Sunday 14th June 2020
Today was A’s birthday celebrations, much delayed due to inclement weather and friends doing their househunting every Saturday. There won’t be another sunny day till July apparently.
We agreed to meet up in Regent’s Park, equidistant between the lot of us, and each taking over an hour’s bike ride. Although the route is 45 minutes, it took double due to 3 parking stations being full on the approach to the vast green expanse, and the most beautiful park in the centre. Our friends had various dramas too, including one who got lost 3x in Camden even before we all tried to find the meeting spot in the ginormous place, packed with daytrippers.
I heard quite a few American accents among the youth, and did wonder about those doing their studies abroad, and how it fared during lockdown with their experience of the city much dulled. But then looking around me at the verdant green, the flowerbeds and formal gardens dotted with statuary (it appears gardeners are still employed here, as opposed to our local Watchtower cover in Battersea), the glittering lakes and convincingly natural landscaping that is the quintessential tradition of English garden design. Go to an ‘English Garden’ round the world (such as the Englischer Garten in Munich) and you’ll find the kind of pristine views, with artfully placed follies and ruins redolent of Grand Tour postcards, perfectly framed, in favour of formal flower beds and patterned planting of say French or Italianate offerings. And at great expense, whereby hills would be moved a few dozen metres to the left and lakes dug out in natural shapes, and slopes maintained at precise gradients. All very subtle, at tremendous work, and a wonderland.
Yet Regents Park delivers, it has all the wonders of above, but enter the Inner Circle at its heart and its all formal bedding and Alice-In-Wonderland rose gardens.
Though they’re still in love with those gentle curves and against too much symmetry. That would just be severe.
We decided on the lake, in a lawn normally so full of daisies it looks white rather than green -but it was out of season and crowded (couples, families, topless A-gays, topless straights, super annoying American students playing catch, right in the midst of the people trying to relax). Thus we found a perfect spot at the edge with a view of the gathering and lake, but half in the shade too.
To cut a long story short:
1. Shared a massive amount of food we’d all foraged together, notably more kimchi, Lithuanian salad, courgette frittata, weed, rhubarb n cream pancakes, popping candy honeycomb, and peanut-chocolate muffins.
2. Got fast drunk, on elderflower cider.
3. Needed to wee but they’d closed down all the public toilets, thus had to traipse around the wonderland of gardens looking for a suitable bush. In the end resorted to just invading the blocked off loos and went in a bush, which had obviously been the same resort for hundreds of tinklers. Dear lord, THE SMELL…
4. Met some Canada goslings by our picnic patch. They eat grass heads and Mama Goose hisses. If no one had been watching would SO have grabbed one and cuddled it to death.
In the end the need for nature’s call broke up our little soirée, with the boys and girls heading home by 9. The first Boris bike park we got to was malfunctioning (‘Please Wait, processing’ on screen), so the entire row might as well have been imbedded in concrete.
We walked quite some way to another three that had any bikes left after that.
The park is also surrounded by Regency terraces built by Nash, each worth tens of millions of not hundreds (every five windows is a new property).
The world’s most expensive rowhouses / terrace homes are here – this one at end of row sold for $130 million, which we tried to peek into but could only glimpse a lot of Carrara marble and a nouveau riches garden:
The walk through all that white stucco, the ghostly streets, then diverting through the utter gorgeousness of Chelsea made me think of London as a whole new city, so very different from the south side of the river. Like a neverending parade of elegance and village vibes. Chelsea was once a poor area, but all those little working mens’s cottages are now multi millionaire coversions of chichi charm.
I do reckon the East End could have turned out like that had it not been bombed flat, that those dank little alleys, crime dens and higgledy housing could now have been a wonder of quirky, historic, pedestrian friendly playground of pistchio paint, hanging baskets, hidden courtyards and scrubbed brick. Like Chelsea it could have become London’s de facto Old City.
Also thought back to those students from abroad who’d landed just in time for the lockdown experience -maybe it wasn’t all that bad. That those gaggles of them I saw around the park showed how they were effectively daytripping their hours in leisure time rather than shopping and clubbing, a genteel experience of long days, gorgeously quiet streets and architecture and village atmosphere.