Consider the rabbit, for in the arc of its lollop is described the rolling landscape of lowland Britain. Consider the rabbit, for was it not an immigrant to our shores, brought here by the Romans? Consider the rabbit, once banged up in massive coney enclosures – the walls of which penetrated feet into the soil – and farmed by weirdo monks. Consider the rabbit, which went hippety-hoppety in lockstep with the expansion of western civilisation, from its native lands of the Iberian Peninsula, across Europe, Asia, the Americas, and eventually to Australia where it meets its viral nemesis.
Oh yes, consider the rabbit – for is it not doomed to be viewed as inconsiderable? True, it’s right tasty eating. Hippy Bob shot them with his air rifle, or even scraped myxomatotic road kill of the hot tarmac. He skinned them (no trickier than taking off a tiny wet suit once you get the hang of it); jointed them; added stock, samphire, and sliced puffballs. He put the whole gubbins in a biscuit tin, buried it in the ground and then lit a fire on top. These ‘earth ovens’ are slow cooking and by the time the tin was dug up and opened the bunny’s flesh was as succulent as a ripe fig.
True, you find rabbit on the menus of upscale eateries fairly often – but you never exactly consider it. Rabbit is a faut de mieux kind of dish, not to be ordered as a first option. It’s the same with its fur – common as muck, suitable only muffs. I daresay it’s the same for the vivisectionists, they probably feel rather disappointed when another gross of these breeding machines are carted up from the depths of the lab, and can’t wait to get their rubber gloves on rats, or beagles, or just about any other mammal who’s dying for a fag and a shampooed eyeball.
No one has ever said “As sagacious as a rabbit”, or “as wily as a rabbit”. No, “fucking like rabbits” is what we say, while the cuddly worms bore into loose and sandy soils, eroding banks and dykes, contributing to the vermiculation of the ground. When I lived up in Suffolk there was Council bounty of 25p for a rabbit tail and the thing to do was go lamping for them. I went out once with a local farmer and it bothered me less than I thought it would. For a start there was the monster truck off-roading involved in getting the pickup in position. Then, when the light went on the rabbits, mute and curious, come nosing into the killing cone.
My accomplice handled his shotgun with studious, unflashy movements: aiming, firing, breaking, ejecting, reloading – a piece worker on a cat food production line. The rabbits’ eyes coruscated in the big wattage, the gun reported, the dust and cordite smoke cleared to reveal another brown lump. We packed it in at close to three in the morning, the back of the pickup bobbled with little corpses. But then East Anglia is rabbit country the way Montana is cattle country. There’s something about the shaven turf, bedizened with little black balls, surrounded by crazy palisades of desiccated furze, that seems lapine to the core. In certain East Anglian pubs it is de rigeur to wear at least two or three coneys dangling from the poachers’ hooks inside your jacket; I remember that my landlord’s welcome when I moved into my cottage was a brace of corpses casually chucked on to the doorstep.
Yet consider the rabbit – for will he not have his revenge? He’s already made his mark. In Australia there’s a rabbit-proof fence running clear across the country for thousands of kilometres – a pest-control measure that’s visible from space! I should imagine that rats, locusts and all manner of other vermin look upon this thing with savage envy, much in the way that certain US politicians regard Middle Eastern oil reserves. Then there’s myxomatosis – it’s not every animal that gets a disease purpose-developed to eradicate it, and then (Ha! Ha!) manages to outflank it with immunity.
One month’s gestation, three litters a year, up to ten cuddly bunnies in each litter. Speedily, inexorably, the rabbit bores through the world, they’ve done in two millennia what it took us a hundred and fifty. Those of us who view the future that’s hotting up with a certain fatalism, like to think that Gaia will replace humans as Top Species with the cockroach. To be beaten by a creature vastly older and radically different to ourselves is somehow acceptable. How much more galling it would be if it was the rabbit who ground us down beneath its paw? And if we were to expire to the loony tune of its nibbling, as the hateful anthropomorphism echoed in our ears: “Eee, wassup Doc?”