Crystal Palace, that unsung gem in South London, held another of its summer (well, that’s what they’re calling it despite the recent, prolonged drenching everywhere’s had) festivals this last weekend. And like in 2011, the beautiful little park in which it’s held and over which the kitchen window of this flat looks, was packed to the gunwales. To mark the event, the extraordinarily hard-working people from the Midlands who had upgraded the children’s playground last year, had taken that upgrading a stage further. Other things – devices? – had been installed, such as a hammock (!), extra seating for parents who want to come and watch (or make out they’re watching) their little ones throwing themselves around. And this –
Now, this is something else. It’s compulsive. It’s one of the most imaginative things for children I’ve seen in a children’s playground. It deserves a great round of applause, for it treats children as competent and intelligent, thinking human beings. There are at least four ways of getting into it (and probably more depending on your determination and the fertility of your imagination) and then reaching the top platform where the slide starts. You can be conventional and start off up the steps which are notches in the woodwork; you can arrive there by swinging yourself above the ground along a series of handles like the things you hang onto in buses and Underground trains; you can climb up a vertical wooden wall with hand and foot grips in it –
– and you can – though this is for the hardcore and I’ve seen only two children give it a serious try – haul yourself by your hands up a slim vertical pole, and by, at the same time ‘walking’ up the wall on outstretched legs. (You can also descend by this pole, if you’ve a mind for a rapid vertical descent). Then, by whatever means you’ve arrived at the top platform, you whizz down a slide which has a pretty sharp angle on it, tipping you off at the other end rather unceremoniously like a sack of potatoes. And because it’s compulsive – it’s popular.
There was a rock band, music all day. There were cookery demonstrations. In among the trees there were umpteem food stalls selling everything from fresh-cooked pizzas to spit-roast hog to vegetarian pasties to fresh oysters. There were black people, white people and every shade between. And the whole thing, just like last year, was thoroughly good-natured.
It all rolled on from eleven in the morning till just after six in the evening. At which point the end was announced and slowly, lingering only for a last jig to imagined music or a last guffaw with friends, they all gradually dispersed and left the park to the birds and the squirrels.
It is very reassuring – and gets nowhere near the publicity it deserves – that a few thousand people of all colours can actually get together for a day, thoroughly enjoy themselves, then part quietly and thoughtfully when it’s all over. And this is London – Sin City, SE19.