How to survive the zoo

February half term has lately been spent with Granny Purple Hair in darkest Wales. But this time, because of being in a play the following week and being up to my ears in rehearsals, we’re obliged to stay put.

We therefore compromised with a short trip to Norfolk to stay with Grandpa No Hair for a few nights.

But that still left Monday and Friday to occupy the Mole, the Hedgehog and the Beaver.

So this is roughly how our week went…

On Monday, Mole, Hedgehog, Beaver and I went to Whipsnade Zoo, and despite the biting icy winds, we managed to spend all day there. We did this mainly by running from one indoor bit to another. I also took Mole and Hedgehog’s scooters with us, in the hope that this would speed them up and avoid the tortoise walk after the first mile, but when we got there, they’d both changed their minds and refused to use them.

We generally start with the aquarium and butterfly house in the winter months, as you can easily spend an hour in there and it’s a bit like going to the tropics for free. We walk in from the polar winds outside and are immediately met with a wall of lovely heat.

So I sit on a rock with Otter admiring the colourful flappy insects for as long as possible, while Mole runs about in excited circles. Hedgehog is only interested in one thing – the crocodiles. There are two of them in a tank, who stand stock still and watch us with dead eyes, as if they are competing in a musical statues contest. Hedgehog sits with her face pressed up against the glass, running to find me every few minutes to declare “Mummy, one of them just blinked”.

When I start to get sleepy or dizzy with the heat, I take this as my cue to move on, and we walk to the soft play barn to see about our chances of getting in there. No such luck. The next available slot is not for another 4 hours. Can we spend 4 hours here until soft play time? The challenge is on.

We walk around the outdoor playground for a bit, hoping that some climbing and general running around will help to warm them up and stave off the whining. Mole and Hedgehog are very good at scrambling up climbing walls, along robe bridges and down tunnel slides. Mole especially likes to yell “Mummy, look at me” from the other side of the playground before jumping into mid-air and sliding expertly down the fireman’s pole.

Beaver is good at watching them from her buggy.

Next we visit the sealion house, which has a long tunnel for underwater viewing and is critically out of the wind. Hedgehog asks to be lifted up onto the window ledge, and nearly falls off in shock when a sealion swishes past inches from the glass without warning. I love the sealions. They are probably my favourite thing at the zoo.

Next we go on the steam train, which Mole and Hedgehog have been on about 1400 times, but it never gets old. It’s also a quick and easy way of seeing the wallabies, the elepants, rhinos, camels, deer park and pelicans all while sitting down. I can even feed the Otter at the same time.

Still another 3 hours until soft play.

We walk up to the giraffe house, where most of the giraffes are sensibly inside. It smells of straw, pooh, and well… giraffe, but we stay in there for at least half an hour. The sight of the giraffes slowly moving around and munching on their hay like beautiful cranes is calming to me.

After that it’s the lion house (the lions are quite elusive but we’re out of the wind), and the hippo house (which stinks but they have benches and it’s heated), and the cheetah house, (again, no cheetahs in sight, but good shelter).

By this time our endurance levels are waning. Mole and Hedgehog alternate between constantly asking if it’s time for soft play yet, and finding a random rock that they can orbit for 20 minutes, while I push Otter around in the buggy and zip my coat up a bit tighter.

Eventually the sun comes out and it becomes almost nice to be outside, or perhaps we’ve become numb to the cold, I can’t quite tell.

1 hour until soft play.

I consider leaving the zoo and driving to another soft play place instead, but just as I think that I’ve reached my waiting limit, I crash through my boundaries and realise that at the tortoise pace that Mole and Hedgehog are walking, it will take an hour just to get back to the carpark anyway. We plod our way slowly round to the soft play barn, and paw at the glass like lost animals.

Allelujah, our time has come. Mole and Hedgehog disappear into the maze of tunnels, never to return, while Beaver sits in the ball pit with me in the baby section, and I fanatasise about my undrunk coffee on the table. It all lasts for 45 minutes, after which we are allowed to go home.

We arrive exhausted, to have dinner, bath and bed. They all go to sleep straight away with no messing about, so all the outdoor walking has at least achieved a purpose. I collapse into a chair with wine and congratulate myself on keeping them outside all day, even if it was a mission.

When did we all get so soft? I bet stone age man would have laughed at us.

So after this we had our jaunt to Norfolk, where we went to Holkham beach, (the one lined with pine woods), which was freezing but beautiful, and bowling, which Mole and Hedgehog had never tried before and was hilarious. I also won, which made me feel good.

Friday was our rest day, when after avoiding the indoors all week, suddenly all I wanted to do was stay there all day, so that’s what we did. We walked to a playgroup at the local church in the morning, and had a playdate with one of Mole’s friends in the afternoon. The house had 4 girls in it, but it was surprisingly easy. They all paired off and disappeared upstairs for hours. Hedgehog looked after Beaver, in her mafia style ‘get her in a head lock and swing her around’ kind of way. Beaver responded by swamping Hedgehog in wet kisses and cuddles.

Now we’re back to the norm and they’re packed away at school, how peaceful it is! Even Beaver has gone for a long nap. Now I’m listening to jazz on Spotify and having a hot chocolate with marshmallows.

Rock and roll.

mole, hedgehog and otter on an elephant at the zoo