Just when I thought my 40-year love affair with London was over, out comes the sun and I'm head over heels all over again.
If that sounds shallow, well, yes, guilty of course, but it was the amazing ( and no doubt short-lived) heatwave that lifted me off my moribund arse and got me pedalling like mad towards the Serpentine, and that little bit of Hyde Park which is my favourite swimming place in the whole wide world.
Once there, and once I'd had my statutory two hours in the sun and the water, I was perfectly placed to re-acquaint myself with another Kensington Gardens pleasure, the Serpemntione Gallery: and to get a first taste of its latest summer pavilion.
First, the swimming. I 've often thought about writing a cheapskate's guide to London, and a day like today would be a perfect example. The weather was brilliant and free, but so rare that it was surely worth all those months of non-employment, that sad state of affairs suddenly seemed worthwhile: I was free to do whatever I wanted so long as it didn't involve spending money.
So I cycle to Hyde Park via South Kensington, and manage to get trapped in the still besieged Battersea Park on the way. I snuck in by the Barabra Hepworth, cycle through deserted paths in the sub-tropical gardens, and finally carry my bike over a makeshift bridge over the temporary racetrack. Why is there no-one else around, except workers dismantling the motor racing stuff?
Why, 'cos the park is closed, idiot. A nice young man has to unlock one of the main gates to let me out.
The ride up Exhibition Road is dodgy fun these days for a cyclist, but once in the park, all is good until I arrive at the Lido. It's 31 degrees in the shade and the place is heaving, but I get in on the concessionary £3.80 rate. This turns out to be my only expenditure of the day as I have a bottle of water and an apple in my bag.
|Ducks, swans, soupy water and sunburned work-|
dodgers: Hyde Park's Serpentine Lido on the final,
hottest day of June2015
In the swimming area, all the prime sun-bathing zones were packed. There were spaces but it would take a bold solitary male of my age and paleness and feeble build to squeeze himself in between the gently sizzling, giggling groups of sunbathing teenagers, who were clearly celebrating the end of GCSEs.
I even heard one sweet girl say to her friend, "Oh please god don't let that one sit down next to us…"as I passed by. I did not, I let them off that horror and perched on what seemed like a 45 degree grass slope.
But the water was as divinely soft and soupy as ever, it always seems like swimming through liquid silk. The Serpentine water also has the strange power of making English people speak to complete strangers. The main talking point today was the pair of swans which seemed to think the swimming zone was their territory. As we breast or back-stroked our way through this benevolent, tepid soup, with tendrils of water-weeds clinging to our thighs, we all gave the beautiful white birds plenty of space. A spanish swimmer smiled at me: "They think its territory!"
One never forgets the childhood wanting: "They can break a man's arm!" - and the swans are left to glide around like a royal couple, which is what they are I suppose. Even the teenagers and the crazed swimming cap and google wearing lengths brigade do detours to avoid the swans.
Two good swims, two hours drying off in the sun, was more than enough: fat white thighs were pinking up and heat rashes were rushing to the surface. It's so easy, though, to beat a swift retreat to the shady areas od Kensington Gardens, and then of course you're confronted with the wonderful Serpentine Gallery (the original bit).
There's an excellent exhibition of paintings and engravings by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye whose portraits of (usually solitary) black men and women at first impressed by the confident handling of paint, but which also seemed perhaps a bit melodramatic in the contrast of white teeth and dark skin. But no there was much more and it crept up behind me jumped on me and wrestled all my critical instincts to the ground, it was love.
After that, the flashy technicolor fairground ride of the new Serpentine Pavilion was almost a relief.
The 15th annual pavilion, designed by Spanish architects selgascano, is described by the Serpentine people as "an amorphous, double-skinned, polygonal structure consisting of panels of a translucent, multi-coloured fluorine-based polymer (ETFE) woven through and wrapped like webbing".
The acid pinks, greens, lilacs and yellows of the plastic sheeting, the criss-cross maypole style plastic ribbons and elaborate tent-like steel framework on which all this was stretched create something like the inflatable multi-coloured play spaces we used to see on Clapham Common. But it was enjoyable, and in the crystal-clear 4pm sunshine of yesterday, the place just exploded in an orgy of reflected and refracted light.
A few miles away the met and the emergency services were taking part in a mock terrorist attack exercise, and all I could do was think how terribly hot those poor swat guys must have been in their heavy bullet-deflecting kevlar rigs.
And then thinking how terribly unfair the world is, that useless souls like self could have such huge pleasure for no cost on a warm summers day's in a park in west London while so much of the world is being tortured, repressed, enslaved, murdered.
Some pics from the Serpentine Gallery and Pavilion 2015