I went to school in Brentford in West London. The town was dominated by a large gasworks and Griffin Park, the Brentford football ground. My school was adjacent to the football ground, and the gasworks, sandwiched between the River Thames and Brentford High Street, was evident to a greater or lesser extent depending on the wind direction. All that was generally visible of the works was an enormous gasholder, a very high featureless brick wall at the end of Ealing road and an enormous crane behind the wall, used to lift coal out of barges moored in the river.
Many years later I decided to make a sentimental journey to Brentford, and try out one of the local pubs. The wall was still there although the crane was gone and the gasworks had closed some years earlier. The year was 1977, and the world was reeling at the news of the death of Elvis Presley at the age of only 42. Someone had painted on the wall in large white letters:
“Elvis, you will live in our hearts forever”
But that was not all. Three days after Elvis’s death, Grouch Marx had died. I was (and still am) a great fan of Groucho, and evidently I was not alone, because someone else had crossed out Elvis’s name, and written Groucho above.
There can be few animals more bizarre than the giraffe. Darwin claimed that giraffes evolved their long necks so that they could browse leaves that were out of the reach of other animals. In addition, giraffes' great height allowed them to see predators easily and thus make them difficult to stalk. Quite so, but did Darwin ever see a giraffe drink? I don’t believe a word of it. Giraffes are completely absurd. I read somewhere that giraffes prove that God exists, and that He has a sense of humour.
One morning in 1977, a 15 year old giraffe called Victor was found slumped on the ground at Marwell Park, a private zoo in the south of England. Victor had collapsed upright on to his stomach and was unable to get up. No one knew exactly what had happened, but Victor, weighing best part of a ton, was flopped on his front and was helpless.
The Times showed a picture of Victor, but did not name him. There was a brief update the next day, a Saturday, but by Monday he was identified as “Victor”, together with the story that he had slipped while getting frisky with his mate Dribbles, and indeed some time later she gave birth to a female calf named Victoria…
The media worldwide repeated the story. There was a report that the Royal Navy had made Victor a sling out of sailcloth so that he could be lifted on to his feet with a block and tackle. The entire country held its breath, willing the sling to work. For several days news bulletins here and around the world had updates on Victor; normal life seemed to be in suspension. But by Wednesday it was all over. Shortly after being hauled up, Victor suffered a massive heart-attack, and in the words of Marwell “…died with his head on the shoulder of John Knowles, the founder and Director of Marwell…”
And on that wall in Brentford, someone had crossed out Groucho and written Victor…
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs