28.07.2005 08:00 - PG Shits
Twycross Zoo, for those of you who didn't grow up in the UK, was famous for the Chimp's tea-party. Somehow, it was discovered that chimps liked tea - preferably in a china cup, with milk and two sugars. This led to a little hands-on demonstration at the zoo, where some of the younger orphan chimps would be, under strict guidance from a zookeeper, allowed to take tea within a special enclosure, much to the delight of the only-slightly-more-advanced primates that crowded round the enclosure. Being British, this would naturally take place at Four o'clock, sharp. I'm not making this up, you know. It really happened.
Word of this amazing discovery got round, and reached the ears of the marketing executives of PG Tips, who then used this idea, and the chimps from Twycross, in their adverts for the next twenty years. Quite why an advertising executive thought that a recommendation from an ape would send tea purchases soaring is a matter for discussion, but the fact is, it did work. Twycross was then able to use the profits for the betterment of their facilities, such as giving gorillas access to colour TV. (No, really. Apparently David Attenborough's nature documentaries were one of their favorite programmes.)
If you don't believe me, find an Englishman in his late thirties and say "Mind the bannisters, Son", "Coo-eee, Mr. Shifter, light refreshment!" or "Can you ride Tandem?" in a silly voice, and see what happens. What amazes me is that I can remember all this, when the facility of working out the area under a curve by integration has completely left me.
Twycross, famed for its chimps, often played host to a bunch of cheeky little monkeys of a different type : school parties. This particular school party took place in about 1975. Amongst this particular school party was the author, then in short trousers and painfully shy, and another boy, whom we shall call Charlie.(Not his real name). Charlie was a different class of pupil : the sort who's too much trouble for even the regular hard-core trouble-makers to hang about with. In short, he was a psychopath. Charlie was an embodiment of Gibbon's definition of a barbarian : A person who will indulge in the whim of the moment, irrespective of the consequences. Gibbon's definition was not lost on me, as it was decided by some progressive idiot of a teacher that Charlie would be "civilised" by sitting him next to one of the quieter, more academic children. i.e. Me. There followed three months of exquisite torture as Charlie did things like checking the sharpness of his pencil by stabbing me with it, checking the sharpness of his compasses by stabbing me, "surprising" me by slamming my desk closed whilst my hand was in it, and other such experiments. I think he was working his way through the Marquis deSade's "Bumper fun Book for Boys".
Anyway, I'm digressing, but this is all part of the story. Came the day of the school trip to Twycross, and we were let free to run wild through the Zoo. Of course, nowadays, children are heavily supervised in Zoos, required to walk about in small groups with the Teachers dogging their every move, preventing such children as Charlie from upsetting the creatures. However, even in those days, the animals proved their uncanny telepathic ability to sense trouble heading in their direction in a Charlie-shaped package, and so the Lions, Tigers and Bears had all sensibly taken cover in their sleeping-quarters. After about the fifth large concrete pen filled with animal shit and very little else, the disappointment got to Charlie, and he disappeared. Fearful of the consequences - the mauling to death of an elephant or similar - the teachers mounted a search.
We found Charlie, just in time to see the horrible consquences.
Charlie had found a cage, containing one of the older chimps. This chimp, it had been discovered to much hilarity, could blow raspberries. The chimp, like all older chimps, was also extremely dangerous and bad-tempered, especially if he didn't get his morning tea just how he liked it. It was this Chimp that Charlie was taunting, by blowing raspberries, doing monkey impressions, and basically being his usual self. The old Spike Milligan maxim, that everyone took an instant dislike to Charlie because it saved time, had obviously worked with the chimp, who was getting increasingly more agitated because this idiot boy wouldn't leave him alone. Finally the chimp took things into his own hands.
Quite literally, in fact.
Grimacing with anger, the chimp crouched down, placed his hand behind his backside and emptied his bowels into it. Charlie hooted with laughter at the sight of this - a big mistake, as it left his mouth wide open, just at the moment the chimp threw the contents of its hand straight at him.
The laugh turned into a primeval howl that probably had the tigers quaking in their stripes, and gave some of the more aesthetically-souled lions nightmares for months. Absolutely none of the chimp-shit had missed Charlie, despite having to pass through thick cage-wire : an incredible feat of bowling which should have seen the chimp fit for life in the English cricket 11, had a scout seen it. Fortunately, at that moment, a Zookeeper turned up to see what all the fuss was about, and Charlie was lead off somewhere to be cleaned. Unfortunately, the chimp-shit stink wasn't quite gone when he was delivered back to the coach, to a horrified young lady student teacher. "What has happened to Charlie?" she asked.
"It's chimp-poo, Miss!" and the whole story came out. I'll give her marks, the student teacher was trying to keep a straight face. Either that, or the stink was beginning to make itself noticed.
No-one wanted to sit near Charlie on the way back. No-one normally wanted to sit next to him anyway, but on this occasion he had the whole back of the bus to himself.