Time Out’s Executive Editor Michael Hodges has been dallying with danger so you don’t have to. This week’s thing not to do in London – No 942 fall asleep in the park
A youth with a marker pen is writing on the ‘wildlife in the park’ sign. The ringnecked parakeet, the tawny owl, the woodpeckers, the chiffchaff and the spotted flycatcher alike are becoming lost behind a swirl of purple lines and tags.
Usually I’d say nothing, just continue to enjoy the sun, sipping my traditional cider aged in oak vats, and toying with the artisanal scotch egg (though it looks pretty much like an ordinary scotch egg) I got from the same sensationally expensive deli as the aged-in-oakvats cider. Besides, if the tabloids are right, there’s a good chance the youth will shoot me. Although members of my family have been shot before, but it was by Japanese or German people in uniforms and the issues were the big ones like the future of the civilised world rather than a wildlife sign in a south London park.
But today I do say something. I don’t know whether it is sudden appreciation of the tawny owl, chiffchaff and spotted flycatcher, or perhaps the unexpected potency of the aged-in-oak-vats cider, but I hear myself speaking out.
‘Hey you,’ I say to the youth. ‘Stop that now.’
The youth, who has successfully obscured all the birds on the sign and is about to move on to the foxes, grey squirrels, hedgehogs and bats, stops scribbling and turns to take me in. His eyes dart about and betray the thoughts within.
‘Hmmm,’ the youth is thinking. ‘Who is this wanker? He’s a bit bigger than me, but he’s a lot older than me, and he’s sitting down and holding a pork product. But he’s also got a bottle with him.’ Unsure whether fight or flight is the appropriate reaction, the youth buys time by bellowing: ‘What!’ Sensing I have the upper hand, I wave the scotch egg at him to reinforce my position and say, ‘Leave that sign alone and go away.’ And it works. He puts the cap on his marker pen, leaves the sign and goes away.
Quietly proud that I have taken a stand even though I am sitting down, I return to my alfresco meal for one. Before long I feel the warm pull of sleep tugging me further towards the ground. It is a deep and solid sleep, troubled only by a dream in which a chiffchaff ispecking at my forehead, and I slumber on long after the sun has left this bit of London.
I awake over an hour later to a cold and empty park and set off for home. Leaving the park, I am met by sniggers. Out on the road an entire bus queue seems to find me utterly amusing, and when the bus finally does come the younger passengers at the back openly jeer as I board.
Alighting from the bus I walk along my local high street. If anything, matters are worse here. Families stop in front of me and avert their children’s eyes. ‘Don’t look, little Tommy!’ one woman says and buries the face of a small boy, who I take to be little Tommy, in her shopping bag.
A nun gasps. An old man with the look of someone who has cheerfully survived the murderous attentions of Adolf Hitler’s Luftwaffe and other equally desperate threats loses his native cockney humour when I walk past. Instead he lets his shoulders drop and mutters, ‘Shame!’ to himself.
When I get home I go into the bathroom. In the mirror I see that while I slept someone has written a word on my forehead with a purple marker pen. ‘sineP?’ I ask the woman that lives in our house as she appears behind me in the mirror. ‘sineP?’
She shakes her head sadly. ‘Penis,’ she says. ‘Pe-nis.’
Amuse yourself with more apposite and cerebral jottings here.