On 18 March last year a fox, or foxes, found their way through a damaged fence into the penguin enclosure at London Zoo and slaughtered 11 rockhopper and blackfooted penguins. News of the massacre only appeared this weekend, after the Independent got hold of a report on the zoo from inspectors at Westminster Council; since 2007, foxes have also killed a flamingo chick, a chicken and two mara (which the Independent described as ‘rodents resembling small kangaroos’; they’re more like guinea pigs on stilts).
You know the way John Wayne was hopelessly typecast, forever the cowboy, never Hamlet – who knows how vast a range he might have had? Well, so it's beginning to seem to be for me and penguins. One of these days I'm going to branch out and give my attention to spaniels, or water buffalo, but in the meantime, those gay broody penguins I've mentioned before, who were given their own egg in a zoo, are the subjects of a children's book, And Tango Makes Three which has made it to the top of the American Library Association's list of the ten most frequently challenged books of 2008. Challenged, as in: take that filth of the shelves.
There was a great huffing and puffing by the biblical-respectablists a couple of decades back when someone brought out a book for kids about a little girl living with her father and his partner, called Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin. Oh, the fuss about promoting unnatural ways. And yet all along it was as natural as penguins in a zoo. (I can't seem to get enough of penguins and their ways, lately.) A pair of male penguins in a long-term loving relationship at Bremerhaven zoo, called, I'm thrilled to say, Z and Vielpunkt, were given an egg by their keepers and have nurtured it between them to chickhood. It's four weeks old now, and doing fine. Gay partnerships are not uncommon in penguins in zoos.
David Cameron and I visited the Open University the other day, he to give a speech to the world, me to learn something about day-old chicks and biochemistry. Neither of us knew the other was going to be there. I was told at the reception desk to wait on one of the seats behind me and handed a label, one of those clip things I can never work out how to fix to myself. As I turned to go to the chairs, preoccupied with my label dyspraxia, someone grabbed me by my elbow and pulled me to the left. I dislike being grabbed so I pulled away and carried on the way I was going. But I'd failed to notice that the world had changed while I had my back to the room, and a semicircle of large chests in suits were claiming all the space for the man at their centre.