Meeting the neighbours, in more ways than one

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks, all told. On Friday 25th, I caught the 7.30 train from Brighton to meet my parents on the way to Southampton, where we needed to change to get to Wool station. Wool, you see, is the home of our beloved Monkey World Ape Rescue Centre and, though my folks go practically every month, I hadn’t been in some time.

The journey is not a bother, not really. The reward is more than worth it. I won’t go into detail about everyone we saw there, as it would take all day, but the highlight for me was seeing my girlie Hsiao-ning after all that time away. Sceptics may scoff, but anyone who saw our mutual greeting that day would be hard pressed to say she doesn’t know me. Hell, she’s seen me often enough. But when I said, ‘Hey, Hsiao-ning, I haven’t seen you for ages!’ and reached out a hand for her, she reached a hand back to me and her eyes said everything. It was a very special moment and even when I asked for a cuddle and opened my arms wide, she did the same, and we were both up against the glass, as close to actual contact as it was possible to be. There are five girls in the nursery group, including dear A-Mei, the foster mum. Dinda (my girl’s little sister) was playing with her, but Joly and Lingga both came over to see what the fuss was about and then I had the attention of all three of them. Joly even swung back and forth in front of me when I dared to not be looking at her! It was very, very hard for me to tear myself away (it always is), but we had other hairy people to greet, including Nike (my dad’s adopted boy, a lar gibbon), who whoops at us when we go and see him and does his trick of hanging upside down. My mum’s adopted girl, Trudy (the famous Chipperfield chimp – don’t get me started on the bitch who was so unforgivably cruel to her when she was a baby), was in the bedroom on her own, hugging wood wool and shuffling around on her bum. She does this a lot and it seems to be residual behaviour from those awful years with Mary Chipperfield. And we saw more than we usually see (because he’s a grumpy bugger, like his mother Amy) of my adopted boy Gordon, now a grown orang-utan and father of baby Jin.

For anyone who’s ever thought Monkey World was a zoo, let me put you straight. It isn’t. It emphatically isn’t. It has the full endorsement of Dr Jane Goodall (that wonderful lady of Gombe chimp fame) and, trust me, the enclosures are fantastic. The staff keep the guys stimulated so they’re never bored, they have bags and bags of space (more than most people, to be fair) and they have on-site veterinary attention whenever it’s needed. The animals are not on display – if they can’t be bothered to come out and talk to visitors, they won’t. If you go there expecting a theme park, you’re likely to be disappointed. If, however, you go with a completely open mind and know what it was that Jim Cronin (may he rest in peace) was trying to achieve, then you’ll have a better time than you ever imagined. If you treat the apes as individuals, instead of staring at them doing monkey impressions (you’d be surprised), you’ll get a response. And do say hello to the keepers – they’re not just there to look important. I was even afforded the honour of meeting Jim and Alison Cronin one time and, when my dad pulled out his camera to get a photo of them both, I felt myself being grabbed by the arm and pulled backwards – it was Jim making sure I was between them. For those who don’t know, Jim sadly passed away in March 2007, of a virulent strain of cancer, but his wife Alison is continuing his work at the park with as much vigour as she always did. Go if you can. It’s a fabulous and moving day out, however often you visit.

The next day was the RSPCA’s AGM. This time, it was held in the New Armouries in the Tower of London, and it was another interesting meeting. I had no idea the number of people who voted for council had actually reduced and I was doubly glad I’d got my vote in before the deadline. Apathy is bad at the best of times, but when it comes to choosing who gets to be on the council of the world’s biggest and most famous animal welfare charity, it’s beyond understanding, at least for someone like me. Anyway, the meeting was only a couple of hours long and everyone there was allowed to go around the rest of the Tower grounds for free, so I did. I wandered round drinking in the history, feeling the presence of those who went before. Ancient buildings don’t simply exist as tourist attractions: they bring you face to face with the ancestors and make sure they’re more than just characters you’ve read about in history books. They were people, too, and they deserve just as much dignity as anyone else. This was especially brought home to me when I saw the Norman garderobes (toilets). People were going in to have a nose but, though I was curious, I just had a quick look and then came back out. They’re (not to be too crude about this) bogs, after all, where people went to relieve themselves, and the last thing they would have wanted was a load of tourists watching them. This may sound strange unless you’ve ever talked to me about ethereal things, but I honestly believe that some people stay. I’m not a massive fan of the ancient Normans (they used dirty tactics in 1066), but they were only people in the end. No one wants people staring at them while they go for a pee. OK, I know I’m going off somewhat on a tangent, here, so I’ll move on, but these things are important. Ever watch ‘Meet the Ancestors’ on TV? When they made up the faces was the most interesting part for me as I like knowing what people looked like. If you’re ever in the Tower and you look in the garderobes, think about someone sitting there having a peaceful crap and see if it doesn’t make you leave.

Last Friday, I saw my folks again. This time, they came to Brighton a bit earlier than usual and we had a coffee (essential, obviously) and then caught a train to Lewes. I hadn’t been for a few years and my parents hadn’t been since I was in infant school. I can’t say enough good things about Lewes, for much the same reason as I enjoyed wandering around the Tower. The place is so ancient, many of the buildings remaining from around the same time. Added to this the distinct lack of chain stores (apart from a Fat Face and a Café Nero), which means independent shops can survive (plenty of bookshops, including one where the man working there was a fellow sinophile, so we spent ages talking about China), as well as good pubs (in the one we went in, the bar was crowded by the time there were six punters in it and the barman was friendly and accommodating). We went into Southover Grange gardens and walked around until we came across the little tea and ice cream kiosk, where I had the best ice cream I have ever tasted (it redefined the term ice cream – wow!).

Not to make my weekend too quiet again, I was up just after 5 am on Saturday to make sure I got the train at 6.24 to London Bridge. I was on my way to the chief instructor’s house for one of his training camps up in Hertfordshire and I had to be there for around 9 am. I’d never been to one of these (it clashed with my instructor’s weekend camp, so I had to make a choice) and it was a revelation. The chief instructor has a veritable farm going on, with huge dogs, hens, cockerels, geese, pigs, organic vegetables, a huge raspberry bush and lots of what other people might call weeds – however, even this is deliberate, used for things like nettle tea (which I tried, to find it rang every homeopathic and pagan bell within me). As usual with Dennis, I learnt a ton from him (he talks a lot of sense) and I’d never spent all day on first pattern before, so that was also good for me. As the day progressed and Dennis said more and more, I found my pattern improving and becoming stronger and more focused. This can only be good for when I go for my grading, as I’ll know that I’ve done all I can so I can give it my best shot.

Last night was interesting, too, as I went to a residents’ meeting for the people living in the two new builds here. Unfortunately, Greg is away until tomorrow, so couldn’t make it, but grievances were aired, neighbours were met, laughs were had and decisions were made. No doubt there’ll be more meetings to check progress and I look forward to them.

I’ll stop yabbering, now. I know this is a long entry, but I haven’t written for a while and a lot has happened, as you can see. I know you’ll forgive my verbosity. (Too bad if you don’t.)

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