So how did you spend Saturday night? Were you tucked up nice and cosy on the sofa, glass of wine in hand, soaking up the joys of X Factor?
Count yourself lucky. I spent the night on the floor of the bug house in London Zoo. Except it's a bit of a misnomer to call it a bug house. Rats to the left of me, snakes to the right, and weird little yellow frogs straight ahead. Much more nightmarish than Wagner and the gang. The things you do when you're a parent, eh?
So this story started when my ten year old daughter was offered the chance to be a junior reporter for the children's newspaper, First News. As the senior reporter of the family, I offered to accompany her on the assignment, whatever it might be. Celebrity interview or red carpet event, I'd be there. And then the call came - how would you like to spend the night on the floor of the bug house at London Zoo?
My mummy blogger friends were quick to put a dampener on the idea, tweeting comments ranging from "Sounds terrible!" to "That is literally the worst thing I have ever heard of!!".
And though I don't like bugs much, I've dealt with nits, so how hard could it be? Would you do it?
BedBUGS sleepover events are something new at the zoo for children aged 8 to 11 and their
foolhardy eager parents. It all kicks off at 7pm. There were 55 people on our sleepover, though everyone gets split into smaller groups, so you do get some privacy at bedtime. Boys far outnumbered the girls - are bugs a boy thing? Our all-female crew didn't think so.
The building we stayed in is called BUGS. This stands for Biodiversity Underpinning Global Survivial. In practice what this means is that it houses a lot more than just bugs. So whilst I had mentally prepared myself for a night with the creepy crawlies, it turned out that we would also be joined by rats, snakes, bees and jellyfish. All confined behind glass, but still, not the evening companions I would usually choose.
After an introductory talk and a look around the bug house, it was time to meet one of its' biggest inhabitants - an absolutely monster sized tarantula. Great, well that will help me get a good night's sleep, no bother. Oh, and the keepers also dropped into conversation that there might be a few cockroaches roaming about, but just to ignore them. Cheers for that.
At around 9.30pm it was time for the highlight of the night - a torchlight tour of the zoo. This was truly magical as we were the only people in the zoo. The lions looked beautiful in the moonlight, and the atmosphere was excitable but peaceful too.
Walking round the zoo for an hour had us ready for bed, so when we got back it was time to hunker down. For safety reasons sleepover participants have to sleep in their clothes (I guess in case there's an emergency evacuation and you have to leg it from the lions pretty fast).
My sleeping bag had last seen action in my pre-children, festival going days. It was about the thickness of an envelope, so it was a fairly cold night for me. We'd set up camp in a corridor, next to a snake and some little yellow frogs. Could have been worse, the rats were just around the corner.
In the morning, after a light breakfast, we were allowed to be the first people to enter the Rainforest Life exhibit. Many monkeys live here, and the design of the place, with trees drooping over the pathways, means that you can get really close to them. The souvenir shop wasn't open yet, so I resisted the tempation to take one home.
My daughter and her friend both loved this once in a lifetime chance - in fact they "loved it loved it loved it a million times". And though my back complained about sleeping on the floor, I think I loved it too. Certainly more memorable than X Factor.
Sleepover nights take place regularly at London Zoo, with separate nights for children aged 8 - 11 and 11 to 14. It costs £50 per person. All dates for 2010 are now sold out, but booking for 2011 opens this month. For booking information email here.
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