It was only after the birth of my son that I started to visit our local park on a regular basis. Seeking out somewhere to walk with the pram and meet up with my NCT friends, a visit to the park cafe became a weekly occurrence. We’d drink endless cups of tea and discuss the important matters of the day – the colours of our babies poo, and how little sleep we’d had etc etc – and as our babies grew and most of us went back to work part time, we still continued to meet on our days off, as no-ones house got messy and the babies and toddlers were free to run around, play in the paddling pool, or be pushed on the swings.
On days when I had nothing planned and a long day with a small child and eventually children, loomed, I’d strap everyone in the buggy and head for the park, plonking myself down on the side of the sand pit, to strike up a conversation with another bored mum and suddenly the day would be a lot less lonely. When friends visited from out of town and looked sympathetically at our postage stamp of a garden, I would inwardly smile knowing that while our way of living may look cramped and restrictive, I actually wouldn’t have it any other way. Living behind gates, in a quiet suburban street just wasn’t for me.
As the kids grew, the park was where many milestones happened – they learnt to ride their bikes, skateboard, roller blade and play tennis and football. School sports days took place there and big groups of us would head there after school on nice days, to eat picnics and let the kids play. They may not have had the freedom to play out in their own gardens, but playing in the park was part of the bigger picture, as they had to negotiate bigger kids, different types of people, dogs and the occasional scary situation.
There were also lots of community events in the park – cultural festivals, food markets, fun fairs, live music and outdoor performances, and one year the local street festival held an overnight camp out. The kids collected wood for the campfire, we barbequed dinner and spent the evening singing songs and sleeping in tents. I remember waking up in the middle of the night – to the sound of the inevitable mad person ranting outside – asking myself why I would choose to sleep in a tent in the middle of London. But memories people memories!
As the children got older they started to venture out on their own to the park, first for a couple of hours after school and then later, until all hours, as they climbed over the fence to experiment with God knows what and who! I wont pretend those weren’t worrying years, but I tried to stay away from the park as much as possible, as it was all part of growing up and we came through the other side.
As the novelty of the park wore off for the children, we got a dog and I fell back in love with it, often climbing through the hole in fence to be one of the first in there in the morning, when the sun is rising and it is a quiet, special place.
I love to walk with the dog on my own – stomping around, thinking and observing. I love people watching and there is nowhere better to see the whole of humanity, all cultures, ages and classes, co-existing and enjoying being outside.
London parks are very special places and even if I had the most enormous garden, I think I would still spend time there, as it keeps me in touch with real life and makes me feel alive. And I am quite looking forward to being one of the old people who sit on the benches every day, putting the world to rights.