Dumbo Rides an Elephant

I didn’t really have a lot planned when I went to Nepal…”I wanna’ ride an elephant!” was basically all I had on my mind; aside from that I was very open! What did I end up doing before I got to that? Well national parks, jungle treks, and canoe rides to name just a few! And yeah sure, sure, they were all fun…of course…but I couldn’t shake the fact that no matter what happened, I would have to ride an elephant on this holiday! Hmmm…perhaps the several million times I had watched Dumbo with my previous class may have had something to do with this fixation…

DUmbo GIF

Whatever it was some guy said that we could book to do it the following day! I was so excited, I couldn’t wait! YEAAUHHHH! It was finally going to happen, WOOOO! FINALLY! Perhaps we would get stuck up in a tree, and there would be a magic feather, and we would make friends with some crows, and, and, and…

Well, no – naturally there was torrential rain…all night. So much so that the hotel room became an overpopulated zoo of creatures and critters; at first it was shocking every time you spotted a lizard on the wall, or a moth at the light – but after the millionth sighting it became far too commonplace to mention. Instead you just sit there swishing every now and again, as every tickle of wind or twitch of your skin feels like it may be a carnivorous insect you thought you would only ever see in the movies. The rain trickled through the badly made ceiling, but the mosquito net was providing ample shelter, despite the fact it had huge holes just about everywhere. A hippo could have made it through some of those holes…never mind a tiny mosquito! But you very much get what you are given in those places!

I had a decision to make that soggy next day – do I miss the opportunity because of the awful weather, or do I just go for it? Well despite not having any kind of raincoat, waterproofs or even a plastic poncho to drape over my pathetic shivering body – I decided fuck it, and went for it; after all what fun can be had in a hotel room? Well, lots of fun (obviously), just ask the owner of the Beverly Hilton  but the possibility for fun is reduced to next to none when you are dealing with a duo of diarhorrea stricken travelers…who have no access to toilet paper, never mind AC or television. With all that said, as soon as I stepped out (in a t-shirt, shorts, flip-flops and a baseball cap) I had immediate second thoughts as to whether this was such a good idea…the rain was very heavy, and I was drenched through and through within a matter of seconds…but still, elephant ride? Probably should still do this? Yeah…this is a good idea…a very good idea…

Rain Truman GIF

We piled into a truck; myself, my sister, and a young American couple. This is when my sister announced that as a vegan she would just be watching me from the sidelines…I mean I understood, it wouldn’t make sense that you don’t want to eat something but it is fine to ride it around…so I nodded in the most understanding way I could muster, secretly hating her for leaving me along with these complete strangers, I mean, who are they? What will I say to them?

The rain was still chucking it down when we arrived. In the distance there were large wooden shack-like platforms, that we would soon be using to (not so gracefully), clamber on these huge animals. I went first, giving one last look down to my sister who stood there with my umbrella grinning at my predicament. I pulled myself up, and was met with quite literally an upturned table and a battered cushion to sit on – that was what they attached to an elephant in order to use it as transportation. Where do I even sit? The guy gestured (in the most awkward way possible), that I should put one of the chair legs between my legs…and wrap myself around it…I fought the urge to laugh, and did as he instructed.

It was now turn for the couple to get on with me. They struggled for a long time, slipping, and sliding on the wooden surface – and often unintentionally pushing their bums in my face…I sat there and tried to pretend it wasn’t happening, but whenever our eyes met – I tried to politely nod and smile, but it probably came off as very creepy…there’s no way around it in that situation. 

Not Creepy GIF

Once we got moving we started to chat a little bit, the usual; who? what? where? questions – they were actually pretty cool people; an art teacher and a musical therapist. But once this idle small talk was out of the way, all of a sudden the guy sprang into the strangest bit of dialogue I may ever hear…

“Hey, you heard about claw? The Claw? No? Well yeah…I watched a documentary recently…and there’s this tiger called The Claw. It’s like a killer tiger…runs wild.”

“Oh…really? Where is he a-“

“Here. Yeah, Nepal. And The Claw is female by the way. She’s pretty bad-ass.”

“Mhmm…well, that’s…comforting. Thanks so much for telling me that. Good info.”

His girlfriend chuckled, and looked off into the distance – I wonder if he had kept her up all night talking about The Claw, maybe she watched it with him – I wish I had, then I might be prepared should he jump up and –

“So yaaaah…Claw like…killed fifty people, or was it eighty? Maybe one hundred and twenty…yeah one-twenty in total, fifty people last year-“

“Err…”

“It gets pissed off at elephants carrying people, and jumps up – swiping at people. This dude had a hand off.”

Scared Man GIF

I nodded, but stopped talking for a while, worryingly there hadn’t even been a flicker of humour behind his words…it was spoken to me as if it was a public service announcement that every elephant rider should be aware of – the rain continued to lash down, soaking my now laboriously heavy t-shirt within an inch of its life. I pictured all the way this fabled Claw character could kill me…or how the weird upturned table construction could just slip off its ropes, and I could break my neck quite easily…or maybe we would fall the other way? Then I am pretty sure that the guys beard would break my fall…but then I would be stuck in the middle of the jungle…The Claw would definitely get me then…

THWAAAAACK!

It took me a few seconds to work out where the sound had came from…it was a hollow, loud banging, that echoed around the jungle with a solid dull tone. THWAAAACK! This time I didn’t miss it, I had just saw the “driver” lash the poor elephant full force on the skull with his heavy steel implement. We looked at each other in total disbelief. I stared at the steel rod…it as curved on one side so it could be used for beating, and spiked on the other so it could be used for prodding – both seemed like cruel punishments. The elephants head was battered, pinkish brown where the same torture weapon had been used over and over, year after year, for this very purpose. THWAAAACK! I was filled with an uncontrollable rage – I rarely feel anything like it, but I stared at the back of the driver’s head…trying to stop a crazed urge to pull the implement from his sweaty hands, and beat him around the skull with it – see how he likes it, maybe I would throw four adult humans on his back, and hit him every time he decided he was exhausted. THWAAAACK! ARGHHHHHHHHHH! STOP!

Anger Control GIF

“I hope The Claw jumps up, and eats that guy.”  I muttered. The couple laughed, but I was pretty serious. I had previously had no idea of this side of things, so it was deeply troubling for me – honestly I just wanted the whole thing to be over…but it was now dragging. This was exacerbated by the fact the torrential rain made the terrain very difficult for the elephant to navigate – much to the driver’s disapproval. Yes, we still had a long way to go yet. 

After a short while we spotted a strange fish in the water, it swished and wriggled near the surface, in a snake like motion. “Croco” – mumbled the driver, I hadn’t noticed at first, but he was right – I could see small limbs just under the murky river…it was huge, but paid us no attention. I was amazed to see it in its natural habitat, as opposed to sitting bored out of its mind in a dusty zoo someplace – but when paralleled to the elephant’s situation, it made me even more upset. I was holding out a slight hope that the crocodile was on its way to meet with The Claw, and that they were going to form a superhero team to take out elephant riders for good! It didn’t ever happen, well not yet anyway – these things take planning, and planning takes time. I get it! 

Afterwards I thought about the whole thing, and the issue at large – I know now I will never ride an elephant again, or pet drugged up tigers in Thailand…I don’t knock anyone who does, because I was one of those people up until a short while ago! I just ask that you make yourself aware of the sad and cruel reality at play here. It’s depressing I know, but it’s an important issue we shouldn’t overlook. People are on the poverty line in these countries, and use these things to make money…but it isn’t their fault, it is the tourists fault for giving demand to such things. The cruelty I saw, has me breathless right now  even thinking about it…let’s try and make it a thing of the past. No creature deserves treatment like that. 

Scotland says NO, NO, NO.

I have had a week to mull on Scotland’s referendum vote…here are my thoughts and views on the whole thing – YES, YES – THIS POST IS ABOUT POLITICS, SORRY! BUT IT’S IMPORTANT PEOPLE! (I won’t be offended if you skip this one though – but this is just my two pence on an issue that is dear to me!) I’m not mad at you for rolling your eyes…just stand there while I – WHAAAACK!

Lash GIF

“DEMOCRACY DEAD?! PFFT! TAK’ THAT, MAN!”

Scotland has voted no, SCOTLAND HAS VOTED NO! Seriously how fucking great would the UK actually be without Scotland? That would be false advertising at the very least…as an Englishman born and raised in the North East I am shocked, but genuinely overjoyed that Scotland remains part of the United Kingdom family – perhaps it’s selfish of me, but it was a horrible feeling to imagine that all of a sudden, overnight; there would be a clear division between people, friends and even families. I mean it would suddenly be a foreign delicacy for me to pick up my favourite (haggis and chips) from my local chippy! Would I still celebrate Robbie Burns night with my family, as we have all my life?

For 300 years we have been British, I know personally that I always eager to refer to myself as British rather than just English, as I am proud to relate myself to each and every member country of the union…I am not the only one, as the number of people living in Scotland who chose British as their national identity rose from 15% in 2011 to 23% in 2014, according to the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey. The number of people who chose Scottish fell from 75% to 65% over the same period…numbers don’t lie, surely.

Having spent a lot of time abroad, including North America and Asia – I have lost count of the amount of times I have been assumed to be Scottish due to a mixture of my accent and attitude. Even when I explain, and point it out on the map people are unclear – and when faced with the standard Americanized question: “so what part of London are you from?” intended as a synonym to: “so what part of England are you from?” I have found myself telling them I hail from nowhere near London! And in their eyes I become basically Scottish. Therein lies something important, there is a blur between the union countries, that can’t just be split up, divided, and disenfranchised just because of imaginary lines on a piece of paper.

The fact is that England isn’t just London, Great Britain isn’t just London, and the United Kingdom is not just London. We must have fair representation for all, and it appears that those in the North of England and Scotland are those who are the most overlooked when it comes to actual physical change and governmental effort. The thought process appears to be that as most of the big offices are centered in London, this is where most of the funding should go…leaving many to struggle and strive just to survive, never mind live a life full of conquered dreams and happiness. Due to this rather bleak outlook, it was certainly amusing for many of us to see every English politician resolutely shit their respective y-fronts at the thought that the YES campaign may be successful…at the same time, the hashed together, last minute approach from them actually served to speak volumes for how they really feel. Very disappointing.  I spoke with Scottish friends before the vote and they were disgusted and appalled, well…they were not their exact words…but you can use your imagination.

I don’t blame the Scottish people for seeking out independence, in fact if I was Scottish by birth and not just by historical lineage I would be all for it (my surname is Taggart, I don’t think you get more Scottish than that! Maybe William Wallace, but that’s about it!) So in that sense there will be widespread disappointment among many – after all, 45% of the vote (1.6 million people) voted FOR independence….that’s a huge number of people who took a stand at what they saw to be a broken system, something that simply didn’t work for them. I can certainly empathise, after all the boost that the YES campaign received was in part due to support on a massive level from younger voters, and the working class portion of the Scottish population…places like Glasgow, Dundee, North Lanarkshire post-industrial locations that appear to have been royally fucked over, stripped of all they have and left to rot. There are parallels here to coal mining and ship building cities in the north of England, such as my hometown Sunderland, go in any real pub and I promise you will meet people who still hold grievances attributed to life after Margaret Thatcher, and how the place was before all of that mess…

Braveheart quote GIF

One thing that can be said is that in the northern territories of the UK there is a great sense of pride, and a collective nature that binds the people together, this whole referendum and the media storm that circled it have proved at least one thing…that the referendum has been a working class revolt against austerity measures. It seems, enough is enough. BBC’s Andrew Marr  had this to say: “What started as a vote on whether Scotland would leave the UK has ended with an extraordinary constitutional revolution announced outside Downing Street by the Prime Minister.” You see, by pushing the Better Together group (NO voters) into an awkward corner, where it actually began to look like they may lose…leaders were forced to make last minute hasty concessions that they hadn’t expected…in doing so the cogs have began to turn, and look set for further change.

In a dream world Scotland would just absorb the North of England and we could all just tell the Labour and Conservative drones to fuck the fuck off. But that appears to be highly improbable. I’ll be saying my hail Marys though, you know just in case… 

People have began talks of more devolution of power…I mean, the folks in Wales and Northern Ireland will surely see this as a sign that they can receive more, surely it is only fair? More exciting is the idea of devolved powers for REGIONS – a more federal, American style model I suppose, which may demand a formal constitution to lay out set rules that can’t be quibbled. This has grown, and evolved far, far beyond just a nationalistic and patriotic march – and has instead leaped forward and tapped into a profound discussion on the United Kingdom we all want for the future. At the very least this is the start of a conversation that could lead to a more fair system…but we must keep the momentum going, people have short memories – there was a referendum in November 2004 on devolved powers to Northern England (not Scotland however), it was scrapped after the voters of the North East rejected the proposal by almost 78% landslide…what’s to stop the same thing happening again?  

When you consider the 2004 outcome, which had a horrific 49% turnout – it shows how much of a testament to the people of Scotland the unprecedented 85% turnout was – I mean 85% of voters turned up to lodge their opinion, 85% of them cared and wanted their opinion (YES, or NO) heard…it shows that people do care, and people do want to be part of positive changes that can move themselves forward. It proves that as much as Westminster may believe that the voting public are basically apathetic drones, they are wrong. So lets keep going, unified in our desire for a more fair and all encompassing system – let us harness that momentum for change, and join together with the many millions of disenfranchised and overlooked people across all four nations who also demand an alternative to the cynical Westminster styled view of a future in which good healthcare and education are a privilege rather than a right; let’s make some sort of legacy, let’s make something to be proud of.

I truly do hope that this is the start of something good, like most up these frosty parts I don’t trust those down Westminster as far as I could throw them, but I’ve seen the Scottish caber toss – so maybe with them as friends, that gives us some strength going forward.

English Scottish GIF

“PALS?”

“OH AYE.”