Monkey see, monkey do
I like the sort of holiday that trips me up with surprises, which are often the things that are not listed as the mustsees or the top 10s or the “in” places for exotic leisure. Of course, I dutifully tick a couple of boxes, usually art galleries, occasionally stately homes and even restaurants. But my itinerary is not one of hourly slots to see something on a whistle-stop tour.
Sometimes the best attractions are those known and loved by locals who really do not want too much fanfare because once the secret is out it is sometimes ruined. So in Launceston, Tasmania, I take a gentle perambulation through the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery and admire a couple of Hugh Ramsay paintings, especially his rather Wildean pose in a self-portrait in brown. But it is the leisurely stroll through Launceston City Park that really surprises and delights.
Following a sign that indicates the Japanese macaque monkey enclosure, I think I might be heading towards a Zen garden for a little soulful reverie. But I soon realise the macaque is a red-faced monkey of quick intelligence and prodigious circus skills, and in the middle of Launceston resides an energetic troop beloved of the locals.
The monkeys appear oblivious to visitors staring at them and they seem completely at home in their enclosure. Perhaps they see us as strange exhibits of the human species in our assorted plumage, fake fur and polar fleeces and the strange exclamations coming out of the mouths of smaller specimens. We are but moving wallpaper as the monkeys forage and flirt and fling themselves about with lolloping strides and easy grace. Maybe they agree with WS Gilbert that Darwinian man, though well-behaved, at best is only a monkey shaved.
In the enclosure I see the seven ages of man acted out by our hirsute cousins. There is the infant a few days old, pink skin still visible and being cuddled by his mother. There are not so much whining schoolboys as ninja warrior teenagers clambering and cartwheeling and doing rope tricks. An occasional skirmish involving fisticuffs has all the hallmarks of adolescent sibling rivalry. The young lover is actively preening and grooming and looking around for a bit of (ahem) monkey business. An older brother with a soldier’s bearing maintains his ground, ensuring his position in the hierarchy. There is a bit of strutting and puffing out of chests, a bit of braggadocio to keep the social structure humming.
Females with bright red bottoms signal their availability for congress of an intimate nature. The older monkeys, whose faces seem to redden with age, find solace in their own thoughts with a bit of studied navel gazing. Those of the sixth age prefer their own company, with-