A friend asked how I manage to think of something to say for this piece every couple of weeks. For me that's never been a problem – if anything there are too many issues fighting for attention in my head. Top of the list this week is my interaction with the good old HMRC. To cut short a very long saga, involving several long phone calls spent listening to the horrible HMRC theme tune and having been warned that I must not threaten violence to the merry band, it emerged that I owed them £1,000 because they had never issued a new tax code against my teachers' pension. The reason for that, they said, was because they had received a P45 form indicating that I wasn't being paid it any more.
Now, the only reason for that would be my decease and although psychologically bruised and battered, I am still in the land of the living. And, thankfully, still receiving my pension which is useful for luxuries like food and central heating. So back to the Scottish Public Pensions Agency (SPPA). 'No, we never issued a P45 and we are still paying your pension – it's HMRC's fault.' Back to HMRC: 'Yes, they did and it's not our fault'. Both bodies are now insisting it's the other's responsibility and are refusing to talk to each other. And apparently, according to the SPPA person, they are not allowed to intervene as HMRC will only talk to me.
I am now awaiting a call back from a managerial HMRC person who, according to my latest contact there, 'will sort it all out, ma'am'. I live in hope. Many years ago, I worked for a time at the then Inland Revenue and we were far more imaginative with solutions for complex problems, such as the two couples who had swapped spouses and all lived together in a rambling farmhouse. For tax purposes, we treated them as two married couples, albeit not married to each other, and everyone was happy.
Further adventures of Freddy the cat
When Freddy the rescue cat first arrived, he went into a rapid decline, refusing to eat and developing a high temperature. After several hundreds of pounds of tests (thank you PetPlan, you should be running HMRC) it appeared he was suffering from post-traumatic stress. I eventually discovered he would eat cat food from a bamboo picnic fork, as well as anything he thought I was eating. The result was that he rapidly got better and is now terrorising me by hiding under the furniture and leaping out to bite my ankles. He also wakes at around 6am thinking I should too, and jumps on top of me, hitting me with his rather sharp claws until I 'respond' in a way he thinks satisfactory.
The trouble is that while he can bully me, he is no match for the two arch scrappers down the road: Big Ginger and his arch enemy Even Bigger Whitey with the Black Spots. Every time poor old Freddy patrols the garden, one or the other will turn up and there is a standoff. Freddy will slink away embarrassed that he's had to admit defeat. I don't know who owns Even Bigger Whitey, but I certainly wouldn't want to argue with him about when the central heating came on.
I've often thought that the hatred of sexuality expressed by the early Christian 'Church Fathers' was a result of their thinking it was an activity that the lower animals indulged in, so not appropriate for 'thinking' people. And of course, it was all women's fault anyway, as without their evil influence men wouldn't be distracted in that way. But there are many activities that both humans and other species get up to that are far more dangerous and unpleasant, like the human equivalent of cats scrapping over territory.
It's extraordinary that men in particular are still behaving like Big Ginger, to wit, Putin and his military attacks on Ukraine. As well as war being evil, disgusting and cruel, it's also stupid. If Putin wanted to annexe Ukraine efficiently and quietly, he would have been perfectly able to do so by bribery and corruption, thus saving hundreds of lives on both sides. But it seems the Big Ginger gene is alive and well especially in the Russian cultural psyche: aggression, paranoia and 'attack is the best form of defence'.
Sadly, there will be many Russians who don't buy into this worldview, just as there are many English folk who don't share the racism which was mainly the reason for the disaster that was Brexit.
I've been trying to think of a non-sexist word for the adjective, as it strikes me that in current politics there are more women than men who tend to display such qualities of wisdom and moderation. I usually leave serious political comment here to those like Gerry Hassan who know more about it. However, it has occurred to me that a political leader with statesmanlike qualities might do well, rather than fighting the idea of Scottish independence, to accept that it was now inevitable and just organise it… nicely! This seems to have happened in other countries that were formally part of the British dominion, and the Scandinavian/Nordic countries seem to have managed to maintain friendly relationships whilst retaining their independent unique cultures.
In some of the behaviour of the extreme Unionists in Britain, there appears to be more than a whiff of Big Ginger: 'I'm in charge and this is my territory so don't argue with me, chum!' Sadly, this tom cat aggression behaviour seems to have been adopted by some female politicians (no names, no pack drill) when the qualities of empathy and consensual behaviour have traditionally been associated with women as leaders.
It's surely time that we moved on from the idea of a leader as someone who heads troops going into battle. People like Putin are stuck in a mediaeval past, when in practice today they would be incapable of the acts of physical aggression they want others to carry out on their behalf. Humans may be the cleverest and strongest species – currently – but they surely aren't yet the wisest.
Dr Mary Brown is a freelance education consultant