A crow squawks. Yellow streetlamps cast an eery glow over victorian railings and the first fall of leaves. At this time any human encounters are clouded with an air of suspicion – what are they doing in a park at this time? This park is for the day, for civilised walks, friendly encounters between people in blazers, for the rhythms of daily life in an area characterised by red brick arts and crafts homes with ornate lead windows, and here I am scribbling in a notebook surrounded by indiscernible dark forms, beneath vast black sycamores and the light of a pale moon.
I begin to notice the sound of birdsong reverberating above the chimneys and rooftops of the area and a plane coming in to land. Morning is coming. The sounds remind me of instruments being tuned at the start of an opera and carry with them the same sense of excitement and anticipation. The grand stage of life is gradually lit up in violets and pink flushes by the rising sun, and the eternal void and mystery of space gives way to the drama of the morning.
With the full light of day, everything fits back into place. I am no longer a suspicious anomaly. The dark indiscernible void surrounding me regains its form and shape and the resumes its characteristic air of comfortable security and upper middle class grace. It feels happier, more cheerful and familiar. I prefer it. But with the arrival of this familiarity and cheeriness there is nevertheless the loss of something. Although it can be lonely to wander in the dark on the flip side of the familiar and the known, it can also heighten your sense of existence and its mystery.
With its hard-edged glass/steel finish and gaping entrance, the station look a little like an alien mothership, landing to gobble up and spew out large quantities of humans. It breathes people, inhaling and exhaling them erratically. At this time of the morning, the flow of people sometimes builds to frenetic almost dramatic climaxes, with people moving between each other in effortlessly choreographed flows. The ease with which this is almost unanimously accomplished betrays no sign of each passenger’s clumsy, fitful early attempts to master human motion. They have perfected the fine art of walking. At other times, however, the action dies away, creating a platform for more human events to be noticed – in this case laughs between station staff and a man lighting a cigarette.
A pigeon flies through the entrance, strutting around looking for food. It has the same purposeful air as the passengers and is just as emotionally neutral. For the humans, and perhaps for the pigeon, the neutrality belies the complexity of their life experience, and the sense of direction they appear to have obfuscates the reality that many don’t enjoy this sense of direction where it counts. But at least they can feel they have it here, on their morning commute. At least here they can move confidently, with a little swagger even, and convey to others and themselves that they know where they are going, even if their final arrival leaves them cold. Modern travel is often sleek, intelligent and awe inspiring. It invests our journeys with a sense of robustness and confidence we often appropriate, and fools us into thinking that our journeys are worth making. It offers a variety of ways of getting from A to B, but more importantly it offers a mythical sense of meaningful personal direction. Sometimes this might engender self-deception and denial. But sometimes it might be just what we need to start the day.
From time to time a fairground arrives on the green, which makes sense because there is something of the ‘carnival’ about this place. On the road encircling the green, cars constantly hurl themselves around like so many fairground rides. While it usually lacks the hyper-friendly oversized cartoon characters of a fairground, it has its own ‘characters’ – post-punk Mohicans keeping the dream alive, loud and sociable people who live out of shopping trollies, and the odd transvestite or two.
However it is a fairground that attracts all sorts. The chaos of the swirling traffic underscores the diversity of the people who walk on or round the green, also pulling within its orbit misplaced tourists, kebab shop owners and young detached Kensington types who push on through it with urban swagger and headphones.
Battling against the human chaos is the green itself, fighting to create a sense of peace and nature in spite of the perpetual roar and swirl of the traffic. The green has an architect’s precision to it though. There is the sense that every curving path and each rise and fall in the landscape were the logical conclusions to careful psychosocial analysis rooted in poetic theories about contemporary urban living. It is easy to imagine committees meeting to discuss details such as the elevation of the eastern rise in the park, its health and safety implications and its interference with local events, such as the intermittent fairground.
The effort to create a space for leisure and peaceful contemplation in an area surrounded by as many lanes and as much traffic as the M25 demonstrates the pragmatism to life in this area, an acceptance of the busy-ness of life here and a commitment to make life around the green pleasant in spite of all the nitrates and escalating Co2 emissions. From this perspective, the green can be seen as a microcosm of the city itself and could even be representative of the ways humans get on with life on this often difficult and capricious planet.