Z is for Zoo

So at last the A-Z blogging challenge is over. It seemed like a good idea at the time but in practice it collided with some busy working weeks, meaning I'd find myself tired and clueless in a quiet room late at night. A bit like now, really.

It's not always easy finding a word that links the appropriate letter to something you really want to blog about. There were mental blogging blocks, for instance P if for Privet, is kind of desperate; O is for Oblocutor is somewhat weird and D is for Druids is plain obscure.

But overall it was fun and like that long distance hike or marathon run we are relieved when it's over but once we have caught our breath and wiped the dust from our feet we miss it; we miss the camaraderie of fellow sufferers and the new friends you made along the way.

So after 25 blogs of painstaking original content, I think it's now how time to cheat and use a re-post (of sorts) on the last post which is probably the literary equivalent of slogging 25 miles of a marathon until the finish line is in sight and then hopping on a friend's motorbike and speeding over the line, to be promptly disqualified.

Having never run a marathon, I wouldn't know, but I ran a half marathon once. And I am totally not bitter about that 72-year-old woman who sped past me in the last 100 yards. How did I know she was 72? Hit men require certain biographical details these days.

But seriously zoo isn't totally a re-post because Trail of the Tiger has finally opened at Virginia Zoo in Norfolk; as opposed to the last time when we acted on misinformation and spent a day admiring scaffolding.

Now the new exhibition has opened we face a new dilemma, namely whether to go back again to the zoo and face the heat and crowds and the maximum number of child strops that can be fit into a closely confined space with animals, or to nobly pretend the zoo no longer exists.

My 2009 post was really about how zoos seem like such fun in principle; until you actually visit them and realize you have paid $10 a piece to stare at elephant dung and gray backside 100 yards away.

So here goes...

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 Beastro 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 Trail 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 specifically it lacks penguins. Surely no zoo is worth its salt without feeding time at the penguin pool. 
In fact as we increasingly fall into the listlessness of middle age, when the highs become lower and the lows become business as usual, increasingly I urge disaffected friends and colleagues; think penguins and you will have a wide and idiotic smile on your face in no time at all.
And if the A to Z challenge has taught us one great truism it's this - we all need a personal penguin to help us get through the day.


  1. Congratulations on completing the A-Z blog challenge. And I love your daughter's face in the photo, priceless.

  2. ha, ha Lidia - it totally summed up her mood.

  3. Oh man, I guess great minds think alike? Same Z for me I'm afraid. Oh well, enjoyed yours, and you're right, hard not to smile when thinking of penguins.

  4. You did a great job with the a to z challenge.

  5. Congratulations! Done and dusted. Now for the well earned ZZZzzzzzzzz's. Yep, penguins are pretty neat, even our grumpy little Fairy Penguins... I've always wanted to do one of those sleep at the Zoo things, but I suspect Zara would be unimpressed with the idea.

  6. Well, scaffolding can be nice to look at if it is done right. ha ha! ;)

    I enjoyed this, David. It brought back a lot of memories of taking my sons to the zoo in past years. Now that they are older, this post is making me want to go there again with them. I'm sure it would be a different experience now that they are 16 and 21 compared to trips when they were 6 and 11.

  7. Jeez, brought back lots of bad memories. Went to a petting zoo when I was about 5. My parents bought me a little paper cone of food pellets and sent me into the petting zoo, where I was promptly knocked down and assaulted by a pack of goats. I am still scared of them. (Plus, their pupils go the wrong way. That's just weird.) When I took my own son to a zoo, a monkey pelted us with poo. I am now content to just watch animals on TV.

  8. David, we did it! Congratulations! I have an award for you!!

  9. LOL...oh my, that's quite the happy camper you have there :-)

    Sorry your zoo trips have been such a disappointment annnnd, I know we shouldn't find humor in others' misfortunes, but this post had me giggling all the way through :-)

    Congrats on making it through to the end of the challenge!

    And, I'll be smiling for the rest of the day, I now have penguins on the brain!

  10. What a great grand finale. Congratulations, David! Was that photo taken before or after the attempt to climb onto the rhino? ;0)

  11. Congratulations on finishing the series! This is like running a marathon...but this time you passed the 72 year old lady :0) xo

  12. thanks Tim, think penguins - and how long until the next challenge? thanks Oilfield and for all the comments. Not a bad idea Sue - one with penguins, tho. For sure Daisy, it certainly would. So funny about the monkeys Lisa, I went to some bad zoos when I was a kid. Thanks for the award, Elizabeth. Yo too e.a.s, glad to impart a penguin related smile. Thanks Robyn, if I reall correctly it was taken just after the rhino debacle. Cheers Marnie, always good to leave a 72-year-old woman in the slipstream.

  13. Wonderful! That was inspiring and intimidating all at the same time. We are all not worthy.

    BTW - that photo is amazing.

  14. Congratulations on finishing the A-Z blogging challenge, I'm so impressed. I love the idea of a personal penguin which has already made me smile so thank you. I might have to amend it slightly though to a personal capybara!

  15. congrats on finishing the series. great challenge, indeed. i don't think i could do that.

    what a brilliant man you are, David!

    hope you had a great weekend,

    have an even better week ahead!

    betty ;)


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