I’m not sure if ‘zoo’ is Latin for: “place where miserable children traipse around in the vain hope of seeing animals in hibernation.” If it isn't it should be.
Curiously, whenever we suggest going to Virginia Zoo in Norfolk, I feel an initial bout of enthusiasm, which may explain why we’ve been there about four times in the last two years.
Last Sunday we went to the zoo for Zara because we feared she would feel left out by all the attention being lavished on Jackson less than a week after he was born.
The first time we took her there she was two-years-old and had to be pushed around in her pink Princess stroller. Our hopes she would take an interest in the animals was dashed at the first stop off, the hairy black pig in the barnyard enclosure. It probably has a proper name but, for all intents and purposes it's a hairy, black porker.
After the pig no show we gamely upped the ante, introducing her to camels, lions and finally giraffes and elephants, all to no avail. Our daughter remained listless and disinterested.
In contrast on Sunday Zara was raring to go, talking incessantly about seeing her favorite animal the zebra, because it began with ‘Z’.
Unfortunately, getting my wife out of the house and on the road at the best of times, can be about as smooth and coordinated as the relief effort post Hurricane Katrina.
With a new born baby in tow, I should have started packing the car a week earlier.
We got on the road by 4 p.m., resisting all calls to return for forgotten items.
After speeding through Norfolk we barely made it to the zoo before the announcements that the place was about to close, were sounding out.
So our zoo experience, once again, was a whirlwind tour of animals that gamely failed to present themselves on demand.
At least you can rely on the black pig. He was right on cue, sunning himself and raising his trotters in the air in a foul smelling salute to his audience. Zara was interested, this time and we strided enthuiastically on to see a big old Yorkshire pig, magnificantly obese and puffed up as as befits the largest county in England.
My wife pointed out most of the swine at the zoo were from England. It had never occured to me when I lived there that I inhabited a center of pig excellence.
Things went downhill from then on. We needed water and the Beasto was closed. Nor did the handily-placed drinks machines that dispensed water at $2 a time work.
We proceeded to the nocturnal house, which Jackson should have honorary membership of, but didn't see many of the snakes and reptiles because of the mass of kids crowding around the tanks.
By the time we got to a monkey display, the phalanx of unruly kids had grown into a bristling army that marched on fizzy drinks and Little Debbies. There seems to be an informal rule at the zoo that as soon as someone pulls a camera out to take a picture, this is a cue for a couple of people to stand between lens and subject and not to move until the sun goes down. Or maybe that's just what happens when I take a picture.
We walked on past Land of the Tiger, a half constructed maze of faux Oriental temples that is due to open at some undetermined time in 2010. Probably December 31. It started me wondering what happens to the tigers during the construction period. Does a flyer go up in the zoo cafeteria asking for volunteers willing to let a tiger sleep on their couch for six months?
The interactive praire dog habitat with viewing bubbles seemed more promising. Zara and myself took turns looking out of the bubbles to see gray mud. We persevered with more bubbles because there was a group of people behind a nearby fence pointing in our direction, leading us to assume praire dogs had been sighted.
My wife later informed us they were pointing and laughing at the stupid people who had missed the signs and were looking through the bubbles for praire dogs still in hibernation.
With the zoo announcements picking up the urgency of an woman who had clearly skimped on lunch and was manically fiddling with her keys, we headed as quickly as it is possible for a family with a five-year-old and a baby stroller up to the optimistically named Okavango Delta.
The real one is the world's largest inland delta in Botswana. The one at Virginia Zoo comprises plastic cliffs and a bit of grassland and water. I've seen worse attempts but frankly you'd have to drink sherry all day to think this resembles the real thing.
At this point Zara threw one of those Catch 22 child strops that are so hard to deal with. She wanted to climb onto the aluminium rhino but didn't because it was too high and screamed at all attempts to be hoisted up there. But when we abandoned the rhino to press on, she screamed that she wanted to go on the rhino.
The climb up the Okavango Delta display wasn't promising; the meercats and a number of less interesting animals were hibernating. Even the fennic fox that can normally be relied on to pose for the cameras had gone AWOL.
There was no sign of the zebras and the elephants and giraffes had forsaken the delights of the delta for their concrete bunkers but at least they could still be viewed.
Only the lions were gamely gathered for the visitors but, by this time Zara was so disconsolate about the rhino setback, she had no interest in seeing them.
The last 15 minutes were a race to the gate to avert the prospect of spending the night at Virginia Zoo.
I hope not to return any time soon. Virginia Zoo is a pleasant enough place compared to the bleak animal jails that masqueraded as zoos when I was growing up in Britain.
But it lacks something. More specificfally it lacks penguins. Surely no zoo is worth its salt without feeding time at the penguin pool.