Saturday, 22 May 2010

Regent's Park

Tourists don't go to Regent's Park, except perhaps to see the Zoo. There is nothing much for a tourist to do but walk along the flowered lanes, row sedately on the canal, feed the greedy ducks or play soccor. Londoners go to Regent's Park. Today, the will-o'-the-wisp sunny weather--on a Saturday, no less--lured them out in droves with picnic baskets on blankets, bathing dress, sun dress, wedding dress and practically no dress at all. The appearance of all that expanse of white skin was reminiscent of Moby Dick, in more ways than one, and just as rare. The famous English complexion was all too exposed and, come sundown, would be redder than raw beef.

Of course, Londoners come in all colors and all ethnicities. Everyone was soaking up the sun, whether in skimpy bikinis or swathed in decorous cloth. Asians, Africans, Middle Easterners: there were representatives from every former colony England had ever ruled. Families lay on the lawns or in the long, unmown grass underneath the trees dotted with white daisies, buttercups and a few, late bluebells. It was amazing how quiet it was. No children screamed, although there were infants, toddlers, tykes and teens. People conversed in low tones or laughed quietly. There was virtually no trash, either. While the sight of so many polite Britishers lolling on the grass--actually on the grass!--was slightly shocking, nothing could have been more proper than their public behavior.

Everyone was universally friendly and chatty, too, something I have always found to be the case in Great Britain. Really, you have only to stand still for thirty seconds with your map open and a puzzled look on your face before someone will stop and ask if they can direct you. They may address you in a Caribbean lilt or a Scottish burr, but they will be Londoners all. On my first trip to London forty years ago, also with my companion on this journey, Sue, an elderly Brit not only helped us to find the British Museum, but thanked us "yanks" for pitching in during World War II. Neither Sue nor I had been born yet and were flabbergasted by good will that lasted so long.

This time, fresh from a 9:00 a.m. Heathrow landing, Sue and I walked to Regent's Park to stay awake and beat our jet lag. We were too loopy from lack of sleep to take in a museum or an art gallery, but could appreciate watching the grand parade. It turned out to be a treat that I would recommend for any first day in London, barring truly terrible weather. Even in the rain, there are cozy tea shops in the gardens and rarely is the downpour so torrential that you can't enjoy a stroll under an umbrella. So saunter through Queen Mary's Rose Garden or appreciare the many herbaceous borders. Most of all, enjoy that unique breed at play, Londoners.

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