And the second day dawned bright and sunny (or so it seemed from the hotel room window). I was ready in a jiffy and skipped down to the hotel restaurant eager to partake of their ”full English breakfast buffet” -advertised very prominently in their brochures.
As I waited to be seated, I looked around – the place was almost full – the hotel’s copy writer had struck gold. The waitress came over, smiled and asked me for my coupons.
”Coupons?”, I asked, not quite sure if I had heard her right.
”Yes, the coupons”, she answered in a Russian accent (or maybe Czechoslovakian or for that matter Ukrainian or..)
”Coupons??” I stammered again, wondering what on earth she was talking about.
She accepted fate had dealt her a flawed customer but she put on a brave face and showed me to my seat – reasoning perhaps that not all days are sunny and nice (I realized later as a hotel customer, these coupons would have entitled me to get a significant discount – but surely the hotel should have an easier way of doing this?!!).
Once seated, the multiple choice quiz started:
Brown or white bread?
Coffee or tea?
Latte or cappuccino?
Milk or cream….sugar? ….
I didn’t ask for my score but must have done OK as she didn’t look too rattled when we were done. And while we took a few moments to recover post this exhaustive round 1 questioning, I asked her about the English breakfast; her face beamed in approval and she launched into round two – this time questions to be answered in short sentences..
How would like your bacon?
How would you like your eggs made?
What garnishing would you prefer for the omelets?
How would you like your sausages?
And on and on until she found I had given up long ago. Being vegetarian, most of these were outside my palate, and I just would have to have a full English breakfast without the English bits today. While I accepted my fate with a shake of the head, she accepted her fate staunchly too. She may have got a coupon-less, low scoring and incapable (of sampling the varied fare) customer on a sunny day – but the waitresses here are made of strong stuff. I could hear her saying ”boy, do these customers flatter only to deceive!” in Russian – or probably Ukrainian or Yugoslavian – as she went to get me what turned out to be an awesome latte.
The rest of the buffet was actually quite good – and to work it out I decided to saunter in the Hyde park across the street. And man, was this a smart decision.
The Hyde park is just that – a park. It does not aim to be a private amusement park (with ticket collectors out front, numerous food courts and very amused owners counting their earnings) nor is it one of those elitist -looking places which require you to treat them as holy ground (or a history book!). It’s a very unassuming park, and most delightful at that. As I walked through its open iron gates, I couldn’t keep reflecting on the fact that iron gates and bars didn’t always mean restricted freedom, sometimes they were gateways to a different life altogether.
The first thing that hit me when I stepped in was the absolute lack of transactional commerce within its boundaries. People jogged, exercised (themselves and their dogs), made friends, read newspapers, observed wildlife and reflected on life (or whatever) – no one was buying or selling anything. Sitting back on one of the abundantly provided benches, I watched life go by and a sense of serenity prevailed.
This was life in a microcosm. Just ahead of me, a toddler was bravely trying to perfect her walking skills using a stroller, while her parents walked behind her – pushed her infant sibling in a pram and admiring her efforts. She stumbled, got back and tried again – and when she took a few yards without stumbling, she was greeted by applause from all – and we had a beaming kid bent on making sure she picked the right skills to go far in the world. There were dogs everywhere. There were those nature gifts with a woolen sweater at birth, the long pudgy ones with very small legs (or should I say the vodafone dog’s cousins?), little ones that looked like they were toys and struggled to keep up with their elderly mistresses and those that looked like ponies (the equivalent of hummers on the road). They dashed about unencumbered by leads, chasing butterflies and generally having a whale of a time. A young couple engrossed in each other’s company were oblivious to the surroundings and the weather (now turning cold fast), bringing back memories of their past golden years to a few of the seniors bundled in a few jumpers and actively sharing stories..all in all, this was life itself – in précis.
Cut to the beautiful fountain and a statue of a very thoughtful young man center stage. This was Jenner – the gentleman who discovered the polio vaccine but decided to let it go unpatented in order to make it more accessible for the poor. I didn’t have a hat on, or I would have doffed it to him – it’s such men that give us hope.
I was very intrigued to note that the benches were dedicated to numerous persons – one was dedicated to an artist, one to a boy who had died in his teens and many such more – all with messages definitely composed by loved ones and bearing heartfelt stories no doubt. This was one park that had character – in troves.
Winter had shorn the trees of their leaves and a part of a large tree trunk lay on the ground weathering away. Amidst the decaying branches, white, purple and yellow flowers were peeping up and blooming – as were new shrubs. Life’s transformation is best seen in our parks and forests and you somehow intuitively understand that death is but a comma for another life to begin. Fittingly, this tree was bang opposite the bench dedicated to the boy who had died young..
A little further, there was a statue of a little boy playing an instrument. He had a lot of strange creatures looking upto him – this seems to be the magical Peter pan. The magic was working, and the crowds were having a very busy time taking photos with him in their frames. And this made me happy – the tourists were here as well! No matter where you go on earth, you are likely to see two types of folks brandishing cameras. The first use point-and-click equipment and their aim is to capture moments that show they have been there. They are there one moment and gone the next leaving only a few bottles of coke behind. The second are the enthusiasts, they bring serious equipment and their attempt to capture pictures is part of wanting to be part of the scenery experience. They are generally well read (mostly very well read and very appreciative of the environment) and just seeing what they are capturing can get you to enjoy the experience a little more. I followed the folks with long lenses (and long hairs) accordingly and saw that they were zoomed in on some very elegant swans in the stream. I walked across to the benches by the water and sat down, watching the birds and ducks. A wonderful captioned board indicated the various species we could hope to spot, highlighting the plumage, eating patterns, migratory tendencies and so on. I sat mesmerized as I watched these waddle away, unmindful of all the people and happenings around; apparently just moving with the flow – almost zennish. A half hour later I walked back enjoying the drizzle from above and nature all around. Now more sensitive to her working, I spotted wondrous creations all around me – little flowers, multi-shaded leaves on the stray shrubs, squirrels squirreling and birds surveying the scenery from little wooden stumps. You can’t help feeling privileged when in such August company – but here’s the thing – you need to spend quality time to become one with her and start admiring nature – these are not like the amusement parks which use noise, loud colors and contraptions to pull you by force in their direction.
The next day, I had another two hours to kill. As I walked down to breakfast, I remembered I had forgotten my coupons once again and decided I would try a local cafe today. A few yards away stood a quaint little cafe – ”Sheila’s cafe”. It proudly advertised that they did not charge more to dine in (very interesting because in India, patrons are charged for takeaways instead. Maybe this reflects the higher cost of land in London (and hence dining in is priced higher) while in India, the rational for higher takeaway cost is simply the additional boxes and packing costs.
I saw a couple of customers coming our of Shiela’s cafe and they seemed contended, so in I went. The cafe was at the corner of a rundown building and had but two tables. I walked upto the hostess and we had the multiple quiz again. I ended up with beans on toast and a latte. Within a blink of an eye more customers turned up – this seemed a very famous jaunt. In 15 minutes I walked out thanking the hostess (maybe she was Sheila, I couldn’t find out as she was so very busy tending to the London population’s hunger) and having paid a very nominal amount (and without coupons!). I also had had some what I now recognized as English breakfast (beans, grilled tomatoes) so I was getting somewhere!
I spent some good time on the park again – this time walking random paths. It’s amazing what a good breakfast can do (without it I’d have probably retired to the room and taken another power nap!). And I agreed with yesterday’s observation – the park is certainly life in précis. You have seasons every day (evenings and mornings are busy – just like summer and spring are) and every week (weekends are more lively than the weekdays). You meet new people, who are fellow travelers on life – and you get the chance to focus on anything you want (you can sit and crib about how life is such a boner these days, grab a sneaker and get some blood pumping into the system or sit back and relax enjoying nature at her game). Either way, the park doesn’t care – but the people do – and if we do something worthy, maybe there will be a bench dedicated to you to inspire the generations to come.
Work took most of the next day – and I had to leave the day after very early. The hotel has an excellent concierge (it really is a very good business hotel) and I ended up in the Lufthansa lounge in the very early hours. Just outside the lounge was one of those massive massage chairs inviting us to partake of its services ( a 3 minute deep massage). 3 minutes? Couldn’t hurt – so I dropped in the required change, not realizing that the chair had been designed by someone like Stephen king (only he can make everyday objects like cars get supernatural). The chair took a few seconds to verify my coins were legal, rubbed it’s metallic hands in glee and got to work. It pounded, it kneaded, it pressed and stopped. Over already? That was but a pause, the kneading, pounding and pressing started again. Three minutes later I entered the lounge again, a fresh and hungry man thanks to the massage monster. I saw that this Lufthansa lounge had no doubts about it being morning (as its Chennai counterpart did) – and I helped myself to a wonderful breakfast of croissants, cereals and what not – and was on my way. That’s when I saw my friend the massage chair again – it seemed to be daring me to have another go – as did the Lufthansa flight which was already boarding. I looked hither and I looked thither – and I decided thither was higher priority. Three minutes later, a happy pounded me walked to the Lufthansa flight wished everyone a very good morning and boarded the flight – in the right mood to enjoy another long flight back home.