London’s Hyde Park, An Ode

July 25, 2008 by

Europe

There are times in London when the sun shines and – because it’s been pouring with rain and blowing with wind for what seems like an eternity – the quality of that sun shining is, well, it just makes you head for a park. Just drop everything you had planned, phone in sick, shut down the computer, pocket a good book and head out.

hyde park london

London when the sun shines... head for a park

There are big parks all over London – famous ones like Hampstead Heath and Regents Park. But Hyde Park just does it for me. It has a sort of majesty. I don’t live near it but I will always walk to it – about a mile and a half. And as I stroll along the warm pavements it feels like a lovely buxom motherly woman is beckoning me.

Hyde Park: Who says conflict is always bad?

I usually enter at the north-eastern corner, which is technically called Kensington Park Gardens, but there is no sort of boundary with Hyde Park. So as far as I’m concerned it’s all Hyde Park. At this entrance is a rotund little ice-cream-seller of a man from somewhere in the Mediterranean. A friend of mine (who doesn’t like to be told what to do) once chained his bicycle to the railings next to the rotund man’s patch, only to be told that he was cramping his style.

A full-on row ensued, culminating with my friend’s deepest of insults: “You are disgusting! You don’t even wash your T-shirt!” Which was accurate, as it was always stained and worn. Last week I noted that the T-shirt was spotless and brand new. Who says conflict is always bad.

Anyway this tiny entrance unfolds many details – the first on the right is not so exciting, a formal dog-doing bit which has some beautifully pruned trees, smallish ones that make a shaded area for your dog to relieve itself. Then the part that I have a problem with – it’s an emotional problem – the children’s crazy fantasy playground in memory of the incredible mind-blowing important person in the history of mankind on planet earth – Princess Diana.

And then there’s Kensington Palace

The playground itself looks pretty cool: a pirate ship, trees with faces carved in them, and little American Indian Tepees (pop psychology question: why do park’s focus on creating all these horrific scenarios for kids?). And what about Princess Diana? Well this was her patch. Dominating this particular corner of the park is a modern – fairly ugly – building called Kensington Palace. Flash luxury-looking helicopters seem to land and take off from in front of it at fairly regular intervals. Royalty in them. Maybe. Or perhaps foreign delegates as a road of really impressive Embassy buildings runs along this side of the park. You can see the back of some of them and their gardens with the required gazebos.

They speak of an age long gone and house the most impressive houses I have ever seen in central London – at the bottom end of the road the security gets obsessive as you get near the Israeli embassy – so don’t wear any kind of heavy thick jacket when walking in this area or you might get shot in the head. The British police are notoriously paranoid. Oh and of course – no photography. Your flash might trigger a shoot out.

So, Kensington palace – big building, houses some kind of stuff to visit – open to visitors, I’ve never been in and quite frankly have never been tempted. Go for lovely tea and cakes in the Orangerie instead – especially if you are feeling romantic – it’s behind Kensington Palace. When the time of year comes round when Princess Diana died, the gates are plastered with flowers and a huge collection of Grief fanatics assemble to pay homage. I find it deeply disturbing and just more evidence of collective insanity – mourning someone you never knew – maybe it’s the start of a new religion? I don’t know.

So let’s put her to rest otherwise it will just ruin my communicating to you the true magic of this park.

hyde park london trees
Head deep into the luscious grass of Hyde Park

(No I just can’t let it go: When she had her crash the place went mad – and some still are – there is a café in her memory on the Bayswater Road – full of pictures of Princess Diana, dotted around the park are lumps of cast metal with little arrows trying to make you walk in a certain direction in memory of her, presumably there is a map somewhere that you could correlate to these fashionable lumps of cast iron, and finally there is a weird fountain, with a fence in case you abuse it, in her memory down on the southerly area of the park. It is a sort of circle, pretty dull and full of people paddling in it, often overcrowded – it sparked a huge debate when it first appeared because somebody slipped or maybe ‘might have been able to slip and hurt themselves’ – so guards were placed to protect the fountain and visitors from hurting themselves and oh no – enough – you get the picture – health and safety – they should go to India where I was once going around the battlements of a fortified palace to find myself about to step into a hundred foot drop where the battlements had ceased to exist – no warning – barrier etc.)

So lovely day – wandering into the park – buxom lady beckoning – the ice cream seller has a clean shirt on – head into the long luscious grass – deep into the park – you can disappear into it, they don’t cut it. Couples cunnoodle all around. Sunbathers roll over at intervals. The beautiful serpentine spills from fountains (Marlborough gate fountains – lovely) wide into a little lake where Saudi Arabian families (five wives often, I’m being serious) picnic and couples bump around on light-blue pedalos.

But the real beauty is the sun shining through the big trees and the long wild grass. English trees and grass are very special when it’s hot, very cooling – lie in it if the weathers good and forget the sights – it’s free and energising and sometimes one of those damned helicopters will hover nearby but they always move on. The peace always returns and then head to the Orangerie for a cup of English tea and sandwiches or cakes.

Laurence Belgrave

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