Last week some 250 friends gathered in my study. Until then they had been sitting on tabletops or in dusty cabinets or variously packed away in suitcases, boxes and plastic bags. We had been separated for anything from weeks, to months and years. But on that Friday morning we (that is, me and my elephant collection) were reunited.
A move to a smaller house seven years ago was to blame. My new study was the wrong shape and had the wrong fittings for me to accommodate the collection, so dissipation was inevitable. Gradually, a plan emerged that would allow the elephants to be brought together again. The answer – a set of elephant shelves taking up one wall.
The shelves built, the elephants were soon being put back on display. Some no bigger than a child’s finger nail, others ‘as big as yer head’ and each with its story. The shelves began to fill as one by one each resident took its place. Wooden elephants here, china ones there, places for badges, for puzzles, toys, bags, candlestick holders, kitchen gadgets, masks, jewellery – all housed without rankle. For the smaller ones, I would put my hand into a bag, lucky-dip style, bring out a loose ball of newspaper, carefully unwrap the contents and out would come the next friend. While they had been away and out of sight, my interest had faded. Somehow there was no reason to give them a thought. But now, as that day’s reunion gathered pace, the old camaraderie was rekindled. And the strangest thing happened; I found myself speaking to them out loud as they appeared. “Oh there you are, I haven’t seen you for years.” “Hello, I had forgotten you, where would you best sit?” etc. Then, when the tiny, cheeky, silver elephant came out, it was time for a more personal conversation, “I’ve really missed you. You know you are my favourite”.
I am not a romantic man but here I was speaking lovingly to inanimate objects. I know people do become attached to such objects from the upset they show when a treasured possession is broken or lost. But that I too could be attached in this way came as a surprise, and more examples were to come. When I showed the collection to my wife she immediately spotted that a much-loved elephant tea cosy was missing. I was distraught, not just because it was lost but also because I had not noticed its absence. How could I be so callous? Then my guilt grew as I realised that others too were missing and their absence had also gone unnoticed. There was no sand-filled Babar in his green suit, no long-legged elephant rag doll, no woolly knitted elephant and no pair of underpants with an elephant motif. Ultimately they were found safe and sound in a suitcase in the broom cupboard. Within hours, and with much relief, they rejoined the others.
Now on display as the complete team, my inanimate friends are lovingly viewed as of old. Once again they are a part of my world and bringing pleasure much greater than could the silver, wool or wood from which they are made.