The duck-rabbit’s younger brother, sister-in-law, and adorable 5-month old niece (hereafter: the peanut, which is what everyone calls her) have been temporarily staying with the duck-rabbit’s mother, who lives approximately two minutes walk from the duck-rabbit’s London residence. Since it is rare for us all to be living within almost literal stone’s throw of each other, we’ve been taking full advantage of the proximity. A case in point was last week, on the morning of the duck-rabbit’s brother’s 36th birthday, when all convened at the duck-rabbit’s house for a celebratory family breakfast at 8:00 am.
The duck-rabbit had awoken, bleary-eyed, around 7:15, and stumbled downstairs to discover that He-Who-Must-Be-Preserved had 1) made bread, which was rising on the counter top, 2) gone running on Hampstead Heath, and 3) gone shopping to buy provisions for a Celebratory Vegan Repast. For, you see, the duck-rabbit’s younger brother has recently “joined the happy band of vegans” as our mother was heard drily observing to another family member. We were determined to Rise To The Occasion.
In addition to He-Who-Must-Be-Preserved’s freshly-baked rustic bread, the breakfast was to include sloe compote (made from sloes foraged by He-Who-Must-Be-Preserved from the Heath, natch); grilled mushrooms; sautéed spinach; and fresh English strawberries. The duck-rabbit’s main contribution was to make coffee and set the table. Both were just slightly botched, the coffee so strong that the menfolk had to be called upon to depress the plunger into the French press, and the table’s overall aesthetic effect sullied by the duck-rabbit’s insistence on setting out both butter and milk, which the duck-rabbit’s mother made a point of moving out of frame before taking a snap of the feast, which surely could have graced the subtly matt-yet-glowing-with-virtue cover of Smug Vegan Weekly: Locavore Edition.
Before going any further it should be clarified that references in this dispatch to the duck-rabbit’s London residence refer to the house in Highgate that the duck-rabbit is lucky enough to stay in for free during the latter half of August when her generous friend (whom the duck-rabbit has known since they met as students at the London School of Classical Dance in the mid-80s) who actually lives in said residence is in the South of France. Highgate is not a neighborhood the duck-rabbit could afford to live in. Kate Moss lives across the street, for Gawd’s sake.
At least that’s what the duck-rabbit’s mother claims. (“Oh yes, she lives in Coleridge’s old house,” explained the duck-rabbit’s mother over breakfast. She paused and glanced at the duck-rabbit. You know, Coleridge. The poet,” she added, helpfully. The duck-rabbit found this clarification a little galling. “Yes. I believe I’ve heard of Coleridge,” it found itself saying. Lest you think the duck-rabbit was being a tad prickly here, the duck-rabbit’s brother backed it up, observing caustically that it was interesting that, of the nine people seated around the table that morning, the duck-rabbit’s mother chose to address this clarification (“You know … the poet,”) to the only person at the table who actually reads and teaches Coleridge’s poetry on a regular basis. “That was just where my eyes happened to land!” protested the duck-rabbit’s mother, all innocence.)
This exchange added a welcome piquancy to our vegan breakfast and we all (flopsy-duckits excepted) continued to happily eat our greens and mushrooms. In lieu of presents, rash promises were made, and the duck-rabbit’s brother was presented with a crown that the elder flopsy duckit had woven from willow stalks twisted with ivy at a summer fair in Queen’s Wood. As an extra touch the elder flopsy duckit had added a fake white carnation which looped rather wildly out from the crown at a rakish angle. Wearing his crown while eating his mushrooms and holding the peanut, my brother looked like a right North London Oberon.
Being vegan’s not all organic spinach and strawberries though. No, as far as the duck-rabbit can glean from its brother’s example, the workaday vegan diet involves an awful lot of peanut butter on toast.* This was especially clear on a morning a few days before the birthday breakfast, when the duck-rabbit, having just barely stumbled into the kitchen for breakfast, heard her phone ringing—unusual before 8 am. It was the duck-rabbit’s brother. The conversation was brief and yet, as siblings, we could convey so much with so few words:
D-R’s brother: (The following uttered in a let’s-just-dispense-with-niceties tone that conveyed the speaker had been ransacking the kitchen, searching, fruitlessly, for at least fifteen minutes) What did you do with the peanut butter?
D-R: (Innocently) I took it, didn’t I?
D-R’s brother: You took it? (These words uttered in a tone that communicated, “who the fuck goes into someone else’s house and takes their peanut butter?”)
D-R: Yeah, ‘cos Mum bought it for me, right?
D-R’s brother: Umm, well, I think she bought if for the house rather than for one specific person.**
D-R: (Not betraying for one millisecond even a shred of doubt that it is in the right) No, she definitely bought it for me. Because I had accidentally left some peanut butter over there. (Micro-pause in which Duck-Rabbit decides that this somewhat mysterious turn of events does not require additional clarification) And then you all (Mild accusatory tone) finished it, so Mum decided to replace my jar of peanut butter. I’m looking at it right now. (Jovially) So you know where it is if you want it! (By this the Duck-Rabbit means, as its brother full well understands, “I. Am Not. Bringing. It. Back.”)
D-R’s brother: (Pause) Right then. (Translation: “Why do you hate vegans? Why must you deprive us of one of our only sources of protein?” Assumes faux-jovial tone) Well, I guess I’ll stop looking for the peanut butter then!
D-R: All right. Glad to be of help!
Now, for the record, the duck-rabbit does not hate vegans. And, quite honestly, the vegan breakfast was not at all bad (would it have been enhanced by bacon and eggs? Obviously. But we won’t dwell on that.) Satisfying too was the South Indian vegetarian lunch we had later that day at Diwana, the beloved bhel-poori house on Drummond Street. But by dinner, the whole family was practically foaming at the mouth when we entered the duck-rabbit’s mother’s house, which was perfumed with the scent of roasting chicken smothered with bacon, and sausages (the duck-rabbit’s brother and sister-in-law were going out that night so we were cramming in the meat). Later, after the dishes had been cleared, the duck-rabbit found itself standing at the stove, scraping caramelized chicken fat from the roasting pan and shoveling it into its mouth. “Oh. My. God. I don’t think I can stop eating this,” the duck-rabbit confessed to its mother, who looked on, at once fascinated and faintly repulsed.
Here we encounter an interesting peculiarity in the duck-rabbit’s biology: two brains; two mouths; one digestive system. Now, the rabbit is firmly committed to a healthful, plant-based diet. The rabbit has read its Peter Singer and its Jonathan Safran Foer. The rabbit has seen the light. The rabbit is convinced. The rabbit genuinely enjoys eating quinoa, brown rice cakes, and dried nori. The rabbit could (and sometimes does) eat kale salad five days a week for lunch. The rabbit swears it has a fantastic recipe for vegan chocolate cupcakes.
The duck, on the other hand … the duck is another story. The duck is the one who scrapes those miraculous sticky bits of brown chickeny goodness from the roasting pan.*** The duck steals the flopsy-duckits’ crisps when they’re not looking. The duck believes passionately that sorbet is a sick joke perpetrated by people committed to ruining dessert for the rest of us. The duck is never going to order some namby-pamby concoction like grapefruit-basil sorbet when there is chocolate ice cream available. The duck says if it wants something refreshing, it’ll have a glass of water, thank you very much.
The duck is also the one who bought, earlier today, a beautiful grey python skin belt from the second-hand store in Highgate Village. The rabbit strongly objected. The duck countered that it’s second-hand-python and so, like, doubly already dead. Right? The rabbit was unconvinced but the duck had the credit card and appealed to the rabbit’s vanity by saying it looked really thin in it and … well, these things happen, don’t they, readers?
I hope you all had a good weekend.
Yours very truly,
Your very own furry, webfooted,
* I want to make it crystal clear here that “peanut butter” here refers to the substance made from crushed groundnuts. I’m only going to say this once: my brother does not spread his baby on toast. That would be abhorrent. (Also: totally not vegan.) Also, I have to say that I’m a bit shocked that it even crossed your mind for a second that that was what I meant. What kind of nightmarish Swiftian alternative universe do you imagine that I inhabit? Also—and I’ve wrestled with whether I should say anything about this but my conscience has gotten the better of me: I think it’s a little bit racist of you to even think it. Now, calm down. I know being racist doesn’t fit with your self-image. But let’s examine the evidence: you just leapt to the conclusion that my kind are cannibals. Now, I can’t hear you when you’re spluttering and stuttering like that. It’s not racist of you because you thought I was white, you say? (Shakes head and sighs) Oh dearie, dearie me. I gotta say: you’re just digging yourself in deeper here. It’s astonishing, isn’t it, the seething racism that underlies liberalism’s benign exterior? But as long as you can admit you have a problem I think we can get past this. I’m magnanimous like that. None of us are perfect. You’re racist and I’m …. I’m …. well, I can be a bit of a perfectionist sometimes, can’t I? Yes, that’s my flaw.
** Implicit here following the phrase “the house,” was the unspoken relative clause “that I live in,” and, likewise, implicit following the phrase “one specific person” was the unspoken relative clause “that doesn’t live in this house.”
*** What’s that you say? Fowl eating fowl surely is a form of cannibalism? (Pause) You’ve got me there! Guilty as charged, your honour!