I don't know if you've ever seen a rhino peeing. It's an imposing sight, looking much as if Moses had struck the poor beast amidships with his staff. The stream is as thick as my wrist (estimate made from a respectful distance, you understand) and it goes on for as long as it takes a two-year-old to amble around one side of the beast's enclosure - must have been at least five minutes, I think.
No wonder people treat rhinos with respect. The thing must be made of bladder. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Since it's been two years, now, that Atilla has been learning how to direct our lives, we determined that he should have a birthday treat in the shape of a visit to the zoo.
Negotiations with the in-laws were delicate, when the big day dawned cloudy and drizzling. His aunt and his grandparents actually wanted to transfer the whole celebration to something - indoorsy.
I was having none of this. The forecast said there'd be maybe the occasional light shower, but nothing sustained - and if you can't stand a spot of rain here and there, I maintained, you've no business to be living in New Zealand in the first place. So I insisted we drive to the zoo, and text them when we got there that the weather was fine and if they didn't get their arses out here right now, they'd miss the whole thing.
(I was planning to send pretty much that message whatever the weather we found when we arrived. But as it happened, it was true.)
Of course, this resulted in a certain amount of heel-kicking while we waited for the family to catch up. Fortunately, the zoo features a generous entry plaza where one can hang about and buy tat before going in. Here, Atilla demonstrated the futility of the whole exercise by succumbing to instant fascination with a fledgling sparrow, just learning to fly - exactly the kind of wildlife one might find in any garden, street or playground in the country at this time of year.
I couldn't have been prouder. While kids all around were herding their parents mercilessly towards the 'official' animals, Tilly had spotted the real thing. It was more than ten minutes before the persecuted bird vanished from view, and I was able to guide my son's steps onwards.
Tilly likes animals. All animals, pretty much indiscriminately. As a rule of thumb, however, the larger the animal, the more respect it gets. Birds and cats can claim his attention if they come within a few metres; dogs are worth crossing the street for (although he still demands to be held off the ground in their presence, apparently not trusting these bouncy, waggly creatures); and anything donkey-sized or larger demands a full-length pilgrimage to inspect at length.
So it was no surprise when, on entering the premises, I found myself gravitating rapidly towards the 'Plainswalk' experience, which takes one past zebras, giraffes and ostriches.
"Bezra". "Rahsh". "Ostrish". He was delighted with these elegant creatures, until he noticed the chickens that, for some reason, Auckland Zoo houses with them. I'm not sure why chickens can trump larger animals, but he insisted on keeping a large black-and-white cockerel in view until we were past the first enclosure, and on to the rhinos and springboks.
Downstream of the incontinent rhino, we found flamingos. But these beautiful creatures claimed our attention for only minutes. As I was holding Tilly up to view them, he happened to glance ahead.
"El", he breathed, awestruck.
"Elli", he gasped.
"Elfi", he insisted breathlessly.
He'd seen Burma.
Auckland Zoo's sole remaining elephant is actually quite a small specimen - I think, if I stood beside her, I could put my hand on her back without even standing on tiptoes. But I didn't get to test that theory on this trip. And Tilly was captivated.
Here at last was a chance to pin him down in one spot while the family caught up. From that point on, I was happy for the in-laws to take their turn at guiding his experience. We'll gloss over the rest of the visit (apparently the seals were also a big hit, but I wasn't with him at that point). But the day was a success.
"Should we buy a season ticket?" Susan asked as we left. It's a discussion we had last time we went. Season tickets to the zoo are apparently quite the thing, for parents of young children.
"Only if it's transferrable between adults."