When I come, after 24 years, to consider how many diverse bums of all ages, shapes sizes and conditions have graced, or defaced my person, how many quarrels, confessions, secrets, promises I have heard, how many wounds I have felt, what solace I have offered – and so much more – I feel I have earned my place as a national treasure.
Here, beneath the Grand Cedar of Lebanon, in the Great Garden of Greenwich Park, I have faithfully served at least three generations of folk seeking rest and quiet contemplation. And not just those peaceful experiences but also strange encounters, drunken slumbers, illicit rendezvous, assassination plots, suicidal terrors, indeed, expressions of every human emotion from despair to protestations of undying love – and sometimes both of these from the same two humans at intervals. Odd but fascinating beings they are.
No one could call my days, and even the occasional stolen night, monotonous, but I confess I sometimes feel frustrated and, to be truly honest, I feel used. And I feel abused. There is a lack of respect and a great deal of ingratitude in the world as I experience it.
But I must not indulge in judgement when I can do nothing to change the Human Condition – I have, after all, a place, even a mission, in this garden.. In talking all this over to myself – and maybe to you, I realise how I have come to know and to care about a number of individual humans. Several have in a sort of way made a relationship with me. I think I can say that we have become friends.
I’ll tell you about some of these humans. I won’t talk about the animals and birds because mostly they shelter under me or perch on my back – true some birds deface my seat but then a scrupulous human will wipe it off before sitting down. So who cares? I don’t. We all have our little quirks. ( I don’t have that particular one of course).
So. ….. Take old Miss Tyler: She is tall, upright and thin, white hair scraped back, she dresses smartly, always the same skirt and jacket, a rain coat in winter, often a dark hat. She wears a faded fake flower in the hat – I wish she would just pick a fresh one from the great clouds of flowers around us, but I’m afraid she’s scared of being criminalised. She is very proper you see. She’s always alone. Lots of people come here alone but she is lonely alone. I feel for her. Very few other people come to sit when she is here – maybe she looks needy – they don’t want conversation. Mostly I learn about my sitters from their conversations but for her I have to listen for sighs, an intake of breath, a discreet snore, I sense a twitch or a sudden hopeful lean forward to understand her. This way I’ve got to know her over many Sundays. Lately she comes more often, stays longer.
I enjoy the lovers. They call me ‘Our Seat’: I don’t mind the presumption. Mostly they’re glad to see each other, sit so close I almost bend, but lately they have moved apart, seem stiff. Something is awry. I shall miss their canoodlings if they part. I can’t even learn their names – they call each other so many things, some, like ‘darling’ or ‘squirrel’ or ‘flower’ or ‘tosspot’, I’ve heard before, but some are new to me, sound downright rude.
The children vary a lot. Some squeak and squeal, wriggle and jump about, pay no attention to me, slosh their ice-cream about or dump their melting lollies on me when they dash off to chase pigeons or squirrels; they are fleeting sitters – if they ever sit. Their adults are forever telling them ‘sit still’- idiots. Soon enough they’ll grow up and say the same to their kids. What a waste of breath.! But there are a few little people who crawl under me, peer up through my slats, play house or prison, or is it zoos? Occasionally they sit down and count, hands over eyes, then dash off hunting under the rhododendrons. They’re fun , unpredictable. I hate it when they cry – but then the grownups do too: I’ve felt them shake with tears.
I’ve seen Life I have, and I hope I see more and more but I am a bit wobbly now, need a bit of maintenance. There’s this man who sits on me who’s always complaining, says I creak, need new arms and generally fixing. He once said I’d be on the scrapheap if the Parks Department didn’t get its finger out pronto. It’s been ‘cut’ though – whatever that means.
I quite fancy having one of those brass plaques, you know, Maud and Percy sat here, that sort of thing, if the Park’s Boss think I’m worth it.