The Elephant and Castle.
A familiar sight, as you trundle through Southwark on the A3. Like so many pub names in London, this is an ancient one, and beloved of us all because it’s just so damn weird.
As is its effigy, perched up there above the traffic fumes. Brightly coloured, there he is, thousands of miles from his native habitat and sporting an accessory from another age.
There are other elephants and castles. There’s one carved into a bench in Chester Cathedral that look like this:
See: no-one in mediaeval times had actually seen an elephant. Let alone those great warlike defensive contraptions they wore on their back during ancient conflicts. See that strange head, and the hooves? The mediaeval carvers had to rely on hearsay. Who could describe those huge drum-feet with accuracy to an English carpenter who has only ever been as far as the coast of England?
I saw him again, the other day. I was wandering through the Victoria and Albert Museum, and their great galleries of mediaeval knick-knackery, when who should I find sitting in a little glass case but this perfectly formed fantastical would-be elephant:
What a charmer. This is a mystery from the East; a tale waiting to be told. A candlestick in the form of what is not, but could so easily have been, an elephant.