St. James's Park review
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The big lake in St. James's Park is famous for its ducks and geese, herons, pelicans and swans... and pigeons, of course. Wherever there is bread, you can bet your life there will be pigeons. And there's definitely a lot of bread on this lake because old ladies are forever throwing it in the water. I'm sitting here watching a flock of birds scrapping and flapping around the feet of an old lady -- she must be about eighty years old at least. The birds are going nuts like they haven't been fed for a week. It's all big mouths and beating wings, flying and fighting feathers everywhere. They are using their wings like elbows, to nudge a bit deeper into the scrum -- it's the avian equivalent of someone chucking a bundle of ten pound notes onto a busy street. It's every duck for himself. Mind the old lady, you greedy ducks! Give the old lady some space or she's going to fall in the water. I don't think she even cares, because these are her surrogate kids, and she wants to make sure they all get fed. Her real kids moved out years ago -- she probably hasn't seen them since Christmas, and these ducks are all she's got left.
Tourists love ducks. That is something I have learned over the years. They probably take as many pictures of the ducks as they do of Downing Street and Buckingham Palace. And they love squirrels as well. The squirrels in St. James's Park are quite tame and well behaved and will even pose for photos. Sometimes they'll stop for a chat, holding their little paws and claws up to their face like they're whispering secrets in your ear. For some reason the tourists think that they're extremely cute, but trust me: they're not. They’re just rodents in a horsehair coat. They've been practising this 'look at me' act for years, and know how to elicit biscuits and crisps from the crowd.
The lake is famous for another thing: the view from its bridge. If you walk out into the middle of the bridge then you can get a distant photo of Buckingham Palace and the Queen Victoria Memorial. It really is a great photo (I've snapped it at least ten thousand times). If you spin around 180 degrees then you can see the London Eye and Horse Guards Parade across the other side as well. I think that this second photo is even better, because you get the gothic turrets of the Royal Horseguards hotel poking up behind. From this perspective they're very reminiscent of a DisneyLand castle.
There's another nice view on the south-western edge of the lake. You can watch the pelicans preening on the rock by the fountain and Duck Island Cottage. I always call this place the haunted cottage, because it looks like one of those little witch's houses that you find buried in the woods, draped in a dust-sheet of overgrown weeds, and crouching under the spindly arms and branches of the wintry trees. It has a vegetable garden out the front with giant cabbages and poisonous rhubarb. There are big pr|ckly thistles and giant spikes of lavender, and all the flowers are the colour of potions: deep purples and pinks and fiery stripes of orange. (I'm not making any of this up!)
Twenty years I've been coming to St. James's Park... and I never knew this before today: did you know that you can stand on the roof of the cafe? There's a big cafe at the eastern end of the lake, and if you walk around the back then you can climb up a staircase to a balcony on top. How come I've never noticed this before? It's not the greatest view in the world -- you can look down on the fountain and see a thin sliver of Horse Guards, and a tiny top tip of Big Ben -- but, hey... it's something to do.
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