Raising Life

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Indy Lifestyle Online
On the kitchen table a black rat nibbles a crust of bread, pushes at a half-eaten apple, then sniffs a piece of abandoned cheese. Our child shouts with joy as the rodent scurries across the room. Oh dear. No fear, no revulsion, just fascination. And then there is the sink, overflowing with washing-up, a half-empty can of beans and plates spattered with food. Cockroaches casually slither through the grease. She stares, hands outstretched in delight.

A scene of our everyday domestic chaos? Well, not quite, though I avoid looking too closely beneath the baby's high chair. No. we're at the zoo, checking out London's more exotic prisoners. The rats are in the small mammals section, the cockroaches in with the invertebrates - confined as exhibits in glass compartments: stage sets of household filth. Shovelling too much elephant dung clearly gives some keepers a sick sense of humour.

But our daughter gets the joke. She likes the small, active animals in recognisable surroundings. The big animals are just too large to take in. I sympathise with her lack of interest. The apes, listless and depressed, look as if they would be happier in a Romanian orphanage. The big cats have gone into hiding until the weather warms up. The rhino pathetically strikes a macho pose, but knows he'll end up in the moat 10 metres away before he hits second gear. It's all very sad.

Visiting the zoo had seemed like a good idea. We've prammed most of the parks, and the countryside would be unreachable before twilight. And we both need to get out after a week spent, respectively, nursing a cold in front of a VDU screen, and nursing a sick child in front of Neighbours and afternoon war movies.

"Don't kids love zoos?" we said to each other. I didn't like to dissent. I've always imagined my childhood boredom was just another sign of being odd, along with my hatred of Action Man, playing with toy cars and glueing model aircraft together. But my genetic weakness has been passed on.

We rush past the giraffes, oblivious to their charms, the pram picking up speed as it heads straight into a flock of dirty pigeons. "Yeah, that's more like it," I imagine she would say, if screams could be put into words. And we all squawk together, like the indigo blue macaw in the distance.

The petting enclosure looks hopeful. But the sole, lonely goat is stiff and unresponsive, perhaps with irritation at so much petting. Or maybe it's just the cold.

Our final call is the gift shop. So many bears, so many owls, so many seals, tigers and penguins. She moves from one to another, cuddling them all. At last, a real zoo.