|Merry guard at Buckingham Palace|
Carol in Cairns threw down a gauntlet after my last post. Perhaps she felt I had denigrated London unfairly. Even the title of the post - "Jungle" suggested a certain geographical bigotry. That's how it is in England. Those of us who live in "the provinces" are generally sick and tired of Londoncentricity. London gets the money and it gets the spotlight while in the nether regions of "UpNorth", The South West, Tyne-Tees and The Black Country we huddle round camp fires and eat chunks of stale bread.
Carol wondered if I could write a more positive piece about our recent London trip - a literary counterpoint to my last post. Well here goes...
Sunday morning in our glorious capital city. In the historic and verdant oasis that is Camberwell Green, a cheerful cockney woman in a mink coat is feeding a flock of bright-eyed pigeons. It is like a scene from "Mary Poppins" As I approach I realise that she is singing quietly to herself and as I pass by her I recognise the uplifting lyric - "And was Jerusalem builded here in England's green and pleasant land?"
|Morning bath-time for cheery Camberwell pigeons|
It seems like an anthem for London. Beyond her, I notice that that a mischievous grey squirrel is bounding merrily towards the majestic plane tree in the centre of the green. The elderly lady gives me a disarming smile and soon we are chattering away like old friends. It seems that the old lady - Elsie - was once a housemaid in Buckingham Palace and also spent time as a Tiller girl - kicking her legs high in the limelight of the London Palladium.
Behind her, substantial architect-designed blocks of artisan apartments reach for the blue skies above.They are part of the Peabody housing legacy - a precious gift to the people of south London. Many of the tenants have interesting family links with exotic faraway places like St Lucia, Ghana, Afghanistan and Canton, Georgia - bringing extra vibrancy to this happy community which has embraced them with open arms.
I hear the distant sound of a musical siren as it makes its way to prestigious Kings College Hospital on beautiful Denmark Hill. I watch as two gentle ambulance women carefully disembark an elderly patient. She is on a stretcher in the twilight years of her life. Her hair is silver and wavy. A slender arm - the colour of Devonshire cream - extends playfully from under the angora blanket. She sees me through the hospital railing, our lives colliding for a precious moment and we grin at each other. "I'm Dame Judy Dench!" she beams. "I'm Yorkshire Pudding!" I reply. "I hope they make you better Judy! May I have your autograph?"
Ahead, an African man outside A&E is enjoying a lively conversation with three security guards and two police officers who are trying to help the fellow as much as they can. He is enjoying the banter so much that he is reluctant to depart their company. But eventually he saunters away with a friend discussing sport, music and their unexpectedly foreshortened hospital visit.
There's an excellent information sign by Camberwell Green. It tells inquisitive readers that the green was in existence as early as 1245 AD when Camberwell was an agricultural village to the south of London which would then have had a small population of some 25,000 inhabitants. So the green has endured for a thousand years as London has developed, embracing and nourishing the forlorn little villages that once surrounded it. I see someone sleeping on a bench there. Probably a late night reveller who had enjoyed a spiffing good time, dancing through till dawn but unable to make the last few steps needed to get home to her roaring hearthside and her pet budgerigar - Adrian.
By our daughter's luxury apartment which is in a block not dissimilar to Trump Tower, I notice two Polish holidaymakers taking pictures with their hi-tech phones. What have they seen I wonder? At the corner, close to the colourful recycling bins, is someone's pet rat. Awww! He is preening himself meticulously and he is the size of a healthy wild rabbit. He is wearing a little studded red collar with a heart shaped medallion that announces his murine identity - Johnno. After I have stroked Johnno and tickled his little chin, he tiptoes away in search of hazelnuts, fallen apples or any other healthy snacks he might find.
Sadly, the time came to take our leave of the throbbing metropolis via historic London Bridge under which aquamarine Father Thames still flowed comfortingly. We drove past the classical stone columns of The Bank of England and The Angel, Islington, reluctantly heading homewards. The diesel-spattered sign at the start of the rutted old motorway said "M1 - The North", like the hand that pointed Greek heroes across the Styx to Hades and eternal darkness.
|Proud Camberwell College of Arts|
|Peaceful Camberwell Green|
Composed upon Westminster Bridge
Earth hath not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendor, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! The very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!
by William Wordsworth