Diary of a Highland Lady - October 2005
Autumn in Scotland; hills purple with heather, wild geese heading north, honking madly as they go; and the first of the Northern Lights appearing in the night sky. What more could any aesthetic want, except perhaps for the last acrobatic displays from the dolphins in the loch before heading off to the Bay of Biscay for the winter? Being blind, I have never actually seen these things although I enjoy hearing others' appreciation, but this Autumn I've been very distracted because I've been awaiting the arrival of Foss, my prospective companion.
Those of you who have followed my diary in previous issues will know that various events have led to me becoming, once again, a lone house-ferret. I advertised for a potential companion and was delighted to hear from 'Foss', a young albino jill, who was willing to consider the post. She said she could arrive in early October. When the day came for her arrival I enlisted the help of my long term associate, Morgana. (Morgana's impossible to live with but I value her as a very straight-talking jill who can be relied to say exactly what she sees, sometimes with uncomfortable bluntness!) I can't really say what either of us expected but I don't think we could possibly have been prepared for Foss when she arrived. In she came like a white tornado, shedding large bundles of woolly blankets as she went. Between bouncing off walls and inspecting every room she breathlessly explained that the blankets were down to the fact that she'd been told that the weather in the Scottish Highlands consisted of nine months of winter followed by three months of bad weather. She'd obviously never been told of the Gulf Stream and the very mild climate up here.
During her third lap of the house she announced that she was good at lighting fires in bedrooms. This was a little worrying since we have no fireplaces in the bedrooms. I was just wondering whether I'd given house-room to a hyperactive pyromaniac when Morgana gave a squeal. A pile of blankets had begun moving of its own accord. Then a little polecat face pushed its way up through the folds of the blankets. After another squeal, Morgana gave a sigh of admiration 'Oooh! He's GORGEOUS'. A little polecat hob had emerged from the blankets and was regarding us with twinkling good humour. Morgana displayed her rather earthy nature by whispering that she hoped he was an entire hob. Honestly, some jills' thoughts rarely rise above their navel. And at her age, too!
The little polecat hob introduced himself as Laurie. Laurie, it seemed, has the opposite nature to Foss, being calm, collected, unruffled and totally in control of events, with a penchant for deep thought about matters most of us pass by. For example, he was intrigued by the mountains around the croft. Most are called 'Munros', being over 2000 feet high, but did we know that the biggest hillocks in the country were called 'Corbetts', being 3000 feet? How many people knew this we may never know (and probably never care) but Laurie had obviously stored the information in mental cotton wool, ready to be trotted out at an appropriate juncture. He's full of such odd bits of information - we also got the current news of the stock markets, two shipping forecasts; a potted theory on relatedness of neurological disorders, and a recipe to cook porcupine.
In the midst of Laurie's gentle instructions, Foss came hurtling through on her fifth lap of the house and immediate surroundings with the news 'There's a horrible, grey, hairy monster out there!' This could only mean Dr Jeff or the goat. As Dr Jeff was with us at the time, we concluded that Foss had met up with Alfred, the wild mountain goat who spends most of his time in the 'home paddock' next to the house. By her seventh circuit she'd announced an imminent invasion of masked robbers, clearly indicating that she'd come face to face with the three young pet raccoons, affectionately known as the Royal Scots Raccoon Guards. During her tenth lap she encountered an 'ostrich of gigantic proportions and terrible temper'. Dear old Tennyson, the Turkey, visibly swelled with this compliment. He's a big bird but to be thought an ostrich was praise beyond his wildest dreams. He spent the next week strutting about in a daze of self-importance!
Foss did eventually slow down a little, mainly to say that that she'd bumped into Dr June (probably knocked her over, I'd say) and that very soon they were going to Drocket Squidgle. They were WHAT? Was it place? Or an activity? If it were a place, I'd never been there, and as for an activity, I had no wish for anyone to be drocket-ing or squidgling in MY home, thank you very much. It turned out that it was the new location for our vet's practice. All the road signs up here have been changed to Gaelic and dear Uncle John's practice was now officially located in Drochit Sgideuil and the new ferrets would be going along for their check-up. That is if he'd recovered sufficiently from his last encounter with newcomers to the croft. He'd needed a couple of weeks of counselling after meeting with Blackjack and Matty, two black polecat ferrets. And the combined effects of Tennyson the Turkey and Ellie (the hen locally known as the Bantam of the Opera because of her noisiness) had sent him on vacation for the best part of three weeks. I can't imagine how he'll cope with Foss ricocheting off his surgery walls.
In the meantime Foss had obviously got her 'second wind' and departed to survey the wider area of her new home. Since this meant she would be inspecting about 70 acres it seemed we'd be spared from her somewhat boisterous interruptions for a while, so Laurie gave us a brief resume of the events that led to their arrival. Both he and Foss were rescue ferrets, strays, in fact. 'Aren't we all', I thought. Most of us 50 ferrets here are strays, or abandoned, dumped, rejected or unwanted ferrets. Why do humans do this to us? It's the same all over the UK and, I suspect, other countries. What have we done to deserve this? Some of us bite, some of us have health problems, and some of us just aren't very pretty - but you could say that of lots of people as well! Both Foss and Laurie are charming, well-mannered, gentle animals - and that's something you might not be able to say about lots of people! There's no doubt about it, ferrets deserve better people!
Take the latest litter of kits that arrived here. Starving, undersized and prepared to fight to get what food was offered. They were so ravenous that they were like bottomless pits to feed at first. Mind you, the state of their litter corner caused Dr Jeff to say they were more like pitiless bots! Yet after a few weeks, a nicer, calmer group of youngsters you couldn't hope to meet, and several have left to go to loving homes. Not that we lose contact with them once they move away. They all joined us for a 'Race Meeting' recently. This is something we 'Highland Ferrets' do quite regularly to raise funds for a local conservation project to protect a large area of woodland for our wild relatives such as pine martens, otters, badgers, stoats and weasels. Of course, it was all my idea to start with, and I'm proud to say we raise hundreds of pounds at each meeting for the conservation project. All the funds go to the project but we get our rewards too - lots of fun, cuddles, tea and cakes (if Dr June isn't looking too closely!).
Left: Ivy has a well earned sleep after writing her column and having to cope with Foss and Laurie
Laurie proved to be more than just a thinker at the Race Meeting. To everyone's surprise he fairly zipped through the tubes and won all of his heats! He then took on all the winners and took the title of Racing Champion for the night. He took his success very calmly, saying it was a simple matter of Euclidian mathematics and calculations of required speed over estimated distances. Then he went off to look for Foss who had been last seen finishing her race and heading in the general direction of the next continent.
Foss is settling down slowly, but I don't know which is the more exhausting - Foss and her hyperactivity or Laurie and his fascination for odd facts. It could be long winter if he discovers a Trivial Pursuit board!