So, the great storm of St Jude came and went. The main damage it wrought here was the total reordering of our family plans for the Half Term holiday. Worried that all kinds of damage might occur in our absence, we rescheduled our visit to my folks in Lancashire, and stayed here while the gales blew so we could keep an eye out for trees falling, chimneys coming down and the like. In the event, a plant trough blew from one windowsill, and the last of the apples came a-tumbling down onto the grass beneath – but otherwise: nothing.
I suppose there is a temptation to say the forecasters cried ‘Wolf!’ and over-egged their warnings. But, people were killed, and damage was done, in some parts of the country. And, it’s surely better to be forearmed for the possibility of a severe storm than to carry blithely on? As weather forecasting gets ever more sophisticated, and we demand ever greater precision from the forecasters, our expectations get inflated. Weather is a wild and unpredictable force (the more severe, the more unstable) and the best, most accurate, forecasts can only ever be percentage predictions. We must learn to treat them as such.
As for the Half Term holiday itself, it seems to have taken a seriously large chunk out of my working time over the turn of the month. And now it is November, autumn proper, with all that that entails – especially as the clocks fall back, and the working day ends (outdoors at least) at about four in the afternoon.
I did get to visit Chester Zoo while we were up north. Last time I went was about twenty years ago, with my then girlfriend (now wife) – and I remember us feeling terribly conspicuous as we had no children with us. This time, of course, and very happily, it was different – and it was lovely to show the children around the zoo which I knew so well as a child myself. One of Chester’s highlights has always been its gardens – a ‘Zoological Gardens’ indeed. The zoo’s founder, George Mottershead, came from a market gardening family, and the design of the zoo (‘a zoo without bars’) has always – since its opening in the 1930s – used landscaping and planting to enhance the experience for both visitors and animals. There are National Collections of orchids and cacti (Copiapoa, Matucana and Turbinicarpus), as well other major displays of plants from around the world, which in themselves constitute a botanical garden of some note. There is a very interesting piece on the zoo’s website, entitled ’Plants in a Modern Zoo’ which explains the philosophy behind the approach to gardens and plants at Chester.
As a small boy, I know that the animals were what I wanted to see whenever I visited Chester Zoo. Indeed, I wanted to work there as a zoo keeper – and even had a much-treasured letter from the great George Mottershead in response to some enquiry of mine (a letter now sadly lost). However, I can appreciate much more now the interplay between flora and fauna, and – while late October hardly shows the gardens at their best – it was good to see them again.