I don’t think I’m going to be able to show my face at that zoo again for at least a couple of years.
When my mother in law, Sylvia, was here over the summer she and Paul took the kids to the Woburn Safari Park, an award winning free-range zoo that you can drive your car through like a Safari. I wasn’t able to join them (chemo weekend) but the four of them had a great time and rubbed it in constantly about how wonderful it was. They were disappointed that a monkey didn’t jump onto their car and that the animals were just kind of ‘sitting there’, but they did get some great pictures and overall had a very good time. Good enough that Paul has wanted to go back ever since.
Now, go to any attraction and you are pretty much guaranteed a good time. Bring me and you’re guaranteed an adventure.
We arrived early in the morning and joined the queue to slowly drive through the safari route of the zoo like every other normal family. We’d stocked up on snacks and sandwich stuff for later, heading off into the fields to creep past the huge animals that barely paid us any notice. The route was fantastic, driving through antelope, rhinos, zebras and giraffes – even watching a zoo truck chase an irate ostrich through the fields. We then went through the Jurassic Park style electric gates and into the carnivore area of bears, tigers and lions with a stern warning to keep all windows closed and not to get out of our cars for anything.
We drove through with everyone else, seeing the animals lazing off in the distance to the sheer glee of the girls. I have to admit, it was pretty cool. Finished with the safari we followed everyone else to the parking lot to go in for lunch.
That’s about when the ‘normal’ part of our day ended.
We parked in a muddy field, all jumping out of the car and opening up the back of our SUV to make our sandwiches. Some ducks came waddling up toward us while we were cutting bread and unpacking cheese. The girls thought the ducks were cute, as did I. We continued unpacking the contents of our sandwiches, cutting into veggie pepperoni packages with our teeth as many more ducks came. It wasn’t too alarming until Paul nearly stepped on one – my goodness they were close. There seemed to be a small flock quacking quietly right underneath us. The girls were starting to get a bit leery – there were a lot of birds now. No worries girls, mummy’s got this. In an attempt to get the birds away from us and with my mouth still holding a package of veggie pepperoni, I tore off a chunk of pita and tossed it a little ways away from us.
And then the sky fell in.
An army of seagulls came out of NOWHERE and attacked the duck trying to run off with the pita. The ducks went wild in retaliation – the attacked duck was being rolled over and over by seagull claws and the air was filled with the scream of birds and the flapping of wings.
The girls screeched and ran for the car – I left Paul behind fending off the winged rebellion and still stuffing pitas as I opened the doors and threw the girls into the car, then running back to help Paul. He was draining sun-blushed tomatoes with one hand and waving off birds with the other – kicking his feet out to warn the circling, hissing ducks of his space. It was a feathered nightmare. We were both ducking, hunching our shoulders and stuffing pitas as quickly as we could, dodging birds and trying to shield ourselves with the SUV back door. The kids inside the car were screaming for us, afraid that the birds would get in the car like they did last weekend.
Pitas stuffed we slammed the door and ran for the car, jumping inside and rolling up the windows to eat in peace.
Looking around, none of the other cars were being attacked by birds. They’d all gone into the restaurant. You know, like normal people.
We munched in silence for a few minutes when Paul had a sudden brainstorm – everyone was in the restaurant eating, the park was pretty much empty. If we were to go back to the safari part now we would practically have it to ourselves!
So we peeled out of the parking lot, a great white cloud of birds rising from around our car as we did. He was right, we pretty much had the entire thing to ourselves! How great! The winding road was practically deserted!
So… can I drive?
I’d not driven in about 4 years. I’d never driven on the left side of the road and for a long time in England hadn’t needed to – then having had a stroke I’m still not able to get a license for another year or so. But I can drive. Bemused, Paul agreed – but we couldn’t get out of the car to switch like Chinese fire drill – there were Rhinos and rules. We’d have to do it in-car.
Look out girls! Mummy’s coming back there! I squeezed myself up and into the back seat like a ninja while Paul slid over to the passenger side with only a bit of huffing and puffing. I then began the slow and surprisingly difficult task of getting from the back seat of the car through the middle and into the driver’s seat, contorting myself and completely mooning a Rhinoceros in the process. Paul ducked as I swung a leg over his headrest – he wasn’t too bothered. He was busy enjoying his chocolate-vanilla pudding cup.
Okay. Okay. We were sorted and for the very first time in the UK, I was driving. And I wasn’t doing too badly! I managed to go through the Jurassic Park gate without incident and we were now into the Tiger enclosure with only one other car up ahead. Very cool – but where were the tigers? We looked around for them off in the distance when Katie pointed out that well, it was right there beside our car. What? Oh wow, very cool! We stopped the car and watched as it walked slowly across the road directly in front of us and off into the field – a cool experience made even better as the other huge tiger came up beside our car as well, crouched low and actually stalking the first tiger. Like some kind of National Geographic documentary, we watched as the second tiger prowled low in the grass and nearly flat toward the first, hiding behind a tree and then running flat out to chase the first tiger back toward our car. We’d now caught up to the other car and watched as the two tigers circled our vehicles before heading back off into the woods to lie down.
Don’t open your door indeed!
We drove through the gate and into the bear enclosure, having a similar experience with a black bear walking across the road and then sitting directly in front of our car, just chilling. Erm… what do I do here? I can’t honk the horn, the staff will think we are being mauled. Plus, it would be rude. I can’t try to intimidate him off the road by nudging forward – we’re Canadian. We know what bears can do to cars. I couldn’t go around the bear, because you’re not meant to leave the pavement for anything. Butttttt… this was an SUV and we couldn’t stay here forever. This bear was not moving.
So I drove a bit to the right. The bear moved to the right. I went a bit further right. The bear nudged toward us. I was partially on the grass now, and the car was a bit tilted on the hill. The bear didn’t care. He moved a bit more to the right and then sat, like an indignant prick, right in my way. Alright, screw you bear – we’re out of here! And I peeled out far to the right, up the slant of the hill and around the bear, back onto the road full of triumph and yet side-eying myself that a bear just ran me off the road – then braking hard for a wolf.
Yeah, I should probably leave the driving to Paul.
It was when we made it into the lion enclosure that we heard the most terrifying phrase that could have possibly happened at that very moment.
“Mummy. I have to pee.”
“WHAT?! Oh no sweetie, you are going to have to hold it. We are a long way from the washrooms and we can’t get out here – there are lions.”
“I can’t hold it, it’s going to come out!”
What the crap?! Seriously?!? No, honey. You NEED TO HOLD IT. You don’t understand. There are LIONS.
“I need to go nowwwwww!”
OMG. Okay come here.
Wide eyed and panicked, we parked the car and scrambled around for something she could pee in. A water bottle? A bag? The floor???? And then Paul held up his empty chocolate-vanilla pudding cup. We stared at each other in silence.
It would have to do.
And this is how we came to be that family. You know, the one stuck in the lion enclosure with a half-naked four year old squatting over a pudding cup held by her father while I held her steady and howled with laughter. Until she started straining. Wait, WAIT! WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN THAT PUDDING CUP?!?!?
We were then rather quiet as we drove through the remaining safari route, our eyebrows still high up in our hair in disbelief of what had happened. Still, I was driving. And I was exceptionally pleased with myself.
After that even the monkey hanging out on our car was only vaguely entertaining, and we were happy to finish the safari and head into the rest of the zoo like normal people.
Well, we tried to do it like normal people.
When going to any type of zoo with kids you just can’t leave without first seeing the monkeys – no matter how traumatized you already are – and this zoo had a monkey enclosure that you could go inside and walk around. It sounded cute, why not?
Inside was a wooden pathway with rails – the route for us to walk through. And there were monkeys. Lots of monkeys – hanging out on the rails just chilln’ and watching us approach. There were monkeys in the trees, all watching us as we got nearer and nearer. I stopped at a corner before the waiting monkeys, looking down over the rail to see a zookeeper giving this small horde of monkeys the stink-eye, like she was warning them. I asked her how many there were.
“Oh, 22 are out in here today.”
“Wow. That’s a lot.” My inappropriate social skills took over and I continued “Have you ever been swarmed by all of the monkeys at once like an Alfred Hitchcock movie?”
“Um… no. But It can get pretty creepy at night when you come into the enclosure and they all rush toward you from high up in the trees. They’re mostly harmless though, and don’t often bite.”
“Oh? Well, that’s… interesti…..JESUS CHRIST!!!!!!!!!!!” as a lemur had leapt out of nowhere and onto Paul’s back. I jumped backward just in time to miss a monkey preparing to leap from the railing and onto ME, hyperventilating and ready to bolt for the door.
Paul laughed and took me by the hand to calm me down – the kids were terrified and the zookeeper was chuckling as she scolded the monkeys away. Her chuckles turned into howling laughter as we continued through the enclosure to the exit at a speed-walk, the twins pointing at each lemur in turn and shouting “Jesus Christ mummy, look!”. It sounded like the second coming in there. And the ironic part? When we got to the end of it and I bolted through the cage door we were met by a BBC Film Crew entering the cage.
For once in my life my timing was actually pretty good.
One final stop was all my heart could take before we made it back to the car – Bird World. Some sort of building you go into and the birds fly around freely.
In we went – the kids already a bit nervous . I’m a big believer in kids reading our stress in situations and reacting accordingly so, trying to make up for the whole flying monkey blasphemy incident earlier, I sucked it up and went into Bird World like nothing was wrong.
Oh holy hell. I regretted it the moment we stepped inside the door.
We made it about 3 ft in when we were distracted by a young girl and her mother on a bridge up ahead, the girl freaking out as two parrots duked it out on her shoulder – her mother trying to whack them away. Paul was riveted to their scene but that was it, I’d had enough. I took the girls by the hand and turned back toward the door – I wanted out, and was dive-bombed by a large bird that flew straight into my face. I screamed and batted it away, running for the door and plowing through a laughing family that had witnessed the whole thing. The door wouldn’t open, it was a one-way electronic security door. I clawed at it, I banged on it. The twins were each gripping a leg and Paul was still making his way up to help the other family on the bridge.
Other families laughed and cleared the way as I picked up my children and bolted, the three of us screaming like banshees until we were in the safety of the foyer, Paul joining us a moment later – completely oblivious to his hyperventilating family and wanting to know what was next.
The car, Paul. The car was next.