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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

“As Time Goes By” in Holland Park: Part 2

Birds of a feather frolic together in Holland Park

At twenty-two hectares, or fifty-plus acres, Holland Park dwarfs most of the parks of my experience.  Each area caters to a different age group or activity.  Feel like a morning jog or an afternoon ramble?  Numerous walks lead you along enormous lawns, several ponds, an arboretum, and an oak enclosure.  Some areas hum with activity, while others seem natural and untended, as if within the heart of London, one could still wander through an uncharted forest.  Local residents bring their dogs to romp in the dog exercise area, supervise their children on the sports fields, or enjoy a lunchtime game in the tennis courts.  Mothers push strollers, or pick up their children from the preschool.  Those without sack lunches line up for a table in at the café.  Yet none of these places were for us.  

We searched for the garden where Jean and Lionel met in the second episode of the British TV sitcom “As Time Goes By,” written by Bob Larbey.

Jean runs a secretarial agency in London.  Lionel, back in England after operating a coffee bean plantation in Kenya for over three decades, has secured a publication contract.  The only problem?  He’s not a naturally gifted writer.  By chance, he seeks help from Jean’s firm.  When the secretary she sends him proves unsuitable, he eventually meets Jean.  The two recognize each other, and we learn that thirty-eight years ago, the two were deeply in love.  She was a nurse, he an army officer, and when he went off to fight in Korea, the letter he wrote never reached her.  While she assumed he never wrote, he assumed that she had decided her romance with him was just a lark.  Both were too proud to take further action.  Jean went on to marry another and is now a widow.  Lionel married one of the few English-speaking women in Kenya, but as he embraced the relationship to avert loneliness, it soon crumbled apart.  Jean’s grown-up daughter, Judith, believes her mother and Lionel can pick up where they left off.  Jean and Lionel, meanwhile, are intimidated by such a prospect.  Life has taught both of them how cruel it can be; each has learned to live with heartache and disappointment.  The next morning, when a replacement secretary returns to the office to report that Lionel has checked out of the hotel, Jean is not surprised.

Fate draws them together again.  Forced by his publisher to meet his deadline, Lionel checks back into his hotel, and goes on bended knee to Jean’s office.  But she is not there: she has gone to the park.  He journeys after her, and eventually finds her sitting on a bench in Holland Park, surrounded by a dazzling array of flowers in lovingly tended beds.  He goes to her, tries to bluff his way out of explaining, but finally admits that he was intimidated by her daughter’s belief that they could resume their relationship.  Jean admits that her daughter is a romantic.  Lionel says, “That’s absurd, she’s been married twice!”  Jean replies coolly, “You have to be a romantic to marry twice.”  Both agree that too much time has passed; neither resembles the person the other fell in love with in their youth.  With a handshake, they depart.  Jean promises to send a secretary tomorrow, and Lionel promises he will be in the hotel.  They depart, if not as lovers, then at least as like-minded friends.  

In the next scene, Jean is walking down a quiet residential street when she realizes that Lionel is chasing her.  Before the episode is through, the two end up at a party together.  Despite all that separated them, we felt a quiet contentment as Jean and Lionel left the party.  We begin to hope that a resumption of their romance was possible. 

Although they met first in the hotel lobby, there they faced each other as combatants.  Protected within their emotional walls of justification, their exchange consisted of information hurled against each other’s defenses, covering what each had done during the intervening decades.  Understandably, this first encounter, waged in the lobby of Lionel’s hotel, left each uncomfortable about seeing the other again.  But in a garden in Holland Park, in such a pastoral setting, each let their guard down a little.  This second time, each was willing to be a little more honest about where they stood emotionally.  As a result, this second meeting prompted them toward a third union, this time at a party held by Lionel’s publisher.  This garden encounter, during the second episode, was where Jean and Lionel restart their relationship.

A list of plants, selected for your approval, by the gardener.
His name?  Fleming.  A Mr. Ian Fleming.

In searching for this particular garden, one representative of the formality English gardens are regarded for, we consulted a map, and noticed an area of the Park subdivided into a number of gardens.  We walked past an Orangery.  We didn’t stop to sample the aromatic and colorful delights of the Rose Garden.  We saw a familiar-looking fountain, but soldiered on.  Unless Jean and Lionel’s garden had been torn apart and redeveloped, we would find it. 

Fifteen minutes after we entered Holland Park, we arrived in Jean and Lionel’s garden.  A sign identified it as the Dutch Garden.  People sat on the benches, ate their lunches, and gazed in quiet contentment at the carefully tended beds bursting with color.  Immediately, we felt at home here.  We had reached a place that will forever reside in our hearts.  We sat on an unoccupied bench, set out our simple lunch, and feasted on the familiar surroundings we had previously inhabited in our imaginations.

"At last, we've arrived!"

This entry will conclude with “As Time Goes By” Holland Park: Part 3.

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