For me, the saddest event of the summer has been the demise of Sir Ernest Shackleton, or 'Shackleton the Magnificent' as the vet called him, my beautiful big tabby who departed this life at the grand old cat age of 20. He may have been even older but Mrs Murray's Home for Strays didn't have his exact birth date. He had been active until about a year ago when incipient arthritis meant he couldn't run or jump any more, and his physical decline coincided with the onset of feline dementia, which caused him to wake me several times a night with loud yowling. I think he had forgotten where he was.
Sadly, he didn't pass away naturally as everyone hoped he would, and eventually became so infirm that the vet had to help him along, but his end was peaceful and his ashes will be interred under his favourite bush in the garden. I had lost other cats before and had shed tears over them, but Shackleton was a particular loss as he was never really domesticated, so living with him was like having a small lion in the house (he had a leonine face and his nickname at Mrs Murray's had been 'Simba').
I suspect he had wildcat genetics, as he disliked humans intensely, apart from me, who he accepted as the provider of food, although he bit and scratched me on occasion when he was in a bad temper. When he grew really old, he eventually allowed himself to be stroked by my six-year-old granddaughter, probably as he knew he no longer had the energy to bite her!
When my late husband died, I certainly didn't intend on a replacement, but in Shackleton's case I am already missing an animal companion, so I may well acquire another rescue cat, hopefully one with as much character as its predecessor.
I have to admit that Shackleton has been a handy excuse to avoid visiting certain relatives as I couldn't 'inflict' him on cat-sitters who would be woken several times a night – and possibly attacked if Shackie didn't like the look of them. Also, when you are widowed there is all sorts of advice from friends and relations about whether you should move or stay put. With Shackleton alive, the decision was easily made as he would have hated moving anywhere. Now he's gone, friends and relations have suggested downsizing to a smaller house, which apparently involves 'culling' my book collection and giving away the various junk, aka artworks, that I have collected over many years.
They obviously have the best of intentions and, at one level, with prices of everything going through the roof (why, oh why, do poor people still vote Tory? – that's for another column) it would make sense to have a smaller residence. Except for the fact that, if anything, I'd like a bigger house or even a castle to put my possessions in. There are several in the vicinity of beautiful downtown Banchory that I would consider if the Euromillions ticket ever wins. As for 'culling' my books – I know of several friends who will read a book only once. But my favourites such as Buchan, Raymond Chandler or TF Powys, whose Mr Weston's Good Wine
is a brilliant and underappreciated example of magical realism, I read again and again, like revisiting old friends. I won't allow them to be culled!
And there is the question of what my house itself wants… John Buchan once wrote of a 17th-century manor house, Fullcircle, which worked its spell to brainwash its rather earnest new owners and turn them into clones of its hedonistic Stuart-era creator. Could it be that my house would miss me more than I would miss it, and is persuading me to stay put?
Don't cry for me, Argentina?
It's strange – or is it – that as I get older it's hard to remember where the car keys are, but I can remember pointless facts, or snippets, from years ago. Such as the joke about South American politics, where an Argentinian person is asked what is the country's favourite sport. 'Bullfighting', is the reply. 'But isn't it revolting?' asks the questioner. 'No, that's our second favourite sport!'
This sprang to mind when I recently watched the film version of Evita
on TV. I'd never seen it before, although I loved the original 1976 version of Don't Cry for me Argentina
by Julie Covington – I don't think anyone has bettered her interpretation of the song. But in terms of the character of Eva Peron, Madonna was type cast – driven ambitious actress/singer from poor family climbs her way to the top, practising a rather idiosyncratic form of philanthropy but amassing significant wealth at the same time.
I guess the reality was rather more complex than the film suggested: essentially, the story had the conservative elements of Argentine society attempting to reign in the popularist Peron couple, who despite their rise to power with the support of the poor of Argentina, become increasingly estranged from them to the extent of sending in the army to violently break up strikes.
Evita, then, exemplifies the archetypal tale of the self-styled saviour of the people who loses their moral compass to the temptations of wealth and power. The old joke suggested that South American politics was both volatile and violent – whether it is still is to the same extent is overshadowed by other extreme and violent politics elsewhere in the world. But as a convinced activist for Scottish independence, which of itself must involve a revolution, even if we aim for incremental evolution, I can't help wondering if many voters still believe that political change will follow the same trajectory as the archetypal South American model.
Nicola Sturgeon is hardly an Evita
type, and Scotland is nothing like South America, but archetypes are powerful influencers, as Jung pointed out, and we need another archetypal story to illustrate that revolutions can be peacefully achieved, incremental rather than violent, and beneficial to the whole population rather than a vanity project for a few.
Dr Mary Brown is a freelance education consultant