THIS MUCH I KNOW; OPINION.
OU find me just returned from the zoo.
YWhich is always a pleasing thing to be able to report, not only because going to the zoo is such an underrated pleasure, but also because there are so few opportunities to type anything beginning with the letter Z. There are woefully few words starting with Z knocking around, aren't there? Which, to me, seems a terrible shame. And though I'll accept that there's not much call for the word 'zoetrope' these days, I almost feel inclined to start a campaign for Z anyway, if only to reclaim a respectable letter from being known only for heading up a Californian grape variety that renders a tooth-rattlingly sweet rose wine.
I feel the same about words at risk of fading into extinction - pixelate, twattling, discombobulate - words which I then try to shoehorn into prose regularly.
Just, ya know, to do my etymological bit. But I've digressed, as is ever thus by this point in my column, but it's not without an element of methodology. As with endangered letters, so it is with the planet's fauna, which brings me neatly back to my trip to the zoo.
I love London Zoo and when I left London I missed it. So when we headed west to live back at the tail end of the previous century, we spent many an afternoon at its name-sake in Bristol. And what lovely times we've had there as well. So much so that it even featured in my novel, One Day Someday - not least because it enabled me, for perhaps one of the few times in literary history, to create a conversation between my two warring lovers, that involved the words 'gorilla gorilla gorilla'. (That's your western Lowland gorilla, since you ask.) I have similarly fond memories of my visits to London Zoo. Of Guy (the gorilla that won the hearts of an entire nation), of the Mappin terraces, on which stood such brilliantly irritable bears, of the penguins, who excelled at being so entertainingly penguin-y, and of the cool, sepulchral gloom of the aquarium.
Much remains - even Guy, who is now bronze and climbable - though London Zoo is not as big as I remember it. Neither is it as smart.
Indeed, in places it is shabby enough that I wince on behalf of visiting Floridians, but, in some ways, that's entirely as it should be.
For a zoo is about animals and, though the visitor numbers obviously matter, there is something right about a place that puts the lion's share of its financial energies into doing what a zoo should be doing.
You could argue that today a zoo is a cruel anachronism, and I know many do. Or do they? I'm not sure. I think I'd venture to suggest that the zoological garden of the 21st century is every bit as much the proverbial 'force for conservation good' as it was a force for 'putting animals behind bars in obscenely tiny cages so we could gawp at them and dress them in knitted separates' in its Victorian heyday.
But conservation is not the only imperative. Seeing an animal in the flesh, in close proximity, is still key, because there's no television documentary, however vast the screen on which it's shown, that can compare to coming face to face, nose to trunk, eye to antennae, with a living breathing creature.
And some animals truly are the Z letters of the planet. Elusive. Seductive. One-offs. How ever much love you might have for meerkats, from following their antics on TV, there's simply nothing - really, NOTHING - like being in stroking distance of a giraffe.
To stop you in your tracks, to stop you blathering, to stop you choosing instagram filters - to just stop you, period.
Ditto having a butterfly the size of your hand land on your shoulder.
Ditto being near enough to smell a tiger. Ditto getting an inch away from a Vietnamese mossy frog. (Which, incidentally, I urge you to google right away.) Yes, it's fleeting. Normal life, the kind measured out in tweets, will soon prevail.
But in the digital world, where our thrills and spills bar is now set so ridiculously high, being close to a wild animal still hits the spot. Enough to leave you discombobulated and possibly twattling as well.
Win-win, a zoo then, don't you think? @LYNNEBARRETTLEE www.lynnebarrett-lee.com