First Meeting

Charles Job

Burning Leaves, Kensington Gardens, 1924

London. One of those crisp, cold winter afternoons. Waning blue sky. Profiteroles of cloud kissed apricot and cream by the setting sun. Chestnut and plane trees standing sentinel, stripped of their leaves, naked to wind and frost, the curling remains of their summer glory coppering the wet grass before being consumed by slow-burning bonfires, fragrant spirals of blue-grey smoke rising among their arms and stretched-out fingers. A slowly falling mist. In the distance the lights of Queensway and the Bayswater Road, gradually awakening. The brighter they became, the darker the afternoon, the more mysterious the park. No longer Kensington Gardens but a magic forest of the imagination. The mighty horse, muscled and sinuous, that was Watts' Physical Energy became less an Edwardian monument to 'restless impulse' seeking 'the still unachieved', more a giant, prancing Asgardian battle-charger breathing flame and life across northern ice-fields. Laid out before the Palace, Queen Caroline's Round Pond was less an ornamental lake, more an endless ocean of remote horizons, choppy waves and sheltered bays lying leeward. Fleets of all kind, all flags, sailed its waters. From yawls to junks, Endeavour yachts to marbleheads, clippers to destroyers, Vospers to submarines. In summer, with the still, warm, odorous rising of weeds and grasses, the Pond became a Sargasso Sea ensnaring dreams, drawing in our ships to a watery grave. In winter, it turned into an Arctic sheet beneath the stars and the planes into Heathrow. In summer we fished its depths, netting sticklebacks and occasionally more aggressive varieties. In winter, surrounded by skaters, we walked the waters of our fantasy.

In Kensington Gardens Lilliputians and Peter Pan, humans and fairies, lived in harmony. In the long  since vanished playground, looking south, Broad Walk to the left, Soviet Embassy to the right, you could fly on swings and jerkers, you could whirl around the maypole, pretty young hands ready to spin one yet further into space. It was a dangerous land of rusting chains and wooden seats, iron poles and concrete, of hard falls and tears, scraped arms, bruised knees and cracked heads. You made your own adventures, you took risks, you weighed up who to trust, what to mistrust.

The Serpentine

William Luker Jr 

W J Loftie Kensington: Picturesque & Historical, London June 1888

~ a favourite boyhood meander, Hyde Park before me, Kensington Gardens behind, 

Sundays spent collecting wild flowers for my mother ~

That winter day, Christmas 1955, the place called. The swings, in pairs, were always an attraction. You could take an easy ride or you could soar high. You could sit or stand. If your timing was right, you could jump off them at speed, hurtling through the air, landing with either a cry and a stumble or the muscular curve of a gymnast. Swings were fun – splintered, fractured, suspended planks of motion where you could keep to yourself or show off. Next to me was a gently swaying girl. Not particularly English. Modestly dressed in a school skirt. A fair complexion, blondish hair plaited Slavonic style. Did I join her, did she join me? I forget. There was something about her which drew me. An innocent maybe wanting to share a moment. We got talking as children do, life-long friends in seconds. Beneath the damp trees beyond I glimpsed my father watching us. But he kept his distance, beyond observing later, behind a suggestion of a smile, that I appeared to warm to her. I was eleven. She wasn't yet ten.

İstanbul, October 2013