The park is the countryside. The park is a patch of countryside, transplanted, or a remnant of what was here before streets and houses and council estates. A park is a countryside, abridged and condensed and adapted. You can hunt in this park. There are beasts to be shot and slaughtered. Deer and goats. No one does it. No one does it; no one shoots or slaughters. But what is there to stop you? Nothing will stop you from getting your gun out, your quiver of poisoned arrows Ah, but there are houses all around. Babies in prams. Supermarkets with pre-packaged venison on special. Look what the world has done to our instincts.
Look, Mummy, there’s Bambi.
You can amble and hike and now with the newly-installed grassy knoll, you can climb to the top of something. You can swim in a lake. Nobody does, but you could if you wanted to. You could strip down to your skin and forward-crawl across water. There’s a big lake and a smaller lake and there are gushing waterfalls. The sound of waterfalls, but if you open your eyes, you will see the truth: they are just noisy sprouting geyser-things in the middle of the pond.
You could live on an island surrounded by water. Ducks do, and so could you. No one does, but that doesn’t mean you have to be like everyone. And when you are tired of rambling and swimming and cross-country running, you can sit on a boulder overlooking the plains and the trees (the plane trees!) and contemplate the size of your future, and the predicament you’ve got yourself into right now.
And you can walk among the ash and the chestnuts. You can cross and recross these pathways. They have shaped these boulders into benches, these swamps into duck-ponds. Never shall you say a word against never, neither shall you rally against the near-raw howl of the imagination, of what the world is doing to us, forcing us to think alike, tricking us, making us believe that these are liberal times, that we are free. (Remember this day. Remember the day they sent the brave soldiers of Pussy Riot to prison. Remember the day this government threatened to send a man to waste away in America. Yes, and do you still speak of Bradley Manning?)
This park is a countryside, and the countryside is a forest, a jungle, the dense Amazon that, really, is just the Terracotta warriors of Qin Shi Huang. Nothing is itself anymore. Let us hack our way through the thick undergrowth of the running path, no, the Okavango swamps, and stop to eat berries and roasted snake meat on the ledge of the cliff that overlooks the river that seethes with crocodiles and hippos, huffing out air from nostrils as big as ducklings.
Can we stop for tea at the cafe now?
You can be the mad explorer erecting mansions with Doric columns at the equator, howling Kurtz-like at the stars. But the Park is closed after dark. But one night… yes, there was a night when you dared yourself to run through it at three in the morning. You were drunk and coming home from somewhere and you climbed over the railings and ran across the grass, exhilarated and terrified to be alone in the middle of nowhere, no map, no guide, just the moon reflecting off the eyes of wolves, and the rustling in the trees of bats and restless monkeys.
Let me sleep.
They’re playing lawn tennis in the park, playing croquet, lacrosse. You can play bowls, if you like, for real, although not anymore, to be honest. (Enough of this fiction!) The bowling green has gone. The boules pitch has gone. The cricketers have left. Long gone cricketers and croquet mallets. All the games that involve hard balls against wood.
The tortoises in the Park have been here for centuries. Butterflies come and go every second. Born, death. That’s it. Over. And the ducklings, they trail after mother duck in a winding line, a windsock of ducklings, and the cat family lurks in the bushes, claws as sharp as daggers. It’s that kind of park.
It’s a fucking game reserve in here, mate.
Yes, we are that kind of people. A reserved lot. Excuse me, but is this seat reserved? It’s me talking. I’d like to reserve a place on your… to reserve judgement until I’ve studied the facts. Yes, you do that. You take out your magnifying glass and your butterfly net and trundle through the backwoods in your safari suit and pith helmet. Is that you, Dr Livingstone? A living stone. A boulder that is now a bench as you settle down to write and the sun – oh, you have missed the sun, how you have missed the sun in these days of sans soleil – but it’s out now, again, out, the sun in all its glory, all day it has been there, and its warmth lingers, lingers, now, at night, with all the windows wide open and the crackling sounds of the embers, the smell of charred meat, and jasmine, and the laughter of the revelers from the pub downstairs, and the sirens, and from the heavens: a helicopter puttering, hovering as it looks for drugs in the houses and on the midnight streets around Clissold Park.