Our first Scottish encounter with an elephant was when we had taken Glyn and Kally (four and1 year old respectively) plus two of the neighbours' children to Glasgow zoo, where there was an elephant. The elephant was enclosed in an elephant house with a low barrier to keep the public from getting too close to the cage. This barrier was just near enough to the elephant to enable it to reach it with the tip of its trunk, so people would put buns and such on the barrier, and the elephant would pick them up delicately, and eat them. I am sure this would not be allowed nowadays. Our neighbours' little boy reached up and placed a fruit gum on the barrier, and the elephant explored it with the tip of its trunk, dribbled on it a bit, picked it up and put it on its tongue, then decided against it and carefully replaced it on the barrier. Before either of us had time to realise and thwart his intentions, the little boy picked up the rejected fruit gum and put it in his own mouth.
We decided not to report this incident to the parents, definitely a case of 'when ignorance is bliss........'
Ignorance turned out to be bliss on another occasion involving an elephant, this time a mythical one.
We have two granddaughters, only 7 weeks apart in age. One raised in Scotland with her Portuguese father and her Scottish mother, Leonie, our youngest, and the other raised in Italy with her Scottish father and her Italian mother. It is not called the mother tongue for nothing – neither little girl spoke her father’s first language, although Cassandra had a smattering of English.
I looked after Leonie’s children for two days a week until they reached school age, so I had Chloe for the day when son Glyn and his wife and daughter, Emanuela and Cassandra were staying with us. It was decided that both little girls, then aged about two, would enjoy a trip to Edinburgh zoo. I bought a pushchair at a charity shop, and gave it a good scrub in the sunshine. We set off in the car in the morning and both little girls chattered happily about the elephant they were going to see. My heart sank. There was a sad-looking elephant at Glasgow zoo, but none in Edinburgh. I said nothing.
It all worked out very well. Emanuela concentrated on Cassandra, I concentrated on Chloe and Glyn divided his attention equally between his daughter and his niece, making both of them wild with jealousy. We explored every avenue, entered every animal house, made brass rubbings of various creatures, ate and drank a large variety of poisonous-looking snacks and saw a penguin trying to hatch an ice-cream carton. At one point Cassandra became tired and fell asleep in the pushchair.
Thus she missed the famous penguin parade (now much reduced as the buckets of fish are excluded for the sake of penguin rights!) Two keepers with a bucket of fish each, starting off at the penguin area, walked all round the zoo, with a following of those penguins who chose to come, padding enchantingly in the wake of the keepers. A few waited behind in their pen until the buckets of fish returned to them. Though mostly beautifully behaved the occasional parading penguin would peck at an iced lolly clutched by a child in a pushchair, or poke a curious beak into someone’s picnic basket.
By four o’clock, when we had viewed everything we could, eaten and drunk everything available, and exhausted the possibilities, as well as the children, I mentioned, with some trepidation, the idea of going home, expecting an outcry of ‘we haven’t seen the elephant!’, but no such thing, both tired little girls clambered happily into the car and fell instantly asleep.
On arrival home we were greeted by Robin, who enquired whether we had had a good time, to a chorus of yesses, but also asked before I could gagl him, ‘and did you see the elephant?’ To my astonishment, both children replied happily in the affirmative.
Over the course of the next few days I attempted to find out why they both thought they had seen the non-existant elephant. And the answer seemed to be that Cassandra was reluctant to admit that she had slept through, not only the penguin parade, but also the viewing of the elephant, and Chloe was quite convinced that the large grey animal with a horn on its nose was an elephant. I didn’t choose to disabuse her of this misidentification for some years.