At the end of the Manchester street where I grew up was a park, for the green liberty of which I’ve been grateful lifelong. I walked through it to school each day, caught sticklebacks and gudgeons in its boating lake. I still appreciate the Victorian philanthropy that bestowed it on my city’s people.
I love city parks and their Burkean-sublime trappings. My favourites are on Merseyside. Birkenhead’s hosted the most famous of all Welsh national eisteddfodau – Eisteddfod y Gadair Ddu of 1917, when Hedd Wyn from Cwm Prysor was named as chaired bard just as news arrived of his death in action on the western front. Better still is Sefton Park, across the Mersey in Liverpool.
A Walk in the Park: The Life and Times of a People’s Institution by Travis Elborough – review
I walked through it one recent cold evening, on my way to a rendezvous in Lark Lane. A rat – not a “queer sardonic” one, as in Isaac Rosenberg’s Break of Day in the Trenches, or even a Tory politician, but an inquisitive, engaging little creature – scuttled across the path in front of me. It arrived at the railings around the lake, stood on hind legs with vibrissae twitching, and studied me for a few moments before ducking under the fence.
In doing so, it sealed its doom. Standing in the black ooze of a lake inlet, a grey heron, with the slightest inclination of its head, logged its progress. As the rat slipped down the bank into the water, a spindly leg stepped forward, a spear-like bill hurled down. The rat was brandished briefly aloft before slipping into the heron’s gullet. I watched in horrified fascination as a lump travelled slowly down the plumed elegance of the bird’s neck. A final shake, a harsh and long, drawn-out “kraark”, and the heron was spreading its huge wings and trailing its legs across the lake surface, sending ripples that gently rocked the Canada geese and Slavonian grebes roosting on the water.
Majestic and slow, it heeled round towards who knows what treetop refuge miles away. Neck tucked back between its shoulders, a bulge showed there against street-lights of the park’s perimeter as it glided away into “the same old druid Time as ever”.
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