Hyde Park review
I don't get on very well with the sun. Put it this way: we're not friends. If I'm going to be walking around a park for two hours then I usually like to do it in the rain -- but it's sunny today. It's hot enough to boil the tears off my cheeks. So if I wilt halfway round then you'll understand why, because Hyde Park is a lot bigger than it looks on a map.
I'm starting off at Speaker's Corner, opposite Marble Arch -- famous for its free speech and hecklers. Wannabe politicians and the world's worst orators bring their stepladders along and start shouting at the crowds, sharing their wit and wisdom and weirdo conspiracy theories, but I've never seen anyone here except for Sunday lunchtimes. The only people giving speeches today are a few pigeons and squirrels. I can hear a cyclist ringing his bell at a few dawdling walkers, but that's about it.
Head out into the middle of the park and try and get away from the roads. You need to try and block out all the traffic noise by filtering it through the tree leaves. People claim that Hyde Park is so vast it's like walking in the countryside, but there's nowhere that you can't see a building. Cranes are constantly peeping over the tree line. There's always someone running or walking their dog or pushing their pushchair kids. It's very hard to hide from humans in London. If you take away the lake then it's actually quite a flat and featureless place. There are only three kinds of tree in here: green, brown or dried-up and dead. It does have quite a lot of wildlife, though. I've just noticed a lot of bird houses nailed up on the tree trunks. You'll also see plenty of horses if you keep your eyes open. There's a dusty red path along the top and bottom edge where they get their daily exercise, and a couple of empty paddocks were they get trotted around by the riders. One of the paddocks has even got a couple of jumps inside. But I don't think these horses are going to win the Grand National any time soon. We're not talking Red Rum, here. They're more like plodding donkeys, in training for a career down the seaside carrying fat kids in flip-flops.
As you're walking along the top edge keep an eye out for Victoria Lodge. Head through the road gate towards the street outside, but at the very last second have a look left through the railings. What can you see? I can't see very much today because it's all overgrown with weeds, but if you peer through the greenery then you might be able to make out a few midget gravestones. This is a Victorian pet cemetery, full of dead doggies and moggies. Women sure do love their dead pets, don't they? I'm guessing that they must have been women who buried them. Women bury their pets like they're one of the family -- men just flush them down the toilet.
If you carry on walking around the edge then you'll come to Buck House -- another spooky little place which looks like a haunted cottage. I don't know if it actually is haunted, but trust me when I say I'm not going anywhere near to find out. It looks haunted, and that's enough for me -- it looks like it's filled with spider's webs, darkness, and evil. The last time I walked past this place I was overcome with a deep dread and terror and I had to sit down and have a beer (several beers, in fact).
At the top of the lake is the Italian Gardens. This is quite a pleasant place for a sit down: four stone pools and a few spouting fountains, decorated in water reeds and lily greens. I'm sitting here listening to a six-foot fountain having a fit of spurting spasms and it's actually quite violent. It's like an Icelandic geyser or a busted road pipe. The ducks don't seem to mind: they're just sitting under the spray like it's a bathroom power shower.
It's hard to believe when you see the size of it, but the Serpentine is actually a man-made lake. There used to be a river running down through Bayswater but Queen Caroline (George II's wife) had it dammed up so she would have somewhere to sail her pleasure boats. That's royalty for you. They couldn't get away with that these days. But it created a great home for the birds, I suppose. It's quite a multicultural little town, this lake: you've got ducks and dogs and swans and coots and flies. London is just a big melting pot of races and religions, isn't it? Feathers, fur, webbed feet, no feet; as long as you're happy eating soggy cigarette ends and stale breadcrumbs off the concrete then you're welcome in our town.
There are two big cafes in Hyde Park. The Serpentine Bar & Kitchen is at the eastern end of the lake, and you'll find the Lido on the southern side. The first one is definitely the best because you can pick a seat outside and stare down the length of the lake. From this perspective it's almost like an ocean -- it's vast! The ducks are sitting in the bay preening their feathers (cleaning their engines) getting ready to sail away... they're just stocking up on a few more flies and then they'll be off on their adventures. I think I'll just stand here and watch them sail away. It's a bit like standing on the Albert Dock, watching the iron liners disappear over the horizon. I can see a load of pigeons as well, but they never seem to go in the water. Can pigeons even swim? They just stand on the bank staring at their big brother ducks sailing away to distant shores, waving them goodbye with their wings.
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