Perfect Day

June 6, 2003

(With apologies to Lou Reed)

Oh, it’s such a perfect day
I’m glad I spend it with you
Oh, such a perfect day…

Summer has finally hit Scotland, with (intermittently) sunny, (relatively) warm days. Long days, too, this far north and this close to the solstice. I got all the housework and laundry done yesterday, so I decided that today would be an adventure day. Would we take the train to Perth for lunch with Alex’ grandparents? Or take the bus to Peebles for a walk, or Portobello for an afternoon at the beach? Or would we go to the zoo?

Alex had only been to the zoo once, on his first birthday (a relatively cold day). He was too young to last long – a couple of hours were enough to exhaust him. But now, at two and a bit, he was ready for a longer time on a warmer day.

We took the bus out there (two buses, actually, with a change on Princes Street) in the morning, arriving at 10:30 or 11. The first thing that greets you at Edinburgh zoo is a statue of an elephant, with a sign explaining that there aren’t the facilities there to keep real elephants. Alex liked the statue.

Over the course of the day, we saw more beasts than I can list: California sea lions, flamingos, ring-tailed lemurs, camels, zebras, oryx, maned wolves, lynx, a tiger (or its tail, at least), monkeys of various sorts, chimps, gorillas, meercats, pygmy hippos, a polar bear, very not-pygmy rhinos (the biggest animals there), giraffes, snakes, lizards, a bunny rabbit (eating the grass, not part of the zoo), four varieties of penguin, locusts, tropical fish, cassowary, etc, etc. Alex spent most of the time in the backpack (the distances really are too far for him to walk). He stared and stared, pointed and watched.

A very funny moment came when we were at the rhinos. They were dozing in the sun at the very edge of the enclosure, right below us (their enclosure is sunken on the uphill side). Alex said “Rhino horn nose.” “Yes,” I said, “rhinos have horns on their noses. These ones are asleep. They’re taking their nap.” “Alex twinkle rhino,” he said, then launched into his abbreviated version of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star . “Twinkle star,” he sang. Then he waved his hand in the air, about six feet above the huge grey beast, and said, “Shhh, shhh…” I hope the rhinos slept well after being shushed by my bunny.

Edinburgh zoo has a tradition that I haven’t seen at any other zoos I’ve been to: the Penguin Parade. Apparently, in the 1950’s, a zookeeper accidentially left the gate open when he left the penguin enclosure to go about his business. A little later, he looked round to find himself at the head of a column of penguins, who were themselves surrounded by an intrigued crowd of humans. Someone smart latched onto this, and now any of the penguins that fancy a stroll gather at the gate at 2:15. The keepers let them out and herd them gently along a triangular route, while the humans stand (behind yellow painted lines) watching them. Today it was king penguins, going slowly, pausing from time to time for mating displays (head up, wings out, hey baby, look at me !)

We left the zoo at quarter to five. Alex hadn’t slept a wink all day (he usually takes a 2 hour nap in the early afternoon). I made a tactical error and bought him a plastic elephant, giraffe and sea lion, so he played with them instead of falling asleep on the bus. I got off at the West End of Princes Street and walked east with my best soothing walk. Even the elephant couldn’t keep him awake more than a minute. He slept nearly an hour in the shadow of the Scott Monument.

Martin arrived while he slept, and completed the day by taking us out for a pizza dinner. Alex, despite chips and some hot dog at lunch and ice cream in the mid-afternoon, was starving by about 6, and loved the idea of pizza. The final cap was set on the day when the waiter gave him a yellow balloon! He was feeling so good that he flirted with every attractive female on the bus ride home, despite being ragged with exhaustion.

We’re home now, a little pink in the cheeks. Martin has put the boy to bed (with a framed photo of one of the penguins in his room – I love digital cameras and photo printers!). I expect a sound night’s sleep from him.

My knees hurt. But it’s a small price to pay for a perfect day.