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My Bolthole Book

I wonder if you have a book which, once read, has stayed with you all through your life.
You may have read it once, and it may have made such a lasting impression on you that,
although you felt no need to read it again, you will never forget it. Or it maybe a book
that you read as a child, and although you are now long grown up, you remember it with
fondness because it was so special and good. Or it may be, as in my case, a book which you
read once, and it became part of your life, and it is something you can always pick up and
escape into, shutting the door of the world behind you.

I am writing this in the middle of the night. Sleep is completely eluding me, as it has for
the past three nights. I am in that state of tiredness which goes beyond being tired, and
yet sleep just will not come. Relax every muscle, count all the sheep on Caerphilly
mountain, it makes no difference. On these kinds of night, the escape book is a must.
Reality has to be left totally behind, so there is only one place I want to go: to Watership

I first tried to read this book at the age of nine. The librarian at my school gave it to
me, he was a quiet, grave creature who shared my liking for books, and he thought I would
get on well with it, but the story really was not what I wanted then. I was much more into
Enid Blyton and E Nesbitt, fairies and schoolgirls, my rabbits were bunnies who lived in
cosy burrows, they did not have epic adventures like this. The braille book had been well
read, and was faded in places, but I only got halfway through volume 1, then gave up in

I came back to it in audio form some three years later, one Wednesday afternoon. The school
I attended had a room stocked with cassette players and many racks of abridged audio books
on tape. I was bored and homesick, and used to while away many an hour in there. This
particular audio version of Watership down, beautifully narated by Roy Dotrice and
orchestrated with music by George Butterworth, although abridged, was a lovely thing, and I
became so absorbed in it that I was late for supper. I do not know how many times, during
the remainder of my time at school, I played that book! It must have been at least a
hundred, I should think.

Everyone's life has ups and downs, mine is no exception. I tried to find that particular
copy of the audiobook so I could buy it and keep it, but I could not. I borrowed the book
from the library at times, when I needed to refresh myself by re-reading it. Yes, I can
hear you thinking, this is all very interesting, not! What is this thing, a book about
rabbits? Come on! How can a book be so good that you would want to read it over and over
and over?
Well, maybe you have read it, it is a classic, after all, but in case you have not, let me
give you a brief plot summary. Here are two brothers, Hazel and Fiver. Fiver has the gift
of second sight, and he senses a bad danger coming upon the warren where they live at the
start of the story. In order to survive, they have to leave, and they take anyone with them
who believes them and is willing to go. It is a story of adventure, team-work, the power of
good leadership and friendship. The thing I love most, apart from the wonderful language,
frequent humour and descriptions of the scenery, is that although the rabbits talk and
think, apart from that they never do anything that real rabbits don't do.

I always go to Watership when I need a bolthole. I love it so much because it makes me
forget everything. I have gone there when I have been desperately unhappy, when my health
has been at its most annoying, when things have happened to frustrate me, or when I've been
generally totally unlivable with. If I can once get into the story I forget my troubles,
immerse myself in a different world, laugh, cry or get excited, even though I know what is
going to happen next, it is that kind of book. Thanks to the wonderful I now have an unabridged copy, lovingly
narated by Ralphe Cocham, and you had better believe it is on every book reading device I

So, you may be asking, why are you here boring our ears off about it, instead of lying on
your sleepless bed reading it? Well, I was just starting to, you see, but the Audible book
has this little quirk. It is beautifully divided so that I can skip to whatever chapter I
want...except chapter one. If I start from the beginning of the book I have to read the
introduction, written by the author, Richard Adams, first. Usually I skim through it, but I
did not want to do that for fear of waking my long-suffering partner. So I lay and
listened, and heard about how Mr Adams made up the story for his two small daughters, to
amuse them on a long car journey; of how he wrote it at their request, and tried many
publishers before it was finally accepted. He says at the end of the introduction that he
receives much fanmail, at which I am not surprised, and does his best to answer as much as
he can.

Hearing that made me wish I could tell him exactly how much his story means to me, so I got
up to look him up in Wicky, to see if he was even still with us. He is. He is ninety-two,
and trying to stop houses being built all over his beloved Watership Down, according to the
most recent articles I could find on him.
I am not going to bother him with my idiotic fanmail, even if I could find a way of
contacting him, which I can't, but I have a head full of thoughts, and a heart full of
thanks, so hey! I am writing them here. Maybe, what I'd most like to say is just this.

Dear Mr Adams! The story you made up for your two little girls has touched the lives of so
many people. It's been a good friend to me for thirty-two years and counting. Thank you so
much for telling it to us.

Book I am reading: Watership Down by Richard Adams.
What I am looking forward to: going to sleep.