By the time we got to San Diego our kids had endured a lot; lots of walks in soaring temperatures, lots of waiting while we gazed at natural wonders for what must have seemed like hours. and lots of very, very long car journeys. So when we got to the West Coast we let them chose our family activities - and they were all very keen to get to Sea World.
I couldn't help but be impressed with the animals we saw performing at Sea World; dolphins and killer whales especially. These stunning creatures left an impression on the senses almost as vivid as the numbers on the display of the Visa/Mastercard machine at the entrance booths. The cost of getting in is matched by the systematic money-extracting machine that is a day spent at Sea World.
Other things were less impressive. The "shows" in different arenas around the park were supposed to show the wonder of the animals (and I thought, maybe tell us something about them). In fact the shows used the animals as a sideline for the kitchest, tackiest Disneyfied, orgy of ribbon-twirling, singing and dancing I think I have ever seen. While my younger kids were seemed to accept the leotards, grins and prancing about without much thought, my older son looked at me and raised a quizzical eyebrow on several occasions, not least during the Dolphin show.
The disappointment wasn't so much the fact that the music wasn't my taste, or that synchronised swimming leaves me cold, it was rather that as a result we saw comparatively little of the animals and learnt nothing about them. I had hoped for a little education. What we got was raw showbiz, with few concessions for taste. It was like Michael Jackson's earth song, crossed with High School Musical, plus fish. And all taken desperately seriously...
This wasn't the strangest thing however. What really made me feel uncomfortable was the fact that the first show of the day begun with a rousing hoorah-speech for the US military, followed by all the service personnel being asked to stand for a pro-longed standing ovation, to swelling patriotic music. The divide between US and UK culture was never more apparent. I suspect that my failure to unquestioningly follow the cheerleader may have irritated some of my neighbours, but I felt that I wanted to know a little more about the organisation I was being asked to publicly endorse before being swept along by the hype. I mean if Eisenhower was right about the Military Industrial Complex, then this vast machine, this uncontrollable state-within-the-state, might need to be tamed as much as applauded. Ultimately though, it wasn't so much the fact that while I was in the States, some of the recordings of reported US war-crimes in Iraq had been broadcast by Democracy Now; it was more that I had brought my family for a fun day out, and had unwittingly stumbled into a political rally. Very strange!
Our day at Sea World did have some redeeming features however. The first was the Sesame Street "gang" were there, including Bert and Ernie. There are some things which are good, lovely, and true and incorruptibly splendid, and getting to see my heroes miming live on stage was marvellous. The second was the Sea-Lion show at the very end of the day, which featured hilarious parodies of some of the cheesy shows we had seen in the park earlier in the day. The sense of relief we felt when we realised that the place was able to laugh at itself, was palpable and enabled us to leave in a much happier frame of mind. The third (and best) thing was that the kids loved it. They were tired, and had had a long exhausting day, but were really, really happy - which I suppose is really the point!