Part 1 – Humble Origins
Most people are unaware that Joey the rabbit is in fact no ordinary pet rabbit. Far from it; Joey is a special rabbit who saved the UK from a terrorist attack. And for his heroic service he became the first rabbit to ever be recognised by the Queen. Joey is in fact Sir Hopsalot. However, Joey is a modest bunny and shuns the media spotlight. He prefers the anonymity of being a commoner, and so goes by the unassuming moniker of ‘Joey’.
But I am getting ahead of myself. This is the tale of how Joey became Britain’s saviour and became a knight of the realm, So, let’s begin, dear reader. I crave your indulgence to withhold your suspicion that this is all mere fabrication, a rabbit’s dream of grandeur. Sometimes it is the little guy that makes a difference. Sometimes the rich and powerful are beholden to little fluffy fellas for their lives and positions of importance.
Joey was born in Wombourne, a pleasant suburban locale just outside of Wolverhampton. He was born into captivity. His first owner was a farmer’s daughter who had left agriculture but who still loved tending to animals.
My daughter was shown two mini lops. One was to be her ninth birthday present. They were brothers. Both wonderfully cute: covered with light brown patches, all fluffy; long droopy ears; and adorable little faces with continually twitching noses; and big sad unblinking brown eyes.
If it was possible to distinguish which was the cutest, my daughter was the person for the job. It took her just seconds to choose between Joey and his brother. It then took just seconds for my daughter to think up a name for her new pet.
When we bought Joey he was just two months old. A baby bunny, placid and pooing. He was at ease in the carrier in the car, and even more at ease in the hutch I built for him in the hallway of our small house in Bewdley.
He thrived under the constant love and attention lavished on him by my daughter. She combed his soft coat, detangled the dreads that formed on his tummy, cut his nails, treated his ears for parasites, watched out for sore hocks, and constantly learnt how to keep a bunny happy and healthy.
As well as taking Joey outside to munch on the chives and parsley, my daughter would arrange for Joey to have play dates with other rabbits. Naturally, we had to make sure that Joey spent time with other boy rabbits to avoid that thing that rabbits are famous for – making more rabbits.
To you and I a rabbit might seem like a near silent creature. If you listen carefully you might hear a rabbit make a wheezing sound, like an old man lumbering up the stairs to reach his bed. The truth is very different. Rabbits are in fact very talkative. They love chatting to other rabbits. In the wild rabbits survive by being alert and by constantly communicating with other rabbits. That is not to say that all rabbits get on with each other.
In captivity Joey would happily pass the time chatting to his brother who shared a hutch with him. At feeding time, he would pass pleasantries and bunny gossip with the other rabbits, most of whom were in his extended family. When Joey left Wombourne the other rabbits felt sadness at his departure; but at the same time, they felt a presentment that Joey was a smart bunny who would be a force for good in the world. How right they were.
Part 2 – The Call of Duty
So it was that Joey got to meet other rabbits in Bewdley. His big floppy ears with their soft furless insides soon grew accustomed to the odd bunny accents of Nigel and Norman, the rabbits that lived down the road.
One day as they were happily hopping round the upstairs den, pooing and jumping on the furniture, Nigel turned to Joey with a serious look on his adorable black and white face and said: “Joey, Norman spoke briefly to another pet rabbit and he had urgent news to relate.”
Joey was all ears, “What is it Nigel? What has Norman discovered?”
Nigel hopped off a fresh poo and sat and scratched his right ear with his right back leg to order his thoughts and compose his reply. Bunnies are nothing if not considered in their actions.
“It has been passed on to Norman by the Secret Bunny Service that there is a plan afoot to assassinate the Prime Minister.”
“Is that the chubby fellow with the uncombed fur or the serious Scottish lady?” Joey enquired as he was still a young bunny and not totally up to speed on the cast of humans that held power.
Nigel smiled indulgently, “Of course I mean Boris Johnson, the one with piggy eyes, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.”
“Oh!” The enormity of the revelation began to dawn on Joey. His country of grassy tufts, sweet weeds and delicious chew sticks was under attack from malign foreign forces bent on spreading hate amongst humans. And when the human world cracked the bunny world suffered too. It is a little-known fact that Bunnies are extremely conservative with a small ‘c’. They don’t like change, and they don’t like humans to get any more violent and destructive than they already are. Many bunnies are moreover patriotic: they love the green lush fields of their homeland and want it free of ravaging outsiders hell bent on change and concrete.
My daughter noticed that Joey was subdued that night when he got home for his dinner of pellets and curly kale. He didn’t rattle the metal bars of his hutch as he usually did, asking for hay and attention. Instead, he sat quietly on his litter tray pooing and considering. Who was going to save Boris Johnson?
Rabbits are brave, especially wild rabbits and their larger cousins, hares. They risk frolicking in the fields and the crops. They know only too well that other animals not to mention angry farmers are out for their blood and meat. Rabbits born in captivity are no less brave. Joey felt that he was having greatness thrust upon him; the call of duty was too strong to ignore. Joey must get to London; he must infiltrate number 10 Downing Street; and he must somehow foil the plot to kill the blustering PM.
The God of Rabbits, El-ahrairah, was following Joey with keen interest. Being a god, he knew that this mini lop presiding in a lively little town in Worcestershire was destined to go down in the Rabbit Annals of History.
The next morning Joey saw his chance. It was a Saturday. My daughter was at home playing with Joey. He was weaving in and out of her feet as she walked. There was a knock at the door. One of Joey’s usually floppy ears pricked up. He could hear me talking to the Amazon delivery guy. Neither I nor my daughter noticed young Joey sprint past the delivery man and into the communal car park. Joey saw the van with the back doors open. He hopped inside and quickly managed to squeeze himself between the piles of packages into a shadowy corner of the van. One minute later the van doors were closed and Joey was plunged into darkness.
Joey had never felt more scared and alone in his life. Rabbits are sociable creatures and feel security in being with their loving owners or other rabbits. He was shivering and pooing in the corner. His brave resolve to save the nation was fast being eroded by the menacing dark. The van rumbled into life. Joey felt the vehicle jolting beneath his hocks. He slid from side to side as the van turned corners. Just then he heard another bunny voice, “Hey! Watch what you are doing! You nearly kicked me in the eye!”
Joey had never been so relieved in his life. “I am so sorry. I didn’t expect to find another rabbit in this van. Words or prodigious faeces cannot express my relief at hearing your voice, comrade. My name is Joey and I was born in captivity. I recently heard through the bunny network that there is an imminent threat to the Prime Minister’s life. I have taken it upon my callow self to attempt to save piggy eyed Boris.”
Now that Joey had recovered his composure, he became more aware of his surroundings. He could make out the dim outline of a mini lion haired lop. He could smell it was a girl. He was feeling a bit peculiar. The scent of girl rabbits was somehow distracting. The stranger came over and sniffed Joey and made the secret bunny greeting.
“My name is Esme. I am the leader of the Worcestershire branch of the Secret Bunny Service or SBS. I was going to London to report to my seniors that I had failed in my mission to recruit a young and unfeasibly cute rabbit to risk their life to save the country. Now, thank El-ahrairah I think I can make a different report to my superiors.”
Joey twitched his nose in confusion. Surely there was no shortage of cute and willing bunnies to risk their lives for the greater good? He humbly said so to Esme. She replied: “If only that were true. It turns out that all the Worcestershire rabbits that I approached said their owners needed them. All the humans are fearful of something called ‘coronavirus’. Their fear manifests itself in long bouts of bingeing on Netflix shows and eating copious amounts of deep-fried potatoes. Bunnies worry for their owners and consider it their first priority to bring calm and hope to their homes with endearing behaviour and poos.”
It was a sentiment that Joey could well understand. He too had noticed his owner and her dad wearing masks and hanging around the house more than was usual. He too had felt a pang of concern as he flew from the bosom of his adopted family.
“You are a special bunny. You have shown yourself to be braver than the average bunny. I now have no doubt that you are the bunny that I have been searching for. Thanks to our contacts in the corridors of power, we feel sure that we will be able to place you into a position to save the PM. We know that an assassin will take a shot at Boris two days from now. We have very little time to train you and place you in the field.”
Part 3 – Bunny Park
Joey made the wheezing noise this time out of worry rather than joy. The van swung them right to left and then left to right. He was feeling a bit travel sick. This time he urinated to calm himself down.
Esme was not impressed, “Joey, there is one thing that humans can’t stand, and that is a bunny that wees on them, or who wees on the carpet or the sofa. Poos are mostly tolerated (in small amounts) but weeing never is. We need you to be a pet inside number 10, so you are going to have to practise self-control.”
Joey hunched in a submissive gesture, his fresh wee sloshing around the metal van floor, slowly being absorbed by cardboard boxes. He said, “I’m very sorry Esme. I normally wee in my litter box, but I’m afraid the movement of this vehicle made me go. I will show more self-control in the future.”
Joey paused, and continued to look contrite and cute. “Can you tell me any more about my mission, Esme?”
Esme hopped closer to Joey and whispered in his dangly ear, “You will be properly briefed on your mission when we get to the SBS Headquarters. First, we have to get there. We are getting out of this van; follow me and stay close.”
Joey and Esme sat quietly in the van waiting in the shadows. An hour passed and the van stopped. The doors opened, momentarily blinding the rabbits. The delivery guy soon found the package he was looking for. He closed the van doors again. Esme hopped over the parcels and tried the doors. They weren’t shut. The two bunnies pushed together and tumbled out the back.
Once outside, Esme looked quickly around and sniffed the air. “This way,” she said to Joey. Our pair of intrepid bunnies crossed a road and disappeared into the weed strewn fringe of a carpark. Esme checked they were not being followed. “I recognise where we are. We have about a 20-minute hop to the train station. Then we catch a train to Ealing. From there we hop to Bunny Park and our secret warren.”
It was quite an adventure for Joey. He had never been outside for so long, and never without the protection of his loving owner. However, Esme’s confidence and total focus rubbed off on Joey. He felt that in just the few hours he had been with her, he was becoming a mature rabbit.
Following Esme, Joey hopped to a train station. They hid just past the platform in a fenced off area where humans didn’t go. When the train arrived at the station, they waited for the passengers to exit and enter before making a last minute scramble to get on the platform. They then shot through the legs of a late arrival catching the train. It was a woman carrying bags in both hands. She was preoccupied with her bulky bags and didn’t notice our intrepid bunnies slip between her legs and silently hop under the first double seats they could find.
You cannot underestimate the resourcefulness of a rabbit. Esme had learnt several human words and phrases. She sat in the dark under the chair concentrating on the announcements. When she heard ‘Ealing’ she nuzzled Joey to warn him to be ready to depart the train.
Just as they had entered so they departed – quickly and silently, using the flurry of human activity to hide their presence. They made it to a grassy embankment and hid in the undergrowth and human rubbish.
They waited until dark before completing the final part of their journey to Bunny Park. The warren was situated in a quiet northern part of the park. The entrance to the warren was hidden under a rhododendron bush.
Part 4 – The King of Bunny Park
Joey was overwhelmed with new impressions. The smells of so many different rabbits overwhelmed him. His nose twitched frantically trying to keep up with the olfactory information. He went down a wide gently sloping tunnel, keeping close to Esme. On either side were entrances to more tunnels. He passed several rabbits lining the way. They stared in silence at Joey as they passed. Joey worried that these rabbits intended him harm, especially the wild rabbits he passed. At the end of the main thoroughfare, they were met by a big gruff wild rabbit. He introduced himself as Lieutenant Alyssum and asked them curtly to follow him. It was more of a command than a request.
He took them through several tunnels. They arrived at a large room guarded by another fierce rabbit. At the signal from Lieutenant Alyssum the bodyguard moved aside and the three of them respectfully approached the King of Bunny Park. He was a magnificent beast. He was considerably bigger than the other rabbits in the space; his haunch nearly touched the roof. Esme nudged Joey to make a submissive pose. They all hunched, noses down before the Flemish Giant.
The King spoke, “So Esme, you didn’t fail in your mission. You managed to find a suitable rabbit I see. What is your name, newcomer?”
Joey briefly looked up into the dark eyes of the King, “My name is Joey. How can I serve you, my King?”
“I am sure Esme has told you that we have received intelligence that an assassin has been hired to shoot the Prime Minister. He will take the shot at exactly midnight on Christmas Day. The Prime Minister will be upstairs at number 10. No doubt by the Christmas Tree, holding forth to his long-suffering partner. Marvelling at his own imaginary genius.”
Joey had many questions to ask but the first to make it way out of his befurred face was to ask who the assassin was.
“We suspect it is the Mekong. A visitor from another universe, better known as Dominic Cummings. Leave me now, Joey. Esme and Lieutenant Alyssum will brief you in full. You will shortly become the pet bunny of Boris and Carrie’s baby, Wilfred. Your mission is to distract the Prime Minister just before midnight so that he is no longer in front of the window. Do whatever you have to keep him away from the window. May El-ahrairah be with you,” The King touched his head briefly to Joey’s. After which Joey was escorted out of the King’s audience chamber.
Part 5 – The Mission
The following day, thanks to the far-reaching contacts of the Secret Bunny Service, Joey was placed in a carrier and taken into 10 Downing Street.
“Darling, little Wilf just adores the new rabbit, as does Dilyn. All three of them have been playing together. Please can we keep the rabbit!” Carrie asked her husband who was busy in his office turning an empty wine box into a bus full of happy people. He even managed to get the people socially distanced and wearing masks in his mock up bus, which is better than he managed in his country. On his mahogany desk stood two piles of red ministerial boxes.
Boris looked up from his bus, “Well my dear. Is it house trained? A rabbit sounds like an awful lot of work. I’m sure Dom said something about avoiding rabbits. Why don’t we get a cat instead?”
“Fine, dear,” Carrie said with a hard edge to her voice. She flounced out of the room.
Boris put down the wine box and marker pen and sighed. It clearly wasn’t fine, just like not giving free school meals to poor kids. He shuffled out of his office in search of his fiancée, the woman he claimed to love, but whom he had somehow failed to marry for complicated reasons. All these thoughts were dispelling Boris’s good mood, just reminding him that normally he would be enjoying some Caribbean sun at this time of year, paid for by a donor or a crony.
He found Carrie in the kitchen preparing a nut cutlet for the big day. “Well, I suppose, the little fella could stay for the holidays, my love. After that we can see.”
Carrie was amazed at how easy it was to manipulate her husband. She put down the mixing spatula and went over to her husband and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Would you like a glass of this wine I’ve just opened, my dear?”
And so it was that Joey was in a position to fulfil his destiny.
There was so much for Joey to remember. He was a young bunny with no experience of the world beyond the car park at home and the little park around the corner where his owner used to take him to play. His first challenge was timing. How was he to know when it was Christmas Day? Esme had given him advice on this issue. The humans would be opening presents on Christmas Day. “Just look for lots of paper on the carpet next to the big tree”.
Finding out the time was a harder business. Joey knew that it was dark outside when the clock struck midnight. Dark he could do. During the day Joey entertained Wilf in the nursery. He snuggled up to the infant boy. He did entertaining hops and his trademark binkies. He went on his back legs and rubbed his little front paws over his face. Most importantly he worked hard to not irritate the nurse. This meant pooing and weeing in the litter tray.
And then Wilf and him were taken into the living room. There stood the Christmas tree, tall and twinkling, covered in baubles, tinsel and fairy lights. Under the tree were lots of boxes wrapped up in colourful wrapping paper.
Carrie was kneeling by the presents. Boris was in his pyjamas and dressing gown holding a tall, thin glass with a bubbling liquid inside. He was most jovial as he exhorted Carrie to “dish out the pressies”. Wilf crawled and rolled on the carpet near his mum. Joey sat obediently by the child. Dilyn the dog lay asleep on his rug in the kitchen.
Sure enough, the red carpet was covered in expensive wrapping paper as the humans extracted their gifts. Joey was in no doubt it must be Christmas Day. It was a great weight off Joey’s mind. Now he just needed to find a round object on a wall or on a human wrist and watch for when the two hands joined as one at the top.
The day passed slowly. The presents were opened. The paper cleared away. Boris got dressed and took the dog for a walk in the Rose Garden, failing to collect the faeces. Carrie had another woman to help her prepare the Christmas lunch. Wilf and Joey were taken back to the nursery. Just in time as Joey was gasping for a poo.
At lunch time Joey was locked in a small hutch and Wilf was taken to have lunch with his parents. That went on for ages so Joey had a nap with his eyes open, flopping to one side.
He briefly woke when Wilf was carried sleeping into the room by the nurse and put in his cot. There was more play with the boy after the nap time, and then again Joey was relegated to his hutch while Wilf briefly played with his mum and dad before tea, bath and bed.
Joey was getting agitated. He could see it getting darker outside through the nursery window. How was he going to get among the grownups? How was he going to distract Boris at midnight? Joey sat on his litter tray and vented prodigiously and fretted. He didn’t want to let his country down.
Part 6 – Alone in the Dark
Alone in the dark, the child sleeping peacefully below his mobile of glittering stars, Joey was desolate. He rattled his hutch door. He nudged the door. Nothing. If rabbits could cry, Joey would have wept.
The young bunny lost track of how long he sat in the dark before he heard the door open and Boris lurch into the room. “Hey little fella! Come here. Ah, you are a cute chap.” With that Boris scooped up Joey in his arms and lurched back out of the room and into the big room with the Christmas tree.
Carrie was sitting on the sofa, legs curled up under her, watching TV. Boris put Joey down on the carpet. This was Joey’s big chance.
First, he did playfulness. He ran around the room, hopping as he ran, doing fun binkies. Second, he did cute. He got on his hind legs and ruffled his whiskers with his front paws. Then he flopped sideways and then on his back. Third, he did imploring. He nudged Carrie’s and Boris’s legs, asking for strokes and attention. Fourth, he did snuggles. He jumped onto the sofa and squeezed into a gap between Carrie and the sofa arm. He even made one of his floppy ears stand up.
The humans were enchanted by Joey. He truly was a cute bunny. Carrie loved stroking his soft mottled fur. Boris stood in front of the tree glass in hand. He had been talking about Brexit but Joey’s performance had made him trail off into ‘oh’ and ‘ah’ noises.
“He is a spirited chap. We shall call him Winston,” declared the PM.
Carrie turned her attention from the television to her husband, “I’m afraid Wilf has already started calling him what sounds like ‘Bam Bam’”.
Boris made a noise that might be construed as disappointment, and took a large sip of red wine. He was restless. Work, Dom, Brexit and Covid were pinballing around his befuddled consciousness.
Joey noticed that Carrie was wearing a round object on her arm. It had two moving pointers. The two hands were nearly both pointing up. He knew that meant midnight. He had to get the Prime Minister’s attention and make sure he stayed clear of the window. At the present, Boris was going off into a tipsy daydream, staring out the window.
Part 7 – Success
Joey jumped from the sofa and hopped over to Boris. However, he encountered the curtain. What magic is this he thought as he ran through the curtains, letting the soft material brush against his twitching nose. He manically followed the curtains back and forth, allowing them to sweep over him. Sadly, the curtain had cast a spell on our little bunny, the mission temporarily missing from his mind.
This distracted Boris from his reverie. “What an engaging fellow! He reminds me of my subjects, I mean constituents. Lovely people but easily distracted; in need of guidance”.
With that Boris picked Joey up. It was now or never. What to do? Joey was in a paralysis of fear, he froze. He had no idea. His training deserted him. Joey began to wee over Boris.
Immediately Boris held Joey away from himself and leaned over to inspect the damage done to his attire. At that moment there was a crack as the window broke, and a puff of smoke as a bullet buried itself in the wall opposite.
Instantly there was pandemonium. Armed police appeared; alarms went off. Carrie screamed. The baby awoke and Boris lay on the thick carpet, disappointed that he had spilt all his wine.
In a small attic room on the other side of the road, Dom hurriedly dismantled his sniper’s rifle, muttering something about “damned rabbits”.
Part 8 – Meeting the Queen
It was a miserable grey January day that Joey remembered as the best day in his life. He had nibbled on the verge of a flower bed as he waited for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. She looked a little bit like a rabbit he thought, only without the whiskers.
The Queen was very gracious to Joey. She struggled but she managed to bend down to stroke Joey and tell him about what a hero he was, and how the nation (or some of it) were deeply in his debt for saving the Prime Minister. She smelt of dog but Joey was too polite to show anything but bunny affection to her majesty.
After the pleasantries, the Queen was handed a sword. She very carefully placed it on each side of Joey’s head, and then on his head. And with that she pronounced Joey Sir Hopsalot.
And so dear readers that is how a cute young bunny from the Midlands came to be knighted. It wasn’t a noble canine or a cunning feline that foiled the plot to kill the leading politician in the country but a lowly rabbit reared in obscurity and love; a child of The God of Rabbits, El-ahrairah.
Part 9 – Reunited
There was a knock at the door in Bewdley. I answered it with my daughter hiding behind me. Since the latest lockdown we hadn’t had any knocks upon the door other than by the friendly postwoman or harried delivery men.
A policeman stood next to a tall man in a dark suit and a crimson tie. The civilian addressed me, “I believe this rabbit belongs to you, sir.” My daughter immediately pushed passed me and burst into tears of gratitude. She took the carrier containing her pet and hastily retreated into the corridor to free her cherished companion. Joey hopped out and immediately binkied and hummed in perfect happiness. Joey was so overwhelmed with joy. He felt at last he could just be himself again. No more burdensome duties to perform. He pooed in ecstasy.
The policeman retired to the expensive grey Mercedes parked in front of the ewe tree that stands sentinel in front of our house. “Your little rabbit is quite the little hero. I can’t say too much as it involves national security, but please accept this medal and certificate from her Majesty the Queen. Your rabbit is the first in history to be knighted. He is now Sir Hopsalot. We owe so much to this little fellow. Her Majesty has offered to keep him as an advisor and guard at Buckingham Palace but he has clearly set his heart on being with his owner. On behalf of the Queen and the Prime Minister I say thank you again.”
With that the man shook my hand, bowed just a fraction and withdrew. I shut the door and gazed dumbfounded at the sight of my happy daughter cuddling little Joey.
Part 10 – Missing
I never knew exactly what Joey had done until several days later. A short, stocky man carrying a lion haired rabbit in the crook of his bent arm visited our house. He explained that he was there on behalf of the Secret Bunny Service and that the rabbit he had with him was the head of the Worcestershire Branch. I don’t know how he communicated with the rabbit he held, but he claimed to speak on behalf of the SBS.
For the next hour he sat in our living room. Esme and Joey played together while my daughter and I listened to the story you have just read. He finished by commenting, “We searched Durham and Bernard Castle but couldn’t find Dominic Cummings. We did however find a scorched circle on the ground in a wood where bluebells grow in season. We believe he has fled back to his home planet.”
With that the man who never proffered his name picked up the lion haired rabbit and asked to be excused. All three of us watched as he and the rabbit made their way out of the car park and into the Georgian precincts of Bewdley.