Belfast Telegraph

I never thought I'd see the day that I would spot a lion in Liverpool

By Frances Burscough

One of my favourite programmes when I was a kid was an adventure series called Daktari. Oldies among you will recall that this was set in East Africa, about a vet who worked on a game reserve. He drove around the hot dusty plains and steamy jungles in a stripey black and white Land Rover, helping wild animals, chasing off baddies and generally having a series of adventures.

There were animals that they'd tamed, too, including a chimpanzee called Judy and a cross-eyed lion called Clarence. I remember feeling a great deal of empathy for Clarence as I was cross-eyed myself at the time. (It was later corrected by surgery, but that's another story).

That's pretty much all I can remember about it, as it stopped in 1969 after only two series, but it fired my imagination for the rest of my life.

How I wanted to go on safari, helping animals and chasing baddies! I didn't even bother to ask mum and dad if we could go on holiday there, because dad complained so much about driving us on holiday to Wales that I already knew Kenya was out of the question.

Now, it just so happened that a couple of years later in 1971, Knowsley Safari Park, outside Liverpool, opened its gates for the first time. Adverts on the telly showed scenes that could have been straight out of Daktari. Lions, tigers, bears (oh my!) were just some of the attractions you could see there, all close up, roaming freely. There were even park rangers in stripey Land Rovers. I was desperate to go!

And then an opportunity arose. The annual end-of term school trip was announced and instead of the usual boring destination, such as a museum or an education centre, all the girls in my year were going to Knowsley Safari Park. It was going to cost the princely sum of £1, but I knew it would be well worth it.

So I saved my pocket money for a month and counted down the days until we'd be going on safari.

Then, just a couple of days before, disaster struck. Our headmistress (a nun who shall remain nameless) called a general assembly. The look on her face when we filed into the assembly hall spelt trouble. Someone had scrawled a swear word on the P5's toilet door. In marker pen. Whoever had done it should own up now or the whole year would face the consequences.

Well, of course, nobody did. So “the consequences” were that the school trip was cancelled. What's more, we never got our pounds back either.

I only knew two swear words — “bloody” and “bugger” — but I was so upset I wanted to storm the staff room and shout “You bloody buggers! That's just not fair!”

I didn't, though. Instead, I never forgave them and resented authority for the rest of my life.

So you could say that I'd wanted to go to Knowsley Safari Park for a very long time. And last week, I finally got my chance.

The boys and I were in England, looking after my dad for a few days. He insisted on paying for us to have a day out somewhere and, as I was perusing the local paper for some ideas, I saw an advert for the safari park.

So after 43 years, I finally went on safari for the first time and absolutely loved it.

As we arrived, an ostrich strolled over and poked his long neck through my window as if to say hello. Later, a pride of lions strolled nonchalantly past us without a care in the world.

But the best bit was when a female baboon, with its baby clinging on tightly, jumped down off a tree and landed on the bonnet of our car. We all yelped with excitement.

Sure, it wasn't exactly the dusty plains of the Masai Mara, but it was the next best thing - Liverpool!

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