I’ve been wondering all week who it was who first “emerged blinking into the sunlight.” It’s a lovely phrase but these days it’s turned into a cliché. Google it, and you find rather a lot of very dull examples but no source.
That is especially true now that Covid 19 restrictions may be coming to an end at last. For the time being. Perhaps.
So where did this lovely phrase originate? Shakespeare? The Bible? Milton? Doesn’t look like it.
Or could it be Mole, abandoning his whitewashing for the sheer delights of the spring, the river and friends?
Maybe, though, it is more mundane. Maybe even collective. Prisoners, say. Or people who have gathered underground as a refuge. Maybe even an audience at some all-night movie show, leaving the cinema as day breaks.
A Mole Moment
So this morning, I woke up just after dawn. I’m a lark, not an owl, and this is normal for me. But it had rained like Niagara nearly all of yesterday and the light this morning was extraordinary. Piercing is the only word. It was my Mole moment. I wanted to be out there adventuring.
With a herd of elephants on the move.
I should explain that last night friends came to dinner. The first friends round my table for eighteen months! (I was like a labrador whose master has just come home from a year in Space.) And on the way to my house they had photographed this herd.
I needed to see them. So out I went into the diamond-bright morning to look. And there they were, heading in determined convoy across a playing field. That’s the playing field outside the Saatchi Gallery at the Duke of York’s Headquarters on the King’s Road.
Big elephants, medium sized elephants, even a couple of little calves, tucking themselves close to an adult’s mighty legs for safety. All winding their way in an orderly crocodile across the green. Of course, these were statues, so the steady pounding feet was all in my imagination. But even so, blinking into the sunlight could make you catch, just at the edge of your vision, that steady movement, like a heartbeat.
Some of the animals had broken away from the herd. In the brilliant morning sun, they were clearing a path for their family and friends – outside MacDonalds.
And yes, I was blinking into the sunlight. Several times. I may even have sniffed a bit. It was extraordinarily moving.
The Orpheus Aspect
It was like that moment in Gluck’s Orfeo, when the animals gather round to hear Orpheus play. You believe that man and beast can live in harmony, sympathise with each other and adapt, gently and courteously.
I went and stood close among them and looked up into the face of one. I really loved that elephant. He looked wise.
Apparently these magical beasts are a part of a project called CoExistence, which describes itself as an environmental art campaign. The objective seems to be to persuade us humans to stop encroaching on other creatures’ habitat and damaging their way of life. Seen here with lovely Sarah Mallory of this Blog, in last night’s end-of-rain.
Also they are fund-raising to pursue their worthy aims. You can adopt an elephant. Each one is an individual, unique. Apparently you can even buy one, though I don’t suppose you can actually take it home with you. Even if you have a home big enough. There are four types: tusker, matriarch, adolescent and calves. All but the last are enormous. Life-size, I assume. They certainly feel like it.
I stood among some of them, probably adolescents – no tusks and not big enough for matriarchs – and looked out through their trunks into the Kings Road. This elephant had a challenging glint in his eye. I didn’t blame him.
There were even queues. It almost made you forget the boarded up doors and windows, where shops wouldn’t open again after the the pandemic. They gathered outside two sorts of shops: fashion emporia and ice cream parlours. Ice cream I wholly sympathise with. But look at new clothes on a hot, sticky day like this? Really?
Duke of York’s Square looked positively Mediterranean, busy and convivial. It had bunting. The shadows the trees cast offered welcome shade. People sat in convivial groups. There was laughter and a lot of chat.
Talented buskers played the sort of guitar music that makes you want to dance. People listened with pleasure. Nobody danced though. Not that Mediterranean.
Yet, in the corner another four adult elephants had got away from the orderly procession. They were trampling undergrowth and heaving young trees in the Square itself. It made a passing cyclist look positively reckless.
Indeed, these elephants were within chocolate-ice-cream-chucking distance of Sir Hans Sloane’s statue.
He is the doctor who “invented” chocolate as a medicinal remedy for just about everything. And made a fortune out of it, became a property developer and now has several streets called Hans Town after him.
And endowed the British Museum and the Chelsea Physic Garden, too.
Ah, but what did his marketing of the chocolate habit do for the environment?
Or the Greater British Waistline, come to that?
Every benefit has a cost.
My Blinking into the Sunlight Morning
It was sort of lovely. Walking round under the trees in that bright, bright sunlight felt oddly right, in spite of the Georgian terraces and the twenty-first century shops that had got in on the act.
You have to search quite hard to find some stuff on their website, like the inspiring story of conservationist Mark Shand and Tara, the Asian elephant he rescued.
It seems to be the Japanese Hogweed of the area since the website tells you (down one of its alleys) that the stuff is invasive and needs to be removed in order to protect local wildlife. So mutual benefit all round. And your thousands of pounds worth of elephant sculpture will presumably biodegrade in the fulness of time. Which is only right and proper.
If you want to see the elephants…
…and do some blinking into the sunlight yourself, the herd will go on to Green Park, St James’s Park and Berkeley Square from the middle of June to the 23rd August, according to their website.
There is a faint Alice Through the Looking Glass quality about that site, however. According to the published schedule, the herd has already overstayed its time in the Kings Road – for which I am enormously grateful.
And the inspiring story of Mark Shand and the elephant Tara whom he rescued is there, too, but it took me some fancy navigating to get back to it.
But the website is utterly beautiful, and full of unexpected delights. Bit of a magical mystery tour, in fact. Have fun!