Blinking into the Sunlight

Janus gateways to 2016I’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?

London skyline with St Paul's dome and skyscrapers in fogOr poor devastated Orpheus, evicted from the Underworld, alone.

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.

And pretty soon I was.

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.

And kind.

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.

Inter-species Co-operation?

In the morning sunshine, the King’s Road was full of people shopping, returning to “normal”.

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.

Those elephants made me think but they sort of gave me hope. I really loved seeing children walking around them, telling them stuff. I suppose I was doing the same thing, only in my head.

hugging a tree better than writer's blockThe whole project is quite beautiful. It is huge and impressive and emotional and at the same time very personal and just a bit disorganised.

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.

The sculptures were made in the  jungles of Tamil Nadhu by local communities and are made from a plant called lantana camara.

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!

Sophie Weston Author

Sophie

17 thoughts on “Blinking into the Sunlight

  1. Cara Cooper

    Did you ever see ‘the Sultan’s elephant’ when it came to London Jenny. We saw it walk through Green Park and spray people with its trunk in Lower Regent Street. You can Google to see a YouTube video. A giant walking automaton with a huge girl puppet on its back. Elephants are magical things which inspire endless artistic interpretations.

    Reply
    1. Sophie Post author

      Only on screen, sadly, Cara. That’s partly why I really wanted to get out and see the elephants properly this time.

      I’d seen the ones near my house. But I didn’t know about the travelling herd until Sarah Mallory showed me that photograph. Even though it was also very near! So glad I went out to play. They are lovely.

      Reply
  2. Joanna

    What an utterly delightful story, Sophie. Thank you so much for sharing with us. I love elephants and I adore these sculptures. All different, too? (Shades of the Terracotta Army which are all different too, I believe.)

    PS Re “blinking into the light”, I immediately think of the prisoners’ chorus from Beethoven’s Fidelio. You did mention “prisoners” in your blog but not those particular ones. And the music (though not your beloved early music) is uplifting. Like your elephants 😉

    Reply
    1. Sophie Post author

      So glad you enjoyed it, Joanna. I love these elephants very much. Will probably visit them again when they’re in St James’s Park. It was the site of my evening walk when I first came to London, so a bit of nostalgia mixed in there, too.

      Re your PS: you’re very right about that Prisoners’ Chorus, Joanna. I think it was in my mind when I wrote “prisoners” – I heard it at Glyndebourne with lovely Eileen Ramsay some years ago and I can actually still see that scene in my mind’s eye. The Chorus came up from the depths and trod slowly across the stage very like the steady progress of an elephant herd. You’ve brought what was in my subconscious up into the light! Thank you.

      Reply
      1. Joanna

        I think I saw that Glyndebourne production on TV and I do vividly remember the bit where the prisoners came up out of the depths and the dark. Very moving. That was what I had in my mind’s eye when I wrote the comment.

        Reply
    1. Sophie Post author

      Thank you, Liz. They are indeed. And getting close to them felt like a great privilege.

      Reply
  3. lesley2cats

    That was lovely. I want to see the elephants, now – maybe when they move? And blinking into the sunlight I immediately think of Mole first.. Thanks for this.

    Reply
  4. Liz Fielding

    How utterly lovely, Sophie. What a treat to see the elephants, even if it just on the screen. To be able to go out and touch them must have been wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing.

    Reply
    1. Joanna

      Replying for Sophie. Thanks, Charlotte. I haven’t missed going to London until now. Now I wish I could see them for myself.

      Reply

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