On safari in the blackboard jungle

5th April 1996 at 01:00
My wife decided to take my daughter and two of her friends to the safari park. Mindful of the damage inflicted on our Vauxhall the last time we visited (a monkey attacked the rear screen seal then poohed on the roof), she decided to take the Skoda. It returned minus its rear washer jet.

The incident reminded me of the "elephant and the Mini" story. In case you haven't heard it, let me retell it. A family go to the zoo in their Mini. Unfortunately it gets sat upon by a roving elephant and badly damaged. The zookeeper offers a sherry by way of consolation.

On the way home the driver is pulled over by a traffic cop who wants to know if an accident has occurred. Father explains that an elephant sat on the car. Polisman is suspicious due to the bizarre nature of the explanation and breathalyses the driver who, thanks to the sherry, is over the limit.

I don't believe it ever happened any more than I believe that someone bought a rubber plant from Marks and Spencer, found a deadly spider in it and was given Pounds 4,000 hush money. Yet there are people who swear that these stories are true. They know the person it happened to, or at least someone else who knows the person it happened to.

Teaching has its share of such apocryphal stories. One of my favourites, and I am sure the people in Dundee who told me of it will deny that it is anything other than gospel, concerns the father who pissed on the cat. This character allegedly appeared in a story written by a primary school pupil. It was about his morning routine and ran something like this: "Daddy got up and got washed. Then Mummy got washed and dressed and made the breakfast. Then Daddy got dressed. Then I got dressed and ate my breakfast and Daddy opened the back door and pissed on the cat."

When the father was shown this piece of work at a parents' night he was able to explain everything. The cat was put out every evening. In the morning, when its breakfast was ready, Daddy would call the beast in by opening the back door and going: "Pssst! Pssst!" I'd love it to be true, but I have my doubts.

The other tale I like is about the harassed young geography teacher. "Name an export of Iceland," he demands. There is silence, though he has recently covered that very topic. "Come on, name an export of Iceland," he says again. Silence. Almost pleading, he repeats his request: "Name an export of Iceland. " A hand goes up. "Bananas!" "F-ing bananas!" cries the hapless pedagogue and walks out of his classroom and his profession for ever.

This is supposed to have occurred in Lanarkshire and in Edinburgh. It happened 40 years ago and 15 years ago, according to which ever raconteur is delivering the anecdote. It is easy to assume that since all versions cannot be correct, it follows that all are untrue. This is not necessarily so.

I prefer to think that, like a comet, this event comes round again and again, slightly shifting its locus each time. Where have they gone, those lost souls who have slipped up on the banana skin question? Perhaps they have all jumped into Minis, pausing only to piss on the cat before heading off on safari where a terrible fate involving an elephant, a tarantula and a southern fried rat (forgot to mention that one earlier) awaits them.

Gregor Steele's wife could not bring herself to accelerate rapidly, leaving the monkey momentarily suspended in mid-air.

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