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     Volume 4 Issue 20 | November 5, 2004 |

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Straight Talk

School Runs

Nadia Kabir Barb

I just dropped my children off at school and as I drove back I did something uncharacteristic. I stopped my car in Hyde Park and just took in the beauty of my surroundings. It's funny but I drive through the park every day at least three times a day while I do my marathon school run but never stop and take a walk or sit on the grass and read a book. People always comment on how crazy I am to spend most of my life in the car but to tell you the truth, apart from the fact that I actually like being able to wave goodbye to the children everyday as they walk into their respective classes, the drive isn't so bad. They say every cloud has a silver lining and my silver lining is Hyde Park.

With the engine switched off and giving myself a short respite from the radio which has become my constant companion on my daily school runs, I revelled in the silence. As I rolled my window down, the stillness was broken by the leaves of the trees rustling in the wind and I watched as they floated gently to the ground. However, the sound of cars passing by was the only thing to bring me back to the fact that we were right in the heart of London. But this knowledge did not distract me from my solitary tryst with the park. Everywhere I looked, there was an extravaganza of colours -- a smattering of different shades of yellows, rusts, browns and greens. Autumn was well and truly upon us and it was glorious in its splendour. It reminded me of the different colours I used to see on my mothers paint palette, however, she would probably refer to them as yellow ochre and burnt sienna! What a spectacular palette God must have to create such a milieu. But it is just as beautiful no matter what time of the year I go through the park. Summer always sees hordes of people taking a stroll, the younger generation rollerblading, families having picnics or just lying on the grass soaking in the sun. Summer in the park always makes me nostalgic and takes me back to my university days where we would pack our books and a picnic lunch and come to study in Hyde Park just before our final exams. Needless to say that once we were sitting on the green grass under the warm rays of the elusive English sunshine, we would inevitably end up chatting, daydreaming or taking a well deserved nap from our few minutes of studiousness. We would also watch the little paddle boats gliding past us as we flicked through our books. The paddle boats on the Serpentine River become popular as soon as spring takes its leave and summer arrives. I was unaware until very recently that the Serpentine was a man made river. Queen Caroline, wife of George II, had extensive renovations carried out and in the 1730s had The Serpentine, a lake of some 11.34 hectares, created.

Every morning we have our usual mad panic before school. There are the obligatory hollers from each of the children, one unable to find the compulsory shin pads for hockey, the other complaining about not being able to use the bathroom as the other siblings had commandeered it or even my last minute shriek, "Has anyone seen my car keys?" But as always we manage to get into the car and set off on our trek across London. This entails driving through Hyde Park to get to our destination. Covering over 140 hectares, Hyde Park is one of the largest parks in London and is known for its beautiful landscape. In fact, as it happens, Henry VIII acquired Hyde Park from the monks of Westminster Abbey in 1536 and was often seen galloping on his horse with members of his court in their hunt for deer and wild boar. It remained a private hunting ground until James I came to the throne and permitted limited access. The King also appointed a ranger, or keeper, to take charge of the park. Thankfully for us, it was Charles I who changed the nature of the park completely. He had the Ring (north of the present Serpentine boathouses) created and in 1637 opened the park to the general public. Little did they know that a few hundred years on, they would be able to see Hrithik Roshan dancing and lip synching to the soundtrack of a Hindi film in the same location or groups of people would be practicing the art of Tai Chi early in the morning!

The moment we enter the gates of the park, the tension of getting to school on time, the totally inconsiderate behaviour of the other drivers and the chatter in the back of the car literally does take a back seat to the tranquillity of my surroundings. There have been many times when even the children have commented on the magnificent colours of the sunset as we drive home or the eeriness of the fog resting lightly above the grass on a winter's morning. Had I the ability, I would set up an easel and paint palette and try to capture these moments on a canvas. Not being an artist, I have to make do with storing these images to memory. Throughout the park there are little paths for pedestrians or bicycle lanes and even a designated path for horses. Albeit, the horses you see on the grounds are not the noble steeds belonging to Kings of yester years but those used by the riding stables in the area. It seems that just before the end of the 17th century William III moved his court to Kensington Palace. He found that his walk to St James's was rather treacherous, so he had 300 oil lamps installed, creating the first artificially lit highway in the country. In later days this route became known as Rotten Row, which is a corruption of the French 'Route de Roi' or King's Road.

Over the past few centuries, Hyde Park became a spot for national celebrations. In 1814 the Prince Regent organised fireworks to mark the end of the Napoleonic Wars, in 1851 (during Queen Victoria's reign) the Great Exhibition was held and in 1977 a Silver Jubilee Exhibition was held in honour of Queen Elizabeth II. But now we see the likes of Kylie Minogue, Christina Aguilera and Opera singers such as Pavarotti performing in front of thousands for events such as Party in the Park. If you go to Speakers Corner, aptly named, you can see people exercise their right to free speech. You will find numerous people standing on a soap box putting forth their views on a number of topics that as diverse as they are controversial at times, such as religion, politics, trade unions, fox hunting etc. In fact this was not always the case. It was Edmund Beales' Reform League that marched on Hyde Park in 1866 but clashed with the police at the time that led to the creation of Speakers Corner. In due course the Prime Minister allowed the meetings to continue unchallenged and since 1872, people have been allowed to speak at Speaker's Corner on any subject they want to. Maybe I should try my luck and see how I fare in Speakers Corner one of these days.

Well it is time to go and pick up the children and this time on my journey through the park, I will tell myself that it is really not so bad as I will be in the company of past Kings and Queens.




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