Tim Dowling

I’m on hol­i­day with our adopted ex-re­search chimps

The Guardian - Weekend - - Contents -

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

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