One of the attractions of my new home is that the garden is surrounded by a high fence, which I thought would foil even Monsieur Freddy from escaping. I envisaged him making a flying leap but then sliding down the fence with his claws scraping in the manner of Tom and Jerry cartoons. How wrong I was – being let out through his new cat flap he spent no time exploring the garden but immediately leapt to the top of the fence and dashed off to Heaven knows where.
I went round the neighbourhood fruitlessly calling him, and wondering if this was the last time I'd ever see him, but he decided to return a good while later, having aroused the wrath of the Alsatian opposite. His tail was like a fox's brush, a sure sign of fear. But having gobbled up a plate of food in a trice, unusual for such a picky eater, he announced he wanted to go out again.
Such is the way of cats – their refusal to abide by the rules of those who know better is not unlike the mindset of my six-year-old granddaughter. Freddy has now mastered the cat flap to get out, but isn't yet able to work out how to use it to get back in, so he just stands at the French windows and yowls. The late great Sir Ernest Shacklepuss would do the same but that was because he got so 'well covered' that it was easier to get a human to oblige. Freddy has now managed to climb on the shed roof where he sits surveying the neighbourhood. I still don't know how he managed the descent, but my son, whose job in electronics occasionally requires him to climb up masts, would be grateful for some tips.
Men at work
Although my new home is only four years old, it required some alterations and additions, largely to house my eclectic collection of… stuff. And of course the cat flap for M. Freddy's comfort. The cat flap was installed in record time, along with several shelves and a loft ladder by a local tradesperson who never stopped working and only once accepted a cup of tea. He and the shed builder (who liked coffee and biscuits every couple of hours but also worked like a Trojan), together with the gas engineer who groomed the boiler have all been highly professional, obliging and generally a pleasure to do business with. The trouble is I'm on a roll just now, and am contemplating more shelves, plus a set of steps going up the sloping garden. Having made a modest profit, I have to remind myself that I can't afford to spend it all on vanity projects.
The first mild day of March was yesterday – now we have gale force winds and early April showers. I've often wondered how far climate influences personality. My Finnish daughter in law explained how Finns are not a tactile race and will even avoid standing too close to each other in a queue. They certainly don't care for the French or Italian embracing of acquaintances.
My theory was that people from challenging climates would have more challenging personalities – so very cold countries like Russia, and very hot countries like Saudi Arabia, would exhibit more extreme behaviour, whereas the temperate areas of Europe folk would be easier going and tolerant. The problem is that this doesn't work with the Inuit people who are well known for being tolerant and easy going even while living in what for most of us would be a deeply inhospitable environment. And ditto for people living in the south of India.
Like most theories, this one doesn't stand up to scrutiny, along with my theory that American gun culture developed as in a pioneer nation (ignoring the practical genocide of the First Nations) it was only the gunslinging type, prepared to shoot to kill, who survived. The nice, kind, sensitive ones like me would have given up the unequal struggle rapidly.
I think this theory is a bit more feasible. I'd have loved to have discussed it with the great Raymond Chandler (in my view the only detective story writer worth reading and whose work transcends the genre). In the later fiction, Philip Marlowe rarely uses a gun although he's surrounded by those who do. And it's interesting to note that if he's not a gunslinger, Marlowe is well on the way to alcoholism, as was Chandler himself, who was given to alcoholic binges like the character in The Long Goodbye
, Roger Wade. Like Chandler, Wade writes popular fiction but wants to be taken seriously as a writer, and it is fascinating that it's Chandler's hero, Marlowe, who in the novel tries to save Wade/Chandler from himself.
The amount of alcohol that Chandler's characters manage to consume and stay functional is alarming if it represents the actuality of late 1930's America, where prohibition against the sale of alcohol was only repealed in 1933. Presumably those who could afford it were making up for lost time. But what a daft idea that criminalising alcohol would work, when all it did was to create a new set of gangsters who were also gunslingers of the worst sort.
The same could also be said about the prohibition in most countries that currently exists on recreational hard drugs. When I worked for the police service, I never met a police officer who did not want to see drugs in the main legalised, as it would knock out the majority of drug-related crime. It might also change the perception of drug users so that they are not regarded as brave and reckless in challenging the law, but hopeless old soaks as alcoholics are seen.
Personally, I have never been offered recreational drugs of any sort (despite probably being willing to try them when a student, but I didn't mix in those circles). What would be a significant deterrent for me would be the stupid nicknames that addicts use. I've never liked nicknames anyway, and the drug ones seem particularly dim-witted, so my request for 'three ounces of best quality heroin please' would probably not be recognised.
Dr Mary Brown is a freelance education consultant