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My Greatest Challenge Yet
I was cornered. The shadow of my captor loomed around the corner of the shed, slipping over ice and straw to reach me. This was it, time for action. I grabbed a broom and fended off the goose with the brush end, its beak nipping viciously. I was extremely grateful that its strong grip was on the broom and not on my hand.
Sid the goose, my mortal enemy. I had survived two weeks in this place without having to clean out Sid, and then, on my last day, he had conquered me. It was whilst I standing in the shed, battling a hissing goose whilst wielding a wooden weapon, that I reflected on my time at the Nature Reserve.
I was here because it was the compulsory school work experience for two weeks, and I had found it difficult to get a placement at first. I want to work in the environmental field when I grow up, so working with animals seemed like a great idea. That was when work experience was months away and I was in the safety of a school hallway. Nevertheless, I had done it, applied, interviewed and been successful in securing a placement at the Nature Reserve just outside of Birmingham’s bustling city centre.
On my first day of work I woke up at seven o clock and turned on BBC news to check the weather, only to see the expressive weatherman telling the country that the next two weeks would be the coldest on record...just my luck. Ice lined the sparkling pavements as I scurried up the road to the bus stop at around eight o clock; I didn’t start till nine thirty but it would take me a good hour and a half to get there, relying solely on public transport. My bus arrived soon after I did, and I climbed onboard for my forty-five minute journey. My second bus was out of the city centre, shorter, but equally as scary as I had never done this route alone before.
Upon arrival at work, I was presented with hideous green wellington boots and a blue coat that almost didn’t fit over my tights, leggings, vests, hoodies and jumpers I was wearing in a futile attempt to block out the frozen temperatures. Walking down to the food preparation room on what should have been pleasant paths turned into a treacherous challenge, sliding over bridges on my borrowed monstrosities. Once inside the sanctuary of warmth that was the food prep room, I was greeted by an overwhelming smell of rotting fruit and overly clean floors. A shelf full of said fruit and a mop were the clear culprits. My keeper for the day, Kate, told me to help another volunteer and clean out the Rhea’s. At this point I didn’t know what a Rhea was, however a sign appeared to point me in the right direction, and to inform me that it was a mini-ostrich-type bird. My first job of my first day was to clean up Rhea waste and scrape ice of the floor.
This kind of work became more frequent across the two weeks work experience, everyday a new animal, a new bucket, a new poignant pong to waft over from an enclosure and make my expression similar to that of a pug. The worst was the otters waste; I have never smelt anything like it.
I spent two days in the heated mammal house defrosting and looking after the mice, rats, and chinchillas that lived there. There were even chickens and a parrot sheltering from the cold and helping to keep me company. A lot of the time I was on my own, but I needed to be, as complete concentration was essential in order to look after the mammals. There is something terrifying about being in charge of not only yourself but a creature that relies on you for food and water. There were other volunteers who I sometimes spoke to, but mainly my work was one of solitude and focus, where I learnt something new every day and was tested to my limits, racking my brains for everything I learnt about the eating habits of lemurs in my lifetime (turns out, I knew nothing about lemurs, and required the use of Google, thank goodness for having internet on my phone).
During the course of my time at the Nature Reserve, I became more resilient to the pressure, I got used to the workload and the hour and a half journey there and back every day, I became at one with the stinks that surrounded me.
So how did I end up here, on my last morning at work, cowering behind a broom at the hands of a particularly scary goose? And how does my story end? I’ll tell you. After holding the broom out at arm’s length for some time, providing some brief anger relief for this clearly troubled bird, my arms started to tremble. Sid seemed to sense this, and gave up momentarily, creeping back around the corner of the shed to talk to his pen-mate, the turkey. I sneaked out of the shed and catapulted over the fence as quickly as possible; another broom would be needed, one for sweeping and one for fending off Sid.
On return with fresh straw for his bed, a black bag for his waste and a broom for his pecking pleasure, Sid hissed at me and for a good five minutes, didn’t let me back in to his enclosure. Eventually I made it into the shed, my fingers and toes frozen after standing still for even that short amount of time. It was beginning to snow now, and the nativity outside the guinea pig hut around the corner was looking more Christmassy than ever. I swept, chipped and cleaned the shed in a record time, only having to fight the fierce Sid twice more. However the last two times I was much less surprised, looking up just in time to see him charging round the corner, evil intentions in his beady black eyes.
It’s been six months since I worked at the Nature Reserve, and, on reflection, it was an extremely valuable experience. Not only did I get to work with beautiful animals - who, excluding Sid and some prickly porcupines were generally co-operative – but I functioned well in a place of work, and I did something new every day.
Yes, it was an hour and a half there and back. Yes, my toes turned into glaciers, my nose made me look like I was Rudolph in human form, and my many layers forced me to look like a modern day Michelin man. But it was an incredible experience that I wouldn’t take back. Anyone could work in a shop; anyone could work in an office. But I think it takes someone with extreme determination to slog it out in the freezing cold, facing unknown creatures and, in terms of the reptile house, facing their fears.
Walking away from Sid’s enclosure, I couldn’t help but look back in triumph at that white goose, practically frothing at the mouth in anger that he had let me get away. A wave of happiness washed over me, as it always did when I completed a challenge, and I remember thinking to myself, ‘’I can’t believe how much I have done here’’. It was a good feeling, knowing I had that experience to look back on, that initiative to complete the tasks set in front of me. And believe me, it was an even better feeling to know that I had beaten Sid, my greatest challenge yet.