Humour - Winner

Zoe Congo

School Zoo


I love reading and writing but need to make more time to do both as I am busy running my own manufacturing business, writes Zoe. Winning this competition is a wonderful privilege as there are so many talented writers, and I always enjoy reading all the excellent entries to the competitions. Humour is a tricky thing and I’m tickled pink that others enjoyed my efforts to make them smile. I am currently attempting to finish my first novel, however I’m good at finding time to do everything except write, which unfortunately is not funny. Must focus!

School Zoo By Zoe Congo

Never work with animals or children. As a new primary school teacher, I should have known the trip to the local zoo might be a challenge.
“Good morning Miss Williams,” Class 2B chorused.
I may be in my twenties, and fresh to the job, but we are all getting on so well. Timmy brought me an apple last week and Elspeth gifted a drawing she said was of me.
I suspect the bruised apple had been rejected by Timmy and in his bag for a while and Elspeth’s drawing wasn’t meant to look like a witch riding a broomstick, but it is the thought that counts.
That is why I always think of ways to engage the class in every subject. For history I brought a metal detector and the children loved pretending to be archaeologists on the playing field. They found rusty nuts and bolts, plus pieces of bike, including a chain that became a hallowed artifact. The turning point came when Poppy unearthed some long lost lunch money. That cache of coins was as precious to them as a Viking hoard. The fact they seemed to channel the Vikings with their possessive ferocity, was something I tried to explain to the headmistress as I wrote the report on why best friends, (Billy and Michael), had blossomed a black eye each.
“It’s all very well feeding their imaginations, but not their blood lust!” I was told.
I tried to explain I believe in not ‘dumbing down’ to children, but the headmistress waved me away.
The bus was waiting on the school driveway and we counted all on board. Mrs Reading and Mr Prendergast were the other teachers on the trip: very pally with each other, while remaining terse, but polite with me. I saw them as a couple of old dinosaurs, ready to be rocked by my new meteoric methods.
All the children had brought their backpacks stuffed with lunch and a raincoat, if needed. A black and white furry vision appeared with a red bag.
“Peter, why are you dressed as a penguin?” I had to stop him, despite my positive response to creative freedom.
“I like penguins Miss.”
“Yes, but why are you dressed as one?”
“We’re going to the zoo, aren’t we?”
The question demanded a yes from me. I obliged and Peter nodded and got onto the bus, as if having my approval.
“That worked out well then!” I heard the other teachers laughing.
Poppy was next getting on, struggling with a great rucksack, her plaited red hair making her look like a mixture of Pippi Longstocking, and a Viking maiden.
“My goodness Poppy,  why have you got such a large bag?”
Poppy rolled her eyes. “Because Miss, I’m small and my mum makes me bring a large lunch.”
Without waiting for my reply she heaved her luggage on board.
“2B or not 2B, that is the question,” Mr Prendergast said as he stepped in front of me and sat next to Mrs Reading. Finally the children were in their seats and we were off.
Of course, within fifteen minutes George felt sick, Arron wanted to wee and Rebecca and Sophie had eaten their sandwiches, but we made it to the zoo in a couple of hours.
“First stop, toilets and then lunch,” I reminded them as we parked.
Rebecca and Sophie weren’t hungry, but I noticed they bought some pop from a vending machine, and were dropping mints into the bottle, watching the eruption of sticky fizz that exploded everywhere.
Mrs Reading screamed. I calmly stood and walked over to show how best to deal with this. Overriding my fellow teacher, I kept my voice calm.
“This would be a wonderful experiment during science, but now is not the place, therefore I award points for creativity but they are deducted for bad timing.”
Drips from the ceiling rained down, turning my hair a sticky mess. “Sorry Miss!” chorused Rebecca and Sophie. Peter, still in penguin mode, was being groomed by Poppy, as she teased out sticky particles from his fluffy suit. He was also sporting a pair of yellow overshoe flippers that I chose to ignore.
I clapped my hands. “Now class, we will make a start. My group of eight, hurry along please.”
Poppy was chewing one of her plaits as she pulled on her backpack (which seemed to be growing) and stood next to penguin Peter.  Rebecca and Sophie were ready, despite their soda shower, then Timmy, Elspeth, Michael and Billy joined. The last two looked like a pair of bookends with their matching ‘shiners’.
“First stop is via the enclosure of native birds.” I led them away from the echoing canteen and towards an outdoor area with screens and netting.
“Look, a peacock!” shouted Sophie.
“That’s not a UK bird,” I countered, but Sophie was right, on the pathway just in front of us was an iridescent male bird: blue neck shining in the light; a wobble of green feathers crowning his head. He strutted happily towards us, then with a shiver, fanned open his tail. The markings looked like brilliant eyes, watching us with photo luminescent vibrancy.
The children were silent in wonder. I didn’t want to break the spell but sought to enrich the experience.
“A group of peacocks is called a party and they originate from India, but Greek myth says the peacock had hundreds of eyes to spy on folks.”
A couple joined us to watch the shimmering vision. The young man and woman strolling hand in hand were opposite us as Poppy found her voice.
“If it comes from India, then why the name: pee and cock, isn’t that naughty?”
All the children looked at each other, then started cackling until Peter the penguin was rolling on the floor shouting:
His flippers waved in the air. The young couple looked aghast.
I decided to change the subject as the peacock snapped its fan down and stalked past, offended.
“Look children, here are native birds, over there’s a goose.”
Poppy’s voice, clear and high pitched cut over mine. “There’s more than one, there are many geese.”
“Very good Poppy.” I smiled, delighted we were back on track. “Over there I can see a grouse. They are beautiful little birds that live on moorland and eat shoots of heather.”
Michael and Billy had their arms around each other’s shoulders and were moving in lock step. “There’s more than one grouse!” yelled Michael,
“Lots of greece,” Billy added.
“No, not greece,” I began, but was cut off by Elspeth.
‘My daddy had a bottle with the famous grouse on. He calls it his medicine.”
“Well yes, that’s a grown up drink called whisky,” I added, never wanting to hide things from children. Poppy wriggled, her bag appearing very heavy.
Peter piped up again. “Poppy’s mum takes whisky down the lane every day.”
Silence descended and Poppy wriggled more, as if dancing with discomfort.
I noticed the young couple had remained our audience, and I needed to deal with this correctly.
“Adults sometimes do things children don’t understand.”
Poppy stopped wriggling and started frowning. “It’s ok, mum lets me take whisky down the lane too!”
I heard a gasp from the girl in the couple. Her partner appeared to be laughing.
Poppy grinned. “Don’t worry Miss we’re not alcoholics, Whiskey’s the name of our Jack Russell.”
“Oh, a dog! Of course, how silly of me!”
Poppy’s eyebrows raised into her hairline. “Did you really think me and my mum were boozers?”
I shook my head but realised I was lying and tried to recover.
“I’m sorry Poppy, I got confused.”
“Grown-ups often get confused,” Peter expounded rather formally. “My dad said he’s a penguin too.”
I frowned, “Because he likes fish?’
“Because he enjoys swimming?”
“Wrong again.”
“Because he likes ice and snow?”
“No, because he says he’s been living like a nun for years!”
I didn’t know what to say. The word ‘interesting’ floated out of my mouth.
“My dad says he’s ‘celebrate’.”
“I think he means celibate,” I replied.
“Are you celibate, and are those people called penguins Miss?” Elspeth pointed rather rudely at two nuns who were dressed in black and white, leading a line of demure convent school girls.
“Forget celibacy, but those nuns are certainly not penguins!” My response was uttered rather too loudly. All heads turned as they marched passed and the nuns ‘tut-tutted’ at me.
I wiped my brow and tried to sound jolly, “We’d better continue.” But Poppy was still hopping from one foot to the other, making the ruck sack on her back jiggle.
“Do you need the toilet?” I asked rather brusquely.
“Sorry Miss, but as Whiskey kept hearing his name, he now wants to play.”
At that moment the head of a rather cute Jack Russell popped out of the bag, revealing big eyes, a white muzzle and one dark brown ear flopped over at a jaunty angle. Before I could react, he had wriggled out and all the children were petting him. His stump of a tail was beating so fast with happiness, his whole back end wobbled.
“Maybe he can play with this?” Michael took out the bicycle chain we had dug up during school archaeology. He started whirling it around like a lethal weapon.
“How many times do I have to tell you children…chains remain in the classroom!” The words echoed out.
“My goodness!” murmured the young couple, still watching us.
I shook my head.
The dog was jumping and yapping, making the birds in the pens skitter and fretful.
“Stop!” I commanded. The Jack Russell whined, then shot away down the path.
“He’s scared and lost now Miss!” Poppy’s pale face was a picture of misery.
It was difficult explaining to the headmistress why we were moving through the zoo en masse shouting ‘Whiskey’, and how Peter remained in the penguin enclosure for hours, (excellent camouflage). Luckily, when the Instagram video entitled ‘School Zoo’ was uploaded, (thank you young couple), we became overnight celebrities and money rolled in.
Next year our trip is to the circus. What could possibly go wrong?

Judges Comments

Writing humour requires a light touch, and we loved the gentle, situational comedy of Zoe Congo's 'School Zoo', the runner up in WM's Humour Short Story Competition. It's fresh and funny, and Zoe lets the humour emerge naturally from circumstance, character and dialogue.

The premise – a school trip – is ripe for a comic treatment and in Zoe's hands it gets it. We see events unrol towards the predictable disaster through the eyes of teacher Miss Williams, who has a fine eye for noting pomposity in older teachers but is, very entertainingly, hapless and constantly unable to either foresee how the children in her care will create havoc or forestall their actions.

Crucially, the humour in this piece feels unforced, much of it stemming from the way children see the world and express themselves, and the contrast between their innate ability to cause chaos and the way adults prefer their world to have a sense of order.

Zoe's situational approach works wonderfully well, and as incident on incident mount up and anarchy unfolds, it's impossible not to giggle. The humour is childlike in places, and never over-egged - Zoe moves easily from set-up to set-up and the overall culminative effect is warm and sympathetic as well as laugh-aloud funny.



Runner up and shortlisted

The runner up in WM’s Humour Short Story Competition was Pippa Dore, Ballymote, Co Sligo. You can read her story at
Also shortlisted were: Terry Baldock, Evesham, Worcs; Jane Bidder, Paignton; Heather Cuny, Bar-sur-Loup, France; Alan Dale, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey; Ellen Evers, Congleton; Gina Graham, Tadley, Hampshire; Andrew Hutchcraft, Peterborough, Cambs; Tara Karillion, Chester; Pauline Massey, Oxford; Damien McKeating, Newcastle-under-Lyne, Staffs; Jerry Randalls, Ballinluig, Pitlochry; Lisa Williams, Tiverton, Cheshire; Jackie Winter, Blandford, Dorset