Next to Hampstead Heath station, tucked into a layby between the road and the train tracks, there is a little oasis of calm called “The World Peace Garden”. I’m sitting here, looking at the corralled nature. Some of the flowers are in bloom. There are wind chimes ringing in the autumn breezes. The sun is bright this morning and if I raise my face I can soak up the warmth and bask in direct light. To my right a young man is sitting smoking and reading “Carrie” by Stephen King. To my left, a robin is trying to work out if I’ve dropped enough croissant to make it worth risking a close approach. A small orange child just ran past, followed by the mother and her friend, but normally you can sit here for ages and see very few people.
I think this place was the fevered retirement dream of some rather fabulous artsy Hampstead ex councillor type person. “Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but pictures, kill nothing but time,” we are told by the laminated sign tied to one of the trees. Somebody else has stuck a “No smoking” sign on the laminate, and both signs are rebuked by a sticker that reads “plastic kills”. A reminder of the febrile nature of this city. Conflicting agendas, overlapping one another and struggling to be seen. I’m fine with the guy smoking. I’m amused at the “Plastic kills” because it answers my immediate feeling that the laminate is twee, ugly and out of place. If you’re going to go to all the effort to make the garden, just get some local artist to carve you a wooden sign with your trite motifs. Or trust people not to be arseholes. The kind of people that are going to steal your flowers, throw shit everywhere and kick the birds are going to do it whether or not there’s a sign suggesting they don’t. They won’t read it anyway.
Still, it’s pleasant here. The path is strewn with woodchip and autumn leaves. Bamboo and ferns, old and young trees, and a little bit of life. Some of the stumps have bracket fungus, and I find myself wondering if there might not be an interesting mycology lurking here somewhere.
I’m just here to procrastinate. I’m supposed to be hauling boxes down the stairs and taking them to my friend’s garage. But the weather is so perfect. Another rare bright autumn morning. After a shit summer, at least the memory of summer lingers here.
I just had a little moment communing with the robin. It came and sat opposite me, close enough that I could see its throat moving as it made its eloquent mimbling twitters. It found a bit of my croissant before two men talking loudly shoved past me and it went and hid in the bamboo.
It’s easy to forget the nature that is waiting in the city. It’s easy to overlook the fact that if we all went to the rapture, the streets would be overgrown in a matter of months. I’m glad I took the time to sit here. Now I’m going back into the throng. Flat white, boxes, cars. I’ll miss the little robin.