I love animals. I’m a big soft vegetarian and like to see little cute furry beings gambling about, but preferably on TV or behind bars. I have a childlike love of zoos and safari parks. I can’t bear to watch nature programs though as I hate the look on the poor gazelle’s face when it gets ravaged by the lion. I do however, find most animals a bit scary in the flesh, unless I know them personally. I’m always wary of them, as I am with children. Oddly, most animals seem drawn to me though. Vicious dogs and reputably feral cats flock towards me with affection and I tend to be able to pet them with no issues. People gasp as grumpy cats come and sit on my lap. Maybe I just have an odd smell that attracts them.
None of the above applies to a certain class of animals. I have a mortal fear of rodents and avoid them at all costs. My classification of rodents is quite broad. Obviously the rat tops the list of creatures of horror with its nasty teeth, claws and scaly tail. It’s a being of pure evil, designed to scuttle and lurk, frightening and revolting all decent minded people. I also include the humble mouse, the hedgehog, the guinea pig, the hamster, the ferret, the mole and the giant evil rodent known as the coypu which terrorises Norfolk.
More unusually, I include the rabbit in the rodent category. I was obsessed with “Watership Down” as a child and wept in the cinema when the “Bright Eyes” thing came on. I also had a toy rabbit in a long 70s frock, which I adored but as my rodent phobia developed I came to view them as sinister. Something about their teeth and those big kicking feet horrified me. I became petrified of rabbits until I entered an unintentional relationship with the pink eyed beast known as Judith.
My phobia of all things rodent-like developed fully at age 12 when I was walking home from school one day. There had been a dead rat on the road outside school for several days which was laying in the gutter, one glassy eye open, getting gradually flatter by the day. We mostly ignored it but groups of kids passing by would shout “Rat on the Road” in an imitation of the hideous Roland Rat (the vile puppet with ears made of condoms which was on TV in the 1980s). As I walked up the steps out of school two quite grisly boys were playing a game of “throw the dead rat at each other”. Don’t ask me why, boys mystify me. I accidentally walked into the firing line. As the partly decomposed rat slapped against my chin and slithered down my chest, my phobia of the rodent species was born.
Sadly it grew and grew and I became obsessed about rats. I avoided James Herbert’s books, almost passed out during a screening of “1984” and generally was unable to go anywhere where a rat might be lurking. I avoided river banks, long grass and building sites. I avoided sewage outlets too but then who doesn’t? A sighting of a rat on TV would send me into hysteria, my feet off the floor and my adrenaline pumping. It was only my drunken early thirties which caused me to get a bit better. I was walking home from town, in quite an inebriated state when a rat ran across my foot. Oddly, I was so drunk I didn’t care and my phobia is now a bit weaker. I can even type the word “rat” without shuddering too much, although I couldn’t be in a room with one.
In 1993 Barry, my partner at the time, was working for a small firm run by an acquaintance of his who I shall call John. Once more, he landed on his feet. The firm wasn’t doing as well as it had been and he and John decided to scale back, giving up the expensive office they had and getting rid of staff, moving the operation to the spare room of his house. Barry and I were living in the grotty bedsit we’d lingered in for a couple of years and needed to move and were looking for a flat. His boss, John, who was also gay had fallen in love with a younger man (who I’ll call Matt) and like most old fools was willing to do anything for the object of his desire. Matt decided he wanted to change sex love stricken John decided to support him in this.
The upshot was that John and Matt moved to central London and Matt started on hormones and wore a bit of subtle make-up under the supervision of an expensive psychiatrist. The bonus of this was that John couldn’t sell his house as the house prices had dropped and he had negative equity. The logical plan was that John and Matt lived in London for a year and John worked remotely from there whilst Barry and I moved into John’s house and Barry ran the business from the spare room. This was a fantastic plan. It meant we could move out of a rundown bedsit into a detached house, which was rent-free with all the bills paid for by the business and offset as expenses. We were moving from near poverty and discomfort to being relatively well off. There was a fly in the ointment. Matt owned a rabbit and he couldn’t take it to London. Rabbit sitting came as part of the deal.
I would have been a fool to turn down this opportunity for a better quality of life so I gritted my teeth and prepared to meet the beast. Judith was about 4 years old, an albino. She was a lumbering hulk of a rabbit: large fleshy haunches, huge feet and glaring pink eyes. Her teeth were quite a spectacle. To make matters worse, Judith didn’t live in a hutch. The garden of the house was paved and walled (John was a lazy gardener) and she had free reign. Barry reassured me that it would be fine, we could pen her in and keep her in an enclosed section and it was only for a year. I could cope with a year, or so I thought.
We moved in and I was overwhelmed at having space and privacy. The lounge was large and spacious and the patio doors to the garden were a luxury. OK, so I couldn’t open the doors, there was a pink eyed rodent waiting to savage me. I’d be sitting reading and spy her, through the corner of my eye, looking at me through the window. I could see her mind ticking over thinking of ways to get at me. I was paranoid about her slipping in the house and was forever screeching, in a panic, at Barry to keep the kitchen door shut. I stayed out of the garden, nervous of her nipping me. This may sound irrational but I was right to fear her. Judith was ferocious.
Barry helped me make her a pen, large and roomy and with an exit to get underneath the shed where she’d built a little burrow. I’d take a deep breath and dash out with food and water and lob them as fast as I could into the pen. I initially would chuck in the odd carrot from six feet away which she’d polish off with gusto, gradually getting so I could get within two feet of her enclosure. I started to believe she was innocuous and a maybe even, dare I say, cute. She liked to be stroked by Barry and was soft and yielding with him. There was something about the way she dug the earth in her pen to find cooler spots and rolled on her side sunbathing in her dug out. The casual elegance of her poses struck me as admirable and her nibbling struck me as cheeky. I attempted to pet her and naturally she took a lump of flesh.
It was fine though. She was behind bars, well, chicken wire. I went back to being wary and retreated to six feet carrot lobbing again. I was gradually working my way towards trying to stroke her again when I realised the extent of her power. I was looking out of the window one day when a cute little ginger cat entered the garden and decided to venture into Judith’s pen. I watched on expecting a scene fit for a cheap corner-shop card. I didn’t get one. Judith bit the cat’s tail and chased it out of the pen, vaulting the chicken wire and seeing the poor beast off. I had to brave the now rabbit infested garden and help the startled cat down from the creeper where it was cowering six feet up the back wall. The gloves were off. The bloody rabbit could jump higher than I’d reckoned and I was gaining a new found respect for her. From then on Judith regularly jumped the pen and we decided to give her free reign again. I decided to pull myself together and heart in mouth, started a befriending campaign. It kind of worked. I still have a few small scars. It took six months, but I eventually was allowed to pick her up. She winded me with her mighty feet, but it got easier with time. The trick was speed and positioning.
Barry decided we should have a dog. We got a dog. We were fighting a lot, he was drinking like no tomorrow and we were spending money wildly. I was a student nurse on a low wage and the business was floundering but we had no overheads. John and Matt were fighting like mad and the sex change plans were becoming more tenuous. Barry’s mum had died suddenly and he inherited a bit of money. He bought a hideously expensive stereo, started drinking more and gained a troop of fair-weather drinking friends. I had new clothes and new books and no thoughts about how long this would last.
The dog and Judith were not good friends. I was nervous he’d kill her. He was a rangy Labrador cross with an exuberant nature and a fascination for her rabbit-shaped form. I feared he’d kill her. He didn’t. I should have known she was assertive. Every time the dog entered the garden she would leg it like crazy and hide under the shed. He’d give a quick sniff and then carry on mooching about. The minute he went back in she’d emerge, disgruntled and a little bit resentful. I was sitting watching TV one day and the dog had ventured outside. I happened to glance up and noticed that the dog looked a little odd. He looked odd because there was a rabbit hanging from his neck. He was running round the garden looking quite puzzled as Judith hung from his neck. I had to prize her off and reach for the anti-septic. He didn’t bother her much from then on.
Matt and John stayed in London longer than expected but eventually they split up. Matt abandoned the make-up, John paid the psychiatry bills and the business folded. Matt decided his future wasn’t as a woman and he now has a collection of fetching tattoos and a good set of biceps. Sadly the house went along with the business. Our period of rent free luxury ended and we had two weeks to find a place to house two gay men, a Labrador cross and a very cross oversized white rabbit. Yes, a rabbit. Matt came back to the area but neglected to take his rabbit back and my love/hate relationship with the pink eyed monster continued. She lived another eight years and bit me, kicked me and was generally ungrateful from there on in. She ate my plants, dug up my flower beds and terrorised the dog. She mellowed a little with age. Eventually they had a truce and Judith would occasionally let the dog catch her and lay there, looking peeved but tolerant, as he held her down gently with his paw and washed her all over. If she wasn’t in the mood for that she’d nip him, of course.
I was a bit sad when she eventually died. I found her one morning, rigid and haggard. She was a vicious beast but at least she had spirit. I say “she” but I discovered a shocking secret about Judith the summer before she died. She was sunbathing, as was her habit in hot weather and she rolled onto her side, displaying what looked to me like a hefty set of boy rabbit genitals. Poor Judith, no wonder he was cross. It’s not a good name for a butch boy rabbit. Maybe he was gender dysphoric, like his original owner, but he didn’t have the benefit of a wealthy boyfriend to fund his search for identity.