Summer is an unpredictable thing nowadays. Last year it passed us by altogether, with just a few sunny days here and there. This year has been better, starting off with some very hot weather in May.
My mother and I were booked on several day trips to the coast, and a week at a holiday camp in Suffolk. Most of these were in June/early July. The weather was not really good for any of these, though the sun did make some appearances between the cloud cover and rain. Forget ‘flaming June’, it is usually more like the traditional April with a lot of showers.
By so-called Mid-Summer’s Day on June 24th, of course, our Summer had hardly even started. Nothing unusual about that, July, August and September being the height of the British Summer when most people go on holiday.
But now, towards the end of July, we are enjoying another spell of good weather. Every sunny day we get between May and September I try to take advantage by going swimming/sunbathing at one or other of my two favorite natural water swimming places in London. These are the Mixed Bathing Pond on Hampstead Heath and the Serpentine Lido in Hyde Park.
I usually take my mother with me when I go to the Lido, and she enjoys sitting by the lake watching all the activity. There are the kids playing in and out of the water, swimmers, boats on the Serpentine, and lots of activity on the other side of the lake, including the occasional horse riders. They charge Â£4 just to sit in this area (Â£3 if you’re a pensioner) and if there’s two adults and you both want lockers and sunbeds, a day at the Lido willÂ cost you Â£15 before you’ve bought any refreshments at the little cafe.
Hampstead is somewhat cheaper, but much smaller, no sunbeds and no lockers. It was free to swim there for years, and technically it still is. However there is now a machine at the entrance where you can put money in to obtain a ticket. The charges are written up, with no explanation that payment is entirely voluntary, a sort of ‘donation’. For pensioners it’s only Â£1. As I feel I pay over-the-odds for my mother and I up the SerpentineÂ Lido when we go, and as I’ve been swimming free up Hampstead for years, like most regulars I don’t pay when I go up Hampstead. If they want money they should at least provide lockers to keep your clothes in, I’d pay for that.
So whenever I go swimming at either of these two places I pack sandwiches and a drink. My mother feels that an easy trip on the 49 bus from Battersea to Kensington Gardens, feeding the squirrels with nuts on the way thru the flower gardens to Hyde Park and the Serpentine, is as good or better than a trip to the coast. We have an ice cream on the way, and sometimes we stop off at the Diana Memorial fountain, where on occasionsÂ we cool our feet in the water along with all the tourists and other visitors.
Officials have a hopeless task trying to stop kids and others having fun byÂ using it as a paddling pool. These ‘jobsworth’ spoilsportsÂ should give up, this fittingÂ memorial to the ‘people’s princess’ will always be used by the people in the way they want. Fear of slipping and getting wet has reduced since they altered the surface under the water, and really it’s no more dangerous than the kid’s paddling pond in the Lido nearby.
By the way, how about erecting a statue of Diana in this large area? The woman who rocked the Monarchy, and who has stated since her death on Internet interviews that she doesn’t want William to be King and expects the Monarchy to be abolished after the Queen dies, deserves a sculpture. If only for breaking the taboo by shaking hands with AIDS patients, and for taking up the campaign against landmines. That she was murdered by the Establishment for being a ‘loose cannon’, as one Tory backbencher described her, who could not be ‘allowed’ to meddle in politics, as he also said a week before her assassination in Paris, I have not the slightest doubt.
On days when it is not really warm enough for swimming, but dry, we head for the River Thames less than a mile from my mother’s flat and mine. We often do this after our Wednesday and Thursday lunch club in Battersea High Street. Turn left and you come to a pleasant little park, Fred Wells gardens, with a tennis court and two children’s playgrounds. Walk thru there and there’s a raised embankment where you can sit overlooking the River and Chelsea Harbor opposite.
If I feel particularly energetic and the weather looks settled, I push her wheelchair all along the Riverside Walk to Battersea Park, which is one of the most varied parks in London. We visit the Old English Garden – very peaceful, then make our way to the lake. Parts of this look like a Louisiana bayou, or a river way out in the middle of the country. There is a tropical garden with exotic plants at one end of the lake, and a cafe at the other end. Also in the park is a little garden where you can buy plants, and some very wild areas.
Both of these were, or are, used by gay men for ‘cruising’, though the area by Queenstown Road/Chelsea Bridge seems to have been abandoned by them since a fence enclosing it was removed. They now seem to have moved to a sort of field and bushes a bit further into the park, north of the athletic track. I used to take my mother in there to get a feel of being right out in the countryside, but it became obvious she was the only woman there, with men lying, sitting or walking around. She didn’t notice anything untoward, but my gaydar instantly recognized this as a cruising ground, not a very active one, but very obvious to me.
It looks fine today, so I’m going to make up some sandwiches and take my mother up Kensington Gardens/Hyde Park if she feels like it, and I hope to have another swim in the Serpentine. All too soon Winter will be upon us, then no more swimming/sunbathing till next May if I’m lucky.
Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazyÂ days of Summer as the old pop song says.