Stinky raging thief
Ever since a recent holiday, I’ve had ferrets on the brain. Well, I can hear you mutter, better than down the trousers, for yes, ferret legging as it’s called does exist but more as a sport (a sport?) than anything you hear about on The Archers.
Anyway, ferrets – derived from Mustela putorius furo, which translates as ‘stinky raging thief’ – were the centre of attention of a County Show I visited. Stopping to chat at the stall, I discovered more than I’d ever dreamt of about ferret ‘tribes’, for in captivity at least they are self-selecting.
What I heard gave me pause for thought, for it appears that it is always the smallest female who heads up the tribe and who decides who can – and who can’t – join. And the males, of whatever size, just fall into line.
The couple from the rescue organisation introduced me to Poppy, who was tiny by comparison with the others, and told me her tale. As leader, they said, she rules with a rod of iron and will fight to the death those she doesn’t want in her group – of either sex. The situation had got so bad, with the number of ferrets that they were sheltering, that they had had to set up another group (or ‘business of ferrets’ as it’s called) with its own leader, being careful to keep them both separate.
It got me thinking how many other groupings I knew which possessed similar traits. In politics there was, of course, Margaret Thatcher. She is always pictured at the front of her cabinet, which seems to dwarf her in stature. Yet despite her reputation for handing out verbal maulings I must admit I have heard no rumours of her being a fan of physical aggression.
In football, meanwhile, while we have all-male (or all-women) teams, the physio or medical side of the sport has more than a fair sprinkling of female practitioners who are held in high regard. And while the manager is nominally in charge, the doctor has a duty of care to the players which overrides what he does (or doesn’t) want. Few would bet on ‘The Chosen One’ emerging unscathed from his run-in with former Chelsea club doctor Eva Careiro.
Then you have the relationship between orchestras and female soloists. I caught the tail end of an interview with trumpet soloist Alison Balsom on air, in which she describes the word ‘soloist’ as being absolutely right. “It’s very isolating,” she says. “There is a conductor, an orchestra and me.”
OK, so she isn’t the leader, but when soloing the orchestra follows her lead. She is sanguine about there being a musical rapport when they’re playing together, but has to face down its members when being introduced to them for the first time, as if they’re daring her to prove herself. By the end, she says, they’re always happy to have her playing with them, while she wonders why they couldn’t have been friendlier at the beginning.
Finally, there’s the band in which I play, which now has three female instrumentalists, and one female singer, although I flew the flag for years on my own. The rest of the band tower over us, and they talk a good talk, but when it comes to organisation we more than hold our own.
Human beings may not be as extreme as ferrets but I recognise some of the traits their females, or Jills, display, whether it be in a social setting or at work. And I’m not just referring to their love of disappearing for a quiet nap.