Let me take you back to a long-distant past when Health and Safety was your own responsibility and people were credited with a bit of common sense.
The four-year-old Ailsa, a sad little child suffering from annorexia because her Daddy was dying of cancer, used to go to Regent’s Park zoo with her Mummy because it was the only place where she seemed to come alive.
In those days, a female Indian elephant called Rusty used to come out with her keeper and walk around the paths, holding her trunk out to collect pennnies for “bun money for the elephants”. I fell in love with Rusty and used to walk with her keeper all the way around the zoo, watching her take the pennies and then carefully placing them in his pocket.
Her keeper was a lovely man who taught me the word to ask her to say “thank you”. When I said “Bauoo, Rusty,” she would make a squeaky noise a bit like a balloon when you pinch the neck and let the air out slowly. That was Rusty’s “thank you”.
One day, I tried to steal the elephant.
The keeper was chatting to my mother and I had Rusty’s trunk in my tiny hand and suddenly we veered off towards the exit, the elephant lumbering along beside me, leaving the two adults staring after us. The keeper couldn’t believe that Rusty would go off with anyone but him and they chased after us.
I broke into a run and Rusty trotted along faster until we came up against an insurmountable obstacle – the turnstiles.
I stood mute, staring at my sensible brown sandals and Rusty rubbed the top of my head with her trunk. We’d been caught.
The keeper crouched down and explained to me that I couldn’t take Rusty home with me, her home was here with her friends the other elephants but that she was my friend too and that elephants never forget and Rusty would never, ever forget the little girl who tried to steal her away and take her to live in the suburbs in a back garden.
I gave him his elephant back and went home on the bus with my mother but even years later, when the keeper was no longer there, I would run to the elephant enclosure and find Rusty.
“Bauoo, Rusty,” I would call as I gave her a bit of currant bun and she would make her squeaky “thank you” noise for me which she never did for anyone else.
It’s true, elephants don’t forget – they especially don’t forget four-year-old kleptomaniacs with delusions of grandeur.