Mummy’s taking us to the zoo tomorrow
by Julie Alpine-Crabtree
Back in spring we were sent a CD containing the Joni Mitchell version of Daddy’s Taking Us To The Zoo Tomorrow. We did a lot of bouncing on the bed to it.
Not long after, we made our first trip to London Zoo. In the queue in front of us was a woman with six toes on each foot. As I stared, transfixed, at the gorgeous shade of coral nail polish she had on, I felt sure those 12 toes were a good omen.
And so it has proven. Now fully paid-up and card-holding members of the Zoological Society of London (which means unlimited entrance to London Zoo and Whipsnade for 12 months, discounts in zoo shops and cafés and – be still my beating heart – fast-track entry, all for under a hundred quid), we make the trip at least once a week. We’ve been there in sunshine and in rain, in good moods and in bad, just the three of us and with friends and family. We’ve even taken Daddy a couple of times.
Here are my top 10 reasons why the zoo is a London mother’s best friend:
1. It’s central. No car required. For us it’s a ride on the No.205 bus followed by a walk across Regent’s Park, which is in itself a golden opportunity to gather one’s thoughts, be dazzled by the flowerbeds and, in cases of napping babies, sit on a bench, read a book and eat a caramel Rice Krispies bar.
2. It’s big. Even in the high season and on weekends there’s loads of room for toddlers to race around and nobody bats an eyelid at the width of our Mountain Buggy double, my eBay purchase of the decade. (That’s ‘moss green’, though I like to think of it as ‘pistachio’.)
3. The animals. No museum can quite open a little one’s eyes to the wonders of the natural world as can seeing a living, breathing (preferably peeing or pooing) animal close enough to touch.
4. The 50p ride-ons. Bus, train, jeep… I raid the coin jar before every visit and can get a whole Nini feed done while Milo’s happily steering one of these things.
5. The bouncy gorilla. The zoo’s own take on the bouncy castle only costs £1 for five minutes for ZSL members, £1.50 for non-members. The handsome man who runs the attraction quite often turns a blind eye to a few extra minutes at quiet times. Or you can just keep throwing more coins into his hand and leave your child bouncing there indefinitely. This again provides great opportunity for feeds (baby or Mummy), nappy changes, a few deep breaths, text messages, Tweets, whatever.
6. The art room. This is currently closed for some structural work, but we’ll be back as soon as it re-opens to make more badges, fridge magnets and brass rubbings. There must be at least one friend/relative who we haven’t given one to yet…
7. The face painting/temporary tattoos stand. I’ve always found face-painted kids a bit creepy but then I was talked into getting Milo done and the ensuing photo of the saddest tiger in the world was worth the expense (a few pounds for an effect that lasted all of three minutes until he wiped it off with his sleeve).
8. The play area designed by children for children. Think water jets, a teepee with daily storytelling sessions, sculptures to climb all over, treehouse and lots more.
9. The gift shops. Among our top purchases to date are baby wipes (when we really, really needed them), ponchos to keep us dry while jumping in puddles, socks for when feet got soaked while jumping in puddles, a Cath Kidson-style soft toy elephant, books galore, bath crayons and, get this, a little fish tank with fish that grew to 400% of their original size when water was added.
10. The milkshake bar, ‘Sblended’. Get all your calories for the week in one convenient cup. Your choice of ingredients. Nutella, Milky Bar, fresh banana and Dime Bar delight, anyone?
I don’t know. Maybe it’s just that the zoo never fails to bring out my inner Mary Poppins. When we were there a couple of days ago and Abba’s Dancing Queen was playing on the pipe organ on the old-school carousel, I was so moved my eyes got all teary. Mothering feels easy here. And with this in mind, I’ve just invested in my first coat with a hood. Ever. If the flamingoes and camels can survive the British winter then so, goddamn it, can I.