nearby remand centre. They had their own social club and the under 18s disco was a whirl of glamour, despite it’s proximity to crime-fuelled incarceration. While dancing to Irene Cara’s ‘Fame’ you could look out the window, at the prison’s high walls, topped with rolls of barbed wire. I imagined the inhabitants wearing shackles, while I wore two-tone leg warmers.
My mother didn’t approve of the leg warmers or the disco, so in order to indulge both habits, I ran away a lot. On return, she’d beat the hell out of me, ’til she collapse exhausted and crying. Added to this, school was proving a tad difficult for various reasons, so I’d bunk from there too, choosing to chain smoke in car parks and watch video nasties instead.
Throughout all this, Floopy and his long, soft ears provided white, fluffy comfort. He didn’t mind my new found addiction to Kim cigarettes, pin-stripe jeans and cider. Aside from the occasional nip or scratch, Floopy was never disapproving nor critical of my sartorial choices.
It was a mistake to give him the run of the garden overnight. One summer morning, he didn’t appear when his name was called. ‘Floopy!’ went my cries, but all I found were small tufts of white fur, hooked on the thorns of a low-lying rose bush. The full horror didn’t dawn ‘til I found a chunky gobbet of flesh, blood and fur.
It was quite obvious that in the case of Floopy Vs Fox, my prize rabbit had come to a gory end. Howling with shock and horror, I ran into the house and cradled the toilet, vomitting with grief and distress. As the hot tears and bilious snot clogged my eyes and throat, I felt my mother standing over me. Unable to speak, I twisted my little sobbing head round, searching for hope. She didn’t move to offer comfort, instead, she spoke with quiet fury.
“THAT’S how I feel when you run away and I don’t know where you are.”
With that, she was gone, but you know what? I got it. In that stark moment, much became clear. Death, anxiety, grief, the agonising torment of losing a loved one. These adult themes crashed over me like a wintery wave, then receded. I was left, washed up on the bathroom floor, gasping for for the oxygen of innocence. A harsh lesson? Well, everything else had failed, so my mum was forced into drastic action. Slapping, grounding, thumping and screaming didn’t prevent my runaway habits, but this episode instilled instant empathy…and I never ran away again.
I got another rabbit, a lop-eared chinchilla, but I’d learned my lesson. Don’t leave your rabbit out at night.
First Published: The Hospital Club Magazine, Issue 16 October 2008