First Zoo Trip

During a trip to the seaside last week when the weather was overcast we decided to visit one of the local attractions.

We visited a small zoo in Borth on the west coast of mid-Wales. Not being a huge fan of zoos I was pleasantly surprised. The zoo began as a way of giving a home to some of the many exotic pets that are discarded each year in the UK. This does not just include animals like terrapins and iguanas that can quickly outgrow their owners glass tanks. Even the zoo’s ocelot and leopard were unwanted pets.

In 2014 it was estimated that there were more than 42 million rare and unusual ‘exotic’ pets kept in the UK. That’s a lot of animals; even if that figure does include “tropical” fish.

All Creatures Great and Small…

I was initially expecting only a little more than a petting zoo. Mainly typical farm animals with the odd caged wild animal plus a few reptiles. How wrong I was. They have a wide selection of monkeys, marsupials and large birds. They even have an Iberian Lynx – supposedly native to Spain although increasingly difficult to see there in the wild. The lynx recently gave birth after being received as a gift from another zoo: Alas we never saw the kittens.

They have recently taken on two lions (one male one female) from the Noah’s Ark zoo farm near Bristol. Apparently these lions were surplus to requirements in that zoo farm such has been their success and growth. The enclosure is spacious and the animals come right up to the fence. It is the closest I have been to a lion in any kind of zoo.

They do also have all the typical petting zoo creatures like small rodents, lambs and ponies.

Snakes on a Boy….

Not to be confused with that dreadful film Snakes on a Plane; this was the reptile encounter. A fantastic, educational, close encounter with some of the zoo’s more exotic species.

The reptile keeper brings out some of the snake collection so you can see them at close quarters and even hold them. The first snakes he brought out were a relatively small Corn Snake (that he had wrapped around his neck) and a Royal Python called Luna. He passed the python around the audience where the kids got to hold it.

A mere six foot (2 metres) or so and not weighing too much Dani comfortably held it on his lap – half excited half scared I suspect. But he never flinched or showed any signs of fear. What a charmer! Snake charmer no less. He held it and stroked its smooth and silky skin. It is a common misconception that snakes are wet and slimey.

Then they brought out the second python. I say “they” because it took 4 of them to carry it. This thing was a female Burmese python called Bernie. She is over 20 feet long (over  6m) and weighs over 12 stone (that’s over 168 pounds or more than 68kg in new money)

First they had to uncoil it and then lift it before carefully walking out of the glassed housing area into the public seating zone. Finally placing it carefully on a table for the kids to maul it. In reality the kids were very well behaved and treated the animals with respect. The girth of this animal was incredible. Dani could easily fit inside it without any stretching or bulges showing.

 As big and powerful as these pythons are they are gentle in nature and do not bite. The one disappointment was that none of the pythons we met was named Monty.

Other Attractions

Apart from the advertised feeding events and reptile encounters there are other attractions that you cannot find in most zoos. Peacocks roam freely and clearly enjoy displaying their famous feathers. Visitors are free to enter the wallaby pen. For an extra fee you can even enter the popular meerkat enclosure. The interaction with the animals is fantastic and a great place for kids to learn or stimulate a thirst for more knowledge. Borth is only a few miles north of the university town of Aberystwyth. If you are in that part of the world I can highly recommend it. Check out their website (which is currently being updated/rebuilt) at http://animalarium.co.uk/

 

 

Aside……A couple of film references

If you are a frequent reader of the Blog you will know that I occasionally like to make references to the movies. Here are another two…

Snakes On a plane – Extremely shit (2006) film starring Samuel L. Jackson. The “L” stands for Leroy by the way. Although I will admit there was at least one very funny moment just about when the snakes were starting to appear when a man is taking a leak in the toilet. Real snake meets trouser snake (so to speak). It had me in fits of laughter. While I consider Sam Jackson to be a decent (rather than great) actor he did play one of the great cinema roles starring as Jules Winnfield in one of my all-time top 10 films Pulp Fiction.

A Clockwork Orange: This 1970s cult classic, taken from the book of the same name, was banned for many years in the UK. Reportedly because too many youth gangs were copying the behaviour of the film’s anti-heroes. The main character is Alex played by Malcom McDowell. In the movie, Alex has a pet python he calls Monty.

A Sad Conclusion to Charlie’s Story

I have already nailed my colours to the mast on this one so there is no way I can let this go without having another say…

Even if the end was (more or less) inevitable –  I was always going to write about it. Whether Charlie got to visit the doctors in America or not. Even if that therapy failed to make a difference. Happy or sad, good or bad; this story needs a conclusion.

Whatever your opinion recent events should have brought a tear to your eye.

Being the cynical old dad that I am I might normally laugh at the self-styled Charlie’s Army. Write them off and call them nutters etc…as many seem to have done. But this is different. This case involves the National Health Service (NHS) and I am immediately sceptical of what goes on in the UK’s hugely inefficient health system. I am not anti-NHS nor do I particularly favour private health care per se. I do however believe that while the intentions may still be honourable the NHS is no longer fit for purpose and should be rebuilt from the bottom up. It is certainly not this untouchable, perfect organization that we are often led to believe it is. It should not be above criticism. This is a very important issue because it affects us all remember. Or soon will do for my generation. I have written a blog post comparing the health systems in Spain and the UK which I intend to publish this week. Please read it and feel free to comment.

I do not have blind faith in the workings of the NHS. The nurses and doctors and their assistants – people on the shop floor – may be doing their best but as an organization it is broken. Unfortunately, the NHS in the UK is above such criticism. It is a political football that no one dare criticize. It certainly seems there is no politician brave enough to suggest that it must be hugely improved or even rebuilt.

Conspiracy Theories or Just Harsh Realities?

For all the good that places like Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) do they are definitely influenced and (who knows?) may be funded (at least in part) by big pharma. Vested interests abound.

Is the therapy (including drugs) being offered by the American doctor something that cannot be copyrighted by big pharma? Just a thought. This blog post is beginning to resemble the Pelican Brief!

Having said all that, I am an old dad. It means I have been around long enough to see a lot of things. Nothing surprises me anymore. I am by nature bit of a cynic. Such cynicism grows with age and experience. This is true for most of us. So here is another thought…

Has the situation been deliberately prolonged by the parents? Is it possible that they have done this for some untoward reason? I do not think so; but you can never be too sure. Remember the case of the woman in Doncaster, England who faked her own daughters’ disappearance in the hope that the public would throw money at the cause? It turns out the little girl was hidden away in the house of one of her mother’s friends. These things do indeed occur. Life really is stranger than fiction, so nothing, absolutely nothing, would surprise me.

Time will tell if the money raised for little Charlie will be used correctly or not. I believe it will.

The Sad Summary…

One thing I am convinced of is that the GOSH have some serious questions to answer. Unfortunately in the UK the hospitals and NHS never seem to have to confront such questions. Whatever they say is supposed to be taken as the undisputed truth and second opinions (if they ever happen) are not considered. The whole system needs to be seriously looked at. If nothing else comes of this sad case then let us all hope that it somehow changes the way such things are considered in the health service

Some things are hard to dispute. In her final statement to the court Charlie’s mother summarized it simply.

“There is one simple reason for Charlie’s muscles deteriorating to the extent they are in now – time. A whole lot of wasted time.”

And…

“All we wanted to do was take Charlie from one world-renowned hospital to another world-renowned hospital. We feel that we should have been trusted as parents to do so.”

I would urge you to read up on the facts of the case. Read the mother’s final statement to the court. For me, it is clear that Charlie should have been given that one opportunity. For me, the timeline of events tells its own story.

So; this sad and sorry tale draws to a close; although not quite. Even now they are still deciding where Charlie can be allowed to “die with dignity”, telling the parents that Charlie cannot be allowed to die at home.

I wonder what will come to light in the coming months? I am sure we have not heard the last of this.

From Fake News to Fake Fairy Stories

We live in an age of “fake” news. Or so we are told by all sides of the political spectrum. Was it ever any different? Of course not. The difference nowadays is that we all think we are more connected and more in tune with the latest news etc… We are not.

That aside there is plenty of scope for fake stories. Even those incorporating fake goods. There is a saying that “life is stranger than fiction”. Well sometimes even fiction can be stranger than fiction…

Tales Ad Lib…

Whenever I try to tell a story I often get interrupted. Other characters get thrown in by a little voice. By a little boy who is supposed to be listening to, not telling, the story. I welcome interaction in the story telling. Let’s face it we have all heard the tales so many times; they do get boring. Even the better fairy stories turn dull after the 200th telling.

The other day was a great example. When I tried to relate one of his favourite stories – The Elves and the Shoemaker – he insisted on including the Muffin Man. Whenever I got the part where someone came into the shop to buy the latest foot fashion (made the previous evening by the little helpers) he insisted that it was the Muffin Man doing the shopping. No idea why it had to be him but I could work with this I thought. Over-lapping characters from different tales or rhymes can be quite fun. It can quickly turn the story into a scene from that movie Shrek.

In this case it goes something like this…

I usually throw in three or four artistic cobbling night-shifts. Then once they discover who is making the shoes the shoemaker and his missus make their little helpers some Saville Row inspired three piece suits. The following mornings, each time a few fine pairs of shoes go on sale, in walks the Muffin Man. It turns out that the shoe shop is just around the corner from Drury Lane. I never knew that (he said, surprised). Did you?

The combination of good quality leather combined with the fine stitch-work and artistry of the nimble fingered elves meant that the shoes could sell for quite a sum. This wasn’t cheap bargain footwear or even mid-range. These were top end designer priced shoes. So, for three or four consecutive days Mr. Muffin Man splashed out top dollar – actually, pounds, shillings, pence, farthings and groats in this pre-decimalisation case – for the various elf made shoes.

The rest of the story was pretty much standard with only a few minor elaborations. Standard poetic license for any old dad.

On the final night of the story the shoemaker once again lays out the best leather he could find. Only this time he also leaves a couple of perfectly tailored suits for the elves. Just like the previous nights the elves make the shoes and then notice the suits. They try them on – perfect fit of course – and then decide to walk off into the sunset. Actually, sunrise in this case. Just like that. No explanation as to where they came from or where they are going. Nobody knows. It’s probably just an elf thing.

The Sting…

Meanwhile right on cue, some 10 minutes after opening time, in walks the Muffin Man. Only this time he is not alone. With him are two policemen; and they were not looking for new shoes.

It turns out that the Muffin Man had been working as an undercover Trading Standards officer and all this time he has been following a trail of high quality fake Jimmy Choo shoes. They were so good in fact It was impossible to tell them apart from the real thing. He had been following the sudden unexplained spike in fake designer shoes (and bags apparently) in different shops around the country. The only connection was that all the shops were owned and run by old couples who should have been retired but could not afford to. The elves had been moving freely from town to town spreading their high quality counterfeit wares upon the unsuspecting public. Seemingly with no care for the intellectual property rights of the designers or the statutory rights of the consumer. Yet somehow they were also like good Samaritans, helping hard up old age citizens. Quite a conundrum for any law enforcer.

Morals in the Story….

The more fake the story the more intently he listens. Maybe he is already a little bored with the routine versions and wants some taller tales.  Now all good children’s stories should have at least one moral. This one is clearly no exception but there are so many and they are so complex. Where on earth do I begin? All help is greatly appreciated.

Poor Charlie Soldiers on….

Poor little Charlie Gard has just been given a third reprieve. It seems that some team of medical experts has informed the Great Ormond Street Hospital (where Charlie is being cared for) that there may be some benefit in some form of treatment. The exact details of this treatment are not clear – to me anyway.

Yet the powers that be still won’t let his parents take him to the USA. That is still the most baffling part of this whole sorry saga.

Since I posted the article on Charlie two VIPs have intervened. Verbally at least. The Pope and even the president of the United States – Donald Trump himself – have weighed into the debate. I tweeted my previous post on this subject to Mr. Trump. He probably does not read them himself. No doubt that is work for some of his minions. It is highly unlikely that he even writes “his” tweets. Still, it was worth a try.

Just a thought…

A thought occurred to me the other day while reading some of the articles in the media about poor Charlie’s case.

We are told that he has the extremely rare mitochondrial depletion syndrome. We are also told that he is one of only 16 such cases with this condition. The therapy offered in the USA is, we are told, experimental. If there are so few cases to experiment with surely it would be in everyone’s interest for Charlie to go to the USA?

How can they find a cure (or useful treatment) to such a rare condition without a patient to experiment on?

Just a thought…

Meanwhile I hope that someone in authority makes a good and right decision for once. For the sake of little Charlie Gard.

Thomas the Tank Engine featuring The Beatles?

It is well known that Ringo Starr narrated the stories in the early Thomas the Tank Engine series.

For those of you too young to know who that is, he was 25% of the Fab Four. Sorry. Maybe I need to clarify that still further. He was one of The Beatles. Regardless of your musical tastes it is a fact that they were and still are the biggest, most successful act in the history of popular music. Ringo only read the stories for the first two series but his name is synonymous with the early episodes when they used model trains. Far more enjoyable to watch than the newer animated series.

Cameo?

So much for an ex-Beatle narrating the stories. But did The Beatles make a very brief cameo appearance in one of the early episodes?

Last weekend something caught my eye while the kids were watching one of their favourite Thomas DVDs. It included the episode “Jack Jumps In” and I am sure there is a quick glimpse of the Fab Four in one of the scenes.

When Jack arrives on site the storyline even mentions that “Thomas delivered Jack to the quarry” just when the “Beatles” appear on screen. See for yourself in the picture below. Now it doesn’t take a genius to work out the link here. Before they became the Beatles the fab four were known as “The Quarrymen”. Coincidence? A tenuous link? Or maybe I just need glasses.

Is this a cameo appearance by The Beatles in Thomas & Friends?

One of the better episodes….

The episode is quite a good one. The first time I watched it with Dani it made me laugh. In one scene Jack the little front-loader squares up to Max the huge dump truck and the there is a tense stand-off. The soundtrack plays the classic whistling sound from The Good The Bad and The Ugly. A nod to a spaghetti western style confrontation and a cameo appearance from The Beatles in the same episode? Sounds too good to be true doesn’t it? Judge for yourself when you watch the whole episode click here.