Thursday, October 11, 2012

1979: The light that burned so brightly

I never asked for a rabbit. Mum came home from work one day in 1976 and said that someone had some baby rabbits that she needed to get rid of, and did we want to go and see them? They were only round the corner.

Of course, we came home with one. A little grey one we called Bugsy, partly after Bugs Bunny and partly after Bugsy Malone. And I loved him with all my heart.

He lived freely in the shed at the end of the garden, hopping around among piles of hay and straw. He was a delight, quite a character, who'd sit in the window of the shed before meal times as an indication that he was hungry and where were we?

My friends loved him, and he grew into a huge big bunny, larger than normal, bigger than a hare. We also got a kitten during this time and while it tried to antagonise him, Bugsy was the bigger fish, even attempting rape at one point. The kitten soon knew who was boss.

Our menagerie was growing. Next door brought two guinea pigs home from the Southampton show, and within two years had mulitplied to over 100. Their whole garden was given over to them and the squeaking was unbelievable. They also had a couple of lambs at one point, brought home from the father's agricultural college job. If Bugsy escaped he'd be found following them round usually until one day they disappeared, only to be brought home again as Sunday joints.

I was animal mad, and I'd just bring guinea pigs home from next door and they'd live in the shed with the rabbit. If you surprised them on cold nights you'd find them huddled round him, sleeping across his back, behind his ears, all keeping each other warm.

But he could be vicious. He bit the girl next door, and chomped someone's knee through their trousers. Demands to have him put down were met with deaf ears. He'd often escape and if not with lambs, he'd be found in the jaws of the Doberman five doors up, but he'd be delivered back to us safely. He was indestructible. Or so I thought.

One Friday night in July, 1979, someone in my class was having a birthday treat, which involved five of us going to see the new Superman film. We were over-excited on the way there, flicking V-signs at pedestrian's from his mother's Renault, giggling like maniacs. We were no better behaved in the cinema either, and badgered the presenter of local kids' show Hey Look! That's Me! until he threatened to have us chucked out. What fun it was. 

When I went up to feed Bugsy the next morning he was lying out in his attentive but relaxed position - but stiff as a board. I was heartbroken. I called for Dad who came running up the garden to see what all the fuss was about. Bugsy was dead.

We were all devastated. The next day we went to a local agricultural show and bought a new one, a Silver Fox which we called Roscoe. Well, Wimbledon was in full swing. But it was never the same.

We still talk about Bugsy to this day. He was such a character, and remains in the top three of the myriad of Peake pets through the decades.

I often dream of him, but it's usually that I've not fed him for 20 years and he's all emaciated. It's a classic guilt dream. Sometimes I used to have to be physically made to feed him and clean him out, and if I could get away with not doing it I would. It was such an effort to go 30 feet up the garden. But that's kids and animals. Parents end up doing all the work. You do all the loving. 

Anyway, whenever I hear this song, I think shed, overcast skies, quiet Saturday afternoons, the smell of earth, bonfire smoke, the sound of fresh straw, wet grass and soft fur. 


  1. Aww. What a heart-warming tribute to Bugsy.

    Also, I miss the days when the height of youthful rebellion was flicking the Vs out of car windows.

  2. Lovely story. When I was a teenager, the little girl next door had a rabbit. When it died, the parents did that classic thing of replacing it with an identikit rabbit, and just kept doing so. This girl grew up to think rabbits made it to 20 years of age.

  3. Ah, you old softie. That's very sweet. Lucky old Bugsy; he had a grand life.

  4. I can't help myself when it comes to animals. Way too soft when it comes to them.

  5. That song makes me weep like a child every single time I hear it...

  6. Hi Lee! Well, I always feel a lump forming when I hear those opening bars.