The Best Park in London, and Mike Tyson Snogging a Pigeon.
I’ve recently forced myself to have weekends off work, rather than just working-away every day like a horrid little business-beaver. Oh MY has this been a revelation! It took me a month or so to get used to it; for the panic attacks to stop when I hadn’t checked my emails for over two hours (I know, I need help), but finally I’ve learn how to forget about work three days per week (self employment = set the length of your weekends. This makes up for the 70-100+hrs of work I have to do per week in the lead-up to exams).
Tom and I will often visit friends or our respective parents’ houses in the countryside at weekends, to ensure that we don’t miss it too much (it’s a bit like suffering from a vitamin or mineral deficiency otherwise. The sort that makes you go mad.) However, now that we’ve managed to trick ourselves into thinking that London doesn’t have to be equated with work, we’ve started spending the odd weekend here. Tom will often disappear and do man-things with his manly mates, but I’ve got a few favourite routines I tend to follow (yes, like a grandma).
Last Sunday, I spent with my lovely friend Kaysea. We met in our first year at university, nearly eight years ago now, and found ourselves repeatedly bumping into each other on the same courses (Renaissance Literature/ Shakespeare/ Tudor Drama/ Early Modern Social Processes… there may be a theme emerging here…). She’s one of the smartest and possibly the nicest person I know so, despite the fact that she always seems to be busy helping people, I’ve managed to shoe-horn myself into her life.
We met at Green Park station, and grabbed a couple of caramel macchiatos (elixir of the gods) and lunch to eat on the hoof. A quick if momentarily-alarming trot across the road, and we stepped into heaven. Otherwise known as Green Park. Despite being relatively small, this is one of my favourite London parks. In summer it always seems more lush and… greener… somehow (this may be because of the name. I am easily influenced). A verdant canopy of plane trees stretches across wide, peaceful avenues, the Doric pillars of their trunks measuring out your progress as you wander down towards Buckingham Palace. Perhaps because it is smaller than Hyde or Regent’s Park, it feels more intimate; as if you are exploring someone’s garden rather than an open public-space.
I usually head South to The Mall (big noisy road, on TV a lot, you can’t miss it), and cross into St James’ Park. This is always a lot busier than Green Park, given its proximity to the Palace and other tourist spots, but it makes up for it by being absolutely full of birds. Ducks, swans, coots, geese, pelicans, gulls, pigeons, fancy ducks… I like to imagine this is where the aristocracy of the avian world hang out.
We found an empty bench to have our lunch and engage in serious, philosophical discussion about clothes and that. A pigeon landed in front of us, and out of habit I bowled it a scrap of crust. At which point all the pigeons in the WORLD appeared from nowhere, cooing Ride of the Valkyries (this may not have actually happened). I happen to love pigeons. I find them utterly hilarious, and will happily spend hours luring them closer or providing an interpretation of their dialogue, Creature Comforts style. Usually in a French or gangsta accent. (That’s normal, right?)
This rather forward chap came over and literally took the food out of my hands (yes I know, germs and diseases, blah blah. What doesn’t kill you…)
Once the goose had finished my lunch he stalked off (he wasn’t too impressed with pesto and roasted Mediterranean vegetables anyway), so we took this as our cue to head off as well. We headed West around the corner of the lake, then followed its winding bank East. When the weather allows I’d always prefer to walk and talk rather than sit in a cafe. It seems to make a conversation so much more memorable, as if you’re writing your words onto the landscape.
Cherry blossom finally hinting that Spring has arrived
Mike Tyson loves pigeons too, whilst we’re talking about pigeons. An incident in which an older boy murdered one of his pigeons seems to have been the inspiration for his illustrious career: “I don’t know what possessed me to fight, but it was my first fight and I kicked the living crap out of him… When I started hitting him, I was loving it.” Tyson for sexy pigeons’ rights y’all. (Seriously, I’m actually not making this up)
Anyway. If you follow the southern length of the St James’ Park lake, you’ll naturally exit onto Horse Guards Road. Cross, and go straight ahead, and you’ll find yourself on King Charles’ Street, flanked by the Treasury on one side and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the other. Probably as a result of not being a native Londoner, I’m always captivated by the sense of walking through history that the city gives you. The ghosts of the past seem to walk the streets alongside you, and I’ll often find myself looking out for Virginia Woolf hunting down lead pencils, or William Blake wandering the charter’d streets.
Turn left at the end of King Charles’ Street, and you can walk North up Parliament Street then Whitehall until you reach the great bronze lions of Trafalgar Square. We stopped briefly to pretend to be tourists, as an excuse to get close to this handsome lad. All 18hh of him.
I couldn’t stop myself laughing every time he did this to real tourists posing for photos, who would scream and literally throw themselves away from him.
Just to the right of Trafalgar Square is St Martin in the Fields Church (it was originally surrounded by fields, obvs). The earliest record of a church existing here is from the early 13th century, though the original was torn down and rebuilt in its current guise in the early 18th century. The stone steps provide a lovely vantage point for people-watching, and for catching the afternoon sun.
After a while we decided to head inside to the cafe, but spotted a chamber orchestra mid-rehearsal in the church, so tiptoed in and hid ourselves on a pew near the back. It’s a beautiful building, and there are often evening concerts and recitals, as well as free lunchtime concerts for anyone who cares to find their way inside. It’s especially magical when unexpected, and feels like you’ve stumbled across something secret and inimitable.
We eventually dragged ourselves away, and headed down into the crypt. The cafe in the crypt, to be precise. It’s a fascinating space, open 8am-8pm most days. Historic tombstones stretch beneath your feet, and vaulted brick arches loom above you, yet it never feels dark or claustrophobic. They’re also opening a new al fresco cafe in May, which I’ll definitely be checking out once the weather allows.
Does anyone else have a favourite London-Sunday routine? I’m always looking for ideas!
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