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Date: 01/04/15

No More Haring About, No More Rabbiting On


Odd things. Small things, quite often. Small things which you never really notice until either a period of introspection or a sudden realisation make you realise that they are there and that they may have taken over an aspect of your life.

For instance, when I was a boy I became obsessed with the number 9. This was, I now realise, the result of some astrology column - or some such purveyor of gull to the gullible - telling me that it was my lucky number (because I was a Gemini, of course). This meant that - until even my pre-pubescent self realised that it was bonkers - I felt uncomfortable if I didn't do certain things nine times, which I can now put down to what would now be diagnosed as OCD (which I keep having to not call 'OCR'). Minor matters, like treading on a crack in the pavement, or swallowing, things like that. If I didn't do them nine times I felt uneasy, as if to not do them nine times would somehow cause my very self to unravel.

As I said, I grew out of that one fairly quickly (about two or three years), if only because its deep impracticality made itself too strongly felt to be persisted with. But there's another habit which started at about the same time which has continued right up to today. Or, rather, right up to last night.

It was the fault of a school headmaster. The primary school I attended was - at least when I started going to it - divided into two sections: 'infants' (aged 4 to 7); and 'juniors' (aged 7 to 11), and although they occupied the same building (seen here), were under the control of different head teachers. The infants section was dominated by Mrs. Crane, a scrawny, ill-natured old bat who didn't understand my deep natural shyness at all, even to the extent of telling my mother to her face that she thought that I was anti-social (she may well have been right by any objective measurement, but that's not the point: supportive, she wasn't).

The juniors section was ruled over by Tom Adams-Jones, a squat and more than somewhat bumptious man, whose selling point to me lay simply in the fact of his not being Mrs. Crane. Mr. Jones (the first barrel of his surname remained resolutely unfired, except when he was signing our end-of-year reports or some other official document) drove a two-tone Triumph Herald and lived in the Wrexham suburb of Acton, which was considered quite posh, especially to us working-class kids in the hills. He would remind us regularly and with barely-suppressed satisfaction of the 'fact' that the name of our village meant 'Hill of Dirt' (that is certainly one possible origin of the name; other derivations are available).

Similarly, when we staged a pantomime during my penultimate year there - a very good version of Aladdin produced by Mr. David Pritchard (almost certainly the best teacher I ever had; certainly one of the very few who understood me and encouraged me in the right ways) - Mr. Jones interfered with parts of the script, altering the line where Widow Twankey (played by Neil Durban) threatened the bailiffs Tuhi and Tulo (played by Paul Morris and Nigel Baker) with a "punch up the bracket" to one where she (sorry Neil, I mean 'he') instead offered them "a punch on the nose".

(Now I think about it, in the same way that Mrs. Crane made me realise - albeit unconsciously - how power can cause some people to become nasty with it, Mr. Jones brought me my earliest examples of how holding a position of dominance can bring out pettifoggery in others).

Mr. Jones - as our headmaster - also used to lead our mandatory school assemblies every morning.

(A note for aliens: ever since the Education Act of 1944, it had been compulsory for every publicly-funded school in Englandandwales to hold a morning assembly at which - irrespective of the ethnic or religious make-up of those unwillingly assembled - hymns would be sung and verses from the Bible read out (I was a good reader from my pre-school days - one of the many things to thank my mother for - so I seemed to get to do this more often than most). It was also a chance for him to exercise his bumptiousness glands (a phenomenon I was to witness in excelsis in my secondary school, where the headmaster - a brother under the skin to Mrs. Crane - used the daily assembly at least as much as a chance to exercise psychological power over the pupils, or to humiliate some poor minor offender in front of the children and the teachers, as he did to spread The Good Word™)).

And here's where the habit comes in.

On the occasion of the first school assembly of every month, there he would stand and remind us - as he also reminded us about the story of the oak apple and some English king or other (as oak 'apples' are in fact the manifestation of a parasitic presence, the connection is more apt than it initially appeared) - that, as it was the first day of the month, there was something that we should say. And what - he would ask, in the manner of the sort of children's television presenters about whose peccadilloes we were mercifully ignorant at the time - should we say, boys and girls?

"White rabbits!", we would reply with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

"Ah, but!", he would continue, "If we want to back it both ways, what do we say instead?"

"Hares and rabbits!", we would exclaim, as if partaking of some sort of liturgical response (I bet they had something different in Catholic schools: "Lepores et cuniculos!" probably).

And from that day on, I have been subject to this barmy obsession. So much so that, rather like what Hemingway would have called 'the thing with the number nine', I have been captured for forty-five years by 'the thing with the hares and rabbits'. I have felt a minor species of existential dread if I realised that 'hares and rabbits' was not the first thing I said on waking up on the morning of the First. This has even descended to the level of staying awake for that certain midnight every bloody month - irrespective of how tired I may be - so that I could be sure of saying "hares and rabbits" once the clock in the hall has stopped chiming the hour (plus a little gap to allow for the fact that said clock is routinely set a couple of minutes fast so that it alerts me when I'm getting ready for work of a morning that it's a quarter past seven and I need to get a wiggle on).

Every bloody month!

Until now.

Last night, after I had finished doing my end-of-month data backup (another habit, but at least one with a firm practical purpose; I had my fingers burned early on in my ownership of a PC, and resolved to prevent a recurrence) and went to bed (wherein to read Pratchett's The Light Fantastic for about the sixth time), I resolved that I would calculatingly, deliberately, determinedly break the thread. My resolve in this was helped by the fact that I was actually asleep before midnight, and so handily missed the appointed moment. But I'm pleased to say that - when I did wake up shortly before 3am - my first words had no tenable connection to the genus Lepus at all. They were:

"Bollocks to it!"

I've no illusions about remembering not to revert to the habit next month, but a start has been made, I feel.