There was that year when a woman was attacked in the Park and they cordoned off the bottom end of the Park. Lodge Gate remained closed, and you couldn’t get to the Ponds. Perhaps they also closed the whole park for a while: I can’t remember exactly. The woman was stabbed repeatedly.
One act of brutality and everything changes. An act of brutality changes the future. Now, danger lurks. The trees and grass and bushes along the path at the far end of the Park (running parallel to Greenway Close) are all overgrown. The air is dense, tropical. The mud there takes longer to dry after the rain (and it’s been raining a lot, recently), and when it does dry, it dries into the shape of our footprints, the patterns of bicycle tires, like plasticine or playdough, played with by kids who’ve been distracted mid-play and wandered off.
It’s tricky to run here. I duck under low-hanging branches, am cautious about stepping into what could be oozing mud, but is now just hard earth moulded to look like soft clayey earth. And always there is the possibility, with the foliage so lush, the branches so full of leaves, that you will bump into someone running in the opposite direction, or not see the man lurking in the bushes, waiting to jump out and stab you.
I keep wanting to call the Council – Hackney Council! – and ask them to cut back the growth, to make it safe for us runners, especially the taller ones. It’s only that section of the running path that needs pruning. There’s a wildness to it, a wildness that I like, that in pictures makes the park look like a woods, rather than the manicured and recently revamped expanse that it is.
During the season of foot and mouth disease the park was closed off, first the section around the deer enclosure, then the park in its entirety. Around that time a friend and I went away to write in Hemingford Grey, a small village near Huntingdon. We stayed at St Francis’ House, a Christian retreat. We wanted to get away from London for a few days, to walk, to write, to be in nature. When we planned the getaway, the foot and mouth outbreak hadn’t happened yet. When we did leave the retreat house and walked along the country roads, drives shouted at us from their moving cars, yelling at us to go back to where we came from.