On the 19 May I was writing about Westminster City Council’s attempt at trying to enhance Hyde Park in London for older people with exercise equipment. Perhaps they could take some pensioners to New York and do some park benchmarking, there is a lot they could learn.
Today, I had a walker’s map given to me by my hotel just off Central Park. It’s 843 acres according to a plaque on a seat. Most of the seats have inscriptions with wonderful memories of people who have loved this place over the years. All the walks are specified precisely to the nearest one hundredth of a mile – always assuming you stick to the route and don’t get lost ! A footnote on the map says that the paths are “maintained by the Road Runners Club of New York. Oops I wonder if I am letting them down by walking? Anyway, why should I care, their map is no b***** good anyway. It’s comprehensive and incomprehensible ! After less than 5 minutes walking I am already lost . Perhaps the hotel didn’t want me back ? I have found there are far more paths in the park than on the map. Perhaps the Road Runners are paying to maintain more paths than they think !
For a while I try to get back on the beaten track, but I quickly give up and accept that it’s a voyage of discovery to not know where you are heading or where you will end up.
It’s 98º and very, very hot in the sun so it’s not long before I need to rest on a bench in the shade. Nearby is a sign which greets you at all the gates with the PARK RULES. You would need an hour to read them all. The children I am watching obviously haven’t read all the rules. Then again they are all under 5. Bikes and pushchairs cast aside like yesterday’s toys; they are running around like a ring-a-ring-a-roses game under the elusive shower of a rotating sprinkler; totally soaked; inhibited screams of enjoyment; an occasional tear when someone falls over; mum steps into the shower to give un-needed comfort to a child whose tears are quickly washed away by the excitement of the returning rain.
Meanwhile free entertainment is being provided to the Amphitheatre of on-looking parents basking in the sun and their pride in their offspring. The grassy ground is saturated now and puddles are waiting to be jumped in. A NEW JOY !
I wonder if all the rules stopped all the adults running around in the sprinklers in the park ? What a pity we all stop being children and have to grow up. Perhaps Hyde Park could have a water play area for grannies, granddads and children?
Time for another walk and in no time at all what’s this? It’s Alice sitting on a large bronze mushroom surrounded by the White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter, complete with oversized Top Hat. The hat I used to wear at so many ExtraCare events. I liked that hat and dressing up. Maybe sometimes – the best times – I am still a child after all.
Queues of children waiting to sit on a mushroom and have their photos taken by mum or dad. I remember that too, only they were grannies and granddads waiting to have their photo taken with me and my top hat. Maybe they can still be children too.
Just around the corner another new adventure. A boating lake full of radio controlled yachts navigating the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Indian Ocean. Not many children here, I guess they know the water is too calm to be an ocean. The sea-faring dads are all sailing round the world of their lost youth. Admiral Nelson winning Trafalgar again, Captain Bligh fighting off the mutineers, Black Beard finally finding lost treasure or a courageous Captain Ahab at last catching and killing Moby Dick. No lost galleons here. All success and happy-ever-after endings. Perhaps there are lots of children here after all.
Up and off rambling again I come across a stroller folded up and dumped in a little bin. Was this the occasion of a child suddenly learning to walk? And then realising they will not need another pushchair for at least 70 years!
The next strange scene I pass is a young girl who walks by talking to herself – an imaginary friend? Schizophrenia? Early onset of dementia? The plug in her ear (providing she is not deaf) means she is on the mobile phone to someone else, somewhere else. Is this what they mean by “you’ll never walk alone”?
From one Liverpool song to another, I have now arrived at Strawberry Fields. I can see why John Lennon liked this area. His New York exile ended here in Dakota mansions overlooking this magical place. Strawberry Fields “where nothing is real” was right outside his apartment. His songs still echo around New York. Only yesterday he was singing “twist and shout” on a dinner cruise boat on the Hudson River to celebrate Independence Day. What a shame he was not able to celebrate his own independence here for longer.
As my walk nears its end I find myself looking at another beautiful larger than life figure sitting on a bench with an open book in hand and yet another top hat. A duckling at his feet wistfully looking up for hope and inspiration ………… Hans Christian Anderson. I honestly could not make this up!
It’s a fairy-tale storytelling area where every Saturday someone comes and reads to an assembled throne of children. Tales of our childhood:- Thumbalina – the Red Shoes – The Princess – The Tinderbox – The Snow Queen – The Little Tin Solider – The Emporers Clothes and everyone favourite happy ending story – The Ugly Duckling. What a great job for grannies and granddads. I’d love to do it myself – all these eager and excited listeners.
I hope I succeeded in getting some of that children’s wonderment across to my staff when I was working with so many interesting older people. There is a world of living history in the lifetime stories of elderly people which would intrigue the young of today.
So come on Westminster City Council, maybe Hyde Park could become a living history experience with older people sharing their experiences with London’s children.
Wouldn’t that be better than 6 exercise bikes ? Children and older people playing together ?