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Monday, May 23, 2016

As Time Goes By in Battersea Park

In E. F. Benson's novel The Babe, the title character complains early in the novel that he often goes against the rules of the university, but none of the Cambridge staff ever punish him. They just shrug, say, "Oh, that's just the Babe," and let him off for his offenses. Later, on his river outing, we learn that he has been punished for several offenses, and is gated, which means that he needs to be back in his rooms by ten pm. So naturally he plans on a long day out on the river, and if he gets back by the expected time, well, that would be fine by him.

Instead, as the boat travels back through darkness, it strikes the edge of the bank, the Babe tumbles into the water, and he returns to the dorms swathed in a tablecloth. 

This is too much for the university leaders, who pack him off early, meaning he doesn't take his exams for that term, and necessitate his taking a tripos (a tougher exam) in the next term. So he goes off to London, where each day he rides his bicycle around Battersea Park each morning, then gets together with his friends each evening, and tells them all how unfairly the university staff has treated him. 

In 2013, my wife and I visited Battersea Park in London. It was a cold, cloudy day in November, and not many people were strolling through the park. I don't remember anyone riding their bicycles through the park, nor were children out playing. But the absence of crowds probably had most to do with school being in session, and people working during the week. (We visited nearby Hyde Park on the weekend, and it was packed). In any case, we had the park to ourselves, and were in no mood to complain.

In an episode of the TV series "As Time Goes By," there's an episode in which Jean and Lionel take a rowboat out on the lake in Battersea Park. As the characters are middle aged, and Lionel is out of practice at rowing, he finds the exercise more difficult than he anticipated, and the rows end up coming out of their stays and falling into the water. This results in the man who rents the boats getting in another boat, and towing them back to shore. Lionel then spends the rest of the day bemoaning his advancing years, and wishing he was younger, so he could share an even longer life together with Jean.

I liked the idea of rowing a boat across the lake, but sadly, the office was closed, and the boats were all put away. So my wife and I had to be content with strolling through the park, and enjoying our solitude together. It was a quiet, peaceful time, in which the only company we got was from the local duck population, who came out in their great numbers to admire our sandwiches, chips, and cookies. So we watched them crowd around us, and enjoyed our time together, even if we wished we could have taken a boat out on the lake. 

Then we left the park, climbed aboard a nice warm bus, and headed off to our next adventure.

Dragon Dave

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