“I am a bunny.
My name is Nicholas.
I live in a hollow tree.”
My mum has been clearing out her loft. When we visited at half-term there were two towering piles of boxes in her garage: one pile for me, one for my brother. There were boxes of dolls frosted with a white bloom of mould. Rachel, my favourite, who came with me every day of my first year at school went straight into the bin with the others. (My teacher, Mrs Wheeler, used to give Rachel her own copy of the letters home. This was the same year that I tried to run away from school every day. I can still remember the caretaker chasing after me.) I didn’t even look at my primary school exercise books & paintings before I put them into the recycling. A useful lesson here: my children will not be grateful if I save these things for them for the next thirty years. And then, three crumbling boxes of mildewed books. The books came home with me.
My mum’s philosophy on books for children was firmly based on visits to the library. Most of the books are stamped ‘WITHDRAWN Solihull Public Libraries’. But the fact that there aren’t many of them probably makes them even more indelibly etched into my memory. None more so than, I am a Bunny.
Oh, I am a Bunny. Each page so familiar! Nicholas leading us through the seasons, and through Richard Scarry’s beautiful illustrations. In each picture there’s a foregrounded detail — a daffodil, a leaf, a pine cone — so big it could be life-sized. And the words, so simple, so perfect. ‘I chase the butterflies, and the butterflies chase me.’ I tried it out on the boys & the magic still seemed to work, even if the sellotaped book did come to pieces in my hands. Again! Popsy cried gleefully, Again!
And that last page, Nicholas curled up in his hollow tree dreaming of spring. Sometimes I feel so nostalgic for my childhood, or even for the not-so-distance past, and other times, times like this, it seems that there is no need to grasp after the past or hold too tight to the present, that it’s all here, somehow, all these different times existing alongside one another, summoned by something as simple as a bunny asleep in a tree.
The morning after I’d gone through the boxes, when it was pouring with rain and we were meant to be packing up the car to drive home, I snuck back to the bin and rescued one doll. Newborn. Emmalise. (I couldn’t decide whether to call her Emma or Lisa. Also she had come from France, and, to my six-year-old ear, Emmalise sounded distinctly French.) She came home with us, survived the washing machine, and is now in T’s room.
T, who in my early days of strictly gender-neutral parenting expressed no interest in dolls & so didn’t have any, is still slightly shocked. By the time the Moose came along, my mum had snuck Baby Doll into the house — a shockingly ugly doll who cries when you squeeze her. She’s always been unnerving, not least because if you pull down her dungarees she’s wearing a vest with a picture of a duck & the word ‘woof’ underneath it. I wonder what happened to her in her previous life. Anyway, sensibly enough, T has never had anything to do with Baby Doll, and she is definitely the boys’ doll. So, gender-neutrality restored: we’re now a two-doll household.