As I’ve explained previously, we were allowed to have pets at my boarding school, Chorleywood College, but only between the second and fourth years. Such age restrictions, however, entirely failed to curb my pet ownership ambitions.
I continued to keep pets back home with my parents even after I could no longer have them at school. Julio the rabbit was followed by a rabbit named Jason, who was a Yellow Dutch, which meant that he was a beautiful golden colour. He was also full of fun. He liked eating toast, which he regularly dunked in his water bowl. All very well for him, but as the one who had to clean his bowl and prepare his breakfast while not actually being able to see what he’d been doing with his crockery, I can testify that handling soggy toast first thing in the morning is not at all a nice sensation!
My dad built Jason a hutch. He used part of a piano sounding board for the rear wall of this construction and Jason loved nothing more than repeatedly thumping this with his back legs to produce a loud, resonant and drum-like sound that you could hear all round the house.
My dad also put up a wire enclosure in the garden so that Jason could enjoy being outdoors without the possibility of our losing him in the flowerbeds. We used to place some food and a water bowl in the corner of this pen and Jason would sit with his back to them while all sorts of birds, drawn to the seeds in the rabbit food, came down to feed. He would deliberately wait until several birds had gathered, then spin round and gleefully leap among them, chasing them all off in a flurry of flapping wings and avian cries of distress. This was obviously good sport from a rabbit point of view because Jason would play this game over and over again.
Another favourite game of his was running round and round in circles with his head inside a plastic flowerpot.
During this time, my brother decided that he would like a guinea pig, and one was duly purchased. Her name was Brandy, but she rapidly became known as Squeaker because she was so vocal, especially when she was hungry. She was quite a character and, as an Abyssinian guinea pig, had lovely fur which stuck up “every which way,” as my father put it. (I believe that these radial swirls of fur are actually known as “rosettes”.)
We read that rabbits and guinea pigs could live together, so we tried the experiment. We opened both hutches and waited to see what would happen. Squeaker barged into Jason’s bed compartment and refused to let him in. The experiment was promptly abandoned!