We’re Just F***ing Monkeys in Shoes

I first heard this phrase listening to Tim Minchin’s wonderfully irreverent song “Confessions”. I presume he came up with it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4bEGLbCNRqw

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The song, “Confessions”, is Mr Minchin’s tribute to human mammary glands, at the end of which he states, if I may be allowed to quote:

“From the first little suck of colostrum/To the grope of the nurse in the old people’s hostel/We’re just fucking monkeys in shoes.”

He was, of course, referring to our (albeit laudable) fascination with boobs. But his phrase holds true for other aspects of human existence as well. We are just animals. Always have been, always will be.

Some Animal Instincts we have are as follows:

Animal Instinct 1) The Herd Instinct. We love crowds. Most of us prefer to follow, not lead. Whether it be in fashion, opinion, religious belief, politics, whatever…we would rather follow so that we don’t have to think for ourselves. Leaders are also usually only leaders for a short time. Someone else thinks they can do a better job. Think of two bucks vying for the position for alpha male in the herd.

Animal Instinct 2) The Mating Instinct. This is of incredible importance to us. People are giving birth to other people at an enormous rate. I know parents who didn’t even want children, but they had them due to Animal Instinct 1 above – there was peer and/or family pressure to produce them. I’m not talking about the desire for a partner here. While some scientists would disagree, Love is largely a human affectation, or at least a mammalian one. I mean the desire to reproduce. It is a necessary one, but humans seem to exceed natural population trends. We have children even when we can’t afford to, or can’t actually feed them.

Animal Instinct 3) The Eating Instinct . This is a bit like the Mating Instinct. Here we have people eating large quatities, more than they actually need. Animals tend to be opportunistic eaters – they don’t know where the next meal is coming from, or when, so they take the opportunity to fill up whenever they can. Some people do this too. And often we can’t blame them – there are many people in the world who don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

Animal Instinct 4). The Survival Instinct. This one has its basis in the other Instincts. We survive by eating, staying in herds and mating. But behind these is the basic need to stay alive long enough to pass on our genes.

I’m not criticising the fact that we are animals. Animals are great. If it wasn’t for animals, we wouldn’t be here. But just because we humans are self-aware does not mean we should forget our ancestry. We do so at our peril. It is good that we are animals.

Angry animal ... a monkey in India.

A lot of human behaviour is explainable by remembering our animal instincts. Tim Minchin’s metaphor is right: we may wear shoes (sometimes most dysfunctional ones – high heels for instance) but we are still monkeys.* We can achieve whatever we put our minds to; we can do good and we can do tremendous evil. The future of the world is in the hands of a bunch of monkeys. We would do well to remember that next time some remarkably stupid piece of reality blindsides us.

*Yes, I know we were never monkeys in an evolutionary sense. Monkeys and people evolved from a common ancestor. But the metaphor still works. No correspondence on this point will be entered into.

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For the Love of Cats

I had to apologise to the cat last night.

It was my fault. I arrived home late from work. I’d been out tutoring and spent some extra time with a student and then had to go to the shop on my way home, and I got in about half an hour after I was supposed to. He was at the door, waiting for me. He had a few words to say, which I took on board and then apologised and promised to let him know in future if I’m going to be late.

His name is Humphrey. He’s a nine-year-old Rag Doll, which is the largest breed of domestic cat.

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He isn’t the most active cat I’ve ever seen. In fact most of his time is spent horizontal. If he were to have an appointment diary, it would probably look something like this on a typical day:
4.00 am Wake up human. Demand food.
4.05 am Refuse to eat food given. Go back to sleep.
6.00am Wake up human. Lie on his chest. Purr.
6.10 am Eat breakfast set out at 4.05 am.
6.15 am Wash.
7.00 am Morning nap, outside under steps.
9.00am Enter house. Check food bowl. Complain.
9.10 am Look for sleeping spot for the day, preferably one most inconvenient to human.
9.20 am Sleep
5.00pm Wake up. Demand dinner.
5.30pm Join human watching TV. Wash.
7.00pm Check outside to make sure grounds are secure. Avoid neighbour’s dogs.
7.30 pm Enter house. Check human for possibility of being patted. Purr.
8.00pm Sleep.

As you can see, he spends a lot of time contemplating the mysteries of the universe while giving the appearance of being sleep. At least, that’s what he’d like us to believe.

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He’s what you might call “high maintenance”. He needs a lot of grooming – Rag Dolls grow a lot of long hair. And despite his rigorous schedule, he does find time to get dirty, too: his work in the garden seems to involve a lot of digging and looking under things and exploring the bushes. He has a patch of lavender that he spends hours in, and we have to prune the lavender carefully to maintain his “special spot” in the middle where he can see out but passing people and dogs can’t see in. He is inordinately fond of tummy rubs. He is fussy about his food: won’t touch chicken, prefers room-temperature kangaroo meat, likes the more expensive brands of canned fish (shredded tuna with crab is a big favourite). And he only drinks water out of the tap. I have to turn the tap on and let it run into the kitchen sink so he can lap at it. If I put a bowl of water on the floor he won’t go near it.

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Of course, he doesn’t get it all his own way. He’s not allowed on the table when there is food there. He’s not allowed to sit on my crossword puzzle so I can’t read the clues. And he has to climb down the ship’s ladder to my office – I’m in the basement – all by himself. (He’s good at climbing ladders, and going down them is a complicated procedure of twisting and turning a complete circle on each step.)

But what is it about a cat that makes people go silly? Why do I climb out of bed at 4am to feed Humphrey, rather than tell him to go away or close the door so he can’t come in in the first place? Why do I tolerate his luxurious lifestyle?

Well, I love him, of course. Silly question, really. Don’t know why I even bothered to ask.

I have had other cats, or my family has. In fact, I can’t remember a time when our family didn’t have at least one. One of mine I remember fondly was named Groucho. He was white with brown eyebrows and a brown moustache (hence “Groucho”). He is immortalised in my novel Plato’s Cave  http://www.russellproctor.com/pages.php?tabid=12&pageid=2052&title=Plato%27s+Cave as Bruno, the cat of remarkably similar looks, owned by the main character. Phoebe was a Burmese owned by my parents. She survived a fall of four stories one night when she went for a stroll on the window ledge. Went on to live to ripe old age. Then there was Pinky, a stray that Dad found in a hospital one night and brought home. Never quite tame, she nevertheless found an eternal place in our hearts. And, of course, Rosie and Lucy and Wedl and Linus and Tup Tim and all the others.

Let’s face it, we love cats. And whilst Humphrey may be demanding and lazy and tends to walk across my laptop keyboard when I’m trying to write, I wouldn’t want him any other way.

There are many quotes about cats, but one of my favourites is from Jules Verne: “A cat, I am sure, could walk on a cloud without coming through.”

Any cat lover would understand.