diamond geezer

 Wednesday, June 20, 2018



I take a book and find a bench in my local park. Several are already occupied, one by a dozing pensioner, another by a man clutching a lager can. I'm sure he's the same man who asked me for 50p outside the supermarket yesterday. I find a clear space at the far end, on a bench that doesn't look like too many birds have flown over it. An overhanging branch will shield me partially from the blazing sunshine, during the intermittent periods when there is any.

The ground around the bench is scattered with fag ends and discarded plastic. Were I carrying out a survey, Boost Energy drinks would be the most popular throwaway, followed by bottles of smartwater and Lucozade Sport, accompanied by a broad selection of empty cups. In the shrubbery, an empty carrier bag hints that much of the litter comes from the local minimarket, with the drinks on special offer selling best.

A small brown bird hops into the flowerbed in front of me. The roses are evidently past their prime, or perhaps the council haven't been coming round to water them often enough during this dry spell. A magpie screeches, hidden somewhere within the branches of the central lime tree, then flies away. The lavender bushes are thick with bright flowers, and bobbing with bees. Turns out I had no need to go all the way to the edge of Sutton for perfect purple.

On nearby grass, a woman sits crosslegged squinting into her smartphone, then whips out a cigarette and focuses on that instead. She doesn't stay long. Another younger woman arrives and rests briefly on the adjacent bench, addressing her invisible courtiers by phone. To my right a red-faced man turns up with a Lakeland bag, takes out a crinkled magazine and flicks through. He places a newspaper beside him, then un-Velcros his sandals. He's here for the long haul.

Planes taking off from City Airport whine overhead, heard before they are seen. At times they pass over every three minutes, at other times the intermission is considerably longer. A more intrusive noise comes from the building site behind me where a further set of infill apartments is under construction. Something is being repeatedly sawn, something is being occasionally lifted, and the voices of men up a ladder on the second floor periodically intrude.

Butterflies dart around the flower beds. I spy ants on the tarmac beneath my bench, and crawling up it too. Someone yells "come on darling" shrilly behind the brick perimeter wall, and I toss up whether they're addressing a child or a pet. Eventually three very small dogs emerge through the archway, followed by a pair of women entirely dissimilar in height, width and hair colour. The sun comes out. The sun goes in.

An old man shuffles out onto his ground floor patio, resident in a flat which didn't exist a few years ago. He moves towards the railings and starts scraping mossy gunk out from underneath, then flicking it into the corner of the park. An upturned clothes horse rests on the balcony above, and above that a smart bicycle, propped against the handrail. At the other end of the development, as yet incomplete, every window is concealed behind unpeeled blue sheeting.

The latest arrival on the overshadowed bench to my left is a young lad with a lanyard round his neck. He whips out a cigarette paper and something to fill it with, then spends some considerable time inserting one into the other. The remainder of his break he spends smoking, and checking his phone, before heading back to work the way he came. Sammy the golden retriever enters soon after, ahead of a lady out exercising more dogs than she could surely own herself.

On the other side of the floral beds a podgy man in a grey hoodie and a dirty t-shirt is stood in a corner where he thinks he can't be seen, relieving himself into the shrubbery. The sound of sawing from the building site increases. A child rides by on the back of their mum's pushchair. The red-faced man on the bench to my right reaches deep into his bag for a can of Coke, then makes a start on his newspaper. A breeze whips up, and the pages flick by.

As World Cup kickoff time approaches, a young man in a baseball cap walks by clutching two bottles of beer in each fist. I can tell the match has begun when some overanimated exclamations, in what's likely to be Polish, start to emerge from a flat down the far end. Only one balcony owner has made an effort with hanging baskets and window boxes. A fly lands on my sleeve. Birdsong is briefly audible. Two pigeons promenade round the flower beds, then soar away.

Another young man arrives on the most popular bench, and sets down a bottle of Boost Energy drink by his feet. He checks his phone. He twiddles lovingly with his cigarette papers. He flicks his lighter several times. Then his friend turns up, similarly equipped, and they kickstart an extended ritual of filling, rolling, tapping and (eventually) igniting their leafy stash. Every step of the process is laboured, as if auditioning for the Great British Spliff Off.

A light shower of fluff and leafy bits is falling from the tree above me. A blackbird hops through a carpet of shrivelled rose petals. The red-faced man has moved onto his giant crossword. It sounds like Senegal have scored again. On the lawn, a dad lifts his small daughter up so her mother can take photos. Something on the building site drops with a clunk. Two particularly hard-looking lads in hoodies appear to be sitting where the fat-bellied man relieved himself.

The twin tokers are now onto their second roll-up, and eventually their third. Great care is being taken to share ingredients, and pat down the contents, and keep the paper tubes burning. It looks like these guys' lighters are getting a hell of a workout. Occasionally one has a video clip he wants to share with the other, but mainly they're here for a prolonged chat and a smoke - very much the old fashioned way of keeping entertained.

I fear I'm now lingering in the park solely to check whether these two will abandon their plastic bottles when they depart. They look like regulars, and they've brought the precise two brands which form most of the park's litter, and definitive evidence would confirm my unspoken narrative. But neither of them budge. Not to worry. I've been making the most of my two hours sitting here, in mostly-peace and almost-quiet, which has allowed me to read from chapter 29 to chapter 77.

Finally the two stoners stop smoking, and simply sit there, yabbering on. The more studious of the pair then whips out an aerosol and sprays himself on the neck, on his hands, and across his jacket. He evidently doesn't want any of the noses back at home to uncover his dirty little afternoon secret. Suitably camouflaged, the two wander off... taking their bottles with them. I suspect other users of the bench are not so careful. The park ticks over. The park welcomes all.


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