28 November 2009


I don't really recall exactly how I started raising rabbits.

Naturally on the farm we had a lot of animals. Though our money crops were all from the orchards - olives, oranges, and almonds - we had pigs and steers, for meat; goats and sheep (to help keep the grass down in the orchard; at least, that was the theory, though I don't know how well it worked); chickens, ducks, geese, and guinea fowl; dogs and cats (also pet skunks, for which my mother is to blame).

But I raised rabbits.

The origin of the rabbits was somehow connected with 4-H. "Calf Clubs" are the closest New Zealand equivalent that I know of, though it's not really the same. 4-H clubs had rather more the flavour of scouting. Although agricultural in orientation, there were a lot of activities - were they called 'merit badges??' - that you could do that were not strictly agricultural. I know that I did an electricity project and a Morse Code project.

And I did rabbits.

I remember that what attracted me to the idea of rabbits was making money. I wanted to buy a telescope, and the bottom-line one that I wanted cost US$49.95 - a quasi-infinite amount of cash to a 12-year-old. I don't recall whether I had any formal allowance from my parents. But I decided rabbits was the way to get the telescope (it worked - eventually).

My father and mother supported me grandly. The idea was that I would have eight breeding does, two bucks (this was the proportion that the book said was what I needed). This implied 10 rabbit hutches - which my father built. It also implied a steady supply of Purina "Rabbit Chow" (I was going to put in a link to that product but when I go on the web now I find they have so many duded-up versions of "Rabbit Chow" that I decided I would be embarrassed to link to them). I only now begin to think that my mother may always have paid for that. If so, my money-making business may not have been as money-making as I may once have thought.

Raising rabbits is not itself difficult. You feed them. You give them water. The hutches have a little dark box in the back for the doe to go into to have her babies. You have to put the buck in at the right time for breeding, wait 8 weeks for birth, and then feed the babies for twelve weeks.

Then you have to kill them.


Eventually I became reasonably skilled at slaughtering rabbits - though I cannot say I ever approached the task with aplomb - but learning how was a bit traumatic.

Jeremiah promised to demonstrate for me, with the first one. OK, we bring out the victim. Jeremiah explains. Then, in the smoothest fashion you could imagine, with his left hand he gently grasps the little rabbit by the hind legs, has a stick in his right. Up sweeps the rabbit, down comes the stick sharply on the back of the neck. Probably severs the spinal cord because there is no wriggling now. Out comes the knife, throat cut, and the rabbit is in Rabbit Heaven before it knows it is dead.

With similar expertise comes the slaughtering. Skin cut just so and so, peel it off like a sock. The skin goes on a stretcher to dry and the skins eventually are sent to a place in Sacramento that pays me US$.25 each for them - and at one point sells me, for ... well, I don't remember, but only a few dollars - a lovely pair of rabbit skin gloves that I wish I had now and would probably cost me hundreds.

Gutting the carcass is quick and clean. Be very careful not to rupture the gall bladder as the liver is part of the meat you will sell and gall will ruin it for eating.

OK, now it's my turn.

My stomach knots a little even now, in memory of that 55-year-old crime.

I grab the rabbit. Not gently. It begins to struggle. I raise it quickly and start smashing it with the stick. It does not like this. I am in tears by this time. Eventually it is sufficiently subdued that I manage to cut its throat.

The rest of the operation is a blur. I do remember that we had to throw that one away.

I did, as I say, get reasonably skilled at the operation. It is surely a sign of the fallen state of creation, that, as St Paul says in Romans 8 (I think it is) 'groans in tribulation' now. Adam and Eve were told that the plants were for them to eat; Noah had explicitly to be given permission to eat the beasts. I am not a vegetarian and do not believe we are required to be - but it is surely a reminder of our state that, however well we succeed in reducing the pain an animal feels in being killed, we ourselves know that it would be well if it were not necessary to kill in order to eat. It is. It will not always be so. The lion will, one day, lie down with the lamb; and 12-year-old boys will one day no longer need to kill rabbits to buy telescopes.

I must tell you some time about the day Peter and I were given permission to kill a rather mature cock, with a rather dull axe. But not now.

21 November 2009

When does it stop?!

I posted nothing last week and if I don't do something now I will post nothing this week. In fact, I think I posted nothing the week before last but am afraid to look to find out.

OK, yes, I have been busy, but in truth the reason for my silence lies more in the fact that everyone else has been so busy that I have been unsure what to write about. And from today I am very definitely busy, so just a few brief notes, and then I have to head off for rehearsal.

Johnny is in the States at the moment. He has just finished spending two weeks with Adele, and then is off to California to see Kathleen, his half-sister, and Peter, my brother.

Last 14 November was Eddie and Eveline's 11th wedding anniversary. So that they could have a couple of days to themselves, Sue and I spent the week-end at their house. Saturday I took Robyn, Jonnie, and Julian to the zoo - Sue had an appointment in Auckland, so it was just me.

And having survived the wild beasts at the zoo, I thought I should be safe taking the kids to St Luke's Shopping Centre for lunch.

I got out of the car and felt something on my left thumb - just some fluff or something from the car, I suppose. I brush it off.

Hmmm... That is the thumb with the damaged joint (Peter - that is from a time when I thought I could box with Jeremiah and he, fending me off, allowed me to bash it against his fist :-)) and it throbs sometimes. Nevertheless, it is not many seconds before I realise I have been stung - by a bee, I assume. Never mind. Bee stings don't bother me for long, and we are in a hurry. Let's go, kids!

By evening I am thinking it is an odd bee sting. My thumb has swollen massively. This is very unusual!

In the morning the swelling has gone down but there is a large and nasty-looking blood blister. I conclude - what is almost certainly the case - that I have been bitten by a spider - very likely the white-tail. There is a story that white-tails can cause arachnogenic necrosis, but Wikipedia says white-tail bites are probably not implicated - and I am counting on Wikipedia to be correct! At present it appears to be slowly healing.

5-6 December we are playing:

The Tchaikovsky is the most romantic music in the world. The biggest challenge will be not to get teary-eyed whilst playing :-) The Cantata is a challenge! A local Chinese choir will sing the Mandarin, and they are bringing in 20 soloists (singers and instrumentalists) from China for the thing - should at least be interesting!

And that is it for the week-end - and possibly until after the concert.

01 November 2009

jj learns a lesson

I bought this horn eleven months ago from KBB Music (which means, please God, that in another month I will finally have paid for it - but that's another story).

On the 13th of October, KBB sent me spam that I could not resist:

Dear French Horn Player,

Visiting horn player Mark Paine will be joining forces with three other international artists to perform a concert featuring the first NZ performance of Benjamin Britten’s The Heart of the Matter for voice, horn, piano and narrator, as well as Schubert’s Auf dem Strom for voice, horn and piano at the Raye Freedman Arts Centre, Epsom Girls' Grammar School on Sunday 1 November 2009. more

During Mark’s stay he will also be available for private horn lessons between Thursday 29 October and Monday 2 November. To book a lesson, please contact Mark directly by email markwpaine@yahoo.com

Mark is the principal horn of the European Union Chamber Orchestra and co-principal horn of the City of London Sinfonia. He specialises in playing high horn parts of the early Classical period, especially in the works of Haydn. Mark’s latest CD of Haydn Divertimenti and Symphonies has just become Editor’s Choice in UK’s Gramophone Magazine. Mark also plays natural horn, having done several projects with John Eliot Gardiner in the Orchestre R√©volutionnaire et Romantique. Visit Mark’s website

Your KBB Music Team

I have never had a horn lesson in my life (which will not surprise some of my musician friends). Indeed, I have never felt the need of one. I have thought that in order to get anything from a teacher, I would have to attend lessons weekly for a year or something - and there was no question of that, either from the point of view of money or time.

But Mark was a one-off. And Mark is at a higher level of ability than any teacher I might have available in Auckland under normal circumstances.

I e-mailed him. And he answered!

In short, it was arranged. The lesson was arranged for yesterday, Saturday the 31st of October, at 11 in the morning. My children will understand that it was a bit of a trek when I tell them that Mark was located in Torbay (72.2 Km, according to Google Maps).

I am very glad I went.

I was very nervous about going. What was this world-class horn player going to think of John Jensen's feeble blatting?

He was, in fact, very helpful, both straightforward and modest - and I don't mean false modesty. I mean he recognised his own ability and worth - and honoured what I was able to do, without either puffing it or putting it down.

And his instructions gave me what I wanted. I have been at loose ends as to how to practise between concerts. I have not, in fact, done very well with that. Mark gave me an excellent run-down of what I might do. He also very patiently listened to me rattle on - I expected half an hour of time with him; he gave me an hour and a half.

We are now preparing for our final concert of the year. It is going to be challenging. We have just three pieces - but two of them are big enough. We start with an overture:

Then the gut-wrenching (to me, at least):

(which, if it doesn't bring tears to your eyes, nothing will).

And after the interval (ready for this?):

in Mandarin! (All the music instruction notes are in Chinese - I trust someone will tell me what they mean). The Music Association of Auckland is supplying the Chinese choir and soloists (some 20 of them, I think I have heard, being brought from China for the purpose).

I think we will be busy for a while.

I have to go now and put some of my lesson into practice :-)