A Very British Safari

Get your Christmas lists out, and throw them away. I have a new idea for you.

Sometimes, you’re just sitting there on a Friday afternoon thinking, “hmmm…I wish I could go on safari. In England.”
No, tiny darlings, I haven’t lost my mind. For such a feat is possible. In the heart of Kent, no less.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to do some work through my day job with the screamingly lovely people at Port Lympne Reserve in Lympne, Kent, and they kindly invited me along to a press night showcasing their safari accommodation.* It was the end of the season but once you’ve read this, you will have the edge on booking up the entirety of the 2015 season in advance.
Hence my reference to the Christmas gift. See? See? It all ties together.
I’ve been visiting Port Lympne for years, as it is glorious day out for anyone. Set on gentle slopes over looking the Hythe and Romney Marsh coast, you can wander around its giant enclosures and across its stretching plains, or you can just sit outside the Port Lympne mansion, pretending to be a king.

Port Lympne is an enormous wild animal reserve run by the Aspinall Foundation, home to scores of exotic animals big and small such as monkeys, gorillas, lions, tigers, wild cats, hunting dogs, black rhino and cheeta. It also has a safari plain where giraffe, antelope, deer and buffalo roam free. It has sister park, Howletts near Canterbury, where more animals gallop and roam, including elephants. The Aspinall Foundation is a registered charity involved with various conservation projects, including breeding, education, ecosystem management, and the rehabilitation of animals into the wild. Take a look at their website to learn more: http://www.aspinallfoundation.org/conservation
And after a day of animal spotting, you can dine at the restaurant or stay the night.
But wait…stay the night? In a wild animal park? Yep, Port Lympne has a unique offer in that it is the only park of its kind in the UK (and possibly Europe) that gives people the chance to stay in the heart of the reserve. You can bask in luxury at the mansion, or rent Livingstone Cottage for up to eight people if you wish, or the more adventurous amongst you can go ‘glamping’. 
This what I’d be doing for the evening –  staying at the luscious Livingston Lodge, which offers an overnight stay in some seriously swanky tents with an evening and morning safari, four course meal, entry to both Port Lympne and Howletts and some serious banter thrown in. 
Image courtesy of Port Lympne Reserve
I started my trip at 4pm on Friday evening, leaving my car near the mansion and checking into the Lodge reception. The attentive staff took my bag (to deliver to my tent) and handed me a glass of champagne. I then had time to laze on the sofas and chat to fellow guests over drinks before our guide called us to action and we piled into the safari truck for our 90min evening safari.

We were blessed with a gloriously golden evening, with clear October skies (though do bring a coat along no matter what the weather – it gets nippy once the sun goes down). Our truck trundled through the park, pausing beside the black rhino while our guide explained their work to protect this endangered species.

Up close, rhinos have a curious grin and are very mellow – adorable really. Horrible to think how freely they are being slaughtered in their wild so people can harvest their horns. You know what, people? THE HORNS ARE HAIR. THEY ARE HAIR. HAIR IS EVERYWHERE, STOP KILLING THE RHINOS.

Okay…okay…I’m calm again.
On we went, watching the barasingha, red lechwe antelope, and a fine dazzle of zebra before entering the main safari plain. Here there are no fences or trenches – deer and zebra were free to wander straight up to the truck and gaze at your gawping faces. Giraffes chewed on tree leaves in the distance, deer bounced about merrily, everyone pointed at a buffalo having a wee. 

Eventually, we rolled to the top of the hill to our bedrooms for the night. And truly these are bedrooms. The tents stand atop wooden stilts behind a sturdy wooden fence and gate, overlooking the plain below.  

 

Rhino right behind our tents. Behind a very strong fence.

The tents are millions miles away from your festival nightmares. Made of hearty canvass and waterproof coverings, you don’t even have to stoop to get inside them, and they’d keep you warm even if you only had an old sack and a bottle of whiskey with you. They come equipped with beds (two singles or a double for the snugglers), heaters, bedside lights, clothing rails, comfy dressing gowns, and a vanity mirror. A veranda with chairs and blankets invites you to pass the evening gazing at the staggering view beyond.

I was staying in Gorilla tent…I knew I should have shaved.

First things first – dump bags, and head to the lodge to grab a beverage. Guests can hang out in the lodge until dinner, or sit on their private deck in peace and quiet. Tea and coffee are complimentary, and all else is added to a tab that you settle at the end of the night. I grabbed a beer and headed back to my veranda to watch the sun set.

I settled into my chair and instantly reached for my phone to start tweeting. NO! I snapped. This would not do – the plains of Africa had been recreated on the Kent coast and I was glued to a tiny computer screen and trying to think of witty safari based puns. I threw my phone into the tent, and made myself switch off. All there was, for the next 30mins, was golden sunset, glistening sea, and the languid gallop of deer and zebra in the distance. Bliss.
Obligatory feet up picture

At 7pm, I returned to the lodge to catch up with the staff and to see the chefs prepare our feast. I was lucky I did – as we went out out onto the veranda to enjoy the moonlight, a tower of giraffes walked right past the building, pausing to peer at us curiously.

See! See here!
The lodge itself is extremely cosy and comfortable, with a huge fire pit serving as our barbecue. Dinner is a veritable feast, laid out buffet style around the tables.

The starters included couscous, a tomato salad, smoked salmon, coleslaw, fresh bread and hearty sausages. This was followed by the main course – another buffet of deliciousness. Dishes included beautifully pink beef, Peri Peri chicken, garlic prawns, ratatouille, stuffed mushrooms, and mountains of aromatic rice. 

I barely had room for pudding, which included Amarula panna cotta and a…I think there was a cheesecake? By this stage I was blind with food, and they hadn’t even put out the cheese course.
The entire meal was outstanding, and the lodge had a lovely atmosphere, with everyone chatting and joking over their meals. As I said, it’s a great venue for couples but I could seriously see myself returning with a gaggle of friends and having the run of the place. The staff were also very attentive and friendly.
As the night drew in, I found myself shattered from the bounty of food, drink and animal-antics I’d been treated to. I hit the hay at 10pm, drifting off in my cosy, comfy bed to the sound of two antelope, somewhere in the distance, calling each other.
The next morning I rose early and ventured outside in my dressing gown to see three zebras strutting past my veranda. I waved. They didn’t wave back. I suspect they were busy.
I joined my fellow guests for a huge buffet breakfast at the lodge – full English, cereals, fruit, toasts – before packing up and boarding the truck for a mini-morning safari on our way back to the main lodge.
I haven’t stopped telling people about my stay since I returned. This is a great venue for an extra special overnight stay – it’s perfect for couples (who don’t mind chatting with their fellow campers over dinner), but it would also be a great option for a civilised hen party.
The glamping tents reopen in April but you can book in advance should you want to give someone a spectacular Christmas gift. 
Also, if anyone out there is thinking: “hey! I have this really big family AND I want to stay longer than one night – what’s in it for me?!!”, well….you’ve got some attitude problem, pal. But never fear, The Elephant Lodge, elsewhere in the reserve, offers larger accommodation for groups and families on longer stays.
And if you can’t wait to stay at the park, you can stay at the mansion or Livingstone Cottage all year round. If you have enough friends and feel like splurging, rent the entire mansion for a not too pricey VIP experience. What’s more, Port Lympne’s accommodation options are set to expand next year. Soon the park will offer smaller eco-pods for a rustic option, and also treehouses.
Go, tiny darlings – be one with the beasts. www.aspinallfoundation.org/short-breaks 

*I wish I could say it was because of my fabulous blog, but to date the blog has only got me free gin and….well, that’s literally the best I could hope for, so let’s not complain.

Ten Things Not To Do….In A Job Interview

So I recently got a new job. This means that I did not monumentally screw up the interview, and that my various witty remarks were not quite as insane as they sounded in my head.

Perhaps I have finally learned how to be cool in such situations, after so many years of sitting in interview rooms muttering “I’m a people person” while sweating profusely from my ears.

In celebration of my success, I thought I would share with you my top tips on how to avoid disaster in a job interview. I think you’ll find them thorough, and applicable to all situations.  

  1. When the interviewer asks how you are, don’t bang the table with your fist and scream “I’ll ask the questions, dammit!”
  2. When they ask your name, never pretend to be Wagner. 
  3. Don’t bring pretty pictures you’ve drawn in crayon to the meeting. Unless you’re an artist. If you’re an artist, that’s probably a good idea. 
  4. Don’t, when asked about your personal interests, state ‘Jesus’ or ‘your mum’.
  5. If you start crying, don’t say it’s because you have faulty eyes from when a Romanian drug dealer tampered with them on the same night you were called up by the US army to build a bomb to destroy Commi-Nazis trying to sell your only mother into the used car trade. 
  6. When asked how you deal with difficult situations, don’t make the international hand gesture for sexual intercourse, and say quietly “I always find a way”.
  7. Don’t start sentences when you have no idea how to finish them. E.g. “Outside of work, I am an amateur dramatic…ist.” (This actually happened).
  8. Don’t walk in wearing a wedding dress, and say “if I get this job, I’m sure he’ll come back”.
  9. Don’t walk smugly around your interviewer’s desk before coming very close to their face and saying: “I’m going to enjoy working in THIS office.” 
  10. Then, when the interviewer points out that you are actually both sitting in a local café, don’t deal with the situation by trying to hide in your own shirt.

Ten Things Not To Do…In The Event Of Sex

Essential advice for when you are most in need. Please don’t listen to any of it.

  1. Don’t suggest you both sing the national anthem at the end.
  2. Don’t ring up your intended and have phone sex based on what you happen to be watching on the Discovery Channel at that point. E.g ‘I’m penetrating you at a fantastically fast rate and then I’m going to eat your offspring, and then pretty much just fuck off.’
  3. Don’t count.
  4. Don’t start crying uncontrollably at any point about the crisis in the Syria.
  5. Don’t say ‘hurt me’ in a sweetly suggestive manner, and then scream for ten minutes straight when your partner obligingly tweaks your nipple.
  6. While the other person is undressing, don’t clap.
  7. Don’t, when you and your prospective fuck-bunny are getting cosy in the lounge, suddenly produce bleech, brillo pads and slug pellets and then walk out the room with a wide-eyed stare.
  8. If a pretty young thing has agreed to come back to your place for ‘coffee’, don’t make the hot beverage and then try to force it down their throat very quickly, muttering impatiently ‘come on, come on!’
  9. Don’t keep narrowing your eyes and shaking your head very slowly when the other person nears climax, especially if you’ve personally had several orgasms by this time.
  10. If you fail to find a woman’s G-Spot/clitoris/vagina, don’t punch her square in the face and say ‘Did I get it that time, HMMMM?!’

Ten Things Not To Do…On New Year’s Eve

  1. Don’t, if you are hosting, make a massive buffet and then stand next to it, slapping food out of people’s hands for no good reason.
  2. Don’t worry about kissing someone else at midnight – bring a huge mirror out with you, and kiss your own reflection when the bell tolls. With tongues.
  3. Don’t try to cover the fact that you don’t know all the words to Auld Lang Syne by repeatedly shouting “Auld Lang Syne! Auld Lang Syne! Auld Lang Syne! Auld Lang Syne! Auld Lang Syne! Auld Lang Syne! Auld Lang Syne! Auld Lang Syne! Auld Lang Syne! Auld Lang Syne!”
  4. Don’t invite your friends round for a party, and then stand in the middle of the room staring intently at a clock and refusing to speak to anyone for the entire night.
  5. Don’t build an ark.
  6. Don’t, at the stroke of midnight, turn to your friends and sob “Oh why are you still here?! Why why why why why why won’t you let this night end?!!”
  7. If you don’t have children, don’t stay in, thinking it will be lovely and grown up and wonderful. At 11.05pm you will run out the front door, actually screaming.
  8. Don’t insist that everyone hold hands and shares their deepest darkest secrets before the year ends. And don’t listen to the first rather tame story, throw up all over the teller, and then turn to the next person and say “okay, now you go.”
  9. Don’t spend it in a haunted church, covered in honey.
  10. Don’t set off fireworks at all ever anywhere because really what is wrong with you? The year literally happens every year, stop praising it with fire.