Sunday, July 29, 2007

Kensington Gardens

Every day is a new experience. And full of new things. Of discovery. Even if that discovery is not pioneering and others have been here before you. And even if the names of the places are so very familiar. I step into Kensington Gardens from off Bayswater Road and am confronted by a sprawling acreage that is full of surprises. And discovery. Its size for a start. The open park come farm feel to the place. Stretching into the distance are chestnuts, beech, oaks and elms, sentinels to pathways and mown edges but most commonly ruling over the unruly and the unkept. Knee high, unmown grass covers most of the place. Dogs love it. Little boys with sticks do what little boys with sticks do. Every now and then you spot the raised knees of someone lying on their back, the rest of them hidden by the grass. Every so often you are startled by the prostrate, bleached white body of a Londoner, in nothing but their swimwear, trying to get some Vitamin D. Although the day is pleasant the sky is a John Constable - more cloud and light than sunlight and blue sky, although patches of that appear through the racing, tumbling clouds. Couples meet for lunch. A scarf covered head has leaning on her the swarthy head of her husband. From behind, as you watch them silently communicate, clumped down in this open field with the breeze snapping around them you imagine an immigrant’s tale. Comforting each other in this strange land but in a field that accentuates our basic cravings for peace and light – and each other. And maybe a stupid dog.

The foliage skirts of the oaks and chestnuts, hems flapping in the breeze, soon give way to the Serpentine and its green silted waters, Italian fountains and arched bridge. I walk along a railed fence, past Peter Pan being assaulted by tourists, past thick undergrowth and then ripening elderberry and clawing blackberry, its hard green fruit just starting to hint at purple. I half expect Peter Rabbit to come squeezing through the railings but I settle for a hen thrush instead, which scurries across the path in front of me. Under rustling beech leaves old men remove their shoes and socks and wriggle their toes in the turf. Families break open lunches. Kids play hide and seek. A scotch thistle gives up its crown, and seeds lift away on the breeze which, incidentally, carries to me the turbo-fan whine of the unending stream of aircraft on long finals into Heathrow. These gardens are a plane spotters delight.

I eventually give in and make like a Londoner, find my own patch of wilderness field and disappear into the undergrowth. As I do so I discover I am checking were I put my feet in case there are any snakes – we are products of our places too. Thrips leap to the white page of the journal and scurry about. A spider runs up the spine and grass seeds are startled by my movement and rain across the pages. In the end the thing most synonymous with this country (OK, apart from the Queen, the Tower and Beckham) moves me on – the ground is damp and the stained patches on my pants had better be dried off before I hit the streets. Only a bleached Londoner could lie in this damp stuff in only his Speedos and figure he was onto a good thing. Perhaps he actually is. Some things are just beyond figuring out.

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