Lynne Mortimer - a family out at Banham Zoo and an obsession with maps

Have you been to zoo lately?

Have you been to zoo lately? - Credit: Archant

What better way to end our holiday than spending a day at Banham Zoo with three-year-old grandson George.

Our children, Ruth and Mark, loved the zoo when they were young. It is also the location of Mark’s small ET toy which he buried in the shingle outside the loos approximately 30 years ago.

But we were not going there in the expectation of uncovering the small alien, however, we wanted to share in George’s delight in animals. So we piled into two cars, daughter Ruth drove me in her car; my husband took son Mark and grandsons, George and seven-month-old Wil, in his car. Mum Caitlin was away on her sister’s hen weekend.

As we strapped the boys into their car seats (not including my husband and Mark), we noticed a flat tyre. So we went, in convoy, to the local tyre shop, got repaired and then set off for the zoo.

It’s changed a bit since we were last there. There are more retail outlets on the perimeter than before and many of the animals are in new, more spacious premises. Monkey Island is now a woodland walk.


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George was interested in the animals but, in this instance, it wasn’t the wildlife of the world that caught his imagination. George has discovered maps.

It’s genetic.

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His paternal grandfather loves maps too. On so many, many holidays, when setting out to see a local attraction I will be walking along, chatting to my husband only to discover he is no longer at my side. I look round… he’s a hundred yards back staring fondly at a map on a display board.

Usually we are so close to the destination we can see it. I can’t think why, for example, when you’re standing 400 yards from something big like the Eiffel Tower, you would need to scrutinise a map to check its whereabouts. I had always put this trait down to orienteering as a Scout. Not that I’m knocking his Scouting years. He ties a mean granny knot and I reckon he could start a fire with two sticks - particularly if one of them was a match. But now I think the map thing might be more nature than nurture. As soon as George was given possession of the illustrated map of the zoo he didn’t make a move without consulting it. “Now where are we?” he would ask… rhetorically as it turned out because he quickly located our position by looking at the pictures of animals. He would then select our next destination and when the extent of his numeracy was exhausted (he can read up to 12) he’d make up a number and off we’d go. Even when standing in front of the cheetah he was seeking, he still inspected his map to confirm it was where it was supposed to be.

Grandpa swelled with pride at his grandson’s orienteering skills. “He’s just like me,” he declared.

The rest of us (except Wil who was asleep) nodded glumly.

Weary after a zig-zagging around the zoo to locate George’s favourite animals, we ate a late lunch at the café… baby Wil made a brave assault on a ham sandwich. Not bad for someone with only two tiny teeth. Refreshed, we headed for the butterfly house where the lifesize model Cayman roared and made George jump. Meanwhile, grandpa found a sign that said: “Critically endangered species” and insisted on sitting down beside it and having his picture taken. George immediately sat down beside him in a show of solidarity. Maybe the species was not now so critically endangered, though.

Just as we were about to hit the gift shop, George checked his map and announced: “Flamingos. I want to see the flamingos. Number 11.” While auntie Ruth, daddy and brother Wil (who had gone back to sleep) waited, grandpa and grandma trudged along the woodland walk to the flamingo shore. Here, baby flamingos, balls of fluff, sat by their pink parents. George showed us he can stand on one leg too… like flamingos, that is, not grandparents. By now, George’s grandparents could barely stand on two legs.

In the shop George was told he could have one thing… Half an hour later, he settled (not literally) on a small plastic model of a baby hippo. They don’t have any of those at Banham.

See more from Lynne Mortimer here

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