Daniel and I were back in Holland Garden this afternoon. He was sleeping in his buggy, I was reading on the grass. Holland Garden was a gift to the people of Merton from Lady Holland in 1928 as a memorial to her late husband, Sir Arthur who was ‘well known for the tireless service to the local community’. The square of grass tilts up the hill and is surrounded by trees and thick hedges. A row of old pines shade the east side of the gardens. Above the grass there are three clay tennis courts, out of use now but still surrounded by tall fences. In front of the tennis courts, pink and white rose bushes climb poles, well over two metres high.
On a sunny afternoon when school is over, it is full of boys in shorts and girls in blue gingham dresses. Today, they were running and chasing each other over the grass; one boy had managed to climb a tree and two others were trying to poke him with a long stick; another group were hanging through the iron railings, trying to squeeze through the gaps; one little boy was shouting to three litle girls to ‘Come, I want to show you something, over here!’ Two tiny boys on scooters guarded the gate, counting people in and out.
But at five o’ clock the Garden emptied. Suddenly, there was only Daniel and me left on the grass. I felt like Franz Tovey (hero of a wonderfully surreal book published in 1968, illustrated with beautiful black and white photographs). He lived in a castle all his own in the middle of a great park. During the day, he played with the children who came to the park. But, later when the sun went down and everyone had left, the park became his again. And Franz Tovey was Prince of the Night. The hills were his, and the meadows, and the lakes. The trees were his, and all the beautiful flowers. Everything was his … except for the Rare Animals. And they didn’t belong to him at all.