Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Elephants, Not Surprisingly, Big Subjects...

Elephants have always been a big thing in our house.. pun intended.  An awareness of elephants has always been present of course, but they seemed to become a very important after the girls were born. The most favoured cuddly toy was an elephant for a while, the favourite books almost always involved an elephant, Babar was the cartoon of choice on TV. There was a short period of dragons being favourite, but that was soon after we moved to Wales where the images of dragons are commonplace and the most played video was Ivor the Engine, particularly the episode with the dragons in Ivor's fire box, but the elephants soon returned as champions. Elmer was a particular favourite.

Somewhere near the middle of my husbands midlife crisis, which has been ongoing for at least twentyfive years, he took a liking to dance music, not Come Dancing dance music but the standing in a field with your arms in the air and flashing lights Ibiza style dance music. One memorable Friday night in the Hippo Club in Cardiff some time in the '90s, he got incredibly excited by some sounds which bore a resemblance to elephants trumpeting, after that he was hearing elephants everywhere for a little while. Consequently whenever anyone he knew came across anything elephant related it seemed to end up in our house. It was also useful when family asked what Bill wanted for christmas of birthdays I just said 'elephants' and left them to it, it worked for a good few years. He didn't seem to mind. I denied all knowledge.

Speaking for myself, elephants are cool, I've got a lot of respect for them and they seem to turn up in the most surprising places. You'd expect to run across them in Asia, and you do. I imagine if you go on safari in Africa you'd be pretty sure of seeing a few, never done that so can't be sure. Seeing them in a field in the bottom of the valley just outside Aberdare was a bit of a surprise. I was alone when I first spotted them, it was not long after we moved to Cwmbach, just outside Aberdare. We'd moved from the Forest of Dean where they have sheep in abundance and the odd pig, there were lots of red deer there as well and I was always seeing them although a lot of the locals claimed never to have seen one and some even denied their existence. I was brought up close to Richmond Park, and not that far from Bushy Park and Home Park, I know a red deer when I see one. And I know an elephant when I see one, or two which is how many I saw this particular day. 

Having just moved, and not knowing anyone in Wales let alone Cwmbach, the only people I met were other mums at the school gates whom I had absolutely nothing in common with, or shopkeepers and checkout persons. Add to that my inability to understand a word anyone was saying, although they were speaking English, it was at an incredible speed with an impenetrable dialect. Anyway, all this was making me feel a tad isolated so I decided to enroll in a local drawing class and it was while I was waiting for the venue to open early one Autumn evening, leaning on a iron fence watching the sun go down over Aberdare that I noticed the elephants wandering across an area I later came to know as 'The Ynys'. It struck me at the time that perhaps I should keep this sighting to myself as a wall of Welsh denial was certain to go up if I said anything, red deer in the forest still fresh in my mind.

I was still struggling with the whole concept of elephants in the Cynon Valley when the chap that was running the class wandered over, leaned on the fence and concurred that elephants weren't something you see every day mooching about down there and he was pretty sure he'd not had all that much to drink, he also felt that perhaps we should keep this sighting to ourselves. We left the elephants to it and went to unlock the class room as more people were arriving for the drawing class, and not another word was said about elephants for almost an hour, when a bit of a rumpus could be heard from the corridor where a whole load of nine year old karate kids were getting over excited about a group trip to the circus on the Ynys at the weekend. Teacher and I exchanged a knowing nod and didn't mention what we had seen to the rest of the class. That weekend I took the girls down to the Ynys to see the animals which was a sad outing, seeing them shackled and static and we didn't go to see the circus as none of us was really very keen on the idea. I just wished more people had been lucky enough to have had  the pleasure of seeing them wandering about in the open as I had. Yes, they did let the elephants out wherever possible to stretch their legs, in fact at one time I understand they would parade through the streets. I remember when I was a kid in Kingston on Thames, being awestruck by the annual Chipperfields Circus parade through town with the horses, trapeze artists, elephants, clowns et al, to the playing fields where the big top was pitched around about this time every year. How innocent we were back then, happily there are no more circus elephants and here would be a good time to admit that I cried all the way through Dumbo and I've avoided it for the last umpteen years, and somewhere on this earth there is a photograph of me aged about six riding with several other children on the back of an elephant in London Zoo. Happily there are not a lot of elephants in zoos these days either.

So what bought all this to mind? I saw this link by chance on Twitter and clicked on it:

                         Thai Elephant-Assisted Therapy Project - autistic autism

Like all therapies, it will work for some and not for others, but that is neither here nor there, it was the sheer joy that the thought of an elephant assisted therapy bought to me, and which has stayed with me that interested me, suddenly I was six years old and on the back of a huge grey elephant in London Zoo, swaying precariously and looking down at my Mum and Dad waving up to me, I had no idea that anything could grow so big and be so gentle as I discovered when I gave the elephant the bun I had been given to say thank you for the ride, after all these years I remember the soft warmth of the huge trunk gently taking the bun from me. Elephants are big and strong gentle, and so was that particular memory, and it occurred to me that I have clear memories of all my encounters with elephants, be they real or in books or films, they are without doubt a memorable animal, and for me, just knowing that there are elephants in the world is a therapy in itself. 


  1. Am planning on suggesting this to J's head teacher on Monday. (He already runs when he sees me coming!) Better still as OH is parent governor at the school going to insist he brings it up for discussion at the next meeting!

  2. Hi Fiona,

    Bit of a Jumbo project, you'll scare the head the death! Love to be a fly on the wall. Disconcerted head teachers are quite entertaining!