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Gladstone Park

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Dollis Hill HouseMark Twain, who stayed a summer at Dollis Hill House in 1900 said, “I have never seen any place that was so satisfactorily situated, with its noble trees and stretch of country, and everything that went to make life delightful, and all within a biscuit's throw of the metropolis of the world."

This is my take on Gladstone Park.

A green haze shimmers over tennis courts and goal posts.
I cross the emerald fields to a crack-crack sound of ball against bats
feeling tiny tremors of worms beneath my feet,
and then a goods train rumbling through Dudding Hill Junction.
I witness the last vestiges of “Gladstonbury" - 
a full nappy, shards of glass, and a pink metal bangle.
Gladstone Park is a microcosm of the Universe enjoying more of itself.

The banner says, “We haven’t stopped fighting!”
across the boarded doors of Cricklewood Library on the periphery.
Makeshift bookcases are storage boxes with polythene flaps
containing books that, by rights, should be inside the library.
After all, the people are paying to keep this building empty.
I take my pick to higher ground, to William Gladstone’s old house.
But the walls of Dollis Hill House have been brought down,
because it’s cheaper to run to ruin
the local spaces serving a community function.

IMG 8253I study the foundations. Rooms are strewn
with grass and feathers and floor lights that
light it up at night like a mini Acropolis.

But in my mind I rebuild the cafeteria;
a ribbon curtain keeps out the flies,
the lofty counter, the ice cream freezer behind.
Would you like cornets or wafers?
We’re a family of six, we need a big block of Cornish
with wafers - I can still taste them.
Now only one wall has survived the devastation:
a glassless window gazes over the abandoned bowling green -
not much left for the old or young generation.
If Gladstone stood here, he’d see the steel cradle
of Wembley Stadium.

Why did I return to Gladstone Park?
To show the London Plane trees how I’ve grown.
They remember when the little slope to the playground
would tire me out. My limbs are longer, everything is much smaller now.

But where is the witch’s hat, the see-saw and the roundabout?
Health and Safety has put paid to risky Pleasure Grounds.
Just the squeaking swings remain and new adventure walkways -
loops of creaking chains traversed by kids in hi-viz jackets
who don’t care if rust is falling off the railings.

VanGoghsTreesThe Plane trees have grown too.
In summer, their topmost twigs overarch the playground path
to become a green cathedral: flying buttresses
of branches and leaves entwine above my head.
Only synapsing clouds and the sun glancing off a steel slide
is higher than this living edifice.

I return to Gladstone Park to say hi to Ken Livingstone,
a local resident walking his Golden Retriever.
“Sorry you lost the election,” I said.
Sorry I didn’t vote for you, I meant.
I didn’t vote for Boris either. My first choice was, like Gladstone,
a Lib Dem, they’ve been so good in Brent.
But second choice Ken is resolute,“More time to spend with the kids,” he said.
Like Gladstone’s house was burned, then razed to the ground against Ken’s wishes, the careers of politicians somehow end in ashes.

In the environmentally devised long grass area I stumble
onto a butterfly path, rising wings flap darkly
against tall, swaying, sun-scorched rye,
small dogs hide from calling owners,
a young woman with hair bleached white
sunbathes in a black bikini, a zip divides her assets.

Gladstones windowI spy all this glorious Gladstone Park life,
then rest awhile against the trunk of an oak tree.
I want to bond, to meditate and gain strength.
But, always the restless one,
I float on the breeze to Dollis Hill and back again.
The sun sets west over Wembley.
A sea of fire spills across a petrol-blue sky
to rise again over a minaret near Willesden Green station.

Careful not to tread on dusky bees in clover.
I see myself a solitary bee in Gladstone Park without my family.
And like a bee, I’m attracted to the high-walled flower garden,
nosing yellow roses just as sweet as white or crimson.
I hone in on marigolds, two-faced pansies, spiny cupped flower
heads of thistles the colour of the Aegean.
I follow my spirit and find my way back home.

 

(c) Sam Burcher