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Reminiscing London

08/12/2013

Social Work

Following a rudderless career direction, I chose to return to full-time study and enrolled in the Bachelor of Social Work Degree course at La Trobe University. I was no longer rudderless and clear of my career direction. However, vast and surprising changes were to follow. During my second year of the course I was employed by a community based organisation. I had expressed an interest in post graduate studies and was offered a PhD scholarship that led to several years of field-work in Europe. I was admitted to the degree on 14 March 1997. Of course, I was by then long and well settled in England. I recall telling friends that my life in England had not all been beer and skittles. There was a divorce, and the death of my beloved brother, sister and wife.

London’s pleasures

Of London’s many pleasures, one of the most profound is a stroll along the south bank of the River Thames on a warm summer evening, just as the long twilight begins to fade into night. Start at Westminster Bridge, where the Houses of Parliament cast their shimmering reflection onto the dark water’s surface, and make your way east along the promenade crowded with theatres, museums, restaurants, shops and former riverine warehouses now transformed into blocks of fashionable and expensive flats. As you walk downriver, you pass more bridges – post-modern Hungerford, utilitarian Waterloo, Victorian wrought iron Blackfriars – while overhead the deceptively delicate wheel of the London Eye revolves, almost imperceptibly. Across the river glittering with reflected lights rises the congestion of buildings that constitutes the City of London, where Norman Foster’s over-sized “Gherkin” juts into the sky, dominating a cityscape more elegantly accented by the beautiful wedding-cake spire of St Bride’s, one of the churches built by Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of 1666.

At the Tate Modern, formerly the Bankside Power Station, steps lead to the pedestrian Millennium Bridge, once ridiculed for its unsteadiness, but now stabilized and heavily used by residents as well as tourists. Venture across it halfway and look to your right downriver, past Southwark and London bridges, to another famous landmark, the Victorian neo-Gothic Tower Bridge. Look directly ahead, and Wren’s masterpiece, St Paul’s Cathedral, fills the sky, its dome of Portland stone floodlit and glowing.

London’s parks

I previously wrote several blogs about London’s many pleasures. My focus here is on London’s parks – those with which I’m familiar. London still has amenities that no other city can offer – consider its great green spaces, particularly the famous royal parks (Hyde park, the Regent’s park, the Green park, and so forth), garden squares, council parks and many other green spaces such as the fabulous and enormous Hampstead Heath and others.

It was the High Gate Men’s Bathing Pond on Hampstead Heath that was for many years my obsession. I swam there each and every morning at 7 all year round and rarely missed a day. Swimming in the ponds was ‘bracing,’ even during summer and often there was concern about the water quality and pollution. We were a small disparate group of swimmers that included the Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf, authors, social workers, teachers, window cleaner, taxi driver, bankers. I was readily included and embraced in their circle.

The pond is also the centre of the gay universe and I was warned to avoid making eye contact – which I ignored, of course. It is quite a sight to see these handsome men with amazing fit and trained bodies on display on the lawn immediately opposite the entrance to the pond on a sunny Sunday afternoon. (I always thought that was an unique opportunity for Sir David Frederick Attenborough and his film crew.) What a shame or waste were typical laments by the ladies.

The pond on Christmas day was open to all comers: men and women alike. It was the occasion for a 50 metre race (all entrants received a certificate and I have several), mulled wine, speeches by a Lord and fun and larks.

Here are some of my favourite local council parks I enjoyed that were within easy and immediate reach from my home and work place and they kept me fit, sane and in equilibrium: Grovelands park; Hilly Fields park (it was in this splendid park that I walked almost every working day and where I was taught hedge laying to create and maintain a hedgerow. I’m proud of the splendid hedgerow we created and thrived); Oakwood park; Town park; Trent park country park. Each of these parks has a fabulous history and it’s worthwhile investigating, if you’re interested. A stroll in any of these parks is one of the pleasures that not only unifies the populace, it unifies it through time, because people have been doing it for centuries, in many cases but not all. You can do it irrespective of income, and if you have an umbrella you can even do it when it’s raining. Do it now, before some bright spark decides to start charging for entry.

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