From time to time, I like to address my fellow foreign travelers. Yes, I am only too happy to share the little bites of knowledge I’ve received during my rambles! Really, it’s no trouble at all. My experience may be small, even limited, but rest assured, that won’t stop me from discoursing at length.
I grew up in a sub-rural place, so I’m intoxicated by city life. Still, there comes the moment when the hubbub bubble bursts, and then I love nothing more than being able to retreat to one of the city green spaces. Yet, in a foreign country, one can’t just expect to go to a park and do everything you’d do in a park back home. The parks are different. The rules are different. (Just because a sign is in English doesn’t mean it says what you think it does.)
So come with me to the English borough where I perch these days. I’ll be your garden guide.
The green spaces in the shadow of the Tower of London are sown in between repurposed warehouses, housing developments and abandoned commercial docks. Tower Hamlets boasts over 120 parks! It’s true! And hey, you may get to visit them all in one post…Because you’re not allowed to hang around in any of ’em for too long…
Let’s start with The Wapping Rose Gardens!
In February, there’s no evidence of roses. I don’t spy any wintering bushes through the wrought iron gates. Damn, must’ve gotten here too late. If you clutch the bars with chapped hands and hang your head, as I do, you will spy the little placard near the bottom of the gate that explains, This is a locked park. Note: When city parks close, they close with lock and key.
However, there are two clearly visible signs at either entrance to the Wapping Rose Gardens. Even when the park is shut, you can read about what is expected during your next visit.
The sign reads: Wapping Rose Gardens, We Hope You Enjoy Your Visit. These lines are followed by two simple images: One of a person applying plastic bag behind a jaunty-eared dog. The second features our cartoon protagonist tossing squiggly detritus into an industrial trash can. Below these pictures is the command: NO CONGREGATING.
Here is our first rule! These muddy, knobbled few meters of earth are not for congregation. In fact, the sign clearly outlines what you are supposed to do in this park. Enter. Expel and fling as you animals are wont. Clean it up. Exit. No congregating. Wapping Rose Gardens makes this course of action all the more appealing, because the thin trees will give no shade, the featured barren earth is only appropriate for squatting over, and a freshly rain-washed stone path guides you pointedly from gate to gate.
As you attend briskly to your park-going duties, you may glimpse some of the park wildlife out of the corner of your eye! (Note: Prolonged attention to the wildlife may cause a temporary environmentalist congregation, which I must discourage for legal reasons.) Pigeons linger, hoping the trash bins will overflow. Unimpressed sea birds spin overhead then head back towards the Thames.
When you leave Wapping Rose Gardens, just in case you did not notice the approximately six foot tall sign I described before, a placard on the gate refreshes your memory about the rules. This time, our cartoon dog friend is unattended. He’s gone rogue. He defiantly leaves a distinct symbol: a curly cone of crap. A big circle with a slash through it surrounds the crime scene. Block letters admonish: CLEAN UP! In lowercase it educates: Dog (Fouling of the Land) Act, 1996. Do not forget that there is a legal dimension to your park visit. Foul the land no further. Please.
Now you have an idea of what an in-depth visit to one of the local parks may entail. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to spend that much time with you in each park, and frankly, it’d be discouraged. We were pushing the limits by convening so long outside the Rose Gardens gates. If you brought a friend we’d be teetering dangerously on the brink of a gathering. However, I have compiled a quick guide to other notable Tower Hamlets parks. Please refer to it and prepare accordingly for each visit.
Park: Fugue Street Gardens
Rules: No Loitering. Be Mindful of Noise, Residential Area.
Features: Muddy 8’x10′ of crabgrass, wrought iron fencing, one mature oak
Park: Sniffing Corner
Rules: No Foreplay. Move Along.
Features: A healthy clump of weeds, damp-crotched linden grove, clotted trash collection along eastern chainlink
Rules: No Littering. No Self-Aggrandisement.
Features: No gates. No fences. Four signs.Three mature trees and six dirt beds. Mysterious hissing at night time.
Park: Saint Tromple
Rules: No Tittering. No Cribbing the Toad
Features: Concrete walkway around circular pond. Lush pond greenery. One angry duck. Amphibious mutterings.
Park: Priest’s Finger
Rules: No Snookering. No Dickering.
Features: Triangular wedge between St. Jonathan of Cats [Church of England] and the Laundrymat. Plushy grass.
Park: Whiffling Twidge
Rules: No Plotting. No Dissembling. No Leaning on the Tulips.
Features: Dormant tulip garden. Statue of Whiffling Twidge.
Oval patch of turf, sporting tiny punctures in the dirt every 1/2″. Humming shrubbery.
I offer only a brief sample of the panoply of parks in Tower Hamlets. Still I hope it is informative. Fellow park-going foreigners, please congregate in the comments section.