Menagerie Maintenance Man

Definition: Chores — a malevolent parental curse designed to spoil the bliss of childhood.

Of course in New Zealand we never called them chores. That’s an American term. I don’t know what we called them, but they were no less painful for being nameless.

Like most members of the parent species, my immediate forebears (Quiz Question: why on Earth are they called ‘four bears’ when there are only two of them and neither of them are bears? ) suffered from the delusion that ruining the joy of childhood by regularly forcing us to perform unpleasant tasks, ‘builds character’.

Since most of these tasks were effectively impossible, this merely instilled in me a sense of powerlessness. The Divine Forebears were more than once overheard observing that ‘they didn’t see why the heck they should do everything around the house and garden on top of going to work and keeping us all alive.’

This is absurd. They’re adults. They’re supposed to work and keep us children alive. That’s what parents are for.

As a full time child I had important duties of my own: Playing with my friends. Not doing my homework. Inventing imaginative games with my brother. Re-reading Lord of the Rings.

Fortunately most of the tasks imposed on me involved taking care of our animals. I was, with the possible exception of my mother, the only one in the family who truly loved animals so I ended up spending a lot of time feeding them and conversing with them and being interested in them. Amazingly, I was expected to do additional chores on top of all that. Can you imagine? This was an onerous distraction from my true calling. I sure didn’t learn how to use words like ‘onerous’ by doing chores!

Anyway, I had plenty to do taking care of the animals. We had enough of them to make me feel like Gerald Durrell.

Gerald Durrell with lemurs

In case you have not heard of Gerald Durrell, he was a famous English animal collector and author. He travelled all over the world, even to New Zealand, capturing rare animals and breeding them in captivity in his own Zoo in Jersey. He saved many species from extinction and was one of my heroes. I read all of his books. His most popular book was ‘My Family and Other Animals’, about his magical seeming childhood in Corfu. I always thought Gerald Durrell kind of looked like my Uncle Roly.

Our little menagerie, at its peak, included two dogs, two goats, two cats, a bantam, (a kind of chicken), a magpie, five turtles, (technically terrapins), about 8000 guppies (a kind of small but enthusiastic tropical fish) and six primates, of which I was the youngest.

To be clear, we never planned on accommodating 8000 guppies. We started with a pair of these little megalomaniacs who then proceeded to demonstrate the power of logarithmic progression. Whereupon my turtles demonstrated the power of being bigger than your prey, and mounted a sustained campaign of guppie genocide. Nature sure can be harsh.

Guppies plotting world domination. (not 8000 of them. Yet) This particular attempt failed due to unexpected turtle factor. But they persevere.

Officially, each of the non-human animals belonged to one of us primates, and the official ‘owner primate’ got naming rights. As a result several of my wards ended up being named by someone else. For instance, I only got to name one of the five turtles, my beloved Frodo. My brother Ben, deliberately down-to-earth, exercised his unearned right to name his turtle Bert. When he could have opted for Glorfindel or Tumnus. What a waste! And guess who fed them and cleaned the turtle tank, and mourned when one of them died? Yours truly. This was but one on a long list of injustices which I endured in noble silence.

An unkind commentator might attribute my love for animals to the fact that they (the animals, not the commentator) were the only ones lower in our family hierarchy than myself, so I could dominate them. This is a misconception. I had no wish to dominate animals. I was fascinated by them and loved them for their own sakes. With a few notable exceptions; cockroaches come to mind, as do mosquitos. Plus larger than necessary spiders (Want to know how to determine the appropriate size for a spider? Apply this simple test: How big do you need to be to kill a fly?). Oh, and wetas, but they warrant a story all of their own. That one’s a horror show, believe me!

So, I guess this means I liked most animals. And not just the furry ones. I love turtles and they aren’t furry.

Five Terrapins like ours. Cute!

In our house, since all the primates were bigger than me, they were all my boss. Fortunately the non-primates were not my boss. Specifically, I was the boss of my dog. Also of the other animals.

Except for the goats, particularly the male who was convinced that he was Attila the Hun in his past life and boasted horns quite capable of skewering even an adult primate. Everyone was afraid of him except my dad.

The girl goat was more the mild mannered reporter type. She was called Anna Pavlova. My mother named her after a famous ballet dancer whom no-one in New Zealand had heard of. The only pavlova they know in New Zealand is pavlova cake, which is pink and overly sweet and quite disgusting.

I sometimes thought of my sainted mother as a frustrated British sophisticate, exiled to this barbarous colony, a remote outpost where no-one understands high-browed cultural references and they think that brilliant ballerinas are pink cakes.

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Dada Nabhaniilananda

Dada Nabhaniilananda

The Monk Dude. Yoga monk for 44 years, meditation instructor, author, keynote speaker, and musician. From New Zealand. Teaches at Apple, Google, Facebook etc.