A monkey screamed with righteous rage At those who locked him in a cage. So sad for him, he didn’t know, They’d chopped his home down long ago.
This was one of the very first Zoo Rhymes that I wrote, but it seemed so melancholy that I sat on it until now. It emanates from the films of the last Orang Utan climbing to the very top of the only tree left standing in the middle of a burned out forest. The pictures are excruciatingly sad, particularly as the Orang is pretty much as close as we get to a family in the wild. The real selfishness of the human race is that it puts its own needs so far above the needs of every other species, whilst it salves its conscience by preserving the last of the line in a zoo…
NB I do know the difference between a monkey and an ape, but it’s just a little rhyme after all, isn’t it…
The short-sighted rhinoceros Is known to try and charge a bus. If you were driving, would you dare To ask a rhino for his fare?
A short nonsense rhyme again this week about a rhinoceros because, well… you see I was watching a television programme about fish. The fish were blind cave tetra, and they were being introduced into a zoo’s aquarium. These little chaps wile their lives away in pitch-black caves where eyesight is of no value to them at all, so evolution has equipped them instead, with what is more or less, a highly tuned sonar system and a sense of smell that could detect a Stilton cheese in the Sahara. In return, it has taken their eyes. Now, the tank which was to become their new home was nicely dressed, very cave-like, except for one distinctly incongruous feature: in order that the fish were visible to the glass-tapping multitudes, it was very brightly lit (not, of course, that the fish would have known it). Well, it just occurred to me, if they were kept in such conditions for long enough – year after year, generation after generation, eon after eon – would evolution give them their eyes back? Is evolution reversible? Moreover I wondered, if this poor benighted planet of ours should survive long enough with us on it, would evolution start mitigating our effects on other species? Would it, perhaps, rob the elephant of its tusks given that tuskless elephants were much more likely to survive to old age without becoming part of a piano? Would it rob the sharks of their fins, because on balance, what was lost in agility might be gained in stealth (eg not being spotted off the beach by troubled town sheriffs) and the liability not to wind up in noodle soup? Would whales cease to be slaughtered by the Japanese if they could monitor their own stocks? Could the leopard change its spots? Would rhinos evolve without horns; shorn of the fearsome ability to charge, but far less likely to be consumed by some ancient idiot with erectile dysfunction? Could the human race begin to realise that it is merely part of a whole, and not the entire reason for its being? I’m not sure, but I shall keep a very close eye on the tetra…
Nature executes her duties, Fills the world with savage beauties Sharp of tooth and fierce of claw – Mighty is the carnivore.
Creatures which are most beguiling Merely furnish stomach-lining: Nothing in the world as edgy As animals both small and veggie.
This earth was never meant to be A place of equanimity: Reality, it seems, is bleak The strong will always eat the weak
Might and muscle, fast and sleek, Feast on fluffy, cute and meek. Fortunate the favoured few Nature paints in vivid hue.
Red provides a broad suggestion, ‘Eating me gives indigestion’ – Always saved a savage mauling Anything that tastes appalling.
Hunters know that prey dressed kitschy At very best will leave them itchy And those that wear a peacock suit Are seldom worthy of pursuit
Creatures written most prosaic Merely join this earth’s mosaic Fate and future clearly wrote; Listed under Table d’hote.
A few double entendres and a scattering of preposterous rhymes. I look out of my window as I type this and the countryside is currently beyond beautiful. Everything is in full leaf, most is in colourful bloom; everything that bloomed in early spring is full of fast-ripening fruit. Nature provides the most stunning backdrop to the most gruesome of fates…
The Unicorn was no bright spark, He missed his place on Noah’s Ark While looking at his own reflection, Trying to find some imperfection In the flawless beauty he Supposed that he was meant to be.
Admiring each and every feature, Mother Nature’s favourite creature Buffed his horn and groomed his coat….. Sad to say, he missed the boat. Perhaps if he had been less vain, We might have seen his kind again.
(The moral of this story’s simple: Don’t get worried by a pimple. You should always view with scorn The story of the Unicorn. He worried over every flaw And now, alas, he is no more. So, if you have to be like him Perhaps you ought to learn to swim.)
Another poem aimed directly at children and at my two granddaughters in particular, but this time with a slightly more melancholic air. As I know that patience has a limit, this will probably be the last mythical creature to find a place in my zoo, which is anyway nearing closure. The unicorn had to be male because my granddaughters know that no girl would be so vain…
Continuing the rather more fanciful little spate of zoo poems aimed more directly at children.
This thing is like two balls of string With half a horse between. Its head is like a cream éclair; Its feet like butter beans.
A tail of green, a mane of blue, With spots along its back – A cheerful disposition Although its mood is black.
It could be `He’, it could be `She’, It could be `Them’ or `They’ (I think it knows the answer But is not inclined to say).
Its eyes are green, like tangerines, It hasn’t any hair. It’s really very common Although extremely rare.
In fact, I’ve never seen one, I promise you, it’s true, And if you stay awake all night You’ll never see one too!
Q. What is it?
A. I haven’t the faintest idea.
I’ve always written ‘children’s poems’ (even when I’m trying to do otherwise, my output seldom rises above the infantile). The absence of any call for logic is incredibly refreshing and saves hours of time in Wikipedia research. Spike Milligan had the greatest gift of writing for the child in all adults. It is something to which we should all aspire…
Having spent a few days writing poems for my grandchildren, the zoo poems have taken on a rather more fanciful air. I hope you will forgive this temporary lack of cynicism…
Once-upon-a-long-ago When all the world was cold as snow. And ice-cream grew from carrot trees And camels fluttered on the breeze There came along a fearsome beast A creature who, to say the least, Would not be happy should you laugh; The Rhinohippoeleraffe.
His eyesight was so very poor; He had a horn upon his jaw. He lived in water, eating weed To satisfy his massive greed. You may have guessed, I must suppose, He had a trunk where you’ve a nose. His fur was filled with blotchy spots. He looked like he’d got chickenpox. A neck so long he touched the sky (He never ever wore a tie) Completed this ungainly creature. (In fact it was his nicest feature.)
He had, as you may well conclude, The disposition to be rude. His temper frayed so very fast No wonder that his days have passed No longer does he walk upon The greenish land where he belonged. But then, it couldn’t last for long, He always was the only one.
If a zoo is going to hold any attraction to a child, it surely has to include a creature or two that only otherwise exists in their imagination…
A ptarmigan is a bigger partridge (Though hunters use the same size cartridge) A little larger than a grouse, Substantially smaller than a house. Its fate is often Christmas fare – It tastes a little like a hare. Ptarmigans come with a silent ‘P’, Like toddlers swimming in the sea.
The Ptarmigan is classed as a ‘game bird’ e.g. it has obviously been placed on earth with the simple function of giving the ruling classes something to point their guns at when they’re not starting wars. It is the ultimate arrogance of man that everything else on this planet has been placed here solely for our benefit and such things that clearly do not fit this criteria, probably need to be eradicated. Weirdly, the creatures we protect the best are those that we eat.
N.B. the bird was originally known by its Gaelic name ‘Tàrmachan’ until a man called Robert Sibbald (Psibbald?) thought that it would look far more classy if it appeared to have a genus name of Greek origin, so he stuck a silent ‘p’ at the front. I’ve always been intrigued by silent letters. How did they get there? I know (that is, I have been told, and I am trusting enough to believe) that some of them were originally pronounced – e.g. both the ‘k’ and the ‘g’ in the word ‘knight’ were originally spoken – but I cannot begin to imagine how ‘igh’ ended up in so many words. Some kind of lexicographical aberration. I’m sure the Greeks would have a word for it…