My Day At The Zoo
I grinned, thinking she meant one of these splendid little creatures we had just been admiring, but she did not.
'So far there's only been an orangutang that got out once...'
'Ah, yes, I'd forgotten about that...'
'There's a phone there, if you need help.'
But I didn't.
There were five students taking their City and Guilds exams in zoo keeping. They cover ten topics: on zoo collections; zoo management; animal identification and records; breeding; zoo design; horticulture; animal behaviour and nutrition; pest and parasites and general animal health.
Looking at the questions on the two papers I invigilated I would say the questions are roughly A level standard requiring quite specialist knowledge about animals and education, diseases, feeding and different sorts of barriers.
Apart from snails Chester Zoo has one or two other animals and while I was invigilating I could hear various screeches and screams from the gibbons who were being temporarily housed with some of the great apes while their house was being renovated.
The exam took place in the school room which contained various articles for demonstrations including a fine selection of skulls. one of which was used to prop up the clock for the students to see how long they had left.
There is not much you can do when you are invigilating: you can't absorb yourself in a book or writing, but it is fine to draw, I think. So I drew the skull in front of me and then took notes about what was going on around me, and my thoughts, and the hours passed quite quickly.
I am transferring some of this to this post just in case any of it comes in useful someday.
The skulls are lined up along the shelves in order of how we see things. They lead up to just one thing - us. While outside those that came before us yelp, howl and scream, and I wonder if they want to be free. If the bars came down would they run? Would this be just an entropic effect - a natural spreading out - or something more deliberate.
Outside your living relatives gibber and quarrel. Over what? The last banana? The best place in the pen? The female on heat? A piece of land? So many times we quarrel over that.
You could be a landscape. I see volcano vents, craters of meteorites, a river plain where plates join. Plates on the earth and plates on the skull. Once I met a man who thought they both moved equally. Outside something growls. It sounds like a cat snarling at something it doesn't like. I think of the animals escaping and the locking of doors. Animals inside. Animals outside.
Maggot-cleaned, sun-bleached, a hole and then a cave, an eye-socket and then a place for the optic nerve, teeth like a corrugated roof
if covered in silver would be like the links of a watch strap - your teeth around my wrist; clamped there.
And then this: a death mask with great hollows for eyes; it is difficult to think of them filled and seeing. Looking inside their empty spaces I see caverns and passages and delicate partitions, then deep within something yellow like the petals of a flower. I concentrate on just this. Something beautiful to chase away the rest.
The minutes ticked by. I called time. I bundled up the papers and the candidates trooped away. They seemed a pleasant little group and dedicated; apart from these examinations they also have to work full-time and observe and eventually specialise.
After dropping off the papers I came across this: a single meerkat sunning himself under an electric lamp and this I dedicate to one Jeff VanderMeer he (and a lot of other people) know why.