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Of mice and (wo)men

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The animal within all of us can be an interesting diversion, writes Simon Parke

I CAN’T quite remember what I am supposed to think about zoos. I know I’m meant to think something, and think it most strongly. But, like a lawyer without a brief, I’m a bit hazy on my precise line of attack.

Is it that zoos are an anachronism of animal exploitation? Or is it that they are at the cutting-edge of developing environmental awareness among the young?

Is a visit to the zoo something you do privately, like pornography, or is it something to be done publicly, like reading The Independent, hoping everyone sees and admires your integrity. I so wish I knew because summertime is zoo time.

Should it turn out that we cannot go, because we discover officially that zoos are really evil, here’s a game you can play instead — "animal house". This is based on the fact that everything physical is a pattern of something psychological in you, that the whole world is in you in psychological form — including the animals.

So, for instance, there is the waspish, stinging me; the foxy, scavenging me; or the smooth and cowardly ever-changing chameleon me. Then there is the mole in me, blind and determined; the hard-shelled beetle, all shiny and separate; the buzzing, brainless fly; the secretive rat; the savage tiger; the closed-down sloth, all denial and stupor. And look: the bouncy rabbit; the playful puppy; the honourable, yet sad, dolphin; and the fawning cat, rubbing legs to get what it wants.

I am an animal house of thoughts, attitudes and actions. At one moment, the unstoppable rhino; the next, a nervous and noticing sparrow; the eagle soaring high in the big sky; or the hyena ripping at the victim’s carcass with shrill and merciless abandon.

Ambitious competitiors in the game — that is, those looking for a podium finish on the day of judgement — should note the number of animals present with them over the past 24 hours. But they should do so without any sense of judgement, and they should also try their utmost not to identify with any of the animals. They should just notice them.

The Olympic qualifying number of animals noticed should be five. Anything less than that, and you will need to go away and work on your self-awareness levels. But, be warned, lottery funding can’t be guaranteed.

If, however, you do get to the zoo this summer, forget the silly game, wonder at the strange creatures, and rest assured that no animals were hurt in the writing of this article.

The Revd Simon Parke was formerly Vicar of St George’s, Tufnell Park, north London.

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