Portrait of Mrs B A Pratley by her daughter Gill Watkinson
Mum was a devoted angora-ite, determined to keep them true Brits with no foreign bits added. Her love affair with these bunnies started at the age of 13 and continued right up until her death.
I have been told that I attended my first show at the age of three weeks and slept in a rabbit box throughout. I didn’t get Best In Show though! My teddy bear was given BIS a couple of years later by Mr Powell. He received both rosettes and cards!
I can remember clean out weekends. Dad one end of the rabbitry, Mum at the other end. When I was little it was my job to dish out the sawdust for both of them. A good way to keep fit! Endless trips to the local allotments to create manure mountains, we were in high demand!
When I was about 8 years old we dropped Mum off to one show and Dad and I drove on to Guildford to attend another show. I was in charge of 2 bunnies (Caesar and Cleopatra). They received a large cup each and photos were taken. I think I was 6 when I was allowed to steward – I never did get a proper overall!
Show life was very eventful, as you bunny people can appreciate. As show mornings loomed, Champion Impossible has wet her knickers, out with the meths and French chalk. One morning disaster struck – imagine a foggy November Saturday, very early, leaves on the lawn, Mum’s best rabbit hopping amongst the leaves wet and filthy! This one had one more show to attend to make it a double champion – it didn’t make it. Mum clipped it!
I am so proud of my Mum and her bunnies and it’s nice to know her strain lives on in other stock.
The excitement came when she discovered a chocolate in a litter, a colour not seen for a couple of decades. We had a cinnamon and a cream arrive soon after that. Mum had a mission to retrieve long lost colours. My favourites were chins and brown-greys.
As a child we used to go for a car drive in my Dad’s Ford 10, boot loaded with bran sacks 6ft x 3ft in size. We would stop at verges to pick grass etc for a treat for the bunnies. We couldn’t do that these days!
In the winter it was my job to cut up potatoes, ant carrots etc and boil them up in an enormous tea urn (Dad had found it in a junk yard!) together with pearl barley. Once cooked, gas turned out, add a few scoops of growers’ mash, allow to stand for half an hour, mix with bran and serve! The bunnies thrived on it! Why do show coats (whose hay is in a rack) put the hay straight in the water pots and proceed to thread it through their knickers? Because they can!
We now go onto the craft side. A bedroom full of bagged wool ready to spin. I could knit by the age of five years, spin by seven years and follow a pattern by ten years. I hated carding the wool so Dad invented a carding machine. I still have Mark 2!
I have photos of boleros mum knitted for Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret before the war. I think she went to Buckingham Palace to present them. She was presented to the present Queen some years later and remarked how tiny she is.
Bradford Show – when it was at Bradford! Mum and Dad up at 2am, frantic grooming and the long drive up there. I was on bunny and cat duty that day and they returned next morning. I never did get there, travel sickness used to kick in after 3 hrs so we didn’t risk it! Angoras? Well Mum’s name will always be linked with them. Do you think Dad is mending hutches in heaven with her? I hope so. She was my best friend, very strict, manners and behaviour were very important. She was loyal to all of her friends and of course to the bunnies. She had an excellent sense of humour and a good laugh especially when I became a mother.
On a finishing note, I must relate this story. After Mum’s funeral we went to see the local vicar to arrange a day to inter Mum’s ashes with Dad’s at the local church. My son Mark and I popped into the bungalow to check all was well and found two birds inside. We cannot fathom how they got in, as all window were shut and fireplaces bricked up. Mum’s friend suggested it was a sign that she had found Dad. I will always believe that. On the day of the internment they had dug a tiny grave to put the ashes in and as the vicar bent down to put the urn in two birds flew out!
God Bless Mum and my long suffering Dad for giving me such a rich childhood. Sorry I couldn’t carry on with the bunnies – not my scene!