As midlife crises go, Ben Mee's was pretty spectacular. Where many men would placate the passing of youthful prospect with an unsuitably powerful motorbike, he decided to go a bit further, liquidising all his assets and pouring it all into a near-derelict zoo on the edge of Dartmoor. Not only his assets either, because although the documentary about his long-odds bet is called Ben's Zoo, he's managed to persuade his mother, Amelia, and his brother Duncan to throw their lot in with him too. I'm not sure how Duncan feels about Ben getting the above-the-title credit, but I hope they've got it all squared off, because he's been making some big sacrifices as well. When the zoo van broke down, Duncan heroically loaded the otters' spratsinto the back of his BMW, an unhappy marriage of expensive upholstery and insufficiently frozen fish.
Everybody told Ben and Duncan and Amelia that they were mad to do this. One brother, according to a piece Mee wrote about their decision, even went to court to try to stop them. What these people didn't quite understand, I think, is that they were simply pouring petrol on the fire, since it is the extravagant irrationality of the venture that seems to appeal. If Ben couldn't describe it as insane, I don't think he'd have done it. Anyway, he's certainly got what he wanted. Not only do the Mees have no previous experience in running a zoo, but the zoo they don't yet know how to run is already trembling on the brink of collapse. When Ben arrived, it didn't have the licences and certificates it required to be opened to the public and the infrastructure was crumbling - not an insurmountable problem when it's a matter of peeling wallpaper in the house, but more worrying when it's the fencing for the big cats' enclosure. The Mees need half a million pounds to start putting things right, but are finding it hard to get a loan, the Delusional Enterprise Allowance Fund having gone out of business shortly after its launch.
Ben does have one thing on his side. The remaining employees at the zoo are so devoted to their charges' welfare that they are effectively keeping the place afloat themselves. Kelly, who looks after the big cats, has been paying for their food out of her own wages, and discovering that a tiger can eat so far into your take-home pay that you have to move back in with your mum to make ends meet. The animals, I regret to say, are far less committed to the future prosperity of Ben's business. It's all me, me, me with them. Within days of arriving, the jaguar had selfishly escaped and made it into the tiger cage, where it stood a very good chance of helping Kelly out with the food bill. And not long after, one of the wolves made it out on to Dartmoor, prompting a stampede of men with anaesthetic guns and worried expressions. Meanwhile, Fudge the bear was badly overdue for a manicure (he has nails a Harlem hooker would envy), Ronnie the tapir had conjunctivitis and Spar, one of the Siberian tigers, was suffering from such bad arthritis that he was getting bedsores. Eventually, Ben was persuaded that the time had come to put Spar on the Private Zoo's Retirement Plan and after a surprisingly loud rifle shot the body departed in a crematorium van. It was a sad day for Ben and Kelly but, one can't help thinking, an unexpectedly memorable one for the guys down at the crematorium. If I was Ben, I think I'd have been injecting myself with animal tranquilliser after just a week of this (both the jaguar and the wolf adopted a look of deeply enviable insouciance before they hit the deck), but he seems to be made of stronger stuff. There are another three episodes to go, anyway, and it's hard to imagine that it can be downhill all the way.
Who needs a zoo when you've got Coronation Street? Last night, Jerry was having enclosure problems as well, discovering that Kayleigh had been taking advantage of a weak point in the perimeter fence (the bathroom window) to break out and go clubbing with friends. And Sean and Violet were still baring their claws and hissing at each other, like civet cats in a cramped cage, after their ill-considered exercise in artificial insemination.
As light relief, there was also a mating programme in train, Doreen having excited the attention of no less than three rival males, Ivor, George and Norris. ("You know, you've a look of Humphrey Bogart," Doreen told him. "After they've dug him up," snorted Rita.) All three turned up at the Rovers, hormonally charged, only to find that they were on a triple date. They look harmless for the moment, but it might be wise to have a tranquilliser gun ready, just in case.Reuse content