Zoo #15 – Aerophobia

Ostrich, emu, kiwi, rhea;
What on earth is happening here?
Whilst nature blessed a billion things,
The birds alone were blessed with wings.
The power to soar, to swoop, to fly,
They gave them up, I wonder why?
What could they see from on the ground
Was more than when they flew around?

Whilst other creatures scanned the sky
And dreamt of having wings to fly,
These birds developed legs for speed
Whilst wasted wings just atrophied.
Imagine finding when you hatch,
‘You are a bird, but here’s the catch,
Those tiny wings are useless, son,
But never mind, ‘cause you can run…’

I have never quite understood why evolution would rob an animal of its greatest gift, the power of flight.  Surely the ability to escape is evolution’s most powerful weapon.  It doesn’t matter how powerful a predator is if it cannot catch you.  You can bet your life that, given the chance of having wings, the lion would most certainly have accepted.  What kind of animal would give up such an advantage?  The kind that buries its head in the sand I think…

The Ghost of Christmas Past – ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas


(with abject apologies to Clement Clarke Moore)

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
It should have been squeaking away at its wheel
Not laying face down and stiff in its meal.
There’ll be tears in the morn’ when she comes with his bread
And your dear little daughter discovers him dead,
But still, do not worry, she will not stay sad
When she spots, through the wrapping, that she’s got an i-pad.
The stockings we hung by the chimney with strings,
Were not for all the extravagant things:
For those they have hanging, at the end of their beds
Two giant sacks with their names on instead.
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
Whilst visions of smart phones danced in their heads
And mummy and I, with an hour to kill,
Were fearfully reading the credit card bill.
When out in the street arose such a din,
‘Cos the people next door were trying to get in,
But the key they were trying was turning no more,
Which wasn’t surprising – it wasn’t their door.
‘If you hadn’t guzzled that last Famous Grouse,
You’d have known straight away that it wasn’t our house.’
Said the wobbling wife as she stumbled for home
And was sick down the back of a small plastic gnome.
‘It’s four in the morning,’ an angry voice cried.
‘Just shut up your racket or I’m coming outside.’
Then all became silent, except, from afar
The sound of a key down the side of their car.
As dry leaves start falling from autumnal trees,
So snow began drifting along on the breeze
And high in the sky at the reins of his sled,
A white bearded man with a hat on his head.
‘Now Dasher, now Dancer, now Prancer and Vixen.
On Comet, on Cupid, on Donner and Blitzen!’
He cried to the reindeer in tones slurred and merry,
Having just swallowed down his ten thousandth sherry.
And then, for a moment, I heard from the roof
An outburst of language that seemed most uncouth,
Then a flash by the window – a red and white blur
Of fat man and white beard; of red felt and fur.
He knocked on the door when he’d climbed to his feet
And adjusted his cloak ‘gainst the cold blinding sleet.
‘Just give me five minutes to sit by your fire
And I’ll see that your children get all they desire.’
We gave him some tea and both patiently sat
As he talked about this and he talked about that
And then, having eaten the last hot mince pie
He rose and he slapped on his red-trousered thigh.
He yawned – ‘I must return to my duty
My sled is still packed with a mountain of booty.’
And then, as he turned to the door with a wave
We reminded him of the promise he gave.
‘Of course, yes,’ he laughed, his jolly face beaming.
‘But quick now, while the kids are still dreaming.
Here, look at this dolly with glass-beaded eyes
And this wig and some glasses to make a disguise.’
‘A car made of tin and a train made of wood.
This big Snakes & Ladders is really quite good.
An orange, some nuts and a new, shiny penny.’
But electrical goods he hadn’t got any.
‘You conman,’ we cried. ‘You are not Santa Claus.
If we’d known it we would have left you outdoors.
The real Father Christmas would not carry such tat.
We want top class products – and brand names at that.’
‘Our kids will go mad if we give them this shite:
There are no soddin’ batteries and no gigabytes.
They don’t give a monkeys about innocence lost;
Just leave them a bill so they know what stuff costs.’
He turned to us now and his eyes filled with tears,
‘These presents have kept children happy for years.’
We looked at the list of the rubbish he’d got.
‘You silly old fool, you are losing the plot.’
He sprang to his sleigh crying ‘Sod this, I’m beat!’
And they all flew away to their Lapland retreat,
But I heard him exclaim ‘They are never content.
Now the thought doesn’t count – just the money you’ve spent.’
And so Christmas morning descended with gloom.
The children both rose and they looked round the room
At the i-phones, the i-pads, the Xbox and games
And they pulled at the labels and picked out their names.
Then at last they had finished, all presents unwrapped,
And we sat down for breakfast all energy sapped.
‘This is lame,’ they exclaimed.  ‘This day is a bore.’
‘We’ve only got what we asked Santa Claus for.’
Then they saw on the floor where the old man had stood
A doll made of cloth and a train made of wood
And happily, low-tech, they played all the day
Whilst we packed all of their i-stuff away.

Originally posted 22nd December 2018

Zoo #13 – Bandicoot

Somebody said ‘A bandicoot,’
I had to look it up.
Another odd marsupial –
Antipodean pup.

A cross between a wombat
A kanga and a rat,
It looks as though God made it
From bits of this and that.

Distinct from almost everything –
Genetically a scrawl –
But compare it to a platypus
And it’s not that odd at all.

There’s a whole raft (Ark?) of Australian animals that are completely alien to the rest of the world.  The bandicoot has the very best name and it looks like three different animals have been crudely assembled in the dark.  However, when you live in a country that boasts a water dwelling mammal that has a duck’s bill, that lays eggs and has venom like a snake, well, sadly, you’re not really that exciting are you?

Zoo #12 – Chimp

A chimp is not a monkey;
A monkey is not an ape,
But all that stands between them
Is biologist’s red tape.

This is a recurring theme for me.  We are discovering so many new species all the time, all of them one molecule different to the last.  If we find seven thousand different sub-species of the common fruit fly, that will compensate for the death of the last white rhino, right?  We are creating with a microscope whilst destroying with an ignorance the size of a planet.  No laughing matter?  I don’t know what else to do…

Zoo #11 – Octopus

If you meet an octopus
On the top deck of a London bus,
Just shake his hand, as they taught you to
And say ‘How do you do, you do, you do, you do, you do, you do, you do, you do?’

I realise that I am going to lose three quarters of my audience through the course of this sentence, but if you’re my age, British and you remember the wonderful Frankie Howerd, try reading this out in his voice.  It really works…

Zoo #10 – Leopard

A leopard never changes spots –
Or maybe that’s the cheetah –
I couldn’t help but wonder if
A pinstripe would be neater.

As I stated last week, I am always baffled by the patterns that animals display on fur and hide.  A number of you good people explained to me the way a zebra’s stripes work, but how do spots make you disappear on a grassy plain?  It never worked for Mr Blobby*.

*Cultural reference for those outside the UK.  Mr Blobby was very popular in this country for a number of years.  It was a national aberration: one to which no-one in his/her right mind would ever admit to succumbing.  Ditto Noel Edmonds…

Zoo #9 – Zebra

A quadrapedic barcode –
I refer to the zebra of course –
Has black stripes that serve as camouflage
And save it from being a horse.
A horse in stripy pyjamas
At large on the African plains –
You must feel would be less conspicuous
If its daywear was brown in the main.

I’ve never quite understood the concept that a black and white striped animal is camouflaged against the green/brown savannah.  If black and white stripes serve as camouflage, why on earth would you make pedestrian crossings out of them?  Madness!

Zoo #8 – Alligator

Alligator, alligator,
Swimming in the Nile.
What makes you different
To a crocodile?

Well now, this was a nice quick hit on the first day of zoo-rhyme writing, but the doubt set in almost immediately.  Is it to a crocodile, or from a crocodile?  Do alligators actually swim in the Nile or are they in fact crocodiles?  How would I know?  What, in fact, is the difference between an alligator and a crocodile?  Are they actually the same thing, like Bison and Buffalo – if, in fact, they are the same thing.  I think you begin to get the picture that my zoological knowledge is not extensive.  Time for some research…

So, it is just as well I made the point, which I reiterate at this juncture, that these are nonsense rhymes, as there are, in fact, no alligators swimming in the Nile.  If there were, they would almost certainly be eaten by the Nile Crocodiles, which are very big and very bad indeed.  I decided to check up on the difference between the two, to ensure that I didn’t make the same mistake again, and I discovered that the main way of identifying one from t’other is in the crocodile’s characteristic toothy grin.  I was not certain that, in the field, this would help me.  Nevertheless, I tried to clarify…

Crocodile, crocodile, swimming in the Nile,
I’m not reassured by your big friendly smile,
Resulting from evolutionary law,
That the biggest and strongest give others ‘what for’.
So two ancient hunters, but only one winner:
The croc’ is the diner, the ‘gator the dinner.

Zoo #7 – Yak

Of social graces, does the Yak,
Have, at best, a dreadful lack.
He never waits his turn to speak,
He’ll rattle on and on for weeks,
And if you try to have your say,
He’ll just ignore you anyway.
He gives you not the slightest choice,
You have to listen to his voice
And even if you answer back,
He’ll never stop his yackety, yackety, yackety, yackety, yackety, yackety yak.

It wasn’t until I’d written this that I realised I had no real idea at all of what a Yak looked like. 

I looked it up.  It is a whopping big Tibetan cow.  I’m pleased I didn’t know this at the time.  It could quite easily be a very mannerly creature.  If I’d known when I started, I would have had to start all over again…