The Elephant in Elephant & Castle

Some put it down to the drugs. I was never satisfied with that answer myself. Granted, there was a lot of drugs about in those days, a hell of a lot, but while you can say a person might hallucinate an elephant they’re unlikely to flip a couple of buses over as they do it. Nor are they likely to tear down bus shelters, or storm through a shopping center with all the hallmarks of a pachyderm weighing more than a ton. I don’t care what you’re on, these are not things you can do.

Others blamed the cults, the shamans and the like. And fair enough, maybe they were involved, I can’t judge that sort of thing and we all know about the Catford Cat by now so why not the Elephant & Castle Elephant? If those crazies beyond the Stanstead Road can conjure up some hell beast to watch over them, or God to worship, or whatever it is they do, then why couldn’t we do the same? But like I say, I’m not an expert and I sure as hell didn’t see any dark and macabre ceremonies going on in the run up to the maybe-elephant’s arrival.

What I did see was bad times. Bad times all over. No jobs, all the housing gone to billionaires who couldn’t find London on a map, never mind our little corner of it, the streets paved with the lost and the broken, at least where it wasn’t filled with people stealing what little they had left. Dark times, unhappy times but hey, the government’s always in North London, so what more can you expect? You just do what you can to get by and say no more about it. Now whether these bad times were connected to our big grey friend or not I can’t say. I know my history, people get hysterical when they’re on the edge, they start acting out. Like those towns that went crazy giggling when the plague swept through, laughing their way through the dead until they joined them. Again though, just as I don’t think it was the drugs I don’t think hysteria can leave giant footprints on the grass, no matter how far it goes.

It only lasted for a week. A long week, but still just seven days as the calendar ticks over. That’s all the time there was between the elephant arriving and the elephant disappearing. Both of which, I should add, took place at the tube station although how it could fit on the escalators I don’t know. I’ll admit, because I’m an honest man, that I was a little messed up at the time, who wouldn’t be? Like everyone else I was out on the street, no job and locked out of the big blocks of ‘executive living’ flats so if I dabbled a little in chemical relief then who’s to blame me? No one I’d care to listen to, that’s for sure. Still though, when it started stamping around the roundabout I was awake enough to see it and hell, I can’t have slept for three, maybe four days after that. No one did, no one who was capable of staying on their feet let their eyes get heavy, you didn’t want to miss the spectacle y’know?

I don’t know why the elephant was a trigger, or if it was, or how it was but we certainly rode a tide when that thing appeared. The whole place changed, for a few days there it was like the last days of Rome only with more busses. Debauchery like you couldn’t imagine, rivers of booze in the streets, mountains of drugs, feasts fit for a dozen kings and all the free love you could get – it was like finding out that the Oyster machine isn’t working and you don’t have to pay – the closest I’ve ever come to heaven. Probably the closest I ever will too, because my life hasn’t been entirely without blame I admit.

We became an unstoppable force for those few days, all of us combined into one great big seething mass of humanity. They sent the police and they ended up topless and dancing outside the Tabernacle. They sent the army and they were singing around the campfire that had once been their armoured car. They even sent an MP to talk the crowd down, they ended up buck naked and riding a police horse around while screaming out some of the most perverted shit I ever heard. That might just be MPs though, so I never connect that too much to everything else that was going down. And all the while the elephant just kept walking around, bumping into the occasional obstacle, trumpeting when it felt the need but not hassling anybody that I ever saw. Strange eh?

I hear they called us Anarchists, religious fundamentalists, revolutionaries, crazies, all sorts of things. I hear that the Evening Standard called us enemies of the state but really, who cares? We weren’t listening at the time and some of us still aren’t, even after it’s all gotten back to normal now. Around here people don’t need to talk about it, we don’t need to speculate, we were there you know? We lived it, we don’t need the stories or guesswork and it’s only out of politeness that I tell you about it now, because you asked nicely.

I never did see the elephant leave. As I said, I’m told it went back down onto the tube but I was busy at the time, rolling around somewhere with feathers in my hair and a smile on my face. I felt it go though, no doubt about that. That big grey bastard, whatever the hell it was all about I know I felt it go because everything sunk down again. The edge came off, suddenly we weren’t one mass any more, we were as we’d been, individuals. A whole heap of individuals suddenly wondering what we were doing, wondering why we were there. The police put their uniforms back on, though they never went back to work, the soldiers, I think, went AWOL, the MP resigned the next day. So things did change, but it was never so good again and now, as time passes, people have started to say it never happened. Bullshit, it happened. Though who knows what ‘it’ was.

The bad times are still here now but hey, you do what you do. Me? I like to remember the Elephant of Elephant & Castle. Who knows? Maybe he’ll be back some day. After all, we all know that the Catford Cat never left.

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