Monday, 4 February 2008
I had forgotten how wonderful the green spaces are in London.
I walked between Wandsworth and Clapham Commons on a very chilly and damp morning. The skeletal trees were so laden with fat dewdrops they looked like nature's chandeliers, their bare branches overladen with crystal tears while the mist languished like tissue around their trunks. It was a bracing walk and I was glad I had put on the hat, two jumpers, two scarves and gloves, even if it made me feel like the Incredible Hulk. I was tempted, for the sake of my shoes and the fact I had an important meeting, to walk the paths, but could not resist taking a more direct line across the sodden grass. To hell with it, I thought. Later, I took La Fille out to the Common to run around in the middle and take deep clean breaths. It is remarkable how she has not had a single cough since we started coming to London. She fell over muddying her knees and her just cleaned coat. Oh to hell with it.
Later, the Frenchman, La Fille and I visited St James' Park and had lunch with friends before strolling around the lake looking for pelicans, swans and squirrels. We had let the men take La Fille while my girl friend and I finished our coffees and paid the bill (are we modern gals or just gullible?). As we walked to catch them up at the lake she tugged my arm and said: "oh er! Look at that child, someone should grab her before she falls in." I looked and just behind the child in question was another jumping up and down millimeters from the edge of the water, surrounded by birds. It was La Fille. "Oh dear," I said with a gulp. Thankfully, drowning was avoided by our arrival and swift removal of La Fille from the melée of ducks, seagulls and pigeons. The chaps, replete from free lunch, were too busy gossiping and, I think, smoking, to have noticed.
Then it was off to Greenwich to see a good friend and walk through the Royal park there. We climbed up to the observatory, La Fille's little legs trotting to keep up on the steep slope. She arrived all ruddy cheeked and excited about feeding the ducks. More excited than the overfed birds who were very fat and turned up their sniffy beaks at my friend's wholemeal bread. Their livers must be delicious. "Perhaps they've got expensive tastes and only like ciabatta," I joked to another mum whose little girl was desperately trying to raise some interest in her crusts. "Here, have some monkey nuts. The squirrels are less spoiled," said the woman who very kindly gave us some. She was right: we crept across the grass and had squirrels almost eating out of our hand.
What I have come to appreciate about London parks is that they have grass, instead of the formal gravel of many of those in Paris. Not only do they have grass, but you can actually walk on it. One of our favourite parks in Paris is the Jardin des Plantes, which boasts a menagerie with an odd assortment of animals loved by La Fille. Once we went armed with home-made salads and sandwiches and chose a shady spot under a tree right next to the gravel path to spread a tatty old towel to sit on and have our picnic. There were no 'Keep Off' signs but I had only just taken all the lids off the salad pots when a uniformed park keeper ordered us off the grass. I said: "Is there ANYWHERE we can sit down and have a picnic?" He directed us to a faraway corner of the gardens to a bald scrap of ground; so overused it was bereft of a single blade of grass. It was also right next to a very busy dual carriageway with cars spewing fumes and packed solid with schoolchildren and other picnic refugees. It was the most joyless and depressing corner of a large and beautiful park, more so for being so close to vast tracts of lush untouchable grass.