serious

So. About that Elephant.

Yes. A fantastic weekend.

The trip down was eventful. I got a horribly cracked windscreen leaving Edinburgh, and although it didn't cave in on me during the rest of the trip, the exhaust blew somewhere in Nottinghamshire. I was a little stressed and annoyed when I arrived. It was a nice quick journey, though - I left Edinburgh at about noon and was on the Holloway Road by eight. Kate's neighbour was very friendly and gave me the keys before I'd managed to ask for them. Some chips and Bru later and it was an early night.

The morning was rather eaten up by finding somewhere to fix the screen before I got ticketed. Happily there's a place in Highbury, so I went up there and walked back to Hi'n'I to get a paper and sandwich and sit in a park reading until it was time to head over to Battersea. It was all sunny by the time I got there and I wished I'd brought some suncream. It was a nice walk from Vauxhall station down the river, although the area's a bit industrial. Loads of new riverside flats being built. Pointlessly expensive, I'm sure. The power station's huge, and missing most of its far (west) side - I could see daylight through several gaps and openings. Finding the right blue gates took a few minutes, as there are at least two pairs. When I got there, though, everyone was very friendly. Kirstin, Roy and Cloe turned up just after me. I think Steve was there already. There was tea, crew shirts (three, so no need to rewear them. although they are a bit sulphurous in tone) and chats about stuff, before having a shufti at the Elephant (big) and a training session that lasted less than an hour and consisted of running around holding a ring of tape. Someone (Roy?) suggested we mostly try to get on the Little Giant's crew, as we'd probably more experience of dealing with large crowds without barriers than the others. I think this was a good call, both as being right and as getting us on what I would guess was the more interesting half. After that, we went over to Waterloo Place to have a look at the rocket. As we were in mufti, it was suggested that we not let on that we knew there was anyone inside. I think we possibly gave away that we weren't punters by going much closer than everyone else. I did, anyway. It was very impressive, all iron and wood, with smoke seeping up from the torn and broken tarmac.

I headed back after that and later walked down Gray's Inn Road to a pub Steve had mentioned being in, the Melton Mowbray. I went right past Ade's flat, although I didn't see her all weekend. When I got there, Flick was just leaving (and seemed suitably surprised to see me) and Tony was downstairs. I had a couple of pints and chatted to him and Liam before heading over to the Fitzroy (spotting an obvious Paolozzi as I was leaving the pub) to see Roy and Kirstin and a couple of their friends, one of whom I've probably met before. Fun, although the pub was hugely busy, with what looked like several hundred people spilled out onto the pavement. After eleven, when it closed (!!), I walked back to Kate's.

On Friday we started a little earlier than had been billed, so I left fairly promptly and picked up some sunscreen and a pair of shades on the way. The feeding station was on the Mall, so we met there and hung around for more talking, waiting, and tea. And food. The catering was generally excellent. I was very impressed. I'd been rather expecting some slop that I'd supplement myself, but actually it was dead good, and there was loads of it. Three courses, even at lunch. I thought I'd probably end up the same size as the giant.

On Thursday the rocket had been unfenced. By Friday afternoon there were barriers keeping people well back and a crowd waiting for something to happen. We arrived in double file and sat down against the barriers away from the Mall. Sitting down to avoid blocking people's view was a recurring feature. One thing I've noticed this week is how few of the photgraphs of the event have us in them. Those shirts really stand out, and when we're there we're really obvious - but mostly we're just not.

A crane arrived, and the Giant's carrier vehicle, a converted combine harvester. The top (the base, that is) of the rocket was lifted back, and with a ladder several of the manipulateurs hopped in to attach their lines, after which she appeared in her flying helmet and goggles. I didn't notice them taking them off (we were probably shifting barriers and punters) but in a few minutes she was hooked up to her combine, and we were off. It all went very well. Most people were at work, so it was very quiet. It wasn't that long a walk round through Admiralty Arch and down to Horseguards Parade, where the Sultan was waiting with the Elephant.

She was settled down on top of an opentopped Routemaster as the Elephant took off for a walk. As we weren't needed once she'd gone off on her bus tour of the tourist highlights, I wandered off and followed the Elephant around for a while, feeling very conspicuous in a crew shirt. I mostly kept well back admiring the view. After a while I was accosted by Fiona, who'd come from work. Around this time the Elephant picked up a small pickup truck with a load of hay and carried it down the Mall for a while with the driver still inside. It was fully functional, and we know this because he drove it away afterwards. We went back towards Waterloo Place to find Aideen while the Elephant went up beside St James' Palace - the road was closed to pedestrians, so we couldn't follow it that way and had to head it off on Pall Mall instead. It stopped outside a restaurant while the Sultan went to a charity reception. Kate turned up at this point. After a while Kate left again, followed by Fiona and Aideen. I left too, shortly afterwards, spotting camp Craig on the way past.

Friday night . . . Friday night. QNI? If my memory's right, I was feeling a bit wiped out and got an extra hour or two's sleep.

Saturday was an earlier start - 8:30 - so I got out of bed earlier and headed down the Victoria line - the Charing Cross branch of the Northern being OOC for engineering - arriving nicely on time. It was wet on Saturday, so due to a shortage of clear waterproofs I had my crew shirt on over my anorak. Le Petite géante was awoken, showered, changed and wandered out around St James. First she stopped to swing children on her arms. We'd been told this would probably be a bit slow the first time. No such luck. We could have stayed there all day, and in spite of the operators asking that no more children come forward, the queue soon stopped shrinking. A lot of kids were disappointed, but apparently there is nothing you can say to stop some parents sending their children forward to join a queue even when tears and upset are inevitable. TBH, half of the kids seemed significantly less keen on the idea than their parents were, but that does leave the other half enjoying themselves. After that, she sat on the top of a car and was driven up the Mall.

After a couple of rights into St James' Square she found her scooter and went round the square a couple of times on it, got her lollipop out and licked at it for a while, took a piss in a back street and did some exercises on Waterloo Place. This led us to Trafalgar Square, were a large crowd was waiting. The Elephant took a while to arrive. There were rumours the police had demanded a route change, but it turned up eventually and after a little coaxing round a corner arrived in the square to the crowd's evident approval. The area before the National Gallery was barriered off, so we weren't needed and had milled around a bit until gathering beside one of the glass booths to watch the speeches. The deputy mayor's was worthy, but overfull of mentions of the Olympics. David Lambie (the Culture Minister) was much more enthusiastic and looked like he was enjoying the event. The Sultan gave the best speech, though - he came forward, fish under arm, and launched into about a minute of utter gibberish sprinkled with recognisable phrases like "London", "thank you" and "welcome". Brilliance - and apparently that's what he did all weekend at the functions and meals he went to, too. I'm told one of his entourage, the explorer with the handcranked movie camera, translated on occasion but wasn't always there.

The afternoon was taken up by the Elephant carrying the Giant on his trunk through the streets of London. We were all with them at this point, so I got to watch the Elephant from very close. It was absolutely awesome, but I still think the Giant did more things and had more personality. I spotted various people in the crowd - Fiona, Tony and Kate by New Zealand House, Fiona again later on, Nils just after that and finally CJ and Fran just before reaching the Mall again. In the middle of it, someone spotted me - Rochelle, who I hadn't seen in about nine years. And, of course, I didn't have time to give her any contact details.

After knocking off, I found Fran and CJ pretty quickly and went off to look for Fiona, Kate and Tony. Sadly I'd missed them by being too optimistic about when I'd be finished (sorry) so the three of us who were there went for a couple of pints instead. After that, I went up to Camden to see Krys and Chris at what was apparently Suzi's birthday drink. I hadn't met her before and can't swear that it was her birthday, but it was certainly a drink. It was a drink that went on until positively Caledonian times of the night, and I ended up walking half the length of Holloway Road back to my sister's even after the nightbus had taken most of the load.

Sunday had better weather than Saturday had had. In fact, it was lovely. I hear rumours that over a million people saw parts of Sunday's show, and it wouldn't surprise me. Crowds near the Elephant while it dozed over lunchtime were described as "extreme" and we were advising people not to go and see it there, but to get ahead and let it come to them.

As before, the day started with the Little Giant having her shower and changing from her nightie into her dress. Her manipulateurs were, as usual, very attentive, washing her shins and checking her hair, before dressing her and putting her socks and sandals on (the latter attached by four bolts each as well as the visible straps, I noticed). The Elephant, as before, provided the shower, and then made a very abrupt exit from Horseguards Parade that we weren't warned about, even though we were the barrier at that point and the ones to ask the crowd to part. Soon after we went with the Giant into St James' Park, where she wandered for a while, played with children, did some exercises, licked her lolly, and the other things little girls do when in a strange city. This included, as before, taking a piss. Polite and attentive as ever, her manipulateurs turned away at this point, and we took their lead. The audience, though, in a shocking display of impropriety, laughed and took photographs. Whatever will she think of us?

After a while she went to sleep on her deckchair in the park, and we took it in turns to slope off for our dinner. While waiting for her to wake, the public asked lots of questions, which was quite pleasant even though nearly all of them were the same one - inevitably, "When's something happening"?

The first part of the afternoon was much the same as the morning, except busier. The call for a small number of children to come forward was stressed more emphatically (but apparently still not emphatically enough) and a much smaller number of kids were disappointed after waiting for ages in a queue. By the time we left the park it was really quite busy. We took her up onto the Mall, and turned halfway down as the Elephant arrived back from the Sultan's trip to lunch on Piccadilly. The crowds were really getting quite intense at this point, and keeping people back was getting to be a bit of a chore, particularly people following us along in front of the people standing on the pavement watching - and particularly one particular Arsehole Photographer. I spotted ciphergoth as we went quickly past, but didn't manage to get his attention (although he did catch the back of my head in a photograph). We turned soon after, and the Elephant followed us back to the Parade. It was getting really quite hairy by then, and giving the manipulateurs room to work was really quite difficult. Getting into the Parade itself was very hard, and when Gildas asked a couple of us to clear a way for the Sultan's limo, we really had our work cut out. By the time it was in, la Petite Géante had her flying helmet and goggles back on and was sitting in the base of her rocket. The Sultan, Elephant and retinue said goodbye . . . and she left. The rockets were actually very bright and loud - too bright for me to look at comfortably.

It was all over after that, and the crowd dispersed, slowly. The Ushers had our photo taken with the Elephant, went to have our tea, and there was talk of a party. I didn't make it, because I went up to have dinner with Chris and Krys, in a flat with a distinct vertical-stacking theme, near where my sister used to live by Tufnell Park. This was excellent - the food and conversation both. Any lingering thoughts of getting back to the party after I left were put to rest by the news that someone had gone under a train, closing another tube line, so I got a sensible night's sleep before coming back up.

Monday morning was picking up the car, with new windscreen, and taking it to have a fist-sized hole in the silencer rectified. Then I packed it entirely full of my sister's stuff and drove it home.

The end. It's a miniature-giant-plus-giant-pachyderm-sized adventure.

There are loads of photos kicking around, although I didn't take any worth mentioning. Indeed, the top three tags on Flickr that week were sultanselephant, thesultanselephant and royaldeluxe, so they aren't hard to find.
  • Current Location: the boxroom
  • Current Mood: awake
  • Current Music: Laibach - Die Liebe
That's fantastic. I saw that on the news, and thought, hmm, that sounds like Graham Clark's sort of thing, I wonder if he's watching. Ha! Nary a massive public gathering happens on this island that you're not involved in.
Laura, I think her name is. With the camera. She looked very familiar, and she said she thought we might have met before somewhere too.
Ah, wee Laura. Was Glasgow based, now moving darn sarth. Known her for a few years, she does have an extensive music collection...
Thanks. It was lovely to see you too. There are too many people I didn't see, though. I must come down again sometime.
I wondered if you had seen it, being on the same island and all... but on the crew! *mildly envious* It looked, from the photos, like a fabulous time. I also noted that it was sunny, which never seems to happen the few times I'm in London.
It rained on Saturday, and many of us were soaked.

Yes, I got lucky in that someone passed on the message that they were looking for people to one of the Beltane mailing lists. And I was free that weekend, too. Great stuff.

It was great. Video footage (I'm told there's plenty on youtube) would be worth seeing, because they way they moved was a bit part of it. It still won't be like being there, though. They're still touring it, though, and in principle I suppose it could leave Europe, if someone would meet the shipping costs.
Clearly it took me a few days to wade through all your lovely story.

Aren't new windscreens wonderful :) Shame mine now has a new wee chip crack way over the other side of the tax disc. och well, such is life.

How's the job hunting going? No leads or ideas?
I was actually perfectly happy with the old one, but clearly its days were up. Ah well.

Jobs? Yes, I'm still looking. It has to be etter than the last one or I'm not interested.