An Alphabet Of things I Like: Z

This is the last in my current alphabet series. You may have noticed that ‘Q’ did not feature. That was deliberate, as I could not find anything I really like beginning with that letter.

Zoos.

As soon as I was old enough to make my own decisions, I realised I actually hated Zoos. I felt so sad to see large animals pacing in small cages, and the sight of chimpanzees being made to entertain crowds by having tea parties really offended me. Marine animals kept in shallow, dirty ponds, distressed bears shaking their heads from side to side. It was heartbreaking.

For a long time, I actively campaigned against all zoos. I signed petitions about the treatment of animals, and joined organisations that demanded they stop bringing animals captured in the wild to be displayed. Many were not only housed in unsuitable conditions, but forced to share compounds with other animals they would not usually encounter in the wild. The aquariums and insect houses were often dirty and cramped, little more than relics of the Victorian Era.

You only had to spend a few hours in any zoo in the world to see animals displaying all kinds of mental health problems; from severe depression, to outright rage at being imprisoned. The backlash against zoos was increasing in many western countries. Visitor numbers were declining, and the traditional zoo trip was slowly being replaced by the desire to visit the new exciting funfairs and theme parks.

There was also a growing trend for ‘wildlife parks’, where animals were free to roam around large estates while visitors stayed in their cars as they drove through. Most people no longer wanted to gawp at poor creatures staring back from behind iron bars.

By the 1980s, things were changing. Zoos were becoming involved in conservation of species that were disappearing fast in the wild. In some cases, the only remaining animals of some species were to be found in zoos, as they no longer existed in the wild. Then the zoos began to return animals to their natural habitat, attempting to increase the numbers in the countries where they had diminshed. One famous example of this was the Giant Panda breeding programme, started in Beijing Zoo.

London Zoo underwent a complete overhaul, providing better conditions for the animals, and focusing on scientific study and breeding programmes. In America, San Diego Zoo earned a reputation for excellence, with its care for the animals kept there.

In 2000, I went to live in Camden, within sight of London Zoo. I joined as an annual member, making quite a few trips into the zoo to see the changes. I had to admit, I was now thinking differently about zoos.

Then in 2002, during a trip to Singapore, I was happy to visit the Singapore Zoo. I don’t think I have ever seen a better zoo, or one where animals were kept in conditions as close to their natural habitat as possible. Though even there, they still had elephant rides, and photo opportunites with placid Orang-Utans.

So I have decided that I like zoos now.

But only ‘good’ ones.

An Alphabet Of things I Like: X

Xylophone.

When I was very young, I was given a toy xylophone, identical to the one in the picture above. I would spend many happy hours bashing it with the small round ‘hammers’, which I am sure must have caused some consternation to my parents. Sadly, other toys interested me more later, and I never learned to play anything resembling a real tune on it.

Once I was older, I became interested in Jazz music and listened to some records where some of the solos were played on an instrument called ‘Vibes’ When I eventually saw a photo of someone playing them, I realised that it was little more than a huge xylophone, with the addition of tubes to amplify the sound. It was known as a ‘Vibraphone’.

The leading exponent of this instrument was the American Jazz-man Lionel Hampton.

Here is Lionel, playing his huge hit ‘Flying Home’.
I still like the sound.

An Alphabet Of Things I Like: W

Waffles.

I first tasted waffles on a day trip to Ostend, Belgium. They were being sold from a converted vehicle on the seafront, and I had never seen nor heard of them before. I chose one with maple syrup and chantilly cream, relishing the crispy edges, soft centre, and sweet taste. They were not sold in England at the time, and I returned home raving about how good they were. When they started to appear here, they were always called ‘Belgian Waffles’.

On later trips to France, I discovered they were called ‘Gauffres’ there, and also served with savoury toppings, like cheese and ham.

This became a potential main course and dessert for me, with a delicious savoury waffle followed soon after by a sweet one. It didn’t occur to me how fattening that could be, or that existing purely on waffles for a few days was very bad for you.

Fortunately, they were soon being sold everywhere in Britain, and the novelty wore off.

But I still like them, if only for an occasional treat.

An Alphabet Of Things I Like: U

Umbrella.

I didn’t own an umbrella until 2001. Once I started to travel by bus to work, instead of driving, I soon realised I was going to get drenched waiting at bus stops. The small ‘automatic’ umbrellas didn’t appeal, as they did little more than cover your head. Huge Golfing umbrellas had become very popular, but on crowded London streets, they made getting around quite hard because of the enormous canopy when open.

I decided I needed a ‘traditional’ umbrella. One with a curved wooden handle, manual operation, and the ability to be rolled very tight when not in use.

Given that strong winds often accompany rain, a ‘windproof’ model was also desirable, as you could see many people with umbrellas that had easily blown inside out. So I paid a fair bit of money for one that would work properly, and might last for a long time too. Since that purchase, I wouldn’t be without one now.
(This is the same one I own)

I still have it, almost twenty years later. It has a tiny hole at the edge of the material, and one of the windproofing struts is a little bent.

But it still serves me well, when out walking with Ollie.

An Alphabet Of Things I like: T

Tortoises.

The smaller breeds of tortoise are very popular as pets. Slow-moving, easy to feed, and long-living. Many families, including mine, have kept a pet tortoise, or more than one. But that doesn’t mean to say we should keep them of course, as they are never truly domesticated.

In some countries, they are called turtles, because they are in the same animal family. As this graphic explains.

In far-flung places like the Galapagos Islands, giant tortoises can grow to an enormous size. In the past, they were hunted for their meat, and also for their shells.

I understand that they are no longer so popular as pets, and that is a good thing. Hopefully, they can be left alone to live their lives naturally.

An Alphabet Of Things I Like: S

Salt isn’t good for you, so they say. It causes all sorts of medical problems, including the exacerbation of Hypertension.

But I like the taste of salt, and it has its place in history too. Right back to records of Roman times, we are told the importance of salt to that empire.

It was also used to preserve meat on long sea voyages, and to make it edible when it had been kept for too long in hot climates. Some foods benefit greatly from the addition of salt, to improve an otherwise bland taste. I like crisps (chips) that are salted, and I put salt on chips (French fries) to make them taste better. If I spend any length of time eating food that has no salt added, I can feel an actual craving for the taste.

We need some salt in our diet, that is a fact. But we also add far too much to what we eat in general, another fact.

These days, I no longer use the refined, powdery salt of my youth. I prefer sea salt, bought as crystals.

I like to rub this into the skin of any meat I am cooking, along with some black pepper. I also add it to the water before boiling most vegetables, especially potatoes. I could not imagine eating cucumber and tomatoes without adding some salt to them,

Bad for me or not, I just enjoy the taste.

An Alphabet Of Things I Like: R

Rabbits.

Rabbits make great pets. They are fairly easy to keep in good condition, and can even be housetrained. They are content to be cuddled if handled from babies, and come in so many varieties, there is a type and colour that should appeal to everyone.

They also get on with other household pets.

It is important to give them a good balanced diet, and take them to the Vet for health checks, but they are great around children, and an easy way to teach them about caring for an animal that doesn’t need long walks, or exotic food.

If you would prefer one that is as big as a dog, you can also buy very large breeds.

I have had rabbits in the past. One benefit of the smaller ones is that you can take them to family or friends to be cared for when you go on holiday. They rarely show any distress about being kept in captivity, though they sadly do not live that long.

(And I also like to eat rabbit, but don’t tell them that!)

An Alphabet Of Things I Like: P

Parrots.

Parrots, including Cockatoos, Lovebirds, and Budgerigars are colourful, noisy birds. They have been kept as pets for centuries, and their feathers were also prized in some civilizations. As a child, we had some budgerigars in a small cage, and they would bash the mirror, and ring the bell. It was my job occasionally to change the sandpaper at the bottom, and to restock the millet that they ate. I wasn’t old enough to consider that keeping two birds in that tiny cage might be cruel.

My first close-up experience of a large parrot was when my uncle kept an African Grey as a pet.

Although it had a large cage, it was allowed out, and would walk around the furniture, often choosing to sit on my uncle’s shoulder. I was wary of its powerful beak, and it made me jump when it would suddenly fly off to perch on top of the curtain rail. I soon decided that it wasn’t right to keep such a bird in a domestic situation. I was later proved correct in this, when his parrot began to pull out all the feathers it could reach, until it was bald over about 60% of its body. It also bounced its head up and down constantly, a sure sign that it was suffering from mental health problems.

Parrots should be allowed to live in the wild, and fly free.

Like so many other animals, some varieties of parrot are now endangered in the wild. Hunting for the pet trade, deforestation, and other encroachments of humans are threatening their existence. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just learn to be kind to them, and leave them alone?