Yesterday Clem lost her mate Bunminster. Today I gave her a soft toy dog because apparently it can help solo bunnies with the grieving process – and here's what happened:
Heart is breaking.
On a happier note, Clem has had a lot of fuss and is eating/drinking normally. She is a little subdued but she also did a dramatic bunny flop in the garden today – the equivalent of a human throwing themselves on the bed – which tells us she is relaxed. We wonder if a lot of her edginess was down to looking out for Bunminster, who was oblivious to predators (probably because he couldn't hear them with his blocked ear).
Her nickname is Cautious Clem – she can freak out at planes 20,000ft up – but we may have to change her nickname if her character now changes. Which it might. After Bunzilla died, Bunminster really came out of his shell and turned into a little dictator (he really wasn't good at being the boss of everything). We'll see what happens.
Today I am thankful for the NHS. At 8pm the neighbours came out to clap. For the past couple of weeks a nearby DJ has also set up to play a few lockdown tunes out of his garage. So if you were in the vicinity of Cartland Rd, B30, tonight around 8-8.15, you might have heard Don't Stand So Close To Me, Please Release Me Let Me Go, One Love, Happy and We Will Rock You, and you might have seen a local long-haired loon dancing on the street corner and clapping like Freddie Mercury. The cars beeped, the people clapped and a couple slow-danced on their doorstep to Tom Jones. Pete said: "That's nice, dear."
Last week Mr Garage DJ played the Neighbours theme tune. Same time next week?
Adopted from our niece together with his first bunwife, the late Bunzilla, he was the cutest little bun with a teddy bear face, sable-coloured fur and soft brown eyes. He had the usual rabbit distaste for being picked up, but on the ground he was quite the snugglebunny. He was also known as Dude, Puppyslug, Grumpy Tuftybutt, Idiot, Grumplebunskin, Boo and Bunnyboo. He’s been with us for seven years and we love him sooooo much.
We spent a lovely last day with him yesterday but we've actually been worried about him for several years, having nearly lost him in 2017. This time, it was a lump underneath his ear that kept refilling after being drained. An operation was an option but risky, despite having a rabbit-savvy vet in Rebecca at Oaks Vet in Cotteridge. It would have left him with an open hole in his ear but also there were no guarantees the problem would resolve. Without an op, he was facing horrible middle ear infections and possible brain abscesses. He was in discomfort at this stage, and in pain from the treatment, but still being very rabbity, running around and eating and even chasing Clem (bun wife no3) round the garden a few days ago.
And so we made that terrible decision and we have to hope it was the right one. Someone said it is the final act of love but that doesn't make it any easier.
Because of Covid-19 and social distancing, we were unable to be with him at the end, so I asked Pete to tell the vet that he liked a cheek and head rub, and apparently the nurses gave him lots of cuddles. He passed away peacefully and loved.
We brought him home for burial but also to show Clem so that she can understand what has happened and that her bonded bun has gone. She sniffed delicately at him while he was still warm and briefly groomed him before figuring it out, in whatever way animals understand things, that this was her mate but also no longer her mate. (This tactic is said to help speed up the grieving process in rabbits and she was eating normally afterwards, which is the big worry, when rabbits stop eating.)
At sunset we buried Bunminster under a raised flowerbed – in the same bed as Bunzilla's ashes – with treats and purple aubretia and bluebells. He still looked amazingly cute. We'll plant flowers there in a couple of weeks once it's safe.
We raised a glass to him, shifting up the garden as the shadows drew long, and ended up in a philosophical discussion about whether animals know they are dying, and not having a concept of death, and is it better not to know or to know, and having the power to end suffering. It felt very pertinent to the human situation right now.
We had a lot of lovely, thoughtful messages from friends, family and Bunminster's fans. Every one set me off yesterday. But today was easier and emptier of emotion, kind of like how you feel drained but also free after a funeral.
A couple of messages are worth reposting here in the context of an obit for a beloved furry family member.
"Bunminster that I followed many years on IG gave me such comfort, especially during a few years of personal hardship. Thank you little, handsome fellow. Much love tomorrow. Never forgotten. Always in our hearts."
"I’ve loved the stories of Bunminster since the start, and it’s so sad that his story is ending."
"He really fell on his paws when he moved in with you. Glad he enjoyed his day in the sun. Heartbroken it may be his last."
"So sorry for you both, but so grateful to you for giving Bunminster such an fantastic life."
Binky free over the rainbow bridge, little Dude. x
Today Bunminster ate honeysuckle and long grass and dandelions and whatever took his fancy from along the grass borders and flowerbeds. There were also some apple treats and spring greens and dried flower mix. But mostly he ate grass voraciously. In fact he ate for much of the day and his weight went up from 1810g in the morning to 1895g at night.
He has started moulting – starting to get his mini viking/storm trooper helmet and evil villain eyebrow. In many ways he looks good, more filled out than usual. But still, not bad considering he is an old bun with balance issues and weak back legs, and especially considering the under-ear lump we discovered a week ago that that won't go away making his right lop-bun ear stick out further out than the other one.
Our original bun, who came to us in January 2013, spent a lot of the day with his third bunwife, Clem. They groomed each other and generally had a big snuggle in the warmth of the frisky spring sun.
We took photos – close ups, middle distance, long distance, family portraits, video – until he started to get annoyed that we were interrupting his lawn-mowing time.
We rubbed his head and ears and the back of his neck just how he likes it. Too many times. But not so many that we would tip him off in some way.
We spent nearly all day in the garden together, just hanging out.
Tomorrow we have to say goodbye.
Today I am thankful that Bunminster came to stay, and utterly heartbroken that he has to go.
My goal for last week was to set up a home gym. And here it is – filmed and edited. With puns and buns and fancy titles and strange weights. Plus new moves including: Disinfectant Lifts, Shelf Isolation and Jumping Over Clem Bun Who Won't Get Out of The Way.
Truth is, I've been sitting at a computer pretty much since 1987 and I'm suffering for it now. Three years ago I started trying to get a bit fitter before hitting the big 5-0. Until March 2020 my usual regime involved tai chi, walking netball, swimming, over-50s circuits and art walks (see Walkspace.uk). But then the gym/pool closed two weeks ago and I'm already feeling stiff. Work has been crazy with coronavirus comms work so this was my first attempt to get back into it.
Out of interest during these stressful times, I took my blood pressure. It was borderline high a few years ago and my pulse up to 81 bpm. But since taking up exercise it has come down. Yesterday it was 117/79 with a pulse rate of 67 – despite all this pandemic worry. Which goes to show it is never too late to start a gentle exercise regime.
Lockdown life continues.
Today I am thankful for A Dog Named Stella who loves jumping into piles of leaves. Sometimes (a lot) I wish I were a dog.
I want to start blogging this because it helps me. I want to write to the future in a year. Because the world is about to change forever.
Today was the first day after strict coronavirus regulations came in for the UK that will enforce people stay at home, barring a few exceptions. It was a sunny, mild, clear blue sky March day. The queen bumblebees were waking up from hibernation with the rising temperatures. Already there were midges in the air. With the schools all closed, the neighbour's young lad was suddenly keen to talk with us 'olds'.
At 6pm I remembered the laundry. Two lots. I went into the garden and gave the rabbits a dusk run, which sends the little dudes crazy. In the distance – shouting from the street. I thought someone was shouting at to 'stay at home'? Then I heard two cries of 'help'.
I chased the buns in and ran through the house. It was a domestic between two family members across the street.
Maybe it's unrelated but everyone is cooped up with each other in 'self isolation'. Even the ones we love will drive us mad. Every day since the escalation of the pandemic, I've felt frazzled with a head that is full of information and warnings and social media stress and anticipation of worse things to come. Strangely, though, I feel almost no anxiety. It reminds me of grief and feeling numb from shock. Maybe it will come.
Today, I'm thankful to have a garden and a relationship with a fellow loner, who I can tolerate better than anyone for long periods alone.
An open call was issued by The Holodeck printmakers in Birmingham: submit an artwork for consideration for their new Riso book and exhibition on the theme of 'Weird Science'. The exhibition was scheduled to run from 14 September to 13 October at Artefact in Stirchley.
I've never thought of myself as an artist but I had it in the back of my mind to do something with rabbits so I started playing around with some photomontaging one hot day during this summer's heatwave.
I produced around 20 'weirded' rabbits using black and white printouts of Joy, our rabbit who had died a couple of months earlier, mashed with creatures cut out from various books. In the end I submitted this simpler rabbit/volcanic island collage – and it was accepted, risoprinted and shown. My first artwork to be in an exhibition! As you can see, I looked pretty chuffed.
Emboldened, I decided to try for another open call, this time by the Edinburgh Collage Collective and Mark Murphy (moif_collage) on the theme of 'postcards'. Once more I spent a very pleasant afternoon putting some options together and posted them under the #cutandpost hashtag to my @editoriat Instagram. As a collage beginner, it was no surprise that I didn't make it into the final cut of 24 printed postcards but it was useful practice putting work together to a theme and a deadline.
In the end I framed one of the postcards and submitted it with another piece for the Artefact Winter Group Show. They were both accepted and were hung in pride of place by the toilet queue in the run-up to Christmas. Someone even offered to buy one of them. The Birmingham postcard still makes me laugh, though I'm tempted to collage something more into the bottom right panel. A work in progress maybe.
This all happened because of a) a local collage club that meets every month, b) having an ace local gallery space that is committed to its community, and c) putting my stuff out there when I could easily have left it in a folder in a cupboard at home and said 'nah, they're not good enough'. I'm glad various people encouraged me to go for it and grateful to those who accepted the work into their art spaces.
I still wouldn't say I'm an artist but I enjoy making the artwork and being a part of something bigger. And I've learnt that if in doubt, go for it.
It’s raining heavily on arrival in Dubrovnik and it’s freakishly cold. We are wearing all the clothes and hats. This is not the only shock. The taxi from the bus station to Ploče charges a £12 set fare to go a couple of km, it’s £18 just to walk the town’s bloody walls – that’s each – and, worse still, a medium glass of so-so wine costs £7. Come back Zurich, all is forgiven.
“Everything is better is Croatia,” my Croatian 'sister-wife' Anita, the UK-famous inventor of the chocolate crumpet, repeatedly tells me – and I want to believe her. An old guidebook tells me the walls cost only £3 for access not so long ago, so this is probably the Games of Thrones effect. There really should be a different Dubrovnik price for non-GOT fans.
Being British, we of course mention the weather to our host Stijepo at Apartment Love and Hope and thank him for waiting for us in the torrential conditions.
“I would be happy if this was my biggest problem!” he exclaims, several times – a reference to being caught up in the 1991 Siege of Dubrovnik with no electricity or water and weeks of bombardment by Serbia/Montenegro. After that, we pretty much shut up about the weather and the price of bread.
Once the storm clears, it is indeed truly lovely inside the Unesco World Heritage Site of Dubrovnik, so clean. I mean, really clean. (Well, all that tourist money has to go somewhere I guess.) We enter it at sunset so that we can immediately leave it, as Stijepo has sent us for a sunset drink at Buza, a well-known drinking hole on the rocks outside the wall. Pete nearly chokes on his £6 GOT-priced Leffe but it’s the view we are paying for and a ringside seat for sunset in the Pearl of the Adriatic.
Day 13: Lokrum Island
Stijepo recommended this nearby island as a lovely spot for a picnic, with botanic gardens and an old fort – but, who are we kidding, we mainly go because he told us there were loads of friendly rabbits roaming freely about there. There are. Here is a bun the size of a banana…
… and also an array of randy peacocks parading and trying to win over peahens to the point of fighting.
It’s quite something to watch baby bunnies hopping around giant prickly aloe vera succulents while peacocks shimmer and shake erect feathers next to the deep blue Adriatic. Only unicorns could have topped off the fairytale if anyone has Photoshop skills to add one here…
Day 14: Dubrovnik
We check the cruise ship timetable and head into the Old Town as the passengers leave. After a picnic on ‘the outside’ wall by the harbour, we randomly bump into Hannah and Myk who, being super-speedy Americans, have caught up with us despite leaving Belgrade four days later. Their Podgorica train journey, taken on May Day weekend and packed with students heading back to Montenegro, makes ours sound a Four Yorkshiremen sketch – luxury. The next day Mark from the Belgrade apartment will fly in as we fly out. More travel connections in time.
We buy a Ferrero Rocher-flavoured ice cream from Stijepo’s recommended childhood ice cream parlour Dolce Vita and sit once more outside the walls, on a tiny beach that has the most beach glass I have ever scavenged in my life. You know when you start a collection and become enslaved? Well, mine is a worldwide beach glass collection and this tiny beach just tripled it – as well as producing two rare pieces in blue.
Pete and I discuss biting the tourist bullet and paying nearly £40 to walk the 2km city walls but it comes down to this on our last day – we can either walk or eat. So we eat: a tuna pasta and beer and wine and chocolate feast on our Love and Hope balcony overlooking beautiful Dubrovnik.
A male voice choir carries up the steep hillside from Banye Beach as the sunset does its glorious hazy coloured spectacle thing, and we have a little last-night-of-the-holiday dance on the terrace because we're married now and it's legal.
I may not be as enamoured of travelling as I used to be, and I can't wait to see our own little floppy-eared dudes and the rest of the human-eared family, but I sure could do with a little bit more blue sky, sea and sunshine in my UK life to be happy.
Perhaps everything is better in Croatia after all.
</The end of the Balkan blogging beast. Thank you for reading. Hope you enjoyed it. Other blog posts are available. >
For the first time since we got rescue rabbits nearly four years ago and started on our journey to understanding these surprisingly complex animals, we finally had some major breakthroughs this week and, as usual, I'm viewing the world through them.
The thing about rabbits is… they are small, prey animals at the bottom of the food chain, and this causes them to behave in all sorts of unexpected ways.
Firstly, they hide their illnesses – an in-built behaviour to stop predators picking them off. You try not to take it personally but it's pretty hard work trying to help an animal that doesn't let you know it is ill until it's at death's door. Even giving them meds that will save their life can involve a massive battle involving swaddling them in a towel and pinning them down Big Daddy/Giant Haystacks style.
Secondly, prey animals have a natural distrust of you, despite the fact you give them food supplies, a brand new luxury rabbit mansion (or your own house), daily outdoor runs in rain, shine or snow, do their housework, and offer endless love and affection. You may be big and think you are in control but try to pat or pick up a rabbit and you'll usually have a wriggly fight on your hands (unless you've handled them from babies). We've been nipped, scratched, bitten and whacked by those big thumpers. And all we want to do is have a snuggle for our troubles.
Thirdly, rabbits are highly social and benefit from company with other rabbits but also they can be territorial, hierarchical and vicious – even to the death. Anything new is curious but also potentially a threat. Thinking like a human and saying, 'Oh my rabbit is lonely, I'll get them a little friend', is to play with fire. Rabbits need to be properly bonded not just thrown in together and the process can be painful and costly if not done properly. We know; we brought home a bonded pair from an animal sanctuary and one bit half of the other's ear off in the new environment.
My point is, you are not the boss of a rabbit, despite their small cute helpless appearance and the fact that you do every for them. They are ruled by their own survival instincts. You cannot easily force your will on them. And they won't automatically love you. You could even say they are even worse than cats for treating you like an unpaid, unappreciated servant.
Yet I have learnt so much from our past few years of looking after five rescue buns. It was a bit of a joke (albeit a true one) that Pete and I got married because of Professor Bunminster and his Lady Bunzilla's role modelling the perfect relationship – providing basic needs of company, warmth, protection, social life, fun, etc, but keeping separate characters, independence and the space to do your own thing.
They've also been our fur-kids – requiring care through the night when ill, daily love and attention, a cramp on our holidays, spontaneity and lie-ins, infuriating at times but entertaining as hell. We've bonded together ourselves over caring for our little brood.
And now in these times of Brexit, Trump and the rise of various extremist political and religious groups, I've learnt something else that I only sort of recognised and half-knew.
The buns have given me comfort that perseverence, kindness and love will win out in the end. Because since last November when Bunzilla died and Bunminster lost his mate, I've been grooming and giving him neck rubs on an almost daily basis, something he never would have tolerated before. What happened is that he started to bond with me, slowly but surely to the point where he now willingly comes over for attention.
This week the culmination of that is that he has allowed me to give him eye drops twice daily for conjunctivitis. No fight, just trusting submission. He has even allowed me to pick him up for a minute – and this is something I can build on after years of not even being quick enough to catch him. Our little dictator, who bit off an ear in defence of his territory, has finally learned to trust us through perseverence and love.
Meanwhile, our new bun Clem has only been here a month from Fat Fluffs, but she sees the others getting cheek rubs and although she usually runs away from contact, yesterday she came in voluntarily for a group head rub.
Then today, the big one – Joy, who arrived with us after being dumped at Moseley Bog last Easter, and who is the most craving of attention, let me pick her up and put her on my lap for a snuggle. No looking around for an escape route and no jumping off after a few seconds. It was a major breakthrough.
Love conquers all, even rabbits. In understanding the lagomorph, the most political act as we drift towards a depressing new world of 21st century hate, misogyny, racism and fascism is to love.
I think I fell a little bit in love with Italy last week despite its October chills. Florence, the Cinque Terre and Pisa photos are to be uploaded but here are three of them, starting with the classic shot of Vernazza, which only those walking the steep trails from Monterosso get to take. (My calves still hurt five days on.)
One of my favourite snaps from Florence – amid the Renaissance sculptures and statues – was this golden man casually riding a giant golden sea turtle. Well played Flo! Perfectly positioned amusing incongruity.
Finally, there's only one shot you need to take in Pisa, and we just about made it after a storm stuffed up our train back from Monterosso to Pisa Airport. It's not the greatest shot but it's a shot. Conclusion: it's very leany.
It's good to be back and get on with life though. Today was part work and part checking up on our bunnies who are going through a bonding with other rabbits at Fat Fluffs rescue and sanctuary. There was a quad, now down to a trio after Bert at the back there started pushing his weight around. Hopefully we can pick them up on Wednesday. Bunminster and Joy grooming each other is a massive breakthrough; new bun Hayley is obviously providing the right balance for harmony. (That or Bert stress-bonded them all together.)
A carvery lunch with the family was next as we wished bon voyage to my niece Hannah who is jetting off to Australia in a couple of weeks to start her working holiday visa year. This is something that I did back in 1999 and I have to say it changed my life. It's great to see her stepping out into her own big adventure.
Finally I had an hour-long feed and cuddle with my new great nephew Matthew, who we are still counting in weeks-old. Yes, he chucked milk down me and yes it was great.
There are always many things in the world to worry about, particularly right now, but these are the lovely things and I have many reasons to feel blessed today.