A miscommunication in my taxi reservation. Twenty minutes of delay for them to get me a new cab to the airport, while I am all packed up and waiting at the lobby of my hotel, just off St. James’s park. Laptop is shut down, with a run-down battery and a charger packed away in the recesses of my overnighter. Twenty minutes of unexpected freedom in the middle of a weekday morning.
Disbelief. Confusion. Chaos. Realisation. Idea. Joy. Bliss.
I leave Waterloo place, and stroll towards St. James’s Park. Leaving behind the noise and bustle of mid morning London traffic, I make my way to the beauty and quiet of a well-kept garden. Even before I enter the park, I meet Sally – the lady whom I share a smile and brief conversation with. About the “bloody ungrateful pigeons“. She has been feeding them for the last twenty years. “And never asked for a thing in return. Can’t they just stop swooping down on my legs?” Her angry tone sap off any courage I had of asking her whether I could take a photograph of her. I retreat to the dark recesses of a shadowy willow and stealthily click away, and let my mind wonder whether I would ever be able to selflessly feed a bunch of ungrateful birds, every day, for twenty years. What makes someone do something like that? Love? Magnanimity? Routine? Boredom? Loneliness?
A gentle breeze, as it picks up and caresses the fallen autumn leaves, slowly nudges me towards the beautiful lake, where two swans are playfully pecking at each other. On either side of the lake, the trees are well into their fall avatar – with sparse leaves that are more red than yellow, as the last among them bargain with the wind, in a losing attempt to gain a few more moments with their companions, before they begin their inevitable descent to to the ground. It’s almost like the wind and trees are playing with each other, even as they ignore the sad pleas of the falling leaves. The boisterous wind whispers a joke to the tree. The tree giggles like a teenage girl and applauds, letting go of yet another large bunch of leaves. And looking on at this silly game, the water haughtily flows on, with no time for such childish antics.
As I keep walking along the Birdcage walk, I meet many Londoners along the way. Fluffytail, the squirrel, with whom I share a few moments of clicking glory. The photographer and the model. The artist and the muse. That lasts until she decides that it is very inappropriate of me to try and photograph her bushy behind – she jumps out from behind the iron bars and charges towards me, forcing me to retreat and move on to my next destination.
I come across a grandiose gathering of pigeons under the shade of a large oak tree. Sadly,they seem too busy to bother with me, as they attend their annual tree conference on the inconvenient truth – pigeon shit at city squares had passed the allowable limits, and may force the humans to pass laws against the pigeons, endangering the very existence of the domestic pigeon race. Who am I interrupt discussion of such weighty issues? An amazing variety of birds greet me as I continue on my trail. Geese, mandarin ducks, pelicans and black swans vie with each other for the attention of the doting cameras – some coquettishly tilting their heads from afar, some flirting precariously close to the iron bars and some even blatantly baring their behinds in a fan dance.
From the east and the west, the London eye and the Buckingham palace take turns in keeping watch on my intrusion into their beloved city, with the music from the house guards providing the perfect accompaniment. The rhythmic sound of hooves pulls me toward the Buckingham palace, where the changing of guards is well underway. In one of the oldest traditions of the Buckingham palace, a new guard, in his shiny fresh uniform of red tunic and bearskin, proudly takes over command from the old guard, under the sharp scrutiny of Queen Victoria, who gazes majestically from atop her memorial.
The phone rings. My cab has arrived. I panic as I need to retrace a twenty minute trail in two. Even as I prepare to sprint back, I steal a last glance at the beautiful tree-lined avenue, and smile knowing that this was a walk to remember.