Cheetahs In My Shoes

living with the imaginary menagerie and all that it entails


The Cheetahs and Their Fog Busting Suits

Every now and again I have to return the subject matter that started me blogging in the first place – the Cheetahs that lived in their Keeper’s shoes.  Obviously imaginary ones (just in case you were wondering).  They’ve been with us for a good 2 years now and although not quite as domineering as they were originally, they’re still a fairly regular part of every day life.

The move to Year 1 has been a challenge for the Cheetah Keeper – the physical effort needed to keep up is exhausting him, as is the processing of all the new facts, information, time-table and having to sit still for slightly longer than a nano-second at a time.  We’ve had tantrums (including the removal of trousers and pants in the street on the way to school and trying to give himself a nosebleed), refusal to eat – and subsequent very early morning starts because he was hungry and a defiance both at school and home that has raised more than a few eyebrows.

We’ve instigated a complete change of diet, rationed the screen time severely and carried out our threats.  It’s working but the changes have obviously been rather stressful for the boy as the Cheetahs are back big styleeee.  Even in his shoes before school this week – they haven’t been in them for months – preferring the snuggliness of his duvet.  They’ve been sleeping under his new orthotic insloes – because they’re so comfy and they need looking after.  We have to make sure that they’re out of his shoes before school otherwise they will be trodden on and that would not do.

This morning we set out for another trip to our beloved Whipsnade Zoo.  I love autumn at the zoo – the colours, the lack of visitors – it becomes ‘our’ zoo again before the harshness of winter sets in.  The conkers aren’t quite ready yet (cue another visit in a couple of weeks) but there are zoo babies in abundance and I have yet to see them all.

It was a real ‘pea-souper’ of a foggy morning.  The M1 was engulfed by thick fog (note dear reader, if you are driving in this, put your headlights on) and a little voice pipes up from the back of the car…

“The Cheetahs have got their fog suits on today… and their fog helmets… and fog shoes…. and fog coats… and fog gloves for their paws….”


“And it means they can ride on the top of the cars so they’re safer….”


“and their fog lamps are so bright that once they’ve got really hot they start pouring out boiling hot lava that cuts through the fog and sends it back up into the sky ready to turn into snow in time for Christmas”

ah – ok – but doesn’t the lava burn them?

“no, they have knee pads, and elbow pads and paw pads that stop the lava”

of course.

So that was that – until we got a little closer to the zoo.  The Cheetahs were riding on the road next to us on their “fast car bikes” – seemingly they can give Sir Chris Hoy a run for his money – cue much discussion about whether Chris Hoy riding against the Cheetahs would be a fair race and how it could be judged who was fastest in the world…

We had a wonderful time at the zoo – being surrounded by thick fog makes you look harder and appreciate it more.  It’s a beautiful place, one where we genuinely feel ‘at peace’ with ourselves.  As the staff and volunteers say, if you’d gone today and seen a load of foggy paddocks and some sleepy animals you wouldn’t feel like you’d had that good a day.  For those of use who visit again and again, we see the circle of life moving on (a week old giraffe today – he’s just gorgeous) and the seasons changing in their own good time.  It’s perfect.

As for the Cheetahs – they loved coming up with us today – unfazed by the boiling lava they apparently loved seeing the Cheetah cubs playing together and eating a chicken (yes, with feathers) with their mummy.  They came back with us in the car and as far as I’m aware are snuggled up with their Keeper in bed.  It’s getting a bit chilly in the porch now.


Birds of the World

We spent Sunday morning up at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo.  It had been a whole, brace yourselves, TWO WEEKS since our previous visit (in the rain).  One of the Cheetah Keeper’s favourite things is to go to the “Birds of the World” demonstrations.  At 11.15 of a morning, a selection of birds are ‘flown’ and their individual skills demonstrated – and usually the birds are pretty willing to show off.  The Cheetah Keeper’s Sister knows the answers to ALL the questions (to the extent the presenters will direct comments at her/us *cringe*) and would happily stand up and do the show herself.  To the extent that she spent the visit (and the trip home from school on Monday) carrying 2 imaginary Harris Hawks on her arm.  They’re called Emily and Pranav – because she likes the names.  She’s learning the hand signals that the bird trainers use (just in case she doesn’t get a job as a sealion trainer straight away) and is sure that she could carry her hawks around quite easily…

In that I’ve heard this talk one or two hundred times I spent yesterday trying to photograph it instead and therefore – bring you this selection:

This cheeky chap is Chico – he’s a Toco Toucan.  His beak is made of the same stuff as our fingernails so it’s really light (good job too, otherwise he’d fall off his perch) and he has fondness for grapes.  He hops around most of the time (he does a nifty side step to order) because having  such a small wingspan makes flying really hard work.

He also has really good eye/beak coordination and will snatch insects or other trips out the air.

Generally he’s pretty well behaved and generally has small children pointing at him muttering about In The Night Garden or grown ups talking about Guiness adverts.

This is Hood and she’s an American Black Vulture.  She’s an intelligent girl – eating the leftovers from other animals (including humans) and having such a powerful intestinal system she can eat poisonous and festering food and still be ok.  She has a bald head (stops the gunk building up – ewww) and lovely white legs.  Lovely white legs because her poo drips down her legs every time she ‘goes’.  Lovely.  But rather elegant.

On Sunday, she was rather enjoying the sunshine and getting up on the breeze and having a good soar.

Unfortunately for her handler, that meant that she wasn’t too keen on doing anything that she was asked to do!

Next out:

This little cutie is Belle and she’s a Merlin.  Less than 30cm high she’s new to the show this year and does the most amazing acrobatics.  Her swoops and stoops had everyone ooo’ing and ahhh’ing like a rather good fireworks display.  She also had a bit of a moment before showing off her skills – every good aerobatic artiste has to have a good poo before they start!  Her reward at the end of her display is a nice bit of mouse.

The next star of the show is Timbo – he’s an African Grey Parrot and he flies soooooooooooo fast that a photo (I reckon) is nigh on impossible.  The more you cheer for him the closer to your head he flies – so everyone ducks – a bit like a reverse Mexican wave!

The final birds out (at this show) were the Macaws.  The Cheetah Keeper loves the Macaws and against a blue sky and with the wind conditions favourable (apparently) they make the most gorgeous sight.  So to introduce you:

This is Neava – she’s a Hyacinth Macaw and still pretty much a ‘baby’ at 4 years old.  She’s part of the breeding programme of this endangered species at ZSL London Zoo but until she’s old enough to breed (that’ll be when she’s about 7) she’s up at Whipsnade.  They’ve taught her to wave with her claw (a completely natural behaviour just channelled) and she’s really rather lovely.

Macaws tend to fly in pair bonds – almost touching wing tips and this chap – Rio used to fly with Bolivia but he’s now at London Zoo.  Rio has a new partner to fly with but we’ve yet to see them in action.   They’re Military Macaws who are the smallest of the ‘large’ macaws.

The next pair out are Harry and Sidney – Blue and Gold Macaws (the originality of these names is amazing!) and finally, out come the Cheetah Keeper’s favourites – Inca and George who are Scarlet Macaws.  He loves them and knows that they’re brothers and the best flyers.  Any chance to get up close to them is seized upon at which point he watches in wide eyed wonder absolutely transfixed.

My favourite bit – watching them fly.




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Everything you need to know about Rhinos (and how to start a Cheetah race)

The Cheetah Keeper’s sister has been desperate to make her own vlog(s) and (small admission of guilt coming up here) this has been sitting on my computer for a little while – mainly as I needed to learn the skillz to edit out the complete drivel and other people shouting.  I don’t think I’m doing too badly now and so, here’s everything you may (or may not) need to know about Rhinos at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo…

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Ring Tailed Lemurs

Here’s the second in my essentially photo posts from our last visit to ZSL Whipsnade Zoo.  With a bit of Google research I discover the collective term for a group of lemurs is a ‘troop’.  I am sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong!  The group at Whipsnade are the very distinctive Ring Tailed Lemurs are an all male group – seeing out their retirement years in comfort and entertaining a few folk at the same time.  The Cheetah Keeper’s sister knows all the answers to the questions asked during the feeding talks – her brother just loves the fact that they have stinky scent pads on their ‘wrists’ so they can stink fight with each other.

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Now the clocks have changed, Whipsnade is open later so we’ll be able to go up after school for picnic teas – I bet the lemurs will be looking at us and thinking “not them again“!


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Californian Sealions

We spent 7 hours at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo yesterday.  The Cheetah Keeper, his sister and I.  Well, and about a zillion other people enjoying the sunshine but the good thing about Whipsnade is that it absorbs people and you don’t feel squashed.  I went a bit camera crazy so I think a series of picture posts is in order.  Starting with the Californian Sealions, Dominic, Salt (Dominic’s mum) and his harem of girlfriends – Bailey, Lara and Kyra.  They’re practicing hard for their ‘proper’ demonstrations that start on Saturday and so we got to watch them training…

So Embarrassing



Surfing out the pool

Training over, time for a game - you looking at me???

The Cheetah Keeper’s sister wants to be a sealion trainer when she grows up – she’s made herself another name badge and it’s tough to part her from her whistle….


Inspired – Winter Whipsnade

Lucy over at Dear Beautiful Boy has started this lovely new link asking me to post 5 pictures of something that’s inspired me.  Her amazing pictures of all things white this week are just lovely but I’m not sure anything white would ever last in this house!  So, I’ve chosen 5 pictures that I took on our last visit to Whipsnade Zoo.  I’ve blogged before about how much we love it there and even in the depths of winter it’s still fantastic.  Once again our thanks must go to the lovely Explainer Catherine for being the highlight of our visit for the Cheetah Keeper’s sister and for building the Cheetah Keeper’s confidence to the point where he can actually touch the bugs!

In the summer, there’s a talk about the bears every morning and if you answer the questions correctly you get to throw a bit of fruit or veg in for the bears.  In the winter there’s almost no-one there and when the keeper rocks up with a bucket of veg for the bears and says ‘do you want to do this job for me’ the children burst with excitement.  To be fair, so did I.  There’s something very cool about being allowed to feed the bears at the zoo.  And did you know that bears eat carrots like this?

This little chap is a Wolverine.  He knows that when the keeper appears with a bucket of fruit & veg for the bears that his morning snack (dead mouse or chick if you wanted to know that) isn’t that far away.  They dash over to as close to the van as they can get – this one stands up on his back legs and looks hopeful whilst the other one runs round and round in circles in excitement.  They look very cuddly – and then you see their teeth.

This is Tashi the Red Panda.  She’s 3 and they’re hoping she’s going to breed with Peter – the red panda she shares her tree with.  She had her tail bitten off when she was a baby but that doesn’t affect her zipping up the tree when she fancies a quick snooze.  Their favourite food is bamboo leaves and they also have hypermobile paws to help them balance – which delighted the Cheetah Keeper and his sister because (unlike most zoo visitors) they can turn their hands out as far as a red panda can.

The Cheetah Keeper has been very wary (well, terrified) of the bug handling sessions in the Discovery Centre.  All credit for him finding his confidence must go to Catherine who has been so patient with him, and to his sister who has encouraged him without pressure all the way – and wanted to take photos of him “being brave”.  This is Delilah – she’s a stick insect and likes climbing over warm hands.  Mine are always cold – there’s a relief!

Finally, meet Marvin.  He’s a hissing cockroach.  His skeleton is on the outside and he makes his hissing noise by blowing out air through the gaps in his armour.  He eats plants apparently and won’t live for that long.  The kids think his antennae are really cool – good for them.

Whipsnade inspires me every time we visit.  I love the space, I love the light, I love the animals, I love the fact that every time we go, the children look at something with wide-eyed wonder and we learn something new.  I love the fact my children aren’t bothered by the mud or the deer poo, that they appreciate wrapping up warm and getting out in the fresh air (and believe me, it gets extremely cold up there on the Downs) and that they remain fascinated by what will happen next.  If they could just avoid asking me (again) to explain in more detail how the baby hippo got out from her mummy’s tummy…?



New Arrivals

It’s not often that you wake up to the news that 10 new groups of (imaginary if you’re new to this) Cheetahs have moved in.  Neither do you expect, on the same day, to receive the “very good news” that the Banana People have given birth to 10 babies today.  So, as far as I’m aware, here’s the current roll-call in the Cheetah Keeper’s menagerie…

19 groups of 10 Cheetahs.  Each group contains at least 3 generations (ie those young enough to go to school, the parents working/looking after the little ones and then grandparents for the fun stuff).  That’s 190 Cheetahs now.  Oh, and there’s another one moving in at midnight tonight.  He’s going to run from where he’s living now (in a road the other side of town from here), through town under the Christmas lights, jump on the roof and come down the chimney.  He’s then going to sleep on the sofa tonight ready for us to meet in the morning.  All the new ones will be going to school in the morning – super, must be prepared to repack the lunch box.

14 Banana PeopleThat’s the 4 grown up ones and 10 new babies – who are upstairs tucked up under blankets as just their yellow skins won’t keep them warm enough when they’re little.

96 Dinos.  The original 4 groups of 12 that came from Knebworth back in the summer and then the next 4 groups of 12 that flew in under the watchful guidance of their leader Strike, from Spain.  They liked the warmth of Spain but want to be here so are now wearing orange winter coats and waterproof trousers.  Of course.

The Cheetahs have sold their original Banana Plane and upgraded to a much larger version that can accommodate everyone.  It’s flown by some of the new Cheetahs that arrived today (they’re qualified pilots) and uses the same airport facilities as before – I’m so glad the runway is long enough.   They’ve also upgraded their magic carpet as they were having problems balancing just a few Cheetahs on it, especially when it went really fast.  Now they’ve got a much bigger one (it’s red, green and blue in case you were wondering) and they can all fit on – and whiz around corners and everything.

So what does one do on a Sunday morning when you suddenly have 190 Cheetahs to deal with?  You leave the original 90 in bed (what a good idea, if only I could have joined them) and then take the new 100 and all the Dinos trampolining.  It transpires that the new Cheetahs were living together in a house on the other side of town (in a road that oddly enough we’d been to a party in a couple of weeks back!) but they’re definitely staying here for ever and ever.  They flew their aeroplane to trampolining – good job there wasn’t any fog and they had a jolly good time running around.

Then, on a not too cold, gorgeously sunny afternoon we took them all on a trip to the zoo (ZSL Whipsnade Zoo – of course).  All 190 Cheetahs and the Dinos – the Banana People were going to come but decided to stay at home as the babies were a bit too small.  They came in the car with us (so much easier that way, no one gets lost on the motorway) and were very keen to see the real Cheetahs, Hippos and Giraffes.  They were also very keen to make sure they got lots of exercise so we walked all round the zoo – the bigger Cheetahs started tennis club yesterday and will be going again tomorrow after school so need to get fit.

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The absolute highlight of the afternoon being when the Cheetah Keeper got to meet the REAL Cheetah Keeper!  The one who really looks after the Cheetahs!!! (and what a jolly nice bloke he was too) – if you saw a sudden brightness in the sky over Bedfordshire at about 3.45pm this afternoon it was the beaming grin that came over his face.

All Cheetahs are now home and accounted for and the Cheetah Keeper has introduced his sister to the tiny Banana babies.  We’ll see what the new one arriving down the chimney adds to the mix tomorrow…