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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Farmwife herds a cat.

I was sitting at The Branch Restaurant the other night after work, having a rather high-brow conversation about the etymology of certain well-used phrases in common English. Sayings that we use while having no idea what they mean or where they came from. For example, “rule of thumb.” I was most shocked to discover that this saying, which we use as a sort of measurement of logic, comes from the rule that it was ok for a man to beat his wife with a stick if said stick was smaller than the width of his thumb.

When I taught English to business professionals in Asia, they wanted explanations for the slang that they saw in emails from their Western associates overseas. I had to look them up before explaining them, of course. We know how to use these sayings (in most cases), but we don’t always know what they mean. I had to explain a cash cow and putting the cart before the horse, as many of my ESL students were quite concerned that they didn’t own farm animals of any type, yet their business respondents kept referring to them.

George (at The Branch, the other night) explained that “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” refers to the practice of checking a horse’s teeth when you buy it. If the horse is a gift, don’t check the teeth. Much like assessing the value of a gift in front of the giver, that’s just rude. It’s a gift. Just take it, with gratitude.

George also explained the saying “cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.” It has a rather bold connotation (especially when voiced by someone like my Dad) but what it really refers to is the ‘brass monkey’ that held the cannon balls on a war ship. When it was really cold, the balls would fall off the structure.

Today the Farmer and I discovered the true meaning of “it’s more difficult than herding cats”. Farm cats – the feral type – are so wild you never really know how they are going to react in any given situation. Sometimes I think even they don’t know how they will react. The barn cat who came in and pronounced herself a housecat, fondly known as Sheila, has been a very well behaved cat. I speak to her and she seems to understand. She even responds accordingly. She doesn’t like to be picked up but is fond of sitting right next to her humans and being petted. Sheila was probably the worst behaved cat of them all when sent to the vet to be fixed. Although she didn’t have to be caught in a live trap and caged for transport like the feral cats did, she was the only one of the bunch to twist around and bite the vet when she was trying to give her a shot.

So when the female barn cat known as Nosey showed up one day with a huge swelling on the side of her face, I was pretty worried. Outdoor cats get infections and swellings all the time because they get into tiffs with the other cats in their colony and take a scratch or two from a dirty claw. When the scratch is healing it itches and they scratch it again with their own dirty claw, leading to an infection and a swelling the size of a golf ball or worse.

I’ve seen this before, but it was on a cat who would actually let me touch and treat her wound. Nosey, although pleasant, meek and mild, will not allow anyone to touch her. I had to lock her in the basement, wait until the wound opened on its own, and then catch her in a fishing net to treat it. I held the net down and screamed for the Farmer. He helped me to hold her down and treat her. She got a head-to-toe once-over with antiseptic on her wound, an antibiotic and flea spray for good measure. She did protest once – first time I’ve ever heard her voice; I thought she was mute – and she did try to wriggle out of the net but she didn’t try to bite. Faced with this experience, Nosey showed she is all flight and no fight, for which I am truly grateful. Now she will stay in the basement with her food and water, sleeping in the living room of the dollhouse, until her wound is completely healed.

And for her good behaviour, she might get a few extra cat treats.

Enjoy Canada Day; hopefully it won’t be “raining cats and dogs” on July 1st.


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