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U3A Writing: Esmerelda

...The strange thing was I was the only person to realise there was an elephant in the garden...

With a first sentence like that how can you resist reading Paddy Webb's story?

The strange thing was I was the only person to realise there was an elephant in the garden. I suppose people only see that they expect to see and you don't expect to see an elephant in a suburban garden, not even in a large garden like ours. She was standing quietly amid the bushes in the dappled shade of the horse chestnut tree.

“We are going to move the telegraph poles today,” said my husband.

“It's a Bank Holiday!” I protested.


“I'd have thought you would have realised by now that pensioners are penalised when it comes to Bank Holidays. We don't get them. They are the same as every other day except that the shops are closed.”

“I'll get the elephant to help, they are too heavy for us.”

He gave me a withering look. “It's quite simple if you apply basic mechanics. We shall use the same methods they used to build Stonehenge – rollers, levers and pulleys. We don't need any elephants.”

“They had more people at Stonehenge and I bet there weren't many over seventy.”

“They were just moving more stone, that's all. Come on.”

We have had trouble with the idee fixee ever since he had his funny turn a while ago. You can't shift him. Our daughter had sent him a birthday card with a picture of Monet's garden at Giverny, and he had determined he was going to have a bridge over the pond in our garden.

“I don't think you are going to get an arch out of that,” I said, looking at the lump of telegraph pole. “More like a troll bridge.” Having several grandchildren we know a lot about the three Billy Goats Gruff and the Troll Bridge.

“I'm going to put water lilies in the pond,” he replied. “So I can't do with a troll sloshing about, it will have to behave itself!”

The telegraph pole had been lying by the garden wall for some time and docks had grown up around it. When the men came to take it down they had used a bright yellow claw at the end of an extended arm mounted on a lorry. It had drawn the pole from the ground as sweetly as a dentist draws a tooth. They had lain it down on our side of the wall.

“Hey!” shouted my husband, rushing our; “You've put that in my garden.”

“Don't worry , Governor,” one of them said, “We're just going for a spot of lunch and then we'll be back to shift it.”

Well, it was Friday and it must have been a long lunch. We saw the lorry outside the Dragon when we went to the shops. We go shopping together these days. If I go by myself I have trouble carrying everything and if I let him go he comes back with all the wrong things, even if I do give him a list. So it is easier to go together and if there's time we have a cup of tea in the cafe. They do quite a nice Eccles cake, considering.

They never did come back for the pole. We tried ringing BT but they said it was outside contractors.

“You could try sawing it up for firewood” I said.

“Fat chance with Mrs A down the road.”

The trouble is we are just in the smokeless zone. Mrs A has the mind of a traffic warden the the enthusiasm of a newly converted zealot. First whiff of smoke and she's into the council offices with a complaint. As for bonfires! - nowadays we double check with the newsagent and the milkman and light up the first night she's away.

While he was assembling his rollers and levers and deciding which tree to fit the pulley to, I went to have a closer look at the elephant. She was lovely. Big, of course, but there was a silver luminosity about her greyness. They say elephant's eyes are small, but that is only in proportion to the rest of them. Hers were like deep forest pools. I didn't go too near, she was rather large at close quarters. But she put up her trunk towards my face and kind of puffed at me. I huffed back in case it was the polite thing to do.

I've wanted another pet since the dog died. I called her Esmerelda; I don't suppose it was her real name.

All things considered we didn't do too badly moving the pole. I winced every time he heaved on his lever, in case it brought on one of his turns, and every time I pulled on the rope I thought “My physiotherapist isn't going to like this one bit” but we'd got half way down the garden before we got stuck.

“Go and make a cup of tea,” he said “while I work out what to do.”

I put three currant buns on the tray along with the tea.

“Who's the third one for?” he asked as I put the tray down on the garden seat.

“I've brought it for the elephant,” I said and he laughed. “Don't let it trample on my dahlias; I've only just planted them out.”

Esmerelda took the bun very delicately with the tip of her trunk and popped it in her mouth chewing ruminatively.

When I came back he said “I'm going upstairs for a few minutes, I won't be long.”

I knew he'd be gone for at least half an hour, longer if he took the newspaper with him. Now was my chance to see of the elephant really could move the pole, like they do in films. I rustles around arranging rollers and slacked off the rope where it ran through the pulley. Then I went over to the tree where she was standing munching a bit of bush.

“Come on Esmerelda. It's time for work.”

I put my hand behind her trunk and gave a slight pull. She came as good as gold, walking just behind me with her trunk resting on my shoulder. She sort of rumbled at me. She had quite a strong smell, close up, rather like a ripe Edam cheese in the days before it came wrapped up in plastic. But it was obvious that she had no idea at all about moving logs. She just stood there, shifting her weight gently from side to side.

“Come on, “ I said encouragingly, and I tapped her leg. Obediently she lifted up her huge foot and plonked it on the end of the telegraph pole. It was just enough to dislodge it. It took off down the slope while Esmerelda staggered backwards with her ears flapping. When the pole came to the end of the rollers it swivelled sideways and rolled on down to end up by the pool. I rushed down to look and while I was there Esmerelda swished her tail and plodded back to the chestnut tree, as much as to say “Job done.”

“What on earth have you been doing?” he said, coming back doing up his belt. “You should have waited for me. You've let it come off its rollers, goodness knows how we'll get it back.”

“It was the elephant” I said, “Anyway, it's by the pool where you wanted it.” He gave me a look “We'll give it a rest for a bit,” he said “there's a football match on telly in a few minutes.”

I went in with him to find the right channel as he'd mislaid his glasses and then I left him to it. I knew that if there wasn't an early goal he'd be asleep inside ten minutes and not wake up till half time.

I got another bun and went to the garden to talk to the elephant, but she wasn't under the chestnut tree, nor by the pool. Perhaps her owner had come while we were inside, or perhaps she had just wandered off. She hadn't done much damage; one of his dahlias was a bit squashed so I buried it in the compost heap and raked over the ground. He'd think the slugs had had it.

Under the tree was a huge pile – you wouldn't think any animal could, ever. It was still steaming. I mixed up the dung carefully with grass cuttings and spread it round the roses. And do you know, for the rest of the summer passers-by remarked on the size and luminosity of the blooms.

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