Even before they did the big refurb of the Park, they changed the “fountains” in the ponds. In a way, that was when my love affair with the Park went a bit sour. In general, my attitude towards Hackney changed around that time. I don’t remember when exactly that was, but it was somewhere around 2004, maybe even earlier. The new fountains they installed in the ponds, fountains that I imagine are there to keep the water circulating, to stop it from stagnating, and to make sure, in the winter, that the pond doesn’t freeze over completely.
But they’re noisy. They don’t make that soothing sound of water on water. They feel unnatural. They ruined the ponds for me. I can’t sit there anymore. There’s something crass about the new fountains, although they’re hardly new now, but they weren’t like that when I first moved to Hackney more than fifteen years ago. Everything about the park back then was perfect. The Park was my oasis, the symbol of my escape to something better.
The Park was the first thing I saw when I arrived in Stoke Newington. I knew one person in London when I moved here. I’d only met her two or three times, but we’d connected and she’d invited me to sleep on the living room floor in the small flat she’d just bought on Church Street. I wasn’t planning to take her up on her offer, but things turned out differently and I didn’t feel I had much choice. Going to D’s flat saved, or at least made my life the kind of life I wanted.
I took the tube from the awful hotel I was staying at in Earl’s Court to Manor House Station. Then I walked down Green Lanes. She’d told me to walk through the Park. I remember that moment of finding the park, of turning into Lodge Gate and seeing the lawns before me. The lawns and the trees and the pond to my left and in front of me, the steeple of St Mary’s Church. It was one of those moments when you know that you are in the right place and for all the right reasons. After what felt like a long horrible journey, I felt completely and reassuringly at home.