Saturday, 2 June 2012
Sitting down with St James
We're heading into London, the train is full and we're enveloped in the hum of happy talk. An old man sits in front of us, his straw hat on the seat next to him, he watches two girls chatting away, but they are completely oblivious as they giggle and conspire. Across the aisle a small boy stands on the seat, his face pressed against the window as he watches all the buildings go past sideways. All around us there's a sense of relaxed excitement, I wonder if that's because we all know that today, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, we'll see our capital city at its very best.
Just past Waterloo station, the London Eye looms large and I shake my head in bemusement at the enormous upturned purple cow that fills the space beside it. Each time I come to London, there's always something I've never seen before, this time it's a strange purple bovine thing; I have no idea what it is or what it's for. I look down at the sunlight sparkling on the Thames as our train crosses the river and heads into Charing Cross, then the doors open and we spill out into the station.
We've a busy day planned, a leisurely lunch and then a matinee, with some strolling around Covent Garden and theatreland thrown in. Somewhere along the way we both feel the need for some green space and a sit down, so we walk down Pall Mall, past the grand old Duke of York's statue and into St James park. It's the oldest royal park in London, and my favourite - a small green getaway with Buckingham Palace at one end and Trafalgar Square at the other, it holds some fond childhood memories of feeding ducks with my Dad and being amazed by the pelicans. Today it's crowded, but eventually we find a spot under the trees, with enough shade for Philip and a gap between the branches where bright sunlight shines through, like a spotlight, for me.
My legs are white; I imagine my knees blinking as I pull up my skirt hem and they are exposed to the shiny brightness of the outside world for the first time this year. I spot something else glittering in the sunshine; a one pound coin lying on the grass, half hidden by daisies and fallen leaves. I wonder who dropped it there, whether they know they've lost it. I pick it up, but feel reluctant to put it in my purse, next to money that is really mine, so I slip it into a side pocket of my bag, thinking perhaps it will be ok to use if I really need to.
Just like on the train, we're surrounded by people, it's the centre of London, but their talk and laughter drowns out any noise from traffic. There are couples, like us, who seem to have spontaneously decided to come here, they sit on the jumpers and jackets that they didn't need to bring today. There are whole families as well, with pushchairs standing guard around picnic blankets piled high with food. Behind me there's a clump of bushes where children are playing - I can hear them shouting 'hide, hide'. Then there's a full-throated 'aaarrgh' and as I turn round to look, a boy comes charging out; a proper pirate brandishing his bright red cricket bat.
Everyone has bags. The three girls beside me sit around their handbags like exhausted dancers at a disco. The blue and white stripes of Tesco's plastic is everywhere; I watch a woman delve into hers and pull out a cardboard wrapped sandwich, she looks at it for a very long time before folding back a corner of the box.
It's two o'clock, and I hear the chimes of Big Ben announcing the hour, reminding us that it's time we were making a move, our matinee will soon be starting. We stand slowly, stretching limbs that ache from sitting on the hard ground. As I brush the blades of grass from my skirt, I look around, just to make sure we haven't left anything behind, then I remember the one-pound coin and just before we leave, I drop it back on the ground. I hope whoever finds it next smiles as broadly as I do, as we head out into the rest of our Saturday in London.