Who’d want to be a chick or mouse Within the darkened reptile house Where neither rat, nor slug, nor louse Is born with greater cause to grouse.
Yes, cows and sheep share common fate But here’s the truth I must relate That neither beast, when comes the date, Goes live onto the dinner plate.
There is nothing in this world quite as disturbing as seeing chicks hopping around the terrariums in the reptile house, blithely unaware (I hope) that they are there just for one reason, to be eaten. They are alive only because the snakes will not take dead prey: they need to see it move. Keep still little chicken: don’t twitch little mouse! Sooner or later the snake will sleep. The best thing about going live to the dinner plate is that you might yet have the chance to hop off it.
Anyone in the zoo can See the stately toucan. Anyone in the queue can, If you join them, you can.
I’m not a kangaroo fan But what I’d like to do, gran Is go and ask the zoo man If we can see the toucan.
I know the cockatoo can Achieve a proper view ‘nan, So if he can, then you can, And if one can, then two can.
I have very little to say about today’s little rhyme. The last few ‘zoo’ poems have become a little serious and over-considered, so I thought it was time to do something that is just silly: how the ‘zoo’ thread actually started. Childish silly nonsense. I should do it more often really.
Of all of the things in the zoo you might find That the woodworm are probably best left behind; I suppose, in their way, they are fairly benign, But there’s just this one thing that has stuck in my mind.
In biblical times, when the skies all turned dark And all of Earth’s creatures lined up in the park – At least forty days ‘til they could disembark – What stopped the woodworm from eating the Ark?
It has always puzzled me, this Ark business. What actually stopped the hunters from eating the hunted? I wonder if everything was given its own little pen? That is quite a construction feat. “Right, so let me just get this straight Noah. You want a boat that’s big enough to hold two of all of the world’s creatures and you want them all to have separate little compartments. I hope you don’t mind me asking, but what are you doing about the, er, toilet arrangements?” Also, I wonder, what were the carnivores fed on? Was there, perhaps, a second boat, marked ‘Food’, full of all the animals that Noah didn’t really want to save? If that’s the case, why weren’t the rats on it?
Forty days and forty nights is a long time to be trapped in a tiny cabin with a member of the opposite sex and nothing much to do: “Oh come on, we might not make it you know. There are no guarantees. Besides, what could possibly go wrong? Precautions? Of course…” I admit that my knowledge of boats is fairly limited, but I can’t help but think that if all of the large mammals decided to get it on at the same time the journey might well become a little uncomfortable for the humans on board. According to the Bible there were eight humans on board – why we got such preferential treatment I do not know – but I imagine that if the humans, too, had their own little cabins, life may have become a little fraught after forty days: “Oh come on, we might not make it you know. Well yes, I have seen the mess outside and no, of course I can’t expect you to feel at all sensual with that smell, but I don’t know what I can possibly do about it. Yes, I have opened the windows. No, I don’t know why the ship is so rocky when the sea is smooth. Look, can’t we just rejoice that we are two of only four couples left alive? Well, that’s a little harsh, I must say… You know how much I hate being compared to my brother, particularly in that way…”
As the floods slowly subsided, the Ark landed on mount Ararat, which, I imagine, would have annoyed the heck out of some of the human cargo as it was so far away from all of the ‘sights’ and, while I imagine the positioning was fine for, let’s say, the mountain goats, I can’t help but wonder how the elephants, the rhinos and the hippos went about finding their way down. Especially since Noah’s family, by then, would have been very hungry and elephants are a very big meal…
There’s seldom a sight that’s more sad to be found Than a bored polar bear walking round and around: In the ice of the Arctic, the most fearsome sight, In the mud of a summer it’s not even white. A hunter whose power’s respected by all, Is trapped in a pen with a pond and a ball. This mightiest hunter in mild summer’s rain On an iceberg of concrete, going slowly insane.
I’m sure that zoos are not like this now, but many, many years ago, as a child, I was taken to one – long since closed down – and traipsed around the tiny cages full of magnificent creatures with nothing close to enough space and nothing with which to pass the time. Most of them simply paced backwards and forwards, giving every impression that they were fully aware that, in these conditions, life for them would be mercifully short. I was very young and my eyes were not open to these horrors until I approached a pen which contained a single polar bear. The bear in the picture on the wall was a magnificent beast; a pure white knot of muscle and teeth – the world’s largest terrestrial carnivore – power and savage beauty perfectly aligned. The bear in the compound – a concrete hollow, clearly designed to hold a large amount of water, but containing little more than a bathful at the base of its deepest point, upon which bobbed something that looked suspiciously like a child’s beachball – was thin to the point of emaciation with the yellow/light brown fur that I now know comes with age. From the base of the basin that was clearly intended to be filled with water rose a concrete iceberg to which the animal was clearly expected to swim in order to rest. Unfortunately with the pool drained of water the bear, as tall as he was, would have needed ropes and crampons to reach it. So, head bowed, it just walked round and around its base. Round and around, round and around, round and around… it was one of the saddest sights I have ever seen and I’m not certain that I have ever fully gotten over it. I understand that polar bears are one of the few creatures that will actively hunt a human – I can’t say that I blame them…
In terms of still observance, The meerkat’s sheer endurance Is matched by no insurgents – They also sell insurance.
Well, this is the way that things work out. I was quietly patting myself on the back for the above, when suddenly it dawned on me that most of my readers would have not the faintest idea of what I was banging on about. I will therefore explain. Some time ago the advertising agency employed by the price comparison website Compare the Market* came up with the slogan Compare the Meerkat and a series of ads based around an anthropomorphic animated family of the aforementioned critters. The meerkats have gone on to be far more famous than the product they advertise but, crucially – according to Wikipedia – only in the UK and Australia: two places from which the majority of my followers do not come. Hence the four lines at the head of this post will make sense only to about three of you. I cannot make any sense of the fact that the catchphrase of ‘Simples’ has seeped into general usage nor why a ‘free’ cuddly toy of a meerkat dressed in a velour smoking jacket would persuade you to change your insurance provider, but that is the way it is with mass hysteria sometimes. You pays your money and you takes their pick…
*In the interests of sanity I actually prefer to think that this was not the work of the entire agency, but someone they keep locked up in the cellar, fed on raw meat and Guinness.
Anyway, in order to balance out this reckless oversight, here is a poem about an animal much more widely recognised the world over – at least if young men are to be believed**.
The cougar likes to hunt alone, Drawn to its prey by constant hunger; The older female, always prone To search for males forever younger.
I write these little rhymes in batches simply because when I start one, the opening couplet to another unfailingly pops into my head – annoyingly distracting me from the original which can then take some time to finish. (Limited space in my brain, only room for one rhyme at a time in there.) Originally I thought that I might do a dozen, but it has stretched now to 26* – half a year’s worth – so I thought that I might go for the full year. Who knows, by the time I get there, fifty-two may well be the number of animals in the world that have not yet made it onto the WWF Red List. I have to remind myself from time to time that these rhymes are not meant to be ‘clever’ they are meant to be silly. I’m not really made for ‘clever’. My attempts at ‘clever’ usually emerge as ‘pompous’, so by and large I leave that to other people. Childish is much more my cup of tea. On a scale of Stephen Fry to Charlie Cairoli, I come in somewhere adjacent to the Chuckle Brothers. Pomposity appears to me to be the domain of the politician. I would never make a politician. I do not have the necessary conviction that I know best and I have a face that even my grandchildren cannot take seriously, but if I do sound like a bit of a dick from time to time, I rely on you to tell me. If I sound like a dick all of the time, then I apologise, but would suggest that you and I are probably not suited as companions going forward.
I know just what a panda is, I know the panther too. The parrot is well known to me, I’ve seen one in the zoo.
We all know how a penguin looks And pigs are nothing new, But what a pangolin is like I haven’t got a clue.
It could be that it’s tangerine, It could be that it’s blue… I thought I’d try and draw one And this is what I drew.
It isn’t great – I know that’s true, I’m sure it could be neater, But have you ever tried to draw A shy, scaly anteater?
Of everything in the animal park The broadest of smiles is on the aardvark: Although theoretical, If done alphabetical It’s always the first on the Ark.
Do you ever find yourself wondering exactly how animals got their names? Why a Tarantula isn’t called an ‘Arrghh!’? Why a Lion isn’t called a ‘Shit!’? Why a giraffe is not called a ‘Blimey!’? Why a Platypus is not called a ‘Whatthef…’? Who decided that a dog is a dog and a cat is a cat and not the other way round? I’m guessing that Noah and his family may be to blame: ‘Look, we need to write something on all the gates or else we’re going to get well mixed up. Just write something, anything, so that we can tell them apart. The last thing we need is a duck mating with an otter or somesuch… Really? Oh I don’t know. Just write Platypus…’
Elephants never forget, From January through to December, But I’m happy to bet, Although with regret, There is nothing they need to remember.
The perils of a pampered zoo life. You don’t need to remember how to cross half a continent in order to find a dry-season water hole when there’s someone to turn a hose on you every day. Maybe you just need to remember that this is not quite as it should be – and wait for the zoo keeper to leave the gate open…