The mercury is pushing the high twenties this week in London. Coming from South Africa we are used to the heat, but the sticky heat in the city is something entirely different. So we endeavoured to escape the summer to a nearby park.
We spent the past two mornings splayed on the grass at Morden Hall Park, about 15 minutes ride by longboard. I am slowly starting to get the hang of it, but am still quite uncertain. My brother boldly takes the lead. We weave between pedestrians (I often dismount) and trees until we spot a patch of grass in the shadows we like.
The backpack is crammed with fresh water, treats, chips, and our most precious items, books.
On Sunday Ruan and I visited the Portobello Market in the rain. It was a different marketplace to the ones we had visited in the past. Instead of being huddled under a big gazebo or in one location, it spread along both sides of the streets for over a kilometre, where it bulged out thickly to the side at the other end. That is where we struck gold.
Since our Alice Underground evening, Ruan has been obsessing about finding an antique print of Through the Looking Glass or Alice in Wonderland. And for the longest time, I have been on a quest to purchase an old set of The Lord of the Rings. This old bookstore stood sheltered against the rain, protecting its precious collection of fantastical old books.
Suddenly these childhood books had more value since we trod in places that inspired the likes of Peter Pan, Peter Rabbit and Harry Potter. We bargained for Alice in Wonderland, a 1933 edition, and I collected by Lord of the Rings 1971 Book Club edition. We left the market smug and satisfied, despite the inclement weather.
Now we lay in the grass, reading chapters to each other out loud and marvelling at the stories and authors with new found wonder. We always left before midday, before the worst heat settled into the park. But not before we stopped at the tea shop to buy fresh lemonade to cool our throats before we set off on our long boards.
The park is quite exquisite. The River Wandle meanders through the open lands and dense thickets, with several picturesque Victorian bridges spanning across it. This was the dog’s paradise. The children’s paradise can be found in the form of a natural playground with swings, obstacles and climbing walls. Ruan and I enjoyed ourselves there for a while before the heat got the better of us.
On the edge of the park, generous stables stand proud. This construction was the contribution of the Hatfield family who lived here in the 1800’s. The stables are now used to house cafe’s art exhibits and a second-hand bookstore where I stumbled onto my second most precious item, another Tolkien book: The Silmarillion.
I could imagine the young Hatfield children running through their large lawn, playing in the garden and dancing with the roses. On hot days like today, they may remove their shoes and let their feet dangle in the cool water of River Wandle. The thought amused me; as did the history of this fantastical park with its tall, shimmering poplars and swaying oak trees.
We decided the best way to spend Britain’s hottest day in a decade was to get lost in Central London in midday. We are on a quest to find me an old sweet store called Mr Simm’s. After searching for some time and asking directions from confused people, we eventually heard it was closed. So much for my Turkish Delight craving.
Our next mission was to find a cool restaurant where we could sit and eat lunch and drink something refreshing. But we were out of luck and grabbed a panini at an Italian place to eat at Leicester Square. We eventually found a restaurant to enjoy our dessert: Oreo milkshake. Followed by lots of ice water.
London doesn’t have the infrastructure to cope with the heat. The Morning Metro had warning signs saying that children and elderly should stay indoors between 11 am and 3 pm and keep hydrated. And here we are searching for Denmark Street in 36° Celsius. Denmark Street is home to all kinds of instruments, but especially guitars. Ruan fell in love.
But the heat was relentless, and these stores provided no relief. We moved on.
We had scheduled to watch ‘Jurassic World’ at the best IMAX in Britain tonight. I thought it the best way to end such a scorcher – a cool, nice air-conditioned cinema and a large Pepsi. As we sat down and the speakers tested, we felt no cooler. The theatre was packed with eager faces hidden behind the goofy 3D glasses. As an enthused audience we gasped together, laughed together and sweated together. The movie had been thrilling – not failing to impress! The climax goes to show “There is always a bigger fish”. We left the theatre in a state similar to red-haired Claire at the end of the movie – hot and hyperventilating.
We are used to hot weather in South Africa, but the heat is different in London. It is muggy and humid, so the heat sticks fast to your skin and your clothes. Even seated on the floor at 11 pm at night with a fan and ice water provides little relief. We all hope that a breeze will pick up soon so we might catch some sleep tonight.