Myxomatosis is back. Yesterday at 5pm I saw a rabbit moving very slowly across the Green until a conscientious owner of greyhounds scooped it up and took it away. My grandfather used to kill ‘myxy’ rabbits to put them out of their misery – but he also used to shoot pheasants, hang them outside in the yard for what seemed like weeks and, when they were virtually rotten, decide they were ready for the oven. I used to hate eating them, with the distinctively yellow fat, cracking my teeth on shot…
The last myxomatosis outbreak was pre 2004, because our rabbit was still alive and we got her vaccinated. She died that year aged 7. We’d bought her in 1997 from a pet shop in Muswell Hill; she was called Isabel after, believe it or not, a character in Spirit Of The Beehive. A work colleague of mine asked me why we didn’t just have children. It was the 1st time that issue had raised its head.
When we bought the house in Essex we used to come down on the train with the rabbit in the basket (it wasn’t till we had kids that we bought a car). She was a great conversation starter. She loved being stroked. She used to chunter quietly and then suddenly roll on her back, with an expression of ecstasy.
One time when my wife was working at the Independent in 1999, they needed a pet for a photo piece on pet containers. I went up on the train with Isabel, sat in a studio in Clerkenwell while she did her stuff; she kept peeing on the pink coloured card and then lapping it up. Her Sarah Miles behaviour, I called it.
I was a bit fed up. I was only getting £50 and expenses, not being an experienced pet wrangler. When the shoot was over, I sat in the shelter in Northampton Square opposite City University with my rabbit in her basket. I wanted to go to the pub but I didn’t have the nerve. I remember thinking my life had come to this.
Then I thought if I was any good as a writer, I’d write a short story beginning with a man in a square with a rabbit in a basket… But I couldn’t think of what happened next.