The weather this morning is beautiful. It’s not hot – indeed it’s not particularly warm as yet – but the air is clear, the sun is shining and there are puffy white clouds scurrying across a pale blue sky. The sitting room of this flat with its wide, panoramic windows, looks out over a huge area of South London. One of the most striking aspects of the view is the amount of greenery visible. Taken as a percentage of what you can see from here, well over 50% is tree-tops. They stretch to the near horizon with the roofs of houses, a school, a church growing up through the canopy. And a good half of those trees are now starting to turn brown as Autumn gets into its stride.
There is, on clear days such as today, a further horizon. Within that is the new Wembley Stadium some ten or twelve miles away, with its silver arch thrusting up through the surrounding houses, gleaming in the sun. And then way beyond that, standing right on the ridge of the far horizon and visible only occasionally is the church at Harrow-on-the-Hill. That is the direction – west – from which comes most of our weather in this country. And on days like yesterday when there were frequent thundery showers, you can see the vertical banks of rain, like thick grey smoke, approaching over that far horizon and you know that very soon that we here are going to get drenched.
But closer by – in fact, right down virtually under your nose as you look out of the window – is the newly extended recreation ground I’ve written about before. The addition of so many new installations has had a remarkable effect on the dynamics of this small section of the capital. The numbers of children using the recreation ground must have quadrupled. They come now from all directions – the very young ones holding the hands of their parents or being trundled along in pushchairs; those not so young in straggly, wandering groups of their peers; and one or two mavericks who come rushing on their own down the paths in the park or along the road by the flats. When the windows of this flat are open in the day, the sounds from down below are like those of a school playground in the break.
It is good to see something done for children and young people. Something which encourages them to play, to learn about themselves and to relate to others of their age, away from the influence of governments and the education system. So often our society tries to order children, to coral them, to test them at a ludicrously early age, to tell them not how to think but what to think. I suspect that the sort of money which has been spent on extending this recreation ground (secured by local people from a charitable trust) would be well-spent in many, many other parts of this country, especially some of the more under-privileged parts, cuts or no cuts.
The one sadness is that one of the larger installations has been disabled by a bunch of boys who, I would think, were in their very early teens. The installation is a large, saucer-shaped pod suspended by coloured ropes from a very long, heavy wooden spar which juts out from the ground at an angle. The whole thing, especially as the wooden spar is yellow, looks a bit like a giraffe. You get in the saucer and you can swing, spin, swing-and-spin up and down and around and around. Or you could. It was one of the most popular installations.
What the boys had to gain by disabling it is difficult to see. They somehow managed to disconnect one of the suspension ropes, rendering the saucer unstable and potentially dangerous for younger children. They can’t even use it themselves now and unless they’re going to turn up in the park to watch the disappointment on the faces of younger children who come to use it and find it unusable – which is a pretty sad way of getting your kicks – I can see little reason for it. It’s rather like the people who write computer viruses – they have to content themselves with imagining the distress they’ve caused.
Help and restoration however, seems to be at hand. Yesterday the man who runs the company and who designed and installed the extension was examining the maimed installation with a view – I assume and hope – to repairing it. At the moment the giraffe looks somewhat woe-begone. I hope the repair is boy-proof. If such a thing exists.