diamond geezer

 Tuesday, May 04, 2010

While you've been off work over the weekend, London has been invaded by elephants. 258 of the beasts to be precise, which have taken up position across the capital from Heathrow to Greenwich. They're not real, obviously, they're fibreglass-type models, and they're part of a campaign to raise awareness for the beleaguered Asian elephant. Each has been uniquely decorated by an artist (or by a celebrity whose artistic talents may be questionable). And they'll be out in the streets in all weathers until the end of next month, after which there's a grand auction which will hopefully raise millions for a trunk-related charity. It's the Elephant Parade. Sounds fun, doesn't it?

Elephants over LondonIt's been done before. The were cows across London in 2002 (although not for endangered reasons), and pigs on parade in Bath in 2008. There was even a similar elephantfest in Norwich that same summer, where my Dad and I enjoyed hunting down the participants across various streets with a smile on our faces. So I had high hopes for the London event, because you'd expect London's to be better wouldn't you? Alas no.

London is much bigger than Norwich, so even 258 elephants are easily overlooked. If you're not in the right spot you won't even notice that the invasion has happened. Thankfully there's a map. Unfortunately it's not a terribly helpful map, on several levels.

For a start, the map exists only as a huge pdf on a website. Nobody at the charity has thought to produce real folded copies of the map, not even to sell rather than give away, which means you've got to print the thing out before you can use it*. As you can imagine, a map of inner London showing the location of 258 elephants doesn't condense well onto an A4 sheet of paper, so you'll be left squinting and scratching your head trying to read some incredibly tiny text. Major fail.
* It's true - no maps - I checked. There are four Elephant Parade pop-up shops selling miniature versions of the elephants**, so I popped into three of them to ask if they had any maps. The lady in Selfridges' basement told me no, there weren't any. The girl on Regent Street seemed surprised anyone had asked. Only the staff in Carnaby Street had a map, but this was sellotaped to the front door and had evidently been printed using a dying inkjet. Unless the EP people get their act together fast, your best map option is an A3 copy surreptitiously knocked off on the printer at work.
** The model elephants are nicely realised, but terribly expensive. Nearly £20 for a 'small' reproduction, and rather more for anything larger. If you pop into one of the pop-up shops take plastic, not small change.
Even if you can print out the map at a legible size, using it isn't especially easy. The scale's on the small side, so it's hard to pinpoint precisely where the elephants are. There are more than 20 elephants in Mayfair, for example, but you'll not be able to work out precisely where unless you match some non-consecutive numbers with the smallprint list on the back of the map. "OK, so that's six in Grosvenor Square, and two in Bruton Street, and one, no two, no three in Mount Street, wherever Mount Street is." Without an A-Z, and a shedload of patience, you're never going to track all these elephants down*.
* You couldn't track all these beasties down even if you wanted to. There are far too many of them, too well scattered, and the useless map conspires against you even if you try. Plus not all of the elephants are numbered, so you don't know whether you've found 136 or 27 or 258 or whatever. Unlike in Norwich, where the whole project was better organised and of a more manageable size, 'bagging' all of London's elephants isn't an enticing prospect.
And then not all of the elephants appear to be where they say they are*. Allegedly there are eight in Trafalgar Square, but I saw none, and ditto the five in St James's Park. I also made a special journey to Victoria Embankment Gardens where there supposed to be elephants called Mr Brown, Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg but they were all absent too. I can only assume that several of the 258 elephants haven't been completed in time for a May 3rd kick-off. They'd better hurry up with this betrunked trio, else at least one will be a political has-been before the public ever sees him.
* If you want to be sure of seeing a decent sized herd, I'll recommend Green Park (which is home to 10% of the total, in a photogenic setting). I'd also recommend the area round City Hall. Other than that, it's all a bit hit or miss at the moment, and a lot of searching for not much reward.
Elephants in Green Park

I don't want to sound too negative, because when you do finally stumble across an elephant, you'll probably smile. Many are beautifully painted and delightfully intricate (although a fair few others are really nothing very special at all). Yes I know this is all for charity, and indeed an extremely good one (so feel free to throw money in their general direction). But I'm feeling less than thrilled about London's Elephant Parade, because I've tracked down 75 of these creatures in the hope of being wowed, and I haven't been. In terms of creativity, practicality, excitement and sense of humour, I'm afraid Norwich's elephants still win hands down.

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