The Elephant Parade, London

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An elephant-shaped building

It all started with finding one on the Fulham Road, and knowing nothing about why it was there. What am I talking about? A display of 258 fibreglass, decorated, full-size baby Asian elephants placed throughout London. They were on show from the beginning of May to the end of June, before a big Auction in July, in aid of the Elephant Family charity, campaigning to raise £2m for the protection of Asian elephants and heighten awareness of their plight.

And this is my story:

A work colleague told me how he'd seen all the elephants over four days, which inspired me to do the same, but at a slower pace and on a more organised basis, due to my mobility problems. First, it involved obtaining a route map of the elephants' positions throughout London. Little did I realise the task I had set myself. According to the map, the elephants were situated from At. Pancras in the North to Brixton in the South, and London Heathrow in the West, and Greenwich in the East. So a fair stretch of the legs.

The simplest way to plan this was to divide London up into bite-sized sections. The best plan seemed to be SW London, Hyde Park, Covent Garden and Embankment, West End and City, to keep the walking distance to the minimum, and reduce using stairs and escalators. Routes using buses and tubes were calculated, and a detailed plan scheduled.

I had heard, via a social network, that some of the elephants weren't where the map indicated, reducing the distance slightly, as the Elephant at Heathrow was now situated at Paddington Station. So time to start the search.

First stop, Westfield shopping centre, Shepherd's Bush on Thursday, 6 May, and the first four elephants. Saffron was the starting point, a really well-designed elephant styled like a cheese with mice on it. This was followed by Luna, a shiny black elephant with tiny LED lights inserted in her, and on to Eli, an elephant coated with rather depressing newspaper cuttings of elephants pasted to the form. On to Love Ellie, a pink elephant wearing a small crown made of mirrors. A bus journey to High Street Kensington and Whisper. This had a very clever Japanese design of a baby whispering into the Elephant's ear. A little further on, and craftily hidden, was Lunacrooner with rather garish modernistic artwork, and one of the more awkward to photograph as it had two young children crawling over it. One thing I did learn on this trail was patience.

A little further on, in Kensington Gore, opposite the Albert Memorial, was Fatima, a blue Asian-decorated elephant, and The isles of London, with cartoonish, stylised prints of different parts of London. A short bus journey and I was into Knightsbridge, there was a hidden elephant, Arthur, wrongly listed as Knightsbridge Green (???). This was decorated with a patchwork montage akin to an old-fashioned quilt, then across the road and along Hans Crescent, running down the side of Harrods. The first was Woolly Mammoth. Was this one difficult to photograph? Being right outside Harrods' main entrance, every passing tourist wanted their photograph taken with him. After 20 minutes I had my chance, then moved down the line to Colourful Hope, a vibrant, primary-coloured elephant.

Next was Zara Martin at Bodyamr's, an intriguing elephant in black with what I could only call a pink turban. On to Udati Hathi, an elephant of two parts, being green-ish on one side and blue-ish on the other. And the last in the collection was Buddy. I did like this elephant, maybe because of the natural history link, and the artistry. It featured a humpback whale trying to eat an escaping great tit on one side, with a sinking three-masted ship on the other. Maybe a pastiche on whaling? Not sure.

On to the Victoria and Albert Museum to Less Is Morvi. This art-work intrigued and confused me. It was a white elephant with sepia-ink design on it. A crying violin, a desk with candelabra, a coloured coat of arms of London? Not sure, but I liked it. The next was very Asian: Hathi. Hathi is a Hindi and Sanskrit word for elephant, and is probably best recognised as Colonel Hathi in Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book. This elephant contained the symbol of 'Om' or 'A U M', a three syllable Sanskrit word symbolising the spoken essence of the universe, and often used in Mantras and affirmations. This concludes my first perambulations of the Elephant Parade, and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did walking it.

Photos available here, although the data are still being updated.

An elephant on a running track wearing trainers!

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