This demi-paradise

Martin Plimmer rabbits on about the pernicious effect Beatrix Potter has had on the Lake District
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Indy Lifestyle Online
There's a play in the West End by Caryl Churchill, in which the word kettle is substituted for every third word in the dialogue. You don't have to watch this for long before you feel like throwing a fire bomb, and you certainly would, had you thought to bring one.

A similar feeling engulfs you at Bowness on Windermere, ordinarily pretty little places on the shore of Lake Windermere. The word that haunts you here is rabbit. Victorian children's author Beatrix Potter once perambulated around these parts in a pyramid-shaped black dress. For that reason every shop is full of rabbits. Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail - you name them, they're all here in their tens of thousands.

There's no warning of all this. One minute you're driving along looking at the lake, the next you're in Cuddly Mile. If this was America there'd be big illuminated hoardings saying YOU ARE ENTERING RABBIT CITY - LOCK UP YOUR CARROTS or some such thing. Here you stop at a traffic light and get a sudden uneasy sensation that you're surrounded by furry creatures wearing dungarees. It's like a scene from Deliverance.

It's hard to understand why anybody who is not a rabbit would want to live here, though, on the plus side, nobody in Bowness or Windermere is ever stuck for a present idea - at Christmas they exchange rabbits. Even those shops which aren't gift shops have rabbits in the window, including the butcher, though, in their case, the cuddly parts have been removed (probably for sale to cuddly-toy factories). I must make a mitigating plea for Moniques's Boutique, which, in an act of bold rebellion, has only one rabbit in its window, and that's a teddy bear. Who knows what scornful looks poor Monique has to face every day as she walks to the newsagent to buy her Rabbit News? In one window, as a sort of challenge to convention, Monique has set up a display of Push `N' Out pink rubber breast enhancers, presented with great style in the ready-to-put-on inside-out position. One sight of these gives you an instant insight into the theory of relativity. But fetching though they are, they are unlikely to long distract German tourists who are Hell-bent on meeting Bernhard Schnauzbart (Samuel Whiskers) in the almost flesh, and the Japanese, who speak backwards, probably don't notice anything odd about them anyway. But credit where credit is due.

When the town gave itself up to rabbitdom, it opened up the floodgates to other species too. There are Puddleducks here and Tiggy-winkles, not to mention badgers, foxes, owls, laughing pigs, Poohs, sundry fairies and balls of fur with beady eyes which go "Eee-eee" when you press them, but have no identifiable form or face. And teddies. I suspect there is a ratings war going on here between the rabbits and the teddies, which seem to be increasing in number. Probably at night, when the tourists are all tucked up in the Autumn Leaves Guest house, they knock the stuffing out of each other. That must account for the large numbers of traditional-looking British bobbies who pace the town, no doubt all called Constable McGregor, with special cuffs for bad mice.

Though it was Beatrix Potter who condemned this place to rabbitdom, I'm sure she would have hated this cutesy-coo. From her opinionated diary writings and the look of her in her hands-off frock, she was a tough Northern woman with plenty of iron in her soul, if not in her dress material. And her books were meant for children, something the modern visitor seems to have forgotten

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