Boiling bunnies: Oranges are not the only sauce

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Image: Tin of Spam.

Hold the thought: all will become clear.

Waiting patiently for my breakfast Shreddies to soak up the milk the other morning – coz I like ‘em soggy, y’know – I heard on the wireless about author Jeanette Winterson’s trollbashing on twitter after she tweeted about killing and boiling a rabbit that had invaded her garden. 

‘Rabbit ate my parsley. I am eating the rabbit.’  said Jeanette pithily.

(link to story in the Guardian)

Jeanette – author of Oranges are not the only fruit – put up a spirited defence against the critics who jumped on her black humour tweet.

I commend Jeanette for standing up to her critics. She made the cogent point that if you eat meat you ought not to cringe at the killing of animals for your delight. Jeanette’s tweet went viral and she has been swamped with comments both critical and favourable: Twitter red in bark and bite, you might say. You won’t find me on twitter, but the story set me thinking…

I once killed a rabbit…

It was a long time ago, but the moment is with me still. I killed a pigeon the same day. I clubbed them both to death with a handy length of mahogany. There! I confess! I’m a closet wildlife murderer!

OK, it’s a fair cop, your honour. I did the dirty deed. But I was then a very young and (even more) foolish man than now. It happened like this:

Self sufficiency and Arabs in revolt:

There was at that time in the UK a craze for self-sufficiency. John Seymour had written a book about it which I borrowed from the library. I am staggered to see the price it fetches now, but if you search Amazon you can find cheaper and alternative versions. Also at that time the world was in turmoil (when is it not?) because the Arabs were revolting, upping the price of oil and forming themselves into a cartel for the purpose (called OPEC if memory serves: an acronym we don’t hear much these days). “We must learn to live again without oil, as did our forefathers for thousands of years,” wailed the self-sufficientists.

Being as I said young and impressionable and between jobs, and since we had a large garden back then, and also since I am by nature a bit of a hermit anyway, I took up the cause and sowed peas and beans, salads, onions, Brussels sprouts and potatoes. And you know, I quite enjoyed my brief period as a horny-handed, penniless son of the soil. I even bought an old grey Ferguson tractor and plough with which to work the land – yes, the garden really was that big! I’ll gloss over the issue of running an oil burning machine to avoid burning oil. I was then young etc etc, and hadn’t thought the thing through properly.

But then the rabbits came…

And the pigeons too. They ate my crops. Every green shoot was nibbled short the moment it saw the sun. Seeds were dug up and devoured before they even geminated. Months of back-breaking toil in the garden with winter-frozen fingers, all wasted. The prospect of famine stalked our house – or at least, grandma made an extra trip to the supermarket. The potatoes survived repeated attacks, but anything remotely green and succulent succumbed to the nibbling wildlife that pounced on my produce with glee. Never when I was there to see, of course. The sneaky blighters dived for cover the moment I set foot in the garden. So what or who was stealing my stuff?

I took to stalking the land at dawn, hiding behind trees, slipping like a wraith from the shadow of the back porch to the cover of the overgrown orchard, watching, silent, spying out the culprits. Rabbits and pigeons, damn their eyes!

Boiling with indignation I borrowed a shotgun from an equally foolish friend and formed myself into a posse the following dawn. I and my posse shot the wretched rabbit from the roof of a neighbour’s garage. The neighbour had been pretty sick about the theft of his crops too and had granted permission. The flat BLAM! of my shotgun, louder than a nuclear test at dawn the next day must have shot him out of bed pretty darned sharpish, I imagine. But the rabbit did not die. Not right then. It was peppered with buckshot. The pigeon was co-lateral damage (to borrow a damning phrase…) but since it too was judged guilty, in my bloodlust I regarded it as fair game.

Death, conflict and misery:

So I have some sympathy for Jeanette Winterson. I understand how maddening it is to have a plague of bunnies eating you out of larder and store. But I have to report that I am made of softer stuff than she. Once the madness of demanding blood for the hideous crime was over I gathered up the trembling rabbit and pigeon, knowing I must put them out of their misery as swiftly as possible. I took them into my workshop to dispatch them finally.

Not being trained in the grisly business of killing, yet thinking with the foolishness of youth that I must keep up my grizzled countryman image, I considered the best method. As a very young child I had seen my father dispatch the Christmas turkey with the deft wring of its neck, but my un-practiced effort on the poor pigeon merely resulted in its hurt little eye fixing me with the heart wrenching question, Why?

In a turmoil of conflicted feelings I finally resorted to that handy length of wood, and felt the very life draining from this, one of nature’s fellow creatures, as blood dripped from its smashed brain. The rabbit faired no better.

It is hard to describe that end-of-life moment. The eye grows dull and fixed. The muscles grow limp. The quaking little body, previously rigid with fear and struggle, relaxes as life’s light slips away. I held my father’s hand as he died from heart failure many years later in a midnight hospital emergency room, and felt that same slipping away of life.

I have never willingly killed since that day. I swat a mosquito if it pesters me at night, but a spider I would once have stepped on with impunity now gets launched into the world outside from an upturned tumbler or mug, and if rabbits nibble my growing lettuce, or voles tunnel for my newly sown peas, I look for another solution to the problem.

Killing the meat you eat:

True, I’m not quite a vegetarian. I admit, to my embarrassment,  that I do still buy the occasional (like one a year) tin of Spam. Heaven knows what’s in it; I dread to think. But I kinda like it, y’know. And out of politeness to my host I do still eat meat if it is served to me as a guest in their home. But I never buy meat that looks like meat, which I guess makes me just the sort of hypocrite Jeanette Winterson rightly criticised in her defence against the twitter trolls. I commend that she stood up to them, and concede her arguments about the wrongness of being squeamish about killing the meat  you eat. But I shall still bypass the meat counter when I do battle with the horde at the supermarket for this week’s household shopping. And when I buy eggs the only criterion I check is that they are free range. Price doesn’t come into it. I would rather not eat eggs at all, than buy from battery caged birds, however cheap they seem. No pun intended.

As I said, I’m not on twitter, but do feel free to tweet or FB this post to your friends, or whatever is the convention in the social media world. It’s not a place I’m comfortable in.

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