I am in love with my city. I think that’s an important thing to be when you’ve chosen to make a place your home. I understand that a lot of people are where they are because of work, or because of family, or simply because they’ve never thought of being anywhere else. For me though, being a Londoner is a choice. Yes it is where I work and where my immediate family (and chosen family) reside, but I have thought about living other places too.
When I was younger there was always the thought that I could go and live in the Philippines. I’d spent a fair amount of my childhood there, and it’s where almost all of my family are. My last trip there though confirmed that though I could probably spend an extended amount of time there I wouldn’t choose to live there. On that side of the world, Cambodia too. I love Siem Reap. At first I dismissed the commercialism of it all, but once I got past that I found a city more different than any I’d ever been to. But again, an extended amount of time possibly, but not a lifetime.
There are the US cities of course. San Francisco, if I were to live anywhere on the West Coast then it would be there. I’ve learnt to live with the fog and the rapid change in weather and I know almost all the good places to find food – always important. Hawaii, the whole state is somewhere I would gladly be. I can’t imagine ever having to earn a living there though, it would just feel wrong. It is perhaps though one of the few places I can go to truly just chill. Always, New York. If you’d believe my friends then this city is still on the cards for me. Who knows? Perhaps one day. It is a place where I am able to be. For now, London is home.
I try not to take my city fore-granted. I used to spend many days just me and my city. Walking her streets and taking time to look at all the hidden secrets that go unnoticed. Lately I find myself with less time to spend so much time with her. Other demands mean I have become neglectful. These past few months though I have taken the time to reacquaint myself with my oldest of friends, and I am reminded of why I love my city.
One of the main reasons I have remembered to really look at my city is The Elephant Parade that has come to London, and will sadly be leaving in a few weeks once all of the elephants have been auctioned off. These beautiful sculptures, set amongst London’s streets to add some colour and adventure to our lives are there to remind us of the plight of the Asian Elephant. Most of us, fortunately, do not face the fear of extinction in our homes, they do.
I, like many other LDNers, set about “hunting” these beautiful creatures, and in doing so I have discovered and rediscovered parts of my city. The walks I take are well-trodden, they have become some of my favourite ways to spend an afternoon so when I do have the time they are where I go. My hunt has made me go to parts of the city that I have never ventured into. I have walked the same path as merchant bankers through Bank and The Royal Stock Exchange. I rediscovered a market that I haven’t been to since I was 14yrs old and on a school trip. I went to where the Mayor lives and I have found hidden patches of green when I thought I knew almost all of London’s green spaces. I have come to know my city again, and all because my hunt for these elephants have taken me down roads and side-streets I had never thought to explore.
I have had to learn how to negotiate in my city in a strategic way instead of wandering aimlessly. Planning routes that follow a logical sequence, making use of buses, and trying to overcome the hurdles thrown at you when half the tube system decides to shut for the weekend. I thought that I was a walker before, but my expeditions have made me walk until I was physically incapable. On the final day of my hunt before the herd gathers I walked and walked until all I could do was hobble home, the trophies from my hunt preserved on my memory card.
On my hunts I have found other LDNers too, and rather than a competitive streak taking over us in an attempt to get more elephants than the other person, there’s a sense of camaraderie as we set out on our expeditions. It was recently observed by the Brooklynite that we LDNers appear detached from life. We don’t keep eye contact. We don’t start conversations with strangers. We will happily allow a person to be stood in the middle of the road, obviously lost, and we will continue to read our book or stare into space as we wait for our bus. For the most part we keep to ourselves and expect others to do the same. That’s not to say that we’re not helpful, ask any LDNer a question and they will gladly help you. If you’re in earshot of someone who knows the answer to the question you’re asking they’ll certainly offer their opinion. I guess it’s part British reserve and part city-mentality. We speak only when spoken to.
There have been people taking haphazard photos of elephants as I have gone about my expeditions, however you learn to recognise those who have taken the hunt seriously. They know exactly what shots they want and will usually have a map and some form of system in place so they can mark off which species they have spotted. I have started conversations with people looking lost as they try to figure out which elephant it is they’ve just snapped. Yesterday I, very uncharacteristically, started a conversation with a fellow hunter and then proceeded to welcome her as I continued the rest of my expedition because she hadn’t gotten the elephants that were next on my agenda. When does anyone invite a stranger to follow them as they scour their city in search of elephants? That question illustrates the insanity of my expedition, but also its brilliance.
A few people have raised their eyebrows when I’ve told them how it is I’m spending my evenings and weekends, but for the most part people are excited at the idea of a hunt that takes them across LDN. We all have the intention of exploring but sometimes it takes being given a clear mission to provide the impetus to get up and start. I’ve spent many days just stuck doing nothing, but waking up and thinking, ‘I’m going to find me some elephants today!’ has given me purpose. It is difficult to explain the excitement you feel as you turn the corner and you see an elephant’s butt in the distance. Your eyes search the streets for a hint of colour and your heart sinks when you realise it’s just someone’s coat. You begin to look at things again.
These creatures, so beautiful and so wise have brought weeks on enjoyment to my city. It is a shame that they are leaving before summer really has a chance to appear. The hunt has changed LDNers, for the better. I hope that the Elephant Parade, or even perhaps a different parade, makes its return to my city soon.
Of course, these elephants are in London for a reason. So even if you’re not able to view the herd yourself or purchase an elephant please take a moment to sign the petition:
These elephants have reminded me of how much I love my home. Please do what you can to help protect them in theirs.
Here are some of my favourites…