THE most extraordinary story I've read recently concerned six German penguins. Actually, the penguins were probably not German at all, come to think of it; to be more correct I should say they were penguins living in a German zoo in a German town. You can't be too careful when assuming anything these days. Anyway, these penguins had been at the zoo for some time, probably from egghood. They'd done all the things penguins do. Waddled round in circles, pretended to enjoy a diet consisting solely of herring, and dived in and out of a pond which bore no resemblance to their spiritual home in some far off frozen sea. They may even have picked up a bit of German. Then, as nature intends, they began to do all the necessary things that penguins do to propagate their species. Apparently. Unlike humans, who prefer to do this sort of thing with soft lights, sweet music and promises of weddings rings, penguins do some sort of courtship dance which doesn't involve boxes of Cadbury's Milk Tray, and then get down to business. In the natural order of things this bit of business should have resulted, some time in the near future, in at least a couple of them laying a clutch of eggs and again in due course, baby penguins would appear. Only they didn't, because not one of the penguins laid an egg. This went on for some years. There would be the ritual of the courtship dance, a dance I've never witnessed but like to think would be some kind of sedate waltz rather than the can-can, which I doubt penguins could manage without falling over. Then, with the success of this terpsichorean excess, the mating and the long wait for some kind of celebration at the birth of a new little Percy or Pricilla. But it never came and this puzzled the zoo officials. So much so that they decided to have the six penguins examined to see if something was wrong and it was. They discovered that all six were males and threw up their hands in horror saying Mon Dieu, or the German equivalent thereof. To my mind it doesn't say much about the zoological expertise of the zoo officials if they couldn't tell a male penguin from a female penguin, but perhaps I'm being harsh. For all I know it might be quite difficult, after all it's not as though the females would have breasts and as for the males, with all those feathers . . . Well, we'll leave it there. Now none of this would have caused national publicity in firstly Germany and then the rest of Europe, a few years ago. The zoo would have just shrugged its shoulders, excused the mistake as being all the fault of Heinz the short-sighted keeper, and that would have been that. They certainly wouldn't have had an emergency board meeting to discuss the terrible disclosure that they had been feeding buckets of fish to a bunch of homosexual penguins on a daily basis for years, or that the said penguins were quite happily acting out gay relationships in full view of innocent children who had just come along to see them catch balls on the ends of their noses. Or is that seals? I'm actually making the bit up about the board meeting, but for all I know it did happen. What certainly happened was that they decided to put their foot down and remedy the situation so that once again the zoo could be what it was supposed to be, a place fit for family entertainment and not a gay bar in the Munich red light district. They acted quickly, no doubt with advice from penguin experts. They went shopping in Sweden for female penguins. They were obviously far more confident in the Swedish zoological experts being able to sex a penguin that they were with their own staff. The choice of Sweden isn't surprising. Swedish females are known to be gorgeous, with blonde hair, blue eyes and an easy-going attitude to life (now you know why I never had a Swedish au-pair). So it followed that if anything was going to give the six male penguins a push in the right direction it was going to be a bunch of Swedish birds, or should that be a flock? So the zoo paid hard Euros for the females and in due course the harem arrived and were introduced to their new mates. Everyone let out a sigh of relief and waited for things to look up. But they didn't. Or rather the six male penguins didn't look up. They turned their backs on the newcomers, refusing intercourse of any kind. The Swedish birds did their best but before long it was males down one end of the enclosure looking wistfully at each other and gloomily wishing for the good old days, and females down the other end saying harsh things about males in general and six males in particular. Eggs, it seemed, were going to be permanently off the menu. Up until this time, the penguin saga had not been public knowledge but then some bright journalist found out about the Swedish penguins and their six reluctant mates and all hell broke loose. The local gay community were up in arms, and as local gay communities do, began to demonstrate. Basically their message was ' you can't pick on a penguin just because he's gay'. This forming of an instant Gay Penguin Liberation Front brought international publicity. The protesters said it was cruel to separate the penguins from their loved ones. That parading six rampant sex bombs from Sweden would not work and that the six males should be allowed to return to their enclosure without getting harassed by a bunch of foreign hussies in whom they had no interest and were never going to have. All of which was absolutely true. The zoo authorities, who were probably thoroughly fed up with the whole situation and possibly planning a penguin barbecue for later in the season, finally threw in the towel and backed off. The Swedish birds were removed and the six males were allowed to be together again, to begin the new season's courtship dance etc. Latest report is that one penguin couple has found a round stone and one of them is sitting on it hoping for the best. As for the females, possibly they are on their way back to Sweden, where they will hopefully end up with a bunch of slightly more enthusiastic Scandinavean penguins who will be more appreciative of Swedish chicks and get down to some real courtship over a plate or two of smorgasbord. I hope the zoo in the centre of all this don't try to cash in on the by now famous German six. Having outed them in the eyes of the world it would be nice if they now just leave them alone and not try to cash in on the publicity by making them dress in leather and grow moustaches. Possibly that bit will be deemed to be terribly politically incorrect and removed by sub's pen. So if there's a bit of a gap or a few asterisks you'll know why.
Friday 4th March 2005 12:00 am