My big brother invited me to the zoo this week so I'd have something to put in my column for The Independent. That, and also to help him look after his children. I've got two nieces and a nephew or two nephews and a niece, and I've read enough newspaper articles and Roald Dahl books over the years to know that these people need to be protected when they are near things like hippos and toucans. The last thing I want to do is make up some excuse about having to wallpaper my toilet and then later learn that my niece was pecked by a flamingo because I wasn't there.
It also seemed like a good opportunity for me as a columnist. Get this right, gush about this zoo, give them some free publicity, write some crap about how good this zoo is in my column in The Independent, and soon other establishments will start sniffing about offering me free passage. Next thing I know, some faceless sod from Thorpe Park's emailing to say I can go on their Waltzer for free if I say they're as good as Alton Towers.
I love a zoo, and my pre-zoo nerves were going bananas. I sat on the train punching my fist into my palm and roaring at the prospect. I was so excited. At one point I was quiet for a bit because I'd got used to the idea that I was going to the zoo. Then I remembered the tigers and the polar bears and I punched myself in the nose as hard as I could. Blood everywhere! Off to the zoo!
When I arrived at the zoo I discovered it was a children's zoo.
I love my brother. He's smart, fiercely loyal, he's done an Ironman, he's fun and he once lent me a grand. But, honestly, if you invite someone to a zoo and that zoo is a children's zoo and not an actual zoo then you have to declare it. Don't you? I mean, I'm not being unreasonable here, am I? That information's got to be in the initial text, hasn't it? Come on.
I paid my £8.50 to get into the children's zoo and was struck by that unmistakable feeling of not being in an actual zoo. The suspicious quiet of it all. No roaring. No snapping or screaming. Barely any hissing. Just the gentle warble of kids asking where the elephants and lions were and parents patiently explaining how life is a series of letdowns and googling London Zoo's website and showing their offspring the prices.
I found my nieces and nephew or nephews and niece and set about protecting them. Not that they even needed protecting. I mean, I held Eliza's hand for a bit, lest she got "nudged by a turtle" and at one point I told Edward to stand a bit further away from a butterfly but it was clear these kids would have survived with no uncles there at all. Most things were smaller than a little girl or else it was all dopey donkeys and other farmy horseshit. Nothing juicy. As a rule, I think if you don't have to tranquilise an animal to get it into your zoo, then it shouldn't come in. Otherwise you end up with things like mice and pigs, and me saying things like "Isn't it ugly" and "No there aren't any giraffes" to my niece.
Children are incredibly resilient beasts of course. And in spite of not seeing a single tusk, pouch or trunk they remained upbeat. In fact, a lot of adults seemed happy enough, too. It was really only me who knocked over a young member of the zoo's team, and stood with my boot on their neck yelling "This won't do!!!" and, after seeing the meerkats and getting an ice-cream, even I started to soften. But there's a limit to how soft you can go when you haven't seen a gorilla all day.
If I've got a problem with someone I'll tell them and I pinned my brother up against a postcard carousel in the giftshop and reiterated to him that his text was misleading, but looking back on it I now don't think that was fair. I see now that there's room for lots of different types of zoos for different ages, budgets and perversions. Just as there's room for theme parks of varying quality. I want free tickets to Thorpe Park.