The Toddler’s Guide to… Paradise Wildlife Park

The Toddler’s Guide is written by Solnushka’s eighteen-month-old daughter, who is generally accompanied on her travels by her Mama, her Papa and her Big Brother, who is four and a half. She wishes everyone to know that the spelling is Mama’s.

Has Mama mentioned that my Brilliant Big Brother is quite keen on animals? She has? Then it should surprise nobody that when Mama discovered an opportunity to visit somewhere for FREE (Mama does like the free) with a promotion from a MoneySupermarket Days Out Discounts (whatever that is), she chose a zoo. The Paradise Wildlife Park, specifically.

A white tigerIt’s an interesting name, that. It suggests a certain… commercial approach to zookeeping. To Mama. And she did experience grave misgivings when as we went in we were greeted by the ‘put a pound in this ride… and this one…. and that one…. and look, there are five more over here too’ area. Mama also thinks that the rabbit enclosure plastered with advertising as the first animal attraction you see isn’t ideal. She wondered if she was going to have to pay extra for everything, and be fobbed off with orange dyed, stripily painted pet cats in lieu of your actual tigers. Although I don’t know what’s wrong with that. Cats! Woohoo!

In fact, nearly everything else, and there is a lot else, is included in the entrance price. And the animals are, Mama thinks, a very carefully chosen mix between, small and manageable, large and impressive, familiar crowd-pleasers and the full on exotic. And reassuringly well looked after. What a relief it must be to be released from the terms of your latest scientific grant meaning you need to try to convince the punters that forty-two species of slugs hiding in the leafmold are interesting. My Brilliant Big Brother really liked ALL THE ANIMALS. And the snakes. Papa thought the tapirs were pretty cool. Mama enjoyed all the big cats, especially when they roared, which they did quite often. She was also thrilled to find the roosting, squeaking bats were oddly unnerving, even as she resisted the temptation to clutch at her hair.

Tapirs

Me? I liked the stairs. There are stairs because there are a lot of viewing platforms and walkways that take you right over where the animals are hanging out. This is fabulous, especially for someone my height. I also loved the ostriches. This was because an advantage of the evils of capitalism approach is that Paradise Wildlife Park lets you feed some of the animals. Cabbage, mostly, which I don’t like, to Mama’s everlasting relief. There are signs telling Mama which animals you can throw bits of limp veggies at, and it definitely increases you chances of getting up close to those animals, but the ostriches will peck the food right out of the bags. Oh, how I shrieked with delight!

Feeding the tigersAnother highlight was watching some visitors feeding the tigers. Not only was there the remote but thrilling possibility that someone might get their fingers bitten off, but the Keeper who was supervising imparted quite a lot of interesting (to Mama) information about the care of tigers in captivity. Plus, the tiger stretched up really high, right on his hind legs. Coooooooooooooooool.

But enough about the animals! They also have a (free) bouncy castle! I’d have paid to get in just for that. And a variety of slides with (yes!) more steps to climb to get to them. And an actual fire engine! And an actual steam engine!! Both of which you can climb all over to your heart’s content. Papa had been so softened up by the quality of what had come before that he put a whole 20p in a slot and the steam engine roared and whistled and puffed for hours. There was a pirate ship, and an assault course, and some go carts to pedal around, and a (pay for) miniature railway, and a (pay for) crazy golf course as well as a full on (free) soft play area/ café that much to my disappointment we didn’t get to go in because we’d spent so long on all the other things.

It really is a full day out, and then some. Start early.

Train

A couple of other things Mama seems to think are important. There are plenty of places to eat, both for those who have taken a packed lunch and for those who wish to buy something in site, hot or cold. For sheer coolness value, Mama recommends the snack bar overlooking the tiger enclosure.

The zoo, Mama says, is easy to find. This is good as she had to drive us across London to get there. Nice clear signposting and only a short ride from that big M25 road we seem to spend our lives whizzing around is just the sort of thing calculated to keep her calm and happy under these difficult circumstances.

When we arrived, we found the parking is also ample, another thing Mama seems to rate highly, even if it was a chilly January holidays day and therefore highly unlikely to be an issue. That the zoo works as a venue in winter is another of its plus points, of course. In fact, given that there are distinct signs that the place may be rammed to overflowing in summer, Mama rather thinks off-peak is the time to go, even if that means you sacrifice a few live shows or something. We always seem to miss them anyway. Too distracted by the camels.

And finally, they play you music in the toilets. Result!

LemurAnyway. The Paradise Wildlife Park was thoroughly enjoyed by a family who are quite the connoisseurs of wildlife experiences. In fact, it’s so good that Mama suggested we return sometime soon and play actual folding paper to get in. And Papa didn’t say no.

You really don’t get much more highly recommended than that.

Previous Toddler’s Guides:

London SEALIFE Aquarium

RAF Museum, Hendon

RichmondPark

Hyde Park

On rude words.

You swear. A certain amount.

Mainly in the car. You say ‘oh BUGGER!’ quite a lot when driving around London. Also, ‘BOLLOCKS!’ and sometimes ‘You unprintable numpty! Don’t you honk at me/ cut me up/ steal my parking space/ drive at 2 miles an hour when the traffic is unusually light!’

The Star has picked up on this. You have been called aside by his teacher for a quiet word. The Star, she said, dropped his scarf on the floor. And then he said (whispering) ‘oh BUGGER!’. You looked innocent, shook your head sorrowfully and taught him to say ‘oh PANTS!’ instead. Well hey, it always worked on teenage language students.They found it hilarious enough to actually use.

Sure enough, since four year olds think ‘Poo!’ is the last word in comedy this was very successful, until your cunning came up against the difference between language learning and language acquisition.

Language acquirers extrapolate rules based on examples and apply them to new bits of language. Children go through a phase, for example, where they take the rule for Past Simple regular verbs (add, broadly speaking, ‘ed’) and apply it to all verbs, little realising that the English language is sneaky and will require them to learn off by heart whole swathes of other irregular, largely unpredictable past tense forms too. Children say, in short, ‘He writed…’ rather than ‘He wrote…’

So it should have come as no surprise that given the example of ‘oh PANTS!’, you caught your son saying ‘oh COATS!’ the other day.

And perhaps it wouldn’t have, except in the mouth of the Star, and given that comprehension is in part made up of us hearing what we expect to hear in any given context, the expletive ‘oh COATS!’ sounds a lot like…..

Yes, quite.

You hate to think what his teacher will say.

Christmas squee

Your son’s key worker assistant teacher lady pulled you over on the last but one day of school.

This rarely bodes well. Last time this happened she told you that the Star had said a heartfelt fuck when he dropped his scarf on the grubby floor. You smiled that special smile parents have when their children’s teacher admonishes them. The very bright, overly delighted one. The one that says ‘I do not resent your right to pass judgement on my child at all‘. You also feigned horror, shifted guiltily, muttered ‘appropriate communicative function’ and made a mental note to stop swearing at all the other drivers when you are in the car. Or possibly stop driving in London altogether. Yes, that would do it.

This time, however, she wanted to tell you about the Star and Father Christmas, who had paid the class a visit that day. Gave them all a rather nice book, too, which was generous of him. Being a religious school it was about Noah. But being a Church of England school it has about as much religious content as All I want for Christmas is you.

Anyway. Towards the end of Santa’s visit, your son got up and went to stare intently out of the window up at the sky. The assistant teacher lady drifted over and asked him what was up.

And the Star said ‘I’m looking for the reindeer’.

Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.

On the Elefun Snackin Safari

Toys are tricky things, or at least they are when you don’t buy them at car boot sales for a pound. Luckily, you can buy a lot of toys for a pound at the car boot sale. You particularly recommend such places for random plastic animals, small cars and things that go beep, because mostly they still go beep when you get them home and put a new battery in. Oddly enough it is also quite good for jigsaws and card games. Perhaps other people are as obsessive as you are about keeping track of the pieces. This never ceases to surprise you.

The car boot sales are less good for things that come in large boxes, have many parts, need adult assembly and have instructions for the obvious reason that with the best will in the world, which mostly sellers have, there is a much higher likelihood that some crucial part has gone missing and got broken. But since the Star, and now the Comet, started to take an interest in the world around them can reasonably be expected to enjoy something a bit more complicated than a shape sorter, you have entered the world of paying actual tens of pounds for things like this, particularly at times like… well, like Christmas.

Now the problem with this is that when you are paying real money, it really helps if the toy is appreciated and played with. At least once. Unfortunately, or so it seems to you, the attrition rate for toys increases exponentially the more complicated, the bigger, and the more expensive the item is, and you find this very stressful.

So when you were offered one of the newer toys on the market this season, the Elefun Snackin Safari, to review, you rather jumped at the idea.

The Elefun Snackin Safari is a sister toy to the original Elefun game. There you catch as many little butterflies in a net that the elephant shoots out of his trunk. Hours of fun, although the Star always tended to just run around with his hands out yelling and crashing into the other kids on the occasions he got to have a go with it.

Here, with the Elefun Snackin Safari, you race to sucker up more little discs of foods than the other player, by bouncing your elephant’s slinkyesque elephant trunk up and down. Lovely simple premise, and the elephant heads are also splendidly easy to assemble, and to store too. The noses clip neatly back onto the main face, so you aren’t dealing with yards of increasingly battered spring all the time. In fact, the Star and the Comet are perfectly capable of getting the game set up and put away all by their four and a half and one and a half selves. Which is pretty much what you want in a toy.

The anticipation level generated by the game was pretty high. The Star was, of course, won over by the animal connection

You also appreciate very much the utter gender neutrality of this piece of kit. There has been no attempt to make this for little girls or boys. The packaging shows a child of each sex playing, GASP, together and even the handles for the elephant units are in green and orange. You can’t describe what a relief this is in this blue and pink modern world of ours.

Elefun Snackin Safari

In fact the only slight problem with it is that your son has terrible trouble actually getting the elephant to actually pick up any of the snacks. He is not the most manually dexterous of children, and had the patience of a not very patient thing. You recall that you were the sort of person who couldn’t ever get a yoyo to work, not that you tried much once you couldn’t do it immediately, so the apple is definitely not falling far from the tree there.

This doesn’t matter much because, while you daughter seems likely to get the hang of it all far earlier than the Star, she is still too young to really be able to play the game as advertised with him properly. So while she flails happily around the living room with her elephant trunk, you and the Star take it in turns to bounce it up and down in order to stick the little sucker to the floor. The score is about even there.

In short, the Elefun Snackin Safari it is the sort of toy that even if you aren’t actually hoovering up the snacks you cam still get quite a lot of enjoyment out of it.

Certainly your kids are still voluntarily hauling it out of the toy corner and having a go after a week, which in your book, counts as a win.

Elefun Snackin Safari: aimed at 3 and above, £14.99.

Full disclosure: I have not been paid for writing this post, but I did receive the Elefun Snackin Safari free of charge.

On New Year’s Resolutions

So here you are nearly at the end of NaBloPoMo month again, and so far you have a blog post for every day this November.

This’ll probably jinx it, of course.

You don’t think this is your finest BloPo. That was 2010, despite the fact that you missed a day there. Technically. Too many rather lightweight postings and not many of the meatier posts that are still half written in your head. There just isn’t enough time in the day.

Some nice stories though. That’s the good thing about not blogging much for the last year. The kids do the funniest things. You are glad you caught some of those moments, finally.

Thing is, just posting every day for a month isn’t enough any more. You have decided that you need to try a little harder with what you write.

This is tricky. Trying hard isn’t something you do, as a general rule. You have a tendency to slack off without deadlines and someone cracking the whip. Self motivated you are not.

Just like your son. Oh dear.

So as a pre-New Year resolution you are going to give yourself some targets for next year-until-November. The hope is that a schedule will mean you don’t just let t’blog and your ability to type languish, but that you can’t just get away with dashing off 500 words of lightly amusing this is what the Star did today, and isn’t the Comet just darling too. All the time. You reserve the right to do just that when they are really really cute though.

Firstly, you are going to write some entries for h2g2.com. Broadly speaking, this is factual writing, but it is a Guide not an encyclopedia, so there’s quite a lot of scope there for making the pieces interesting. You find it difficult to be interesting and broadly factual without becoming anecdotal, so there’s challenge in that. Plus, you get feedback from fellow h2g2ers, which is always a good thing if you are trying to push yourself.

Topics identified so far are:

Urban fantasy as a genre of writing.

Mummy blogging.

How to celebrate with food Russian style.

How to make borscht and schee.

VDNKh – my favourite place in Moscow.

How to collect Soviet medals (with B).

In addition, you really enjoyed writing the toddler’s Guide to… series of articles, so you are going to commit to a bi-weekly column in h2g2′s newspaper, the Post. If they will have you. You haven’t actually asked yet. This is just for fun really, but there is something interesting in trying to remember the point of view you are writing from, at least for about half the time.

You are also going to try not to neglect the blog too much. A post a week as a minimum and more trying to enter in the yeah write challenges. You have totally failed to hit the target the last two times, so this will require effort. Good. There are some great blog writers participating in the project too, and so if nothing else you will have plenty of examples to live up to. You would say, make sure you participate every two weeks, but it really depends. At least once a month though, and you can certainly hang out on their coattails the rest of the time.

Finally. You have been dying to have a go at NaNoWriMo now for years but aside from the total lack of time, you also had a total lack of really workable ideas. It’s the whole plot thing. You are no good at plots. However, you had an idea recently which came built in with something of a plot and it might work for 50,000 words or so. Certainly you could have fun researching it a bit and playing around with some related fiction writing, and as this is something you hardly ever do, it would also go towards the goal of stretching yourself. Whether or not you will actually do the novel writing thing next November remains to be seen, but at least you will have a pleasant day dream for the rest of the year.

There. It helps to have a plan.

On convalescence

You aten’t dead.

Your husband aten’t dead, although he might be traumatised.

The children are also fairly perky, which is excellent news. Mainly due to the power of both Calpol AND Nurofen mind. There has been no more throwing up but the sheer amount of snot two children working together can produce has to be seen to be believed.

So you are in lockdown mode. The windows are sealed shut, the TV is on, the pancakes are slathered in chocolate spread, the toys are scattered all over the floor, and your MiL’s voice is in danger of going, after she has read approximately five million books in one day.

Tomorrow, round two. Attack of the even better feeling children. You have therefore decided that the Solnushka family will be making Christmas cards and/ or presents, depending on what you can find lying around the house.

Might as well get some use out of the situation. Especially as you can probably post the pictures for tomorrow’s post.