I’m on holiday with our adopted ex-research chimps
Plus Bim Adewunmi
From time to time, it becomes necessary to blur the identities of the people who appear in this column, either for reasons of privacy o p of person or who legality, goes or skiing because twice I don’t in the want same to season. seem like This the kind p precaution will not, I hope, interfere with the essential truth of w what follows.
So, anyway, my partner – let’s call him Sean – is trying to convince me to take our adopted ex-research chimps skiing. This is Sean’s f favourite sort of family holiday: the kind where he doesn’t come. B But I’ve already skied once this year, by myself. I’ve had my fill. Sean can be very persuasive and, when that fails, insistent. I remain apprehensive. In my experience, putting young chimpanzees on skis is expensive, dangerous and hilarious. But ours are now adults; this will be unprecedented.
I manage to book cheap flights for myself and the two younger chimps, Anton and Kurt, but a question mark hangs over the availability of Heinz, the eldest. He’s currently participating in a landmark primatology study, the completion date of which is uncertain.
“I’m sure he’ll come,” Sean says. ‘When will you get a chance to do this again?”
He’s right: soon enough, the chimps will be living in separate zoos and refuges. But I don’t buy Heinz’s ticket that day, or the next. I imagine the price rising in the night. A week later, Sean asks if I’ve booked the ticket and I admit I haven’t.
“He wants to go,” Sean says.
“Are you sure?” I say. “I texted him, but he didn’t answer.”
“He’s a chimp,” Sean says.
Sean asks about the ticket in the morning, and again in the afternoon. Later that night, I sit down at my computer. The updated ticket price is, as I suspected, more than double what I paid for the others. My finger hovers above the mouse for some minutes before I finally click. Afterwards, I sit in the dark for a bit, feeling generous and stupid.
I go up to bed, where Sean is reading a book.
“Have you booked Heinz’s ticket?” he asks.
I leave a slight pause while preparing to answer triumphantly in the affirmative.
“Because he’s definitely not coming,” Sean says.
Two weeks later, I rise at 3am, dress Anton and Kurt in hoodies, and head for the airport. Once we’re through pet passport control, Kurt makes the sign for coffee and Anton makes the sign for headphones. They begin to fight over
which direction to go, their cycle of alarmbarks rising sharply.
“Not here,” I say.
By lunchtime, we are high in the Alps. Kurt and Anton are dressed in mismatched winterwear, fur on end. They look tired, and hilarious. I march them to a window to ask the woman behind the glass about lift tickets. She writes the price on a bit of paper and shows it to me. A long silence follows.
“But they’re chimps,” I say.
She says that is the price for chimps. I buy the tickets, and sit down on some steps to weep. Then I leave Sean a voicemail telling him that we are ruined. He rings back a minute later.
“How’s the weather?” he asks.
“It’s lovely,” I say. “But…”
“And the snow?”
“Amazing, apparently,” I say.
“Shall I tell you what I’m up to?” Sean says. “I’m currently locked out of the car we borrowed from the mechanic. The electronic key is dead, I’m illegally parked and it’s raining. And I have been here for half an hour.”
“The lift ticket price for an adult primate is, if you can believe this…”
“You know what?” Sean says. “I think I’m having a worse time than you.” Then he hangs up on me. I gaze up at the majestic peaks in the distance, feeling hollow. Anton throws a snowball at Kurt, who emits his distinctive pant-hoot. Bananas, I think. We will need to get some bananas. My phone rings. It is Sean.
“OK, so,” he says. “It turns out I was trying to unlock the wrong car. An identical car, across the street.”
He laughs, and I laugh, too. This – not only this, but mostly this – is why I love him