“Would you like the scenic route?” replied the smiling ticket officer at South Ken station. I had asked for directions to Kensington Gardens.
The alternative was to take the subway, and though the buskers and bright pop art posters that dot these subterranean passages are always a pleasure to listen to and see, I decided to soak in the sunshine that London’s skies are loathe to let through in September.
So walk I did; all the way down Exhibition Road. A stretch of asphalt that is home to some of the capitals most venerable buildings; starting off with The Natural History Museum and The Victoria & Albert. Two plump, ancient aunts seated comfortably on opposite porches and watching the comings and goings of the rest of the world. No doubt passing judgement, sharing gossip and occasionally getting in to tiffs (“No I got more visitors last year!”). The Science Museum, Imperial College London, whose new glass and chrome façade doesn’t look as incongruous as it sounds, the pristine white buildings that house aristocrats, i-bankers and offices are lined up one after the other and my eyes are almost relieved when it all comes to end.
Rem Koolhaas’s futuristic pavilion can be seen from the end of Exhibition Road. Was the Dutch architect chewing on hubba bubbas when he thought – “There’s an idea, the pavilion will be a big white bubble.” By day, the pavilion is a chic patisserie while in the evenings it plays host to movies, lectures and soirees that only those with hyphenated, Roman numeral including names are invited to. I had no desire to eat over priced French sandwiches (also I’d just eaten a quiche at Paul’s) so I moved on to the Serpentine Gallery – a modest, low lying brick building that sits in the shadow of the bubble. As my luck would have it, the gallery was closed for a re-hanging. I was kindly offered a diary and the chance to take a look at their book shop. Sighting an appointment with the area’s local swan population I excused myself.
I’ve only been to London’s Parks on weekends. Usually along with the rest of the city, it’s toddlers, nannies and dogs. I wondered who else would be in the gardens on a Friday afternoon. Hyde Park is perhaps a more popular and well known destination, so I wasn’t expecting to be in the midst of Nikon flashing tourists. And I wasn’t wrong.
Office workers taking extended lunch breaks. Old age pensioners walking their even older dogs. Children being minded by Phillipino and Latvian nannies.
‘Who is that?’ demanded a cherub faced devil as he marched past a statue of Queen Victoria that sits outside Kensinton Palace.
‘Princess. That is dead princess’ replied his petite minder from Manila.
I wandered aimlessly. The sun had disappeared and a cool breeze hinted of the rain that was to come. An old woman sat on a bench. Face made, hair done and surrounded by a dozen bags. She clutches them as though they contained all her worldly possessions. Was that regret on her face as she saw the little girl going by on her tricycle? Or was that just my over active imagination?
Along the edge of the lake, ducks, swans and other tiny winged creatures bathed, swam and fluttered. A white swan stood in the middle of the grassy lawns a good 15 yards from the lake. He seemed disoriented, lost and a little drunk from the look of his lurching gait. After a few wobbly steps he sat down. Reminded me of a certain Uncle who always overate at Saturday brunch.
The Kensington Palace was having an exhibition of photographs of the Late Princess of Wales by Mario Testino. Bronze plaques embedded in the foot path at regular intervals guided the faithful as they trudged along her Memorial Walk.
Lovers sat entwined in each others arms. Not at all like the furtive couples of Nageshwara Rao Park. They do their best to blend in with the foliage that shelter them from the gaze of Diabetic Mamas and the overweight Mamis who go round and round the park with a fervour that had till then been reserved for the local Anjaneyar temple.
It was almost 4:30 when I decided to turn around and walk back to the main entrance. A group of friends were chatting under a tree. In contrast, just two trees a way a lone Arab man was writing a letter. His denim jacket, jeans and sneakers were so new they looked almost unreal against the patch of brown grass and ageing bark. Perhaps another foreigner in a strange land telling those at home about Kensington Gardens on a Friday afternoon.