Father’s day here coincided with a series of events to show the sunny side of humanity, in the spirit and memory of murdered MP Jo Cox and at the end of a dreadful week in the UK and especially London following the appalling fire at Grenville House.
For various reasons I was alone, well Dog and me. The weather was forecast to be seriously hot for hereabouts – 31C they said, which is at least 5 degrees above sensible for anywhere near London.
So we had a choice – stay inside and find shade or sod it and go walking.
Not really a choice when those doleful eyes are on you. We caught a train towards Richmond but the connections sort of died from terminal inertia, or inertia at the terminal, at Clapham Junction so we took an executive decision, bought a sausage roll for lunch and headed out towards a string of commons that lead home over six miles, starting with Wandsworth Common.
It’s a superficially bland strip, with barely an undulation and bordered by a busy road one side and a railway the other.
But it does have trees and, on a day when pausing to smell the coffee/diesel/picnics/jogger’s-sweat seemed sensible given the unrelenting heat, taking in the sweep of the fully laden canopies made sense.
We don’t spend enough time staring at trees, I thought. Nature’s high-rises, home to countless families with the same fragile, easily destroyed-through-ignorance-and-indifference vulnerability as Grenville. I don’t intend by this thought to try and make any sort of glib comparison but we can so easily ignore the unheard, whether it be marginalised families or scraps of the natural world.
Across the railway there are ponds and people enjoying the ducklings and moorhen chicks.
London is out and about, sitting and reading, playing desultory games, or exercising furiously – basically doing whatever London wants to do, without a care.
A simple part of human dignity, that ability to choose to do or not do, to engage or to ignore.
I stopped before crossing Belle Vue Road and watched two comfortably covered men boxing. They sweated and grunted and laughed and sweated some more. Next to them, a few feet away a woman read the newspaper while her friend sought the perfect angle to tan an exposed sliver of shoulder; a small boy squatted in that way children have that our use of chairs has made us forget, all the time contemplating the deep meaning of dust, as he stirred it with a stick.
Dog stuck out his tongue and then peed, his own contribution to a tableau that was both mundane and beautiful.
I hurried on, wanting to leave the morbidity of my tendency to dwell on the news coming into my ears via a news bulletin. The drear focus on politics just now is wearisome and utterly unrepresentative of the humanity about me which wanted nothing more than to take some simple pleasure, have a break from the bigger picture.
Why does the news have that bit more tonnage just now? Are we not entitled to a silly season, when papers are filled with sand-encrusted urchins besmeared with ice cream as a fountain splashes in the background because there is nothing else to report? If fake news comprised dolphins rescuing puppies I’d sign up.
Next up is Tooting Bec, a sprawly place with more shrubs and as many by now pink poached torsos. I lost myself for a while, sharing with Dog a bottle of water and the aforementioned sausage roll (he had the meat, I had the pastry) and an apple.
I needed a pee and not having Dog’s indifference to social convention I dived into a tangle of sallow and brambles to find some privacy. While there a small piping voice startled me with: ‘What’s that man doing, mummy?’
Fearing at the least a scowl of glacial frostiness or the possibility of arrest I hastened to leave only to be confronted by a mother and son staring at a tall, elderly gentleman standing on his head in some complex yoga pose. I left them to their entertainment, hoping that was what had engaged the young voyeur’s attention.
The final sward is Streatham Common after we passed the Moorish palace that is the Wandsworth Water Works – a piece of Victoriana that never ceases to please me, both for the sheer chutzpah of the company that built it and the fact it is still in use for its designated purpose – a pumping station – today.
Streatham Common is on a slope allowing for a range of hurtling games for the overheated youth. But it also has a rather good cafe at the top. Dog supped some handily provided water that looked manky but then again manky is his preference while I procured a coffee. As I sat and sipped I noticed two marquees one with this slogan on the side.
I could hardly not explore. The stall was run by a mix of locals, from the pot pourri of cultures that make up South London’s residents. A smiling lady in a hijab told me the cakes were free and wouldn’t take anything for them. They came in a box ‘with a lot of peace’.
I stopped and chatted. Jo Cox’s name was mentioned as the stimulus but also Grenville and the disbelief that something like that could so easily happen hereabouts.
It’s very easy to be both disheartened by events or uplifted by ordinary people’s reactions to them. I think we all know it is futile to expect ‘never again’, to realise while humans make decisions impacting other people without those people being properly engaged such things will blight us. I also think we can take some comfort from the countless small kindnesses that occur each and every day that make city living tolerable.
We walked on, now both sweaty and in need of that shade we had forsworn 2.5 hours earlier. We shared a cake on the way – delicious – and smiled at everyone we passed. Some smiled back; others assumed I was on some sort of day release and hurried by. But that’s fine, too. After all there are many versions of normal and we need to accommodate all of them, give them a voice, even if that voice is merely a randomly given smile.
Happy Father’s Day, world, from a very happy father. And Dog.
This is part of Jo’s Monday walks which you can follow here.