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Wot no Rabbits?
Introducing The Brither, Sandy, a regular feature of life in the House of Ten Thousand Dreams
Now my brother was a bit of a character. I’m not talking about my wee brother, Hamish, or the big one I suddenly discovered I had in 2004 that no bugger ever told me about before (aye, we’ll get to that.) I mean my other big brother, Sandy, AKA Sye.
Now Sandy did things his own way. He ran a car breaking yard—and trust me, there is no more joyous place to spend your school hols than in a place like that—and he lived in a wee cottage in Arbroath, one of those sandstone ones. Sandy’s wife was called Toos and she was Dutch.
Sandy was always coming up with schemes and one of these was inspired by Toos, who told him that people in Holland raised rabbits for the pot.
‘Hm,’ thinks he. ‘I’ll have a dod of that.’ So off he goes and buys a pair of white rabbits from Thomson’s the pet shop in the High Street. Well, Toos just laughed, because they have special rabbits for eating in Holland but Sandy never knew. So he put them is a hutch he’d nailed together in the back yard and waited.
The thing is, rabbits do two things. One is they, you know, like rabbits, and the other is, they eat their way through anything that isn’t metal. They might even do that if they were hungry enough.
So the rabbits had a few clutches of baby rabbits, but they weren’t really big enough to eat, you know. Sandy got bored and turned to other things for amusement. Which I daresay we’ll get to. Unfortunately, the rabbits also got bored and pulled a Colditz out of the hutch, having eaten their way through, and scattered. Like they do in all the best POW movies.
Sandy—predictably—just shrugged his shoulders and went back to fixing whichever car he was up to his elbows in the guts of at the time. Probably a Jag. He liked Jags. And no more was said about the subject.
A few months later I was round at Sandy and Toos’ house. I think it was a Saturday. Anyway I looked out the kitchen window and was pure amazed to see a thick covering of snow on the ground. I mean, I know it was Scotland, but it was the summer holidays.
Somewhat startled, I looked more closely and realised that the snow was moving. True. Moving snow. Except this snow had long ears and red eyes. There were hundreds of rabbits in the yard. Well, 92, exactly. I’ll tell you how I know later.
The problem was that even though Sandy’s yard had a stone wall round it, the rabbits just dug tunnels under and pretty soon he was getting it in the neck from everybody in the street. Hannah Street, it was called. Anyway the neighbours were kinda het because where once there had been green and lush wee gardens, all set out neat, now it was scorched earth with droppings and mobile snow as far as the eye could see. Kinda like the Somme on a bad day.
After a while of this, Sandy got fed up of Toos nagging him about the moaning neighbours. So he decided Something Had To Be Done. Well. Sandy had a right straightforward view on life…
(Voice off: Like youse ya mean? Big lunk.)
No, I am not going to respond to that, not just now anyway. Just you hold your wheesht and I will go on with the story. Decorum and dignity and all that.
Anyway, Sandy had a direct take on life and he lived about 100 yards from the port, so off he goes and chats up a couple of his fishermen pals, which involved an hour or so in the Ship. Inn, that is. And then, when it came to flinging-out time (the pubs closed at 2.30 in the afternoon in those days) all the three of them hied back to Hannah Street with a couple of dogs and a great big net.
The rest of the afternoon was filled with dogs barking, men swearing, not a few flying tackles on running rabbits, and a couple of hundred spectators cheering it all on, with their heads sticking over the top of the wall round the garden like Mr Chad; it was an away day for Arbroath and there wasn’t much for entertainment, you know.
Toos, on account of my tender age, wouldn’t let me take part in the procedures, which were basically three pissed men falling about, but it was mighty good fun to watch.
In the end, they got all the rabbits into the net—not all at once, like—and then into tattie sacks and up to Fleming the butcher (no relation) where they were exchanged for beer vouchers. That’s how I know there were 92.
I think they got turned into potted haugh, well, the rabbit equivalent.
Now if you think that’s a load of (rabbit) baloney, then listen to this. Some thirty years later, when we were moving back from a sojourn in France to the sunny climes of eastern Scotland, I researched haulage companies in the old town of Arbroath. I found one actually not far from Sandy’s old house — which had been demolished decades before in a classic example of Planning Blight. I introduced myself and told the gents there what I needed, but I couldn’t help but notice that one of them was staring at me kinda funny like.
Eventually, he spoke up. ‘Fleming, you say?’ quoth he. ‘Are you Big Sye Fleming’s son?’
As it happens, this was not so implausible but but I’m not, so I laughed and said ‘No, I’m his brother.’
‘Ah,’ came the reply. ‘I remember him. And all those bloody rabbits!’
True story, seriously. Lest you doubt me, just ask anyone at the Fit o’ the Toon. Sandy was a legend.
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First published at Rod Fleming’s World