Photo: Claire, Briar and Stephanie attempting to look wise
Feeling at this stage we had somehow fallen into a parallel universe we eventually stumbled upon the demo which unsurprisingly, as we were 25 minutes late, was coming to a conclusion. Hey ho. By this point most of us are firmly wearing our "grumpy old women" hats so the innocent demonstrator got the full force of our frustration. "You should have looked at the map" was his response but since we were not offered one at the ticket office and had foolishly assumed the way would be obvious since it is designed for children! we made it clear that we didn't think much of the customer service at reception only to discover it was being manned by his daughter!. Oddly there was no sign of a Christmas tree but we let that go. Somewhat chastened, we slunk away with our tails between our legs to join other equally dejected looking creatures along the paths - pestered parents, ponky pigs, wilting wallabies, despondent ducks. I am overegging it here - it was actually not bad at all if you were a child with a pressing need to handle an owl or become a human sundial. We did manage to find plenty to laugh about, including ourselves. But we all agreed it was one for the kiddies since they are generally not much concerned about mud, maps, timing, directions etc. Youngsters can have a good run around, only being a worry to their parents as they get lost in this seemingly vast reserve. They might even glance more than sideways at such creatures as racoons, goats and llamas alongside fabulous all-knowing owls from around the world. For us, it was enough fauna to last several months and dear old flora didn't get a look in!
With some sense of relief we left the muddy, murky pens and paths behind as lunch beckoned from the other Coolings - the original one on Rushmore Hill. After food and a good natter, we spent a happy hour drooling over the superb plant collection at this award-winning nursery, whilst trying not to get depressed by the sight of autumn chrysanths, winter planting cyclamens and pansies. Where has this summer gone!? Judy was able to buy a pretty hibiscus for an empty spot in her garden and Penny patiently directed me towards male holly bushes after I whined that my variegated holly bush had spring blossoms but now no red berries, apparently making it female. It seems hollies need to have sex (just like everyone else and wallabies I suppose) but the fact that I have to facilitate this is a rather disturbing responsibility. I shall now have to play matchmaker, buy her a male bush for company and look the other way.