It has frequently been pointed out by feline experts that Freddy the rescue cat has Maine Coon cat characteristics: he has furry feet and ears, a big mane like a lion's, very long whiskers and a rather supercilious expression. He's quite long in the body although not as gigantic as the genuine article.
Possibly because of his chequered life, abandoned by previous owners along with two siblings, he is not of a relaxed temperament and remains his own cat. While much more affectionate than his grumpy predecessor, Sir Ernest Shackleton, he will bite if he doesn't want to be picked up or wants me to wake up and feed him at 5:40 in the morning. He also has very sharp claws which he will use 'playfully', not taking note of my loud screams when one digs into a tender part of my anatomy.
The real deal Maine Coon is the most relaxed animal ever, being tolerant, cuddly and totally laid back. It is also huge! I had the interesting experience of meeting one the other day. 'Ginger' belongs to my friend's son, and she was cat-sitting when I visited. He was snoozing in the one chair big enough to fit him, as he was the size of a Golden Labrador. He lazily sniffed my face and gave me a cat kiss, then went back to sleep, which apparently he does for most of the 24 hours.
Cats like this are ideal for families with children as they are quite content to be played with and won't scratch or bite at an insult to their dignity. This particular cat had a brother, who when his owner moved from the posh end of Banchory to the new part (the ghetto, according to the rich and impolite residents) refused to settle down and constantly made his way back to the bit where the rich folk live. This was a cat who did
stand on ceremony. Thankfully for him, his owner began a relationship with a lady from the West End and the cat rapidly moved in with her, where like any self-respecting Maine Coon, he spends his time eating, sleeping and being stroked.
What's not to like about such an animal? According to another cat-owning acquaintance, they can be 'boring'. But having had to cope with Freddy's eccentric set of behaviours, I think I'd rather like a boring cat.
I'm not keen on people of my age group – i.e. old – banging on about their health conditions, but mine is different and far more interesting. For many years, since I was a very stressed Oxford student, I would get pains in my head for a few days, followed by a nasty set of itchy blisters which would thankfully eventually fade. No-one was able to diagnose the problem until a very intuitive health and safety manager I worked with pointed out that this was a form of the shingles virus, which if you have had chicken pox pops up every so often if you have a stressed immune system (mine can't be very effective in that case).
As it didn't cause me any lasting problem, apart from looking like a leprosy sufferer for a few days, I didn't do anything about it, until last year I had two episodes of it badly affecting my left eye. Thanks to the ministrations of the local optician and the eye clinic at Aberdeen Infirmary, it's now recovered but I live in dread of another attack.
When I was recently offered a shingles vaccination, I jumped at the chance. Sadly, my hopes were dashed when the nice lady at the clinic asked if I had shingles before: 'You bet I have and that's why I want this vaccine – I had it twice last year'. That was her cue to look concerned and go away to seek advice – it turns out that this is a 'live' vaccine which actually contains the virus so if I were given it too soon after the virus, my recent symptoms might return. I needed the other, more expensive form of the vaccine, which the GP surgery is now trying to source for me and hopefully will before I suffer a recurrence. I know some people are a bit suspicious of vaccines of any sort, but having been afflicted by this very unpleasant condition so often, I would urge everyone of mature years to take up the offer.
It's well known that things you learn when young tend to stay with you longer than those you try to remember in later life. In my case, I can't remember where the phone or the car keys are, but I can remember all the poetry I learned at school. I can still more or less recite Shakespeare's Richard II
off by heart even though it was the play I studied for O level English: 'Oh Richard, with the eyes of heavy mind/I see thy glory, like a shooting star/Fall to the base earth from the firmament/Thy friends are fled to wait upon thy foes/And crossly to thy good all Fortune goes…' – I could go on!
But what might be of more interest to SR readers is how many Scottish ballads I remember word for word, when I read them as a child in the English Midlands. And it was interesting that I found many Scottish words such as 'hirpling' for limping, much more vivid than their English counterparts. Was it Scots ancestry that led me to these poems?
and Bonnie Dundee
were favourites (in spite of the fact I can't abide Scott's fiction) but I particularly warmed to Sir Patrick Spens. He's a man after my own heart, who believes discretion is the better part of valour, so when a chum shops him to the King as a 'skeely skipper' to sail over to Norway to fetch the princess home, rather than being keen to pop off through the stormy seas, 'a teir blinded his ee'. Well, it would mine, faced with the need to take on an impossible task, and poor Sir Patrick and his crew meet a watery end despite their reluctance to 'weet their cork heild schoone': 'Yestreen, I saw the new moone/Wi the auld moone in her arme!' Everyone knows that's a recipe for disaster.
Do children still learn these pieces? For me, they were the start of a lifelong fascination with language and the beauty of the Scots that still exists.
Dr Mary Brown is a freelance education consultant