Well, Thursday was a day when, after Mass, Karen, the Gem of the Ocean, collected me, and together we went to Seaworld. This was my introduction to another side of America; the theme park. I had always resolutely avoided those sorts of places in the UK, so it was interesting to see one up close and natural, as it were. I suppose I had imagined a sort of large aquatic Chessington Zoo, with limp penguins and bored herrings (soon to become very interested herrings as they read the label on their bucket; Penguins’ lunch).
Once we had braved the traffic queue (‘line’ in the local vernacular) and got the car parked, the first odd thing struck us. The guard tower. Now, it isn’t clear whether the sentry posted on top was there to prevent us or the penguins escaping, but we managed to escape his notice by slipping between some SUVs and digging a tunnel to the entrance.
Once past the security zone, and walking strangely, we began our tour (‘you vill enjoy yourselves’) with something that called itself the Cirque de la Mer. I went along, confidently expecting to see herrings and pengins eating each other to music, or whatever, but was suprised to discover that it was a show consisting of human beings disporting themselves athletically in tights.
Next came lunch. This was not really a success, though Karen had warned me that it would be (a) expensive and (b) horrible. Actually, by British standards, it wasn’t that expensive. We had jumbalaya (which I had wanted to try and against which I had no standard to measure it, but basically it is rice with bits in—not bad actually) with a lump of dessicated smoked chicken plonked on top of it. Poor bird lived miserably, died miserably and ended miserably. I remember a Giles cartoon which featured one sheep saying to the other ‘well, speaking for myself, I’d far rather end up an entrée at Maxime’s than shepherd’s pie at Joe’s Caff’. The piéce de resistance, however, was unquestionably the serving of vegetables. I use the word euphemistically. They had been advertised as ‘smoked’ (we didn;t get an option to have them or not) but actually they looked and tasted as if someone had found them in the kitchen after a house fire and decided to make a quick buck by selling them to Seaworld. The penguins had refused them, so they sold them to the public. I can eat most things, but I couldn’t eat these (and I love my veg, normally). Karen was either very brave or very mortified and tucked in heroically. Then there was a serving of about seven watermelons each.
Having begun to consider the ramifications of one strange diet, it seemed appropriate then to move to another; leg of car salesman. Which is to say sharks.
Well, they’re sharks, really. Large silent nasty-looking things. They made us go down all sorts of tubes so that we could see the things from all angles. As we came out, Karen remarked ‘Why won’t sharks eat liturgists?’ I professed ignorance, while thinking that perhaps their digestions might suffer. ‘Professional courtesy’ said Karen. Well, quite.
Next we went to see the Florida Manatees. I remember being intrigued by these creatures once on an Attenborough programme, and really they are rather entrancing. Imagine a vast (really vast, I mean: twelve or so feet long) sausage skin overfull of some strange oily liquid; draw a face on one end, and, with the addition of a couple of flippers and a fat tail, you have your manatee. They don’t just swim, they also rotate as they go, which is rather engaging. I wondered if one flipper was longer than the other, so they spend their life in one long social whirl. But they do prove one thing. Low fat diets don’t work. These absurdly obese creatures live exclusively on a diet of Romaine lettuce with an occasional carrot or apple. Lesson? If you want to look like a Manatee (also known as a Sea Cow), eat nothing but lettuce.
Sea lions came next. They did all the things you expect sea lions to do. They were being fed by the audience, who paid for the privilege, of course, with tiny sprats. Some enterprising seagulls and egrets stood by to snatch the fish from the hands of wavering toddlers as the sea lions tried to decide whether the fish or the child’s hand would make a more nourishing meal.
Then we saw a very weird bird. A very, very, weird bird. I forget what it’s called, but the man standing by it (and whose pocket the bird kept trying to raid) told us that it’s some sort of national bird of some sort of African country (Zambia?).
Then I got to see my penguins. I remember penguins at Chessington Zoo; they frolicked perfectly happily in a sort of paddling pool in the open Surrey sunshine. These were crowded together in near-darkness with a pool of near-freezing water far in a bunker underground. They stood around miserably, peering at each other in the gloom, thinking, no doubt, ‘Is this all there is to life?’ I am told that they have taken up existentialist philosophy. Come on, people! Surely it gets light at the antarctic sometimes? The Emperor penguins, as far as I could see, stood solemnly chest to chest without moving. Perhaps they were frozen solid. Or short-sighted. Or actually made of plastic. Nobody gave them any herrings.
And then we saw the key attraction. Cats and dogs doing cute things. Nuff said, dude.
Next we got to see the dolphins. I have read and seen a lot of stuff talked about dolphins, and assumed that 99% of it was anthromorphic nonsense (Spain will no doubt elect some to parliament, soon). But these were pretty spectacular. Clearly, for animals, these have remarkable imitative ability and intelligence, as well as spectacular athleticism. And, apart from the loud music, it was a very good show.
I was beginning to wilt by now. So I begged for only one more thing. Karen had just the thing in mind. A simulated helicopter ride over the arctic. This, I think, is a crude device designed by the management to reclaim smoked vegetables for another unsuspecting customer. It takes recycling to new limits. When the nightmare is over, they show you bored polar bears to calm you down.
Next, we passed the initiative test in finding the exit (you looked for the greatest concentration of retail outlets, natch), crawled on our hands and knees between the SUVs, tunnelled under the guard tower, and went, dear readers, home.
Karen emailed me to tell me that she went back for more later on. She's one tough lady!Here's Karen's take on the day