16 JULY 2020 5
Let me count the
ways I love thee,
dear local park
Illustration: Alex Green
years, the council has transformed a large patch of
grass into meadowland: a couple of months ago, this
area was knee-high in poppies and wildflowers.
Thanks to extensive refurbishments that began in
the 90s, there’s a state-of-the-art children’s play
area and an attractive outdoor café (both now
re-opened), but most importantly, there is space.
There is enough space for local people to do
different things. When lockdown was at its peak,
the Rye was mostly populated by couples and family
groups. Kids could ride their bikes there, kick a ball
when the weather got warmer, mothers brought rugs
and picnics and toddlers would look at other socially
distanced toddlers with hunger in their eyes.
Back in March we walked around the Rye in gloves
and masks. We’ve ditched both now, but I always
have some anti-bacterial gel on me. And we still
don’t touch anything, although I have been known
to stick my nose in roses, inhaling as deeply as I can
– there is something medicinal about a rose garden.
Whoever has been doing the planting in the
garden area has done such a wonderful job. Over the
spring-summer season we have seen daffodils and
tulips give way to irises, foxgloves, roses and peonies.
Back in May, the wooden walkway in The Sexby
Garden right at the centre of the park heaved under
the weight of a mass of purple wisteria. Right now,
there are baby ducks swimming in the ponds and
rumour has it a kingfisher has been sighted.
I miss so much of my old life at the moment,
particularly the showbusiness side. I constantly
dream of being backstage, but while our theatres
wait patiently to reopen, at least I’ve found there are
places where I can go and feel happy for a while.
Nature can be as comforting as she can be cruel and
as the restrictions ease across the country, I for one
would much rather be in a park than a pub.
DACHSHUND FANTASY VERSUS REALITY
Now is the season for new puppies – have you
noticed? They’re everywhere. Obviously, this is
a side effect of lockdown.
Even I, never a dog owner, have been harbouring
miniature dachshund fantasies. While I continue to
dither about the practicalities of actually owning
one, it’s nice to watch friends and family bring new
furry bundles into the fold.
Last Saturday my family came for lunch; nine of us
sat down for a fancy traybake (chicken in cumin and
paprika with red peppers and new potatoes). Let’s be
fair, the meal was pretty good but the real star of the
show was my brother’s new family dog.
Enzo is a delicious smooth-haired cappuccinocoloured
baby whippet with coy eyes and a playful
spirit. Being a whippet, he is silent and graceful – and
more importantly, didn’t disgrace himself by
releasing anything wet or smelly from his bottom
while in the house.
As I watched my partner cosy up with this dog,
I saw the potential for Project Dachshund harden
into a possible reality. “Look,” I thought. “Look how
good he is with dogs, dogs love him, it would be great
to have a little doggie in the house, everyone else is
getting one, why can’t we?”
And then his eyes started streaming and he started
sneezing and he didn’t stop sneezing until the puppy
had left the premises. Sadly, the dachshund fantasy
is going to remain just that.
One of the few Covid silver linings that I’ve enjoyed
over the past few months has been rediscovering my
local green spaces. I have to admit at this point that
pre-corona, I was never much of a park walker.
After all, I don’t have a dog, so I took what little
exercise I had time for down at my local gym.
Pre-lockdown, I loved my yoga classes, but as for
those spin classes, well I was just getting the hang
of them when life was rudely interrupted.
It’s taken a global pandemic to get me walking
regularly in my neighbourhood parks and one of the
revelations of ‘these difficult times’ is how much the
old man and I have particularly enjoyed strolling
around Peckham Rye. The Rye is a funny one – it’s
where the poet and painter William Blake famously
had his angelic visions back in the 18th century.
To be honest I’m not surprised, because for those not
familiar with it, Peckham Rye is more magical than
anyone might imagine. Especially if your knowledge
of south London amounts to little more than the
sitcom Only Fools and Horses – a TV show which
forever cast Peckham as a dodgy council estate,
when in fact many of the houses which overlook
the Rye are Georgian masterpieces.
The Rye itself is a vast expanse of flat green space,
113 acres in total comprising the common and an
extraordinarily pretty fenced-off park in the middle.
Back in the 40s it was home to a number of Italian
prisoners of war who kept pigs, farmed the land and
had a reputation for being ridiculously handsome.
Until recently, one of the surviving POW huts was
used to host children’s birthday parties.
Since March, the place has kept us going. It’s
where my favourite tree is, and where, in recent