Archive for August, 2017


Two days a week I currently look after the children – and at the moment, as it’s summer, this means parks.

We are lucky to have a huge number of parks nearby to choose from in South London. There are the smaller playparks: Little Park, Fox Park, Moody Park, Goose Green and Green Log Park (some names our own – the last christened for a mouldy log). Then there is Telegraph Hill, for views of the Shard and Gherkin, a giant slide and One O’Clock Club (once we also saw a toad). Peckham Rye has the labyrinth of the Sexby Garden, perfect for hide-and-seek amongst roses and verbena; the pond where we feed coots and sometimes see turtles; the annual arrival of the fair and circus on the expanse of common (I think three poems in my last book at set there, as I’d write in my head whilst pushing Gruff around: ‘At Peckham Rye’ , ‘Beholden’ and ‘The Fair is Coming’).  Burgess Park has a walled garden full of irises and an ice-cream van; Brockwell has water-fountains to play in and a miniature railway that runs on summer weekends.

Our favourite of all though, I think, is Crystal Palace, the perfect free day out with little ones. There is a city farm that has a pony, zebra finches, and an exotics room with a chameleon, turtles and snake skins to measure yourself against (Gruff is the height of a king snake). There is a proper maze, which I can vouch it is perfectly possible to get lost in. There is a playpark with a huge sand pit full of ‘dinosaur eggs’ and ‘dinosaur bones’ where the children can do some light archeology. And then there is the main event – the dinosaurs themselves.

I have been reading Travis Elborough’s marvellous book A Walk in the Park: the Life and Times of a People’s Institution – it has been a perfect accompaniment to these weeks of picnics. It’s full of amazing facts about all of London’s parks, and particularly Crystal Palace and the ways in which after the exhibition closed it tried to lure people in with a full-scale mock Egyptian court, cat-and-dog shows, a tightrope walk by the Great Blondin and some of the first ‘carpet’ bedding (the elaborate formal planting of greenhoused flowers like yellow and crimson nasturtiums.) They also had Waterhouse Hawkins sculpt the dinosaurs which are still there today. He described his role as a chance to: ‘call up from the abyss of time and from the depths of the earth, those vast forms and gigantic beasts which the Almighty Creator designed with fitness to inhabit and precede us in possession of this part of the earth called Great Britain.’ Actually, given he rejected the theory of evolution, they’ve aged quite badly and look a bit paunchy, but Gruff enjoys pretending he’s Andy from CBeebies’ Andy’s Dinosaur Adventures, spotting a glimpse of Iguanadon through the monkey-puzzle trees.

On friday we also spotted a heron, which always makes my day.

Talking of Andy from CBeebies, we actually saw him perform with his band the Odd Socks at Port Eliot Festival the other week – given the mud I had to get my pram through, pretty much the only live music I heard. Still, the children had a fun weekend and it was great to read Incarnation in the Idler tent and sell a few copies. Next I will be appearing with the Idlers at the Shambala Festival on the 27th August, with events on how to make a living as a poet, and a panel on whether it’s possible to live a Bohemian life in today’s world.

Now, though, to make myself a pot of coffee and decide on the shortlist for the Live Canon Poetry competition – some very strong entries to choose between…


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