17th July


That was the year Stevie dug a mudbath for the elephant. The hot days started in early May and I remember there not being any rain until August, although that’s possibly a false memory. The elephant was in his enclosure and getting frustrated with the heat bouncing off the concrete all round him, and this wasn’t Africa, it wasn’t even the south of England, it was Scotland. We took turns at playing a hose on him but his skin dried out a few minutes after you stopped, and these cracks were appearing, sore-looking, like the cracks of a dried-out riverbed. So Stevie spent four days digging a pit in the monkey section, a two-hundred-yard run from where the elephant was kept. We had to get clearance from the big man because theoretically it was dangerous letting the elephant loose, there were cars coming through that he could have charged or just decided to sit on, but the big man said, ‘On you go,’ so we went.

The day came when we opened the gate and took him down the road to the monkey section, Stevie running ahead and me coming behind in the Land Rover with the lights on so the elephant wouldn’t think twice about stopping. Stevie led him to the mudbath and that elephant went in like a diving submarine, covering himself in the cooling, healing mud and trumpeting with pleasure. We fitted the hose to a nearby standpipe and kept the bath topped up and I’ll tell you, I’ve seen a lot of things, but I’ve never seen an animal so obviously, deliriously happy.

Later that day we ran him back to the enclosure, and he went without a fuss, and the next day we took him to the bath again, and every day for the rest of that summer till the weather broke. He used to sprint down there, like a child on a beach heading for the sea. It was a crime really, keeping such a beast in captivity, but Stevie made life better for him that summer at least. He was a good man, Stevie. You only had to see what he did for the elephant to know that.

Reader: James Robertson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Guitar: Sorren Maclean
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