Two cats live next door. They keep four humans to entertain and feed them. One is a white Persian that left its previous human to burn horribly in a secret underground lair. The other is ginger. Its past times include urinating on our plants and licking its bollocks. Whether this serves some important biological purpose or else is some subtle symbol of ailuromancy remains unclear to me, but the procedure is oddly hypnotic and the urge to replicate it oneself disconcertingly powerful. During a recent trip to Scotland I came close to doing so and observed another application of ethology that, whilst less complex than divination, was much more fun.
Ian has large jowls, rather doleful eyes of watery blue and a deep, rumbling Scottish burr. He shakes my hand with a vice-like grip, hands me an over-and-under twenty gauge shotgun and we set off, arm in arm down a woodland path. Ian likes peace and quiet, waterproof trousers and discussing the difference between lead and steel shot. Sporting clays are fired in ways that are supposed to mimic animal behaviour. Some are fired up and toward you as if scared by beaters. These you should track until the end of the gun obscures the target and fire immediately. Some shoot out from under you and fly away to the distance as if disturbed by your tread—track, sink just below and take out its legs. If it had legs. The bolting rabbit, in which the clay is set on its side and sent bouncing across the ground, is a particular favourite—track, pull ahead, and fire. Some have to be taken two at a time—tremendous fun (eight for eight, the final two exploding like dropped watermelons to my great satisfaction). We continue until the barrels are hot and my shoulder bruised.
Later, I find myself in a yoga class. Our leader, Marjorie, is an octogenarian dressed in purple plaid and as flexible as an over cooked bean sprout. Marjorie takes no prisoners: After the opening meditation and chant, she instructs my companions and I to rest our left buttocks on the ground and curl our legs under our right. I hesitate, in the moment utterly forgetting my right and my left. I glance sideways, taking the lead from Dorinne, also dressed in purple. “Do you have a problem?” inquires Marj imperiously, fixing me with a gimlet eye. I struggle to respond, things below folded in a distinctly unnatural configuration and mumble “Erm…no”. I do have a problem. Several in fact. Is it possible to strain a testicle, because it honestly feels like I have? Why am I the only man here? Are the others felling firs and swigging Irn-Bru whilst mentally listing the names of other transition metals they can misspell? Why isn't this whole situation more like the Eric Prydz music video I had prepared for? And why didn’t I wear purple? I stick out like a sore thumb. Or left buttock.
And so the class progresses. Downward dog (“I can’t do this one with you, group, my arm’s been paralysed since I was eleven”), tree (“Reena? Where are you Reena? Find a wall love, we don’t want a repetition of last month”) and fish, for which I receive a compliment, as I spasm in a pool of my own fluids. We settle into purring pussy— which is probably less enjoyable than it sounds—on our backs with legs raised. The session ends with the lights turned off and all of us lying supine, silent and spent. I better have the body of a Nepalese virgin after this. And I am acutely aware that I will be unable to stand as Marjorie back flips merrily out of the room collecting in the mats with her feet.