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Friday, March 16, 2012

“As Time Goes By” in Holland Park: Part 3

The busier our lives become, and the more artificial the environments we inhabit, the more we crave a return to nature.  Gardens delight the eyes, enliven the senses, and inspire us.  Provided they don’t disturb the sinuses, a lunchtime garden-visit can relax one better than a nap in an upholstered office chair.  London, a hive of activity, doesn’t skimp on green spaces.  From numerous gardens and parks along the Victoria Embankment, to its many parks, residents and workers find ample opportunity to ease the stress of modern life via a return to nature.  Whether Holland Park can do this better than other London parks is not mine to decide.  But we found our visit to Holland Park memorable, meaningful, and rejuvenating.  For, in addition to providing all the benefits listed above, we ate lunch in the garden where Jean and Lionel resumed their relationship in Episode Two of the British sitcom “As Time Goes By.”  And we did so in a very “Jean and Lionel” way.  We picnicked.

In the series, Jean, her adult daughter Judith, and her secretary Sandy often lunch on packaged sandwiches.  Once Lionel shows up at Jean’s office, Type For You, intent upon buying her lunch.  Jean produces packaged sandwiches.  Lionel says “I was going to take you out for a proper lunch.”  Jean, who built up her secretarial agency from nothing, sees such grab-and-go fare as a proper lunch.  Indeed, until Jean retires in Season Six, it’s not unusual for her and Lionel to lunch on sandwiches in one of London’s many parks.  

As we enjoyed our picnic lunch, it struck me how different this was from my experience.  Back home, whenever I didn’t bring my lunch to the office, I often visited a fast food restaurant.  Inside, after waiting in line, I sat in a crowded, indoor dining area eating my hamburger and fries, enjoying the air conditioning and listening to the piped-in music.  In London, fast food chains are less common than in U. S. cities I’ve visited.  Restaurants charge more for food consumed on the premises, and most places that fit the fast food demographic burgeoned with people, which raised the noise level and made the air hot and humid.  So we, like so many, had opted for the three-dollar (Oops!  I meant pound) special at the convenience store, and chosen from a wide selection of packaged sandwiches, bags of chips (sorry: crisps), and cans of soda.  Here, in Holland Park, we could enjoy our food in quiet reflection.  We could talk without effort, and hear each other’s words.  The air was refreshing and easy to breathe.  We could watch the insects busily pollinating the flowers.  On the opposite side of the garden, a man stretched out on a bench to nap in the shade.  Mothers and nannies parked their strollers, sat down, and soaked in the sun.  People slowly wandered between the beds, enjoying gardener Ian Fleming’s arrangements. 

Yet one thing nagged me.  As with Hercule Poirot’s house, something looked different.  Then it struck me: when Lionel found Jean here in Episode Two, her bench was situated opposite ours.  Had the production crew moved the bench and reversed its orientation for better lighting?  Had they wanted to film Jean and Lionel’s conversation with the garden behind them, rather than a tree-lined brick wall?  Only after reviewing the episode did I realize they did it for those reasons and another: to expand the time and space in which the scene unfolds.  

While walking past other formal gardens on the way here, one fountain had looked familiar, but I hadn't known why.  Now I do. By moving and reversing the bench, Jean and Lionel seem to sit amid a much larger garden.  As they recall their initial meeting here thirty-eight years ago, Jean points out a young couple to Lionel.  The two look ahead, and through a brick wall that does not exist for the camera.  Just as they met here before Lionel shipped off to Korea, a young army officer and a nurse walk arm-in-arm around a fountain.  Thus history becomes present, and the Dutch Garden is magically expanded.  As Jean and Lionel recall what they said to each other on that occasion, hope blossoms inside our hearts.  Despite all their past heartaches, we want them to recapture the emotions, attraction, and yearning of that first meeting. 

Picture the bench resting at the top of the steps.
Sitting with their backs to the garden, 

Jean and Lionel ignore me as I eat my lunch.
They use their X-ray vision to see through the brick wall,
and thus observe a young couple circling a fountain.

Our heels dragged as we left Holland Park.  From the dedications on the benches, the inscriptions on the walls, the planning that gardener Ian Fleming put into his arrangements, and the recently added statue, I understand why the production crew chose to film this pivotal scene here.  So much love has been (and continues to be) lavished upon the Dutch Garden. Thus, it serves as the perfect place for Jean and Lionel to resume their former relationship.  I feel honored to have visited a place that brings such joy to so many lives.  By picnicking here, I’ve gained more insight into the practicalities of life in London.  When next I return to this bustling metropolis, I’d like to visit other gardens, and explore such pockets of serenity cherished by those working and living nearby.  But I’d also love to return to Holland Park.  If I do, one thing is certain.  As I carry my sandwich, bag of chips (sorry: crisps), and can of soda through the area of formal gardens, I’ll not only return to the Dutch Garden.  I’ll also be looking for a familiar-looking fountain.  

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