My father lives in the dormitory town of Hampden Park, just outside Eastbourne on the south coast of England. The house was originally my grandfather’s and as a post war child growing up in Blackheath, South London, our annual summer holidays were spent visiting Nana and Grandad.
The earliest extant photo of me, ingrained in my memory rather than in an album, has me standing on a park bench in Hampden Park adjacent to the duck pond, which is more of a lake as it is surrounded by mature trees, not planted but allowed to grow as nature intended. The park’s main inhabitants are the grey squirrel, and several bird species inhabit the lake, notably mallard ducks, Canada geese, mute swans, moorhens, gulls and the rock pigeon.
One side of the park, on one of the roads in, is more open, with a sports field, a more recent indoor bowling centre and tennis courts where my sister complained that I wasn’t hitting the ball to where she could return it. There is a cafeteria where we were treated to a cone of Wall’s ice cream – yes, Indonesians take note: much of what you buy was British first.
I well remember the children’s playground with swings, a roundabout, a tall slide and other adventuresome equipment where I learned to test my physical attributes and, more importantly, social skills.
I recall excitedly exclaiming to my parents that I’d made a friend. It seemed both surprising and easy.
Back home in South London, just up the road there was Hornfair Park, a flat area with little of interest to me, apart from the tennis courts at the far end and the lido, an open air swimming pool, near the entrance. A regular year round routine was to get up early on Sunday, and leaving my mother at home, we would go for a dip, even when it meant breaking the ice.
As I grew older, I could bike up the road to the top of Shooters Hill and roam around Oxleas Wood which was delightful in early Spring as bluebells bloomed and carpetted the ground beneath the trees. With other teenage lads, I’d race, play tag or commandos, which was our generational ‘Cowboys and Indians’, and there was always time to relax in the caff with lemonade and a cake.
In the other direction, on the northern side of the vast expanse of Blackheath, there is Greenwich Park. (Do check out the panoramic view on this site.) This is one of the royal parks dotted around London. It houses the Greenwich Observatory which gave us the meridian from which Greenwich Meantime Time is measured and the time zone used by the Indonesian armed forces.
Four other local parks have significance in my life. The Valley, the home ground of Charlton Athletic, was within walking distance of my home. First there was the walk through a housing estate, then I’d go through Charlton Park which housed my library, then across the road through Maryon Park adjacent to Maryon Wilson Park which still has enclosures for deer and other cuddly animals.
In the latter period of my life in London, I was involved in the development of Larkhall Park, now a flourishing community concern. Moreover, in my free time, I was able to enjoy the many splendours of Brockwell Park which, like many of London’s parks, was once the ‘country estate’ of a rich landowner. Not only were there the lido and tennis courts for exercise, but we would fling our frisbees or play the French version of bowls, pétanque.
Along with shady trees to rest under for solitary reading, there was a walled garden, resplendent with flowers in season, for occasional romantic assignations.
Folk can wax lyrical about parks as, hopefully, I have. In brief, given free access, and the majority of Britain’s parks are maintained out of the public purse, they are community assets to be cherished.
If you are interested in reading more I highly recommend author William Boyd’s A-Z of Parks.
Definition of a park
It’s time to establish precisely what we mean by a “park”. I’m thinking principally of London, but I feel this definition will fit all parks in all cities of the world. There are certain determining characteristics, necessary conditions, for park status.
First, there must be tall, mature trees, the older and taller the better.
Second, the majority of the trees in the park must give the impression of random planting – no rectangles or neat lines, by and large. An avenue here or there is allowed, an allée, but we need the illusion of spontaneous, unplanned growth.
Third, the ground must undulate in a significant way – flatness is not a park-criterion.
Fourth, there is the question of scale: you mustn’t be able to see all sides of the park at once – one boundary at least must be invisible from wherever you stand.
Fifth, there must be a gated entrance: a park need not necessarily be fenced or walled but it must have a portal – or several. Immediately we see how these five categories allow us to separate, for example, a park from a city square.
This is an expanded version of the first section an article published in the Jakarta Globe on 26th June. Part 2, about the paucity of Jakarta’s parks, is below this post.