“Homesickness is a longing for the place of your belonging” Jay Griffiths.
Welcome to High Towers Wildlife Adventure Park. It has rare breed pets, an okapi, popcorn, roller coasters, zebras, parking space for 2,000 cars, a snake house, a journey to Mars simulator …
… and it has Frank. Frank is a 7 year old Orang-utan. The word Orang-utan means person of the forest. Frank was born in the ancient forests of eastern Kalimantan, on the Indonesian island of Borneo and he lived there for six years, 100 feet above the ground in the tropical forest canopy.
These days Frank lives in the primate enclosure at High Towers and the story of his lucky break is told in our glossy brochure: A year ago now, Frank was found wandering aimlessly in the midst of a clear fell area belonging to the palm oil industry. A marketing consultant called Jed Potts, who was there on business, found the emaciated orang-utan and knew at once that something had to be done. So Jed Potts rescued Frank and bought him back with him to London on a special flight and then donated him to High Towers Wildlife Adventure Park. Frank still gets presents from Jed’s office in Canary Wharf. Last month he got a 42 inch plasma screen TV!
I have worked at High Towers since I left school. I work on Imminent Catastrophe. It’s our biggest, scariest ride and a huge crowd puller, and I’m the one who straps all the punters into the catastrophe cars. They pay £5 to get turned upside down, spun round till they’re usually sick and dropped 200 feet down into a black hole. I used to be the one who cleaned up the sick, but I’ve been promoted to my current post as safety officer.
I agreed to work on Christmas day because you get triple pay and I wanted to buy a dog. Mum wasn’t keen because of the muddy paws, but I think she was on the verge of agreeing so I needed the money quickly. On Christmas Day the Imminent Catastrophe was all shut down and instead, for the very first time, I got to feed the animals.
I saved feeding Frank till last. I’d done the okapi and the rare curly-coated hamsters, the zebras were munching happily and I’d said a fond Happy Christmas to each gecko that I popped in with the green anaconda. Frank’s christmas menu was banana muesli and some leafy branches. I caught a glimpse of his big, flat, thoughtful face pressed up against the window as I chopped and mixed and washed and chopped some more.
Frank didn’t barge like the zebras or burp like the okapi when his meal arrived. Instead he extended a leathery black hand and helped me to open the cage door. He stood politely aside whilst I arranged his branches and poured banana muesli into his bowl. It wasn’t until I stood back and said “Happy Christmas Frank” that he looked up at me, selected a small branch and began to peel the leaves off happily. I thought then of my dad, who would be half pissed and lurching round the kitchen with the electric carving knife … “one slice for the dish and one for me” … turkey grease dribbling down his chin and on to the laminated ramin wood floor. Mum following with dettol wipes. “Careful darling, careful.”
Whilst Frank ate, I cleaned his cage. The new plasma screen TV was in the corner looking a little grubby. The punters loved it though … “look, a monkey watching TV!”
Frank came in and glanced hopefully at me.
“Shall we see what’s on TV?” I asked. He squatted and picked up the remote.
Christmas with the Smithsons: The Smithson family are opening their presents around the tree. Grandad Smithson has been given a mobile phone and is making his very first phone call to Auntie May in Tooting. “I’m on my mobile telephone!” he bawls, “CAN … YOU … HEAR … ME?” The tearing of paper rents the air. Bryonie has been given a hairstyling kit and a remote controlled plastic poodle for sporty Barbie. Somebody is crying. Little Nathan didn’t want Nintendo. He wanted Xbox. Oh dear.
Top of the Pops: Apparently Alvin and the Chipmunks were no1 for 10 consecutive weeks in 1999.
Frank turned the TV off. “Come on Frank,” I said, “its nearly dark, let’s go for a Christmas walk”
We left the enclosures and climbed the hill to a beech wood. As we walked be neath the trees hand in hand, Frank was silent and thoughtful. Once we stopped, the frosty air chilling our breath, and gazed up through the branches towards the rising moon. It was a night time full of memories and far removed from our daily lives. And that was when I first began to wonder what an orang utan thinks about us … and what it was really like to be Frank.