The second half of Week 4‘s Artist’s Date took place in one of London’s most beautiful parks.
Again, going on an Artist’s Date was not my primary plan for that day. In a bid to get me out and exercising more, I decided to join a social walking group that frequented this venue and booked in for my first meet.
There was a lot of confusion and too-ing and fro-ing about which gate we were meeting at amongst my fellow guest walkers. Silly people. It was hardly rocket science.
I googled the gate the organiser had suggested and recognised it immediately. It was ‘my gate’ a.k.a. the place I usually parked. Research complete, I smugly sat back, had a cup of tea and looked forward to the day.
You can guess what happened can’t you?
I was just about on time with seconds to spare, but I went to the wrong gate. Turns out they all look pretty much the same.
By the time I found the right meeting place, the parking meter would not take my coins, so I had to find somewhere else offsite. I’d also inadvertantly left my mobile at home so couldn’t contact our leader, so I was over 15 minutes late by the time I arrived, and my group had long gone.
If you ever see a book on sale entitled ‘How to Make Friends and Influence People’ by Sista Sertraline, I suggest you only buy it to light a fire or line your budgie’s cage/cat’s litter tray….
Mortified, and kicking myself for being such an eejit, I decided to take a stroll anyway in the hope that I would bump into my new best friends, and have the opportunity to apologise face to face.
The park was unusually quiet, mainly down to the fact that it was bitterly cold to the point of being painful, so only the real ‘die hards’ had shown up for their daily constitutional.
I’m not normally much of a people watcher as I’m usually very much ‘up in my head’ as I’m paranoid, so don’t pay much attention to anyone else, but this day was different. Despite my solitude and the Arctic cold weather I started to enjoy myself and took in the beauty of my surroundings. The early bluebells and daffodils were frosted a crystalline white, the budding trees caught in icy suspended animation, and the air was misty with expelled breath, fog and tiny particles of snow.
The majority of the die hards were, as you might guess, dog walkers. I’m a terrible dog molester and frequently stop some poor owner so that I can maul their mutt, but today was not a good day to slow these poor red nosed souls down. Instead I decided to consciously beam love and admiration at the hounds as they went by. And you know what? Nine times out of ten, they would try and come over to me! Just call me the Pied Piper of Pooches :-).
The next biggest group were the runners. Lycra clad, wooly hats atop of head, they sprinted by scarlet from the biting wind and effort, a look of agonised concentration etched on their faces. They came in all ages, shapes and sizes and I could only admire their dedication and commitment. Maybe I’ll join ‘em. When Spring arrives at any rate.
By now I was probably a quarter of the way around the grounds, so decided to do something else to amuse myself. I channelled my inner country bumpkin and did the most heinous thing that you can do to a fellow Londoner. I decided to make eye contact, smile, and at the very least, say hello.
A lot of you will be thinking ‘Big deal?’ at this, but believe me, us Londoners don’t do this unless we know one another. It is percieved as being creepy, intrusive and inappropriate, especially on public transport and probably even more so in a park where a lot of freaks, muggers and paedos hang out. Plus I’m not great at rejection, even from strangers.
Whatever. If nothing else this should be an education.
And it was.
The first very camp guy walking his butch staffie looked like I’d just goosed him, instead of smiling and giving him a chirpy ‘‘Morning!‘. He managed to recover his composure and mutter it back whilst scurrying by as fast as he could. The dog returned my greeting with a loving look whilst it’s skinny little tail beat a tattoo on Camp Guy’s overcoat with sheer happiness. Success!
My next victim was a runner, who responded to my beam with a twisted grimace and a ‘ha-mmppph!’ as he shot by, which I think was meant to be reciprocal/friendly and not just him clearing snot out of the back of his throat.
An aged Indian guy wearing an embroidered hat gave me one of the most beautiful smiles I’d ever seen as he peddled by on his bike, quickly followed by a couple of Sloany ladies with their kids, who eyes downcast, mumbled a response into their pashminas whilst subtly exchanging ‘WTF?’ looks at one another as I passed.
One of my favourites though was a diminutive, tough guy boxer type dressed from head to foot in black sweats and a grim, world weary expression etched into his granite like face as he ran, intermittently stopping to do press ups, shadow box and stretch. I was going to enjoy this :-). He was in the middle of doing some kind of twisting exercise as I approached, and as he inadvertently turned in my direction, I trilled ‘Good Morning!’ Joyce Grenfell stylee, right in his face.
Within a split second he averted his eyes as I were a gorgon or something and growled ‘Morning lady!’ back at me, before hitting the ground and giving some invisible sargeant major ’50’ push ups. Whilst the returned greeting sounded more like ‘Don’t fuck with me lady, I’m training innit?!’’ than what came out of his mouth, I was happy with this little triumph, beamed at his sweating back and carried on my merry way.
My absolute favourite though was this little old dear who was walking her four Pekinese’s. Both she and her charges were wearing colour co-ordinated outfits (she in pink, the dogs in mint, lemon, turquioise and purple respectively) and one of them was travelling in what can only be described as a pastel doggie version of the ‘Pope Mobile’. This took me so by surprise that I almost forgot to say hello. The lady however was obviously used to people staring, gobs hanging open in awe and immediately engaged me in conversation, telling me all about her babies, particularly the one in the vehicle who was so favoured because ‘his feet got sore’. His Excellency Lord Sore-Feet gazed at me regally though the clear plastic hood, whilst his three siblings wagged their tails albeit rather nervously in my general direction. I was desperate to give them a cuddle, but decided it might be some way inappropriate, and bid them all farewell.
By the time I could see my car, I had decided that the experiment/walk was a resounding success. Very few people ignored me, most muttered a reply, quite a few even looked charmed by my overtures and of course I got to see some of the areas most eccentric residents.
There was, however, the small matter of putting my earlier tardiness/no show right though.
On arriving home, I imeediately shot off an extremely apologetic note to the Organised Walk Lady, explaining what had happened and hoping she wasn’t too inconvenienced by my absence. And guess what? She was absolutely charming, laughed about the mix up, apologised for not being there but they waited in the freezing cold for 15 minutes for me at that gate, where there was no warmth or shelter to be had.
I was touched and humbled.
She sounds like someone I’d very much like to meet up with again.